It’s almost a year since I left my job. About a month before I left, I had the idea of celebrating the big change in my life by walking from home to London. I have scheduled the start twice so far, and twice cancelled. Life got in the way. I made decisions to prioritise other things. The time was never right to carve out a chunk of 11 or 12 days just for this.
But (as Malcolm so often reminds me) the best can often be the enemy of the good. I don’t have to do the whole thing in one go. The canal and the river will still be there another time if I decide that doing it all in one long stretch is important to me. At the moment, it feels more important to get started than to wait until all the ducks are in a row (so to speak).
So, as of today, I’ve started.
Today I walked the first stretch: from home in Bath, via St Alphege’s Church in Oldfield Park, then along the canal all the way to Seend in Wiltshire. About 17 or so miles in all. My feet feel sore now.
Along the way it struck me that of course this is how many people first experienced the canal – the boats were towed by horses, but someone had to walk alongside the horse and keep things on track.
We set off at 10am, and I did the second half alone.
It was wonderful. Time to simply be there, drink in the sounds, the sights, the smells, the peace and the quiet. And time to reflect along the way. Plenty to reflect on, what with the election results, and also some recent shocking news about a young friend.
If you’re in the UK, you may have seen the BBC4 Slow TV programme last week of The Canal Trip – 2 hours of pure delight. If you did, well, that was what the walk was like. If you didn’t see it, you can still download it for a while I think. I promise you, you won’t regret it.
Boats are restricted to a maximum of 4mph, so in the two hours they travelled from Bath (starting at one of the locks) to the magnificent aqueduct at Dundas.
Along the way I had some enjoyable encounters.
There are the boat dwellers, many of whom I recognise now, having regularly cycled and walked the towpath to Bradford-on-Avon over the past 20 or more years. At least on nodding terms, but I enjoy that.
At Avoncliffe I came across one of our sons’ junior school teachers, who now works with her husband chartering a beautiful boat (Lady Lena) that they spent years restoring.
You may have seen the boat fleetingly on The Canal Trip – I spotted it three times in all. We had a quick catch-up chat – apparently this month they won an award from Mills and Boon for being the most romantic experience – we both giggled a bit at that, I doubt that either of us would count ourselves as readers of romantic fiction. The cruises definitely come into the ‘luxury’ category, but my goodness, what a wonderful treat! (well it looks like it – I’ve never been on it myself – but such a beautiful boat in a beautiful setting, and lovely people running it, how could it fail to be wonderful?).
Then a little further along, sitting opposite the Boat Cafe at the edge of Bradford on Avon, two musicians were playing English folk music. They told me that their son runs the cafe.
They explained to me that a group of friends meet up somewhere along the canal on the second Sunday of the month to play together. Sometimes they are joined by Morris dancers too, but it’s their busy season now so none of them today. The couple were joined by 4 more musicians as I left, but sadly I couldn’t stay to hear them. I had places to be and a walk to walk. I do hope I’ll catch them again another Sunday.
And tomorrow is another day (and another walk – my plan is to get to Pewsey then catch the train back to Bath). Along the way I’ll walk up the Caen Hill flight of locks, go through Devizes, walk through the Vale of Pewsey, and have lunch at the community pub at Honeystreet.
Aren’t they wonderful names to look forward to?