Just look at these fine fellows.
What dapper chaps they are in their highly polished Sunday best, straw boaters at a jaunty angle, a flower carelessly thrust through a buttonhole, and a placid dog persuaded to join the party. What fun they would be to meet along the way.
After the solitude of the mountains, time for the camaraderie of the camino.
Walking with a group of friends (strangers, even) is a delight. This past summer, a gang of pals and I enjoyed leisurely canal side excursions as our company of six – with the occasional appearance of a husband or two – strolled the Kennet & Avon from start to finish. Frequently we were asked if we were doing it for some charitable endeavour. Were we being sponsored and did we need our certificates signing? Er, no. But thanks all the same though. Were we twitchers or naturalists perhaps? Well, some of us do know one end of a pair of binoculars from the other (not me, alas), and yes, it was a joy to see the ducklings growing and the crops ripening as we passed along. But actually it was a whole lot simpler than this.
We were just out for a walk.
And maybe a cup of tea.
But mainly we were there for the talk. Time slows when we walk. Minds wander. We have the chance to have all those conversations there’s never quite room for in the usual way of things. We get caught up with all the news, share the worries, hear the stories, make the plans.
And laugh. A lot.
At those things intended for amusement
and those things which shouldn’t make us laugh but somehow catch us unawares (A tunnel named Bruce? Really?)
but most especially at the misunderstandings and mis-speaks, the You Had To Be There moments which those who weren’t, no matter how carefully you explain, never quite get. (Don’t worry – I’ll spare you).
A canal path is absolutely tip top for a talking walk. No need for anyone to break up the conversation to put her head in a map because as long as we all remain two paces from getting wet, we can be sure that we’re on the right track. So with the vote cast in favour of the Kennet & Avon, only one question remained.
Which way to walk? Did we want to end our great trek in the World Heritage Site that is Bath? Or at the gasworks?
We started at the gasworks.
Reading’s an odd place. I lived there for some years as a child and remember it as a town of worthy Victorian redbrick endeavour, where you could tell which way the wind was blowing by whether you could smell biscuits baking or beer brewing.
Nowadays it’s gone all satellite city, full of throw up and blow down architecture. I barely recognised the place. But I did find one vestige of glorious Victoriana
Just look at the decorative brickwork on these canalside terraces. Isn’t it fabulous?
In terms of walking, although the canal did provide a corridor of green, its urban environs were never very far from view at first.
Not until we got beyond Newbury did we begin to feel that we had escaped the city and moved into a land of absolute delight. Of blossom
and scenes that came straight from old Ladybird books
and peaceful chugging along.
We debated the merits of waterborne gardens, from the decorative
to the productive
to the ingeniously low maintenance.
And we chose our fantasy moorings. Maybe a place in Devizes?
Or this one in Bath?
Never did find out what Fame Free Diesel is though.
All in all, over the course of the summer we spent nine happy days along the canal. That’s way too much to fit into one post,but perhaps this scene of quiet companionship will sum it up…