One longer than looked for, the other shorter than expected. One a stomp through the dreary inner city dankness of a barely light early morning, the other a stroll through the filmic golden tones of a benignly sunny late afternoon. And so on.
This week it transpired that my car was in need of a new gearbox. Not a great state of affairs but my ever reliable local garage sent me off in the direction of an outfit specialising in the very thing, also staffed by the nicest of men, who could fit me in on Wednesday morning. Hooray. And if I had to get it there by first light as requested, then no problem, I’d be there. I would call the whole procedure utterly unremarkable apart from one small detail – my lift home let me down. There wasn’t a taxi to be had for an hour and not quite 7.30 is no time to be ringing round asking friends for favours. And gearbox specialists are shy retiring creatures who hide themselves away on obscure industrial estates in parts of the city where no one ever goes and buses fear to tread.
And it was raining.
So I had to walk. Or more accurately stomp. I was not in the best of moods.
But I have to confess a strange fascination with these industrial workshops where people continue to purposefully make things, even though I have no understanding of what end they serve. I like the way that down this potholed cul de sac, these modest post War buildings, hemmed in by the railway line, house a panoply of engineering output. The street speaks of ingenuity, of innovation and of creativity and, while I am at a loss when it comes to explaining what is precision milling and plastics moulding and the like, I am glad to see that there are some in this little enclave who are pretty good at it.
At the end of the street I was out into an odd area, built up, but somehow empty. The sort of place which has had the bad luck to be blighted by both the Luftwaffe and the City Planners. There was a couple of run down streets of terraced houses, a few stridently coloured warehouse blocks, recent additions and unoccupied, and a row of once grand Victorian shop fronts, crumbling flats above, boarded up windows below, one or two occupied by small charities desperately clinging on, and then there was – hang about – a tapas bar. A tapas bar? Here? And just along the way a pie shop, outpost of an empire which includes Borough Market amongst its outlets. Around the corner and into a broad street, lined with tired old pubs, massage parlours, empty shop windows obscured by posters for niche bands, and yes, coffee shops in which artistic looking types could be seen preparing to open up for the day. Galloping gentrification is not a universally accepted Good Thing; I’m aware of the debates. I know that it is not a panacea for all urban ills but, as I rounded the corner and moved on into the newish shopping quarter (a towering but bland corporate zone occupied by the same retailers that line the malls of Birmingham, Berlin and, for all I know, Brisbane), I was feeling really very happy that something of the ingenuity, innovation and creativity of the industrial estate was now beginning to permeate the barren spaces of the long neglected Old Market area.
By the time I reached familiar streets, well served by bus routes, I had decided to keep walking. Away from the centre and up a road which I have driven many times but never traversed on foot, contending at this still early hour with the waves of commuters on their way to work in the city, then along suburban backways, surprisingly quiet save for birdsong, and finally home.
What had started out as an enforced inconvenience, undertaken in high dudgeon, became a true delight, a fascinating exploration of a patch of my Bristol backyard that is so far off my radar as to be invisible. It took me a little over an hour all told and it was probably one of the most interesting hours of my week. I have no photos to show for it, partly because it was wet and partly because some areas felt a bit too edgy, euphemistically speaking, to draw attention to myself by waving my phone about, but maybe that makes it all the more memorable.
But I do have a raft of photos of my second walk of the week – a gentle sunny afternoon outing to Lacock with my recently post-op partner.
Even if you have never been to Lacock you will probably find it familiar for everything from Cranford to Wolf Hall, via various iterations of the works of JK Rowling and Jane Austen and much else, has been filmed here. It’s quite remarkable, albeit a tad twee, as I have muttered before. But still, feast your eyes on the streetscapes.
Our objective was a little mooch about the Abbey grounds and – as it turned out to be open – the Abbey and house itself, which was all very pleasant. The rather sweet artist’s rendition of a plan of the estate hints at extensive walks but this wasn’t actually the case. No matter, it was the snowdrops which I particularly wanted to see and they did not disappoint. In the woodland area everywhere you look there are drifts of white, with the odd scattering of crocus here and there, and signs of daffodils promising to burst out in a week or so. The path ended at a small, but deep, river where under a tree a couple of gardeners were busy digging up the snowdrops and loading them into barrows, ready to cart them away. ‘They’re just off for a holiday’ called one who had the look of Olivia Colman, were the actor to don outdoor workwear, a woolly hat and a head gardener badge, ‘We’ve got tree surgeons coming for this tree next week so we want to get them safely out of the way of their boots’.
Now I would never call myself a gardener. Plant worrier is about as far as I’d go. I stick things in the soil and if are determined enough, they grow. But I do enjoy gazing upon the fruits (and flora) of others’ labour. I don’t know how big a team of paid and volunteer staff this head gardener has at her disposal, but she has squeezed in some lovely little details alongside the larger task of keeping the estate gardens up together. Leaving tall grasses in the border over winter may be routine but it doesn’t stop them looking delicately exquisite in the late afternoon sunlight.
Flopping hyacinth heads need propping up with twigs but isn’t this nest of catkins, complete with little lambs’ tails, delightful? My favourite tiny touch was this stone and its indentation into which spring flowers have been planted.
So that’s two walks which could scarcely be more different but which, in their different ways, each underline the happy opportunities walking offers to see the grain of a place at the human scale.
How about you – have you found yourself walking a route you normally speed along and making delightful discoveries? Are you as cheered as I am at the sight of spring bulbs making their appearance after what has felt like an unusually dreary few weeks?