A tale of two walks

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.img_1124

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. img_1045The 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. img_1022In 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. img_1080The 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.

img_1114

You’ll have to take my word for that there are what I think are aconites planted into that rock – I couldn’t get any closer without treading on the blooms.

 

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?

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12 thoughts on “A tale of two walks

  1. way back in 2001 the Foot & Mouth restrictions forced me to find different walking routes, and, yes, there were some pleasant surprises. In my own village of Greetland, hidden behind modern houses is a 17th century half-timbered affair, quite a jewel but unseen except by pedestrians.
    I have a connection with Bristol, in that my Granny lived there and met Grandpa when he became Minister of her Congregational Church. This was the 1920s. I imagine those colourful terraces were part of the scenery in their time. Can they be seen from the railway line?

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    • Hello, welcome and thank you for joining the conversation. What a lovely name for a village and what a lovely part of the world to live in (I had to have a quick look at Google maps to find out where is Greetland). Yes, it is amazing what jewels there are lurking in the most unexpected of places.

      Which Congregational Church, do you know? Or in which area of Bristol did your grandparents live? I ask because I have had connections with a few of them, how strange if it turned out to be one of the ones I know…

      The Clifton Wood terraces are not the ones you can see from the railway line (and from Temple Meads station). The ones you can see from there are up in Totterdown (another great name) and they look just as striking as they cling to the top of some very steep streets.

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      • It was Henleaze and my Uncle thinks his father/my grandfather was minister there from the end of WWI to 1927 He lived in the lovely thatched cottage now Grade II listed, as it was adopted as a Manse at that time. My uncle is living in the area now (he’s 86) in Nailsea but wasn’t born when his dad was there. I’m feeling tempted to visit now.

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      • What a small world…

        I’ve been in that Church Hall for Pilates this morning and although I do not currently attend what is now Trinity-Henleaze URC (http://www.trinityhenleazeurc.org.uk), I have done so in the past and my family have been connected there since the 70s.

        I know that there are photographs of all the past ministers on the wall in the vestry so next week I shall see if the caretaker is around and whether he will let me have a look for your grandfather. The thatched cottage at 143 Henleaze Road is still there (try https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4869529,-2.6095119,3a,60y,90h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1syVP2VZZD3pJzd-xJ8tlSwQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 ) but it is no longer the Manse. And if your grandfather were to come back today he would probably not recognise the place. It was probably almost a rural area when he was the incumbent, now it is very much a suburb. Do let me know if you do decide to come down and let’s take a walk together…

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    • I know- isn’t it great? There is something about the light somehow. I am willing Spring towards us.

      Also I am feeling like a bit of a squirrel as I planted a load of bulbs last autumn and have completely forgotten what and where. This means all the happy surprises and none of the sad disappointments…

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  2. Those are both walks I would have taken and enjoyed, although I find many people are almost aghast when they hear that I’ve walked from x to y without any obvious scenic charms to compensate. It can, as you suggest, be somewhat uncomfortable to wander through industrially zoned areas, and I usually try to make my pace suggest confidence, a clear destination, and knowledge of the neighbourhood — not always convincingly, I suspect. But I’m with you in the surprising satisfactions — and I just haven’t the patience to wait for a bus if I could be moving outdoors. As for the more picturesque walk, with all your glorious photos, you’re very lucky having that within striking distance — not so Twee I’d turn my nose up at a few hours spent meandering through those grounds.

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    • Thank you, Frances, and welcome.

      I sometimes think that the not immediately exciting landscapes offer a form of meditation at 3mph – nothing to distract so the mind can wander at will.

      Yes, the confident air – with, on occasions, a brisk Good Morning as I stride purposefully past – has kept me safe so far. But then the vast majority of people are good, thankfully.

      Yes, we are lucky to have so much that is picturesque not too far from our neck of the woods. We don’t have the grand panoramas that you have in Canada – not around here anyway – but there are some lovely spots.

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    • Thank you, Dave, and welcome. Cannot claim to be a pie fan myself, but show me a slab of fruit cake and I’ll be there for the duration. Lacock is indeed a pretty part of the world, well worth a look, but it is a honeypot of a place so I hear that it can get horribly crowded in the summer.

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