Regular readers will have noticed that I’m moving out of my comfort zone a lot more lately.
The park’s not boring (I still love meeting the regulars and relaxing on the benches) but that’s predominantly because it’s not the only place I’m going. Today I had a reminder in my calendar to meet my mate at a dropped map pin he’d sent me on iMessage. I knew nothing about it other than the fact it was a field where he walked his dog every so often. No formal paths, just the edge of a huge grassy expanse.
When I pulled up I was a bit late and apologised. I’d left my wallet at home and had turned around to get it, making me unusually tardy.
His dog (Boris the French Bulldog) was raring to go, and once he was off the lead there was no stopping him. The small coppice surrounding the field was an adventure playground of scents and he rummaged and sniffed his way around every plant and tree to confirm who and what had been there lately. Nasal radar was building an area map in mutt paradise.
As we emerged into the field I immediately wondered if I’d put enough suntan lotion on. The morning was quickly warming up and there was hardly a cloud to be seen in the clear blue sky.
The terrain was largely flat with some mild inclines. I find what really pushes me past what I’m used to is the footwork required to hold my body steady as I walk over uneven dips and dents. I wear walking boots with strong ankle support all the time partially for this reason. I don’t want a silly weight related sprain because I can’t steady myself in time.
It was a well worn and regularly walked field edge though, and in the distance there were other dog walkers – all with animals belting around and enjoying the freedom of the completely open space.
I checked Apple Watch to make sure it was paying attention. Half a kilometre. Good.
As we crested the small hill to the right of the field a completely surprising vista of Stoneleigh opened up – and quite without warning I was faced with an old English countryside picture postcard.
I stopped for a moment. My butt cheeks were cramping. Yesterday was a lot for them to bear and they were letting me know. I sipped my flask of coffee. It was pretty perfect though. Just being here, in a field beside a huge oak and looking at the view.
We ambled on, chatting. Neither of us was in a rush.
I didn’t know the area well and my friend was filling me in on where we were in relation to other places. I’d already made a mental note that I needed to go back to Stoneleigh. I’d driven through on the way to meet him an it was REALLY picturesque.
I’d somehow managed to NEVER go there before, and it’s virtually on my doorstep.
As we drew close to the end of the circuit I asked if he wanted to do another. Apple Watch was reporting almost 2km. More was needed. I must do 3 miles a day until Saturday if I’m going to reach virtual France.
‘Can if you want.’ He replied ‘Or there’s another field over the old bridge down there if we walk down the road a bit. It’s a bit more of a gradient though. Depends how you feel.’
I was aching.
‘Bring it on.’ I said – ‘Let’s have a look.’
After following him down the road for about 200m (and a brief spell on a bench we peeled off into an area where there was an old stone bridge over the river Avon. It had been replaced by a much newer one for cars running parallel to it, and now seemed primarily used for livestock.
Boris clearly knew it well and led the way.
While Standing on it we debated its age – with neither of us knowing precisely how long it would have been there. My friend suggested that the river had slightly changed course since it was built – and it looked like he was right.
Maybe it was around a couple of hundred years old?
We started to look over the sides for a plaque or headstone – but the bridge appeared to have no signature or date of manufacture. It would have to remain a mystery for another day…
As we walked under the concrete arch of the newer road bridge nearby I was faced with a small fence and a locked gate. This is a problem. I can’t easily climb and it’s mortally embarrassing when I can’t lift my own weight.
But screw it. He’s my mate and he doesn’t care. Neither did Boris, who stood nearby watching expectantly.
I tried to lift myself up with one foot on the fence. Would it take my weight? I gently pushed the rung with my foot. It seemed secure – but 30 stone secure? Thats usually a different story entirely. I pulled myself up a couple of foot into the air. It held…
First attempt – fail. I couldn’t balance my weight and get my leg over.
Second attempt – fail. I balanced OK but my leg was too heavy and felt twisted.
Third attempt – I adjusted my foot position, swung my heavy leg over and gently lowered myself off.
We moved through some shaded woodland, past a small weir, and over a bridge. As we walked down the slightly moist path under the shade of the trees a fellow dog walker approaching from the opposite direction stopped to say hello. Her small terrier cross was supremely interested in Boris’s bottom and the fascination was clearly reciprocated as they circled each other nose to tail.
For a while all three of us watched this aromatic doggy version of Yin and Yan and then started discussing bulldog tails and whether you could still legally crop them in the UK. The consensus was not.
‘Shame you can’t see when he’s happy. There’s no wagging…’ The lady said matter of factly.
‘You just learn!’ said my mate laughing. He looked lovingly at his dog. Boris was born without a tail. He couldn’t wag even if he wanted to, but it didn’t matter. His eyes and ears said all that was needed.
The energetic terrier however had no such problems and soon waggy pester power compelled the lady to say goodbye and follow its enthustic wandering. We got on our way.
Once we had looped the second field (after a mild incline) we were back at the cars, and faced with what appeared to be the second puncture in as many days – although this time it was on my friend’s car.
As this was slowly pumped up with his compressor we talked further about his new favourite thing. An allotment. It needed a lot of work and he had been looking for some tools. Particularly a garden fork.
‘I have one in the boot if you want it?’ I said.
He looked surprised.
I explained that the contents of my boot were the last things I cleared from my mother’s bungalow after she died and I hadn’t been able to bring myself to empty the boot ever since.
For nearly six months I had been driving around with a large roll of garden netting, a full sized poly tunnel kit, a garden fork, a spade, several trowels, secateurs, heavy duty leather gloves and some foam knee pads for weeding.
He was surprised. ‘Are you sure you don’t want them?’ He asked. ‘Nah.’ I said. ‘You’ll be doing me a favour by putting it to good use. If I ever need to borrow a spade I know where to come for it. They’re yours.’
I took the bits he wanted out of the boot and we transferred them between cars. For the first time in many months my boot was almost empty again.
He’d done me a good turn – whether he knew it or not. Every time I’d looked in there I’d been reminded of her. The ever present aroma of cigarette smoke that characterised my mother clung even to the garden implements from her shed and it was there each time I opened the boot.
This also felt like a nice (and right) thing to do. All of her tools would be put to good use again to help clear his overgrown allotment plot and enable him to plant his vegetables, just like she used to in the garden when I was little. It made me feel good to see them get used.
After a cup of tea we said our goodbyes and I headed back to Warwick. A couple of things needed to go to the post office and I still had a bit of walking left in me.
St Nics park was busy and HOT. I didn’t have much left in my legs lap wise – but every bit helped toward the total, even though I spent more time moving from shade to shade than I did walking.
After being called fat (only one this week so far – last week was two!) by a child with disinterested parents (this time I decided I would tell him off and stare him out – much to his surprise) I came to the conclusion I wasn’t in the mood for the park any more and after finishing my lap made my way home.
I wasn’t beaten by the little &^$@ – just tired out.
However I had done my bit for the day and virtual France had edged just a little closer.
So internet – this is another 5.3 miles out of the way – and brings the total to 23 miles so far. As of today I’ve crossed the channel (21 miles) and have another 7 to do before Saturday and I’ve nailed the Chunnel.
Will I do it? We’ll see!