Sunday, 17 June 2007

17. Canal du Midi

Toulouse - Carcassonne.:- A walk along the Canal du Midi in the south of France. I planned to do a short sharp 60 miles over 3 days, but my footwear was inadequate and I settled for a sore-footed but shorter distance to compensate. Distance:- 25 miles over two days. Going:- mostly on the towpath - now a cycle route thronging with BGV's - les bycyclettes de grand vitesse. Also a tremendous storm the night before made the unpaved sections somewhat soggy. Progress:- Walked 208 - to go 292. Photograph Hyperlink

The Canal du Midi.
Except for the towpath and the locks it's like walking a riverbank. The canal is not straight, but meanders gracefully through the Midi. There are tree lined banks with overhanging branches Watervoles plop in now and then for a spot of sculling; heron lurk for lunch in quiet sidings, warblers, including nightingale sing their socks off from the overhead boughs, and in the blue sky above buzzard and black kites spiral upwards on the wheel of a thermal lift.

.....down in the water the French bid for Olympic swimming gold in Beijing 2008 is forging full steam ahead.

A dead BGV -A mini-monument to speed.

Tales From The Towpath. As a walker you seem to be the lowest form of towpath life along the canal. The towpath is now in fact a designated cylcle path. The bicycle brigade assume full ownership. I was carved up and scowled at constantly. Put a frenchman in a pair of velcro cycle shorts with go-faster stripes down either side, and he thinks he's Eddie Merx on heat. After the cyclists in the peck order come the joggers, who also do a nice side line in scowling. It all made me feel quite humble. But at least there was some interest along the towpath.....

.....Ou est les bateaux?
Perhaps the strangest thing was the absence of boats plying to and fro. I saw only two all the first day. One was this traditional barge, of which there are many alongside the canal, almost all converted to houseboats. The other was a Norfolk Broads class booze cruiser - replete with bikini clad figurehead draped across the deck - tottymungous!


Everywhere you look in France there is graffitti. It's on the buildings, the walls, the signs, the bridges - everywhere. In Bordeaux my friend Ian has had his white van graffitied; and he's not alone. So don't stand rooted on one spot too long - or they'll do you as well!

Monday, 21 May 2007

16. Lavenham - Stowmarket

Details:- After being dropped off by Denise in Lavenham at 9.00am on a sunny Saturday, I walked the country lanes between Lavenham and Stowmarket, arriving back by train in time to catch the Cup Final. I might as well have kept walking - the match was rubbish! Distance:- 15 miles; Going;- Easy peasy - only some of the cars drive a bit close, when I am hoping to be given a wider by-pass. Progress:- Walked 183 - 317 to go. Photographs Hyperlink.

South Suffolk......

.......where since Hereward was awake, the medieval streets have given onto the open countryside.

South Suffolk....

...where since Edmund became the patron saint of hedgehogs, the oak timbers have acquired a lovely silvery hue with the passage of the centuries.

South Suffolk....

....where since Pontius was a pilot time seems to have stood still, and the years roll back as the countryside rolls over.

South Suffolk...

...where since Edward was a confessor, folk have lived off the fat of the land.....

.....but still don't have the time to sort the flat of the Land Rover.

South Suffolk....

....where since Constable squeezed hay-wain yellow over his palette, the fields of barley have conducted themselves in an endless Mexican wave.

Henry Ford might have well said history is bunk, but my guess is he never went to South Suffolk!

Friday, 18 May 2007

15. Stonyhurst, Lancashire.

Details:- This was a Sunday afternoon stroll, all mellowed out after a good lunch. The walk started at Stonyhurst College and took me down to the River Ribble, along the river bank of both the Ribble and its tributary the Hodder, past Cromwell's bridge, and back up to the college. Distance:- 7 miles; Going:- it drizzled, but was easy to walk. Progress:- Walked 168 - to go 332.

Stonyhurst College.

The approach down the mile long Avenue is impressive. This huge collection of interconnecting buildings are Grade 1 listed as of architectural/historic interest. Only 2% of listed buildings are Grade 1, so this then is one of Lancashire's finest.

From The Air....

showing something more of the size and scale. St Peters church at bottom right hand corner can accommodate 600 or so pupils at mass on a Sunday morning.

The Upper Corridor.

In the 1970's many of the college's Durer engravings were hung on these walls. After some eight or so Rembrandts were stolen in the early 1980's the Society of Jesus was forced to be a little more circumspect with its possessions!

Cromwell's Bridge.

No longer in use, Cromwell's Bridge once carried a packhorse trail over the River Hodder, about a mile from its confluence with the Ribble. It earned its name after Oliver Cromwell's parliamentary army crossed the bridge on their way from Gisburn to where they fought the King's men in the Battle of Preston. There is in the refectory at the college a long table with an inscription under it to the effect of: 'Cromwell slept 'Ere'. What provenance there is for this is a little unclear.

The River Hodder....

....drains much of the Forest of Bowland, and the upper reaches also feed the large Stocks Reservoir which supplies much of Lancashire with its water. The School still owns much of the farming land around the lower reaches, together with the fishing rights. In this river I once managed to tickle a young trout out from under his stone - but that was many years ago!

14. Hurst Green, Nr. Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Details:- Another Walking World walk; as always scenic, and with mainly clear and reasonably concise instructions. At one point the directions were muddled when by luck I took the right path. It is a relief to have good guidance when out walking; otherwise losing your way (but rarely lost) deprives my day of its relaxation. This walk climbs up Longridge Fell, from the top of which there are excellent views of the Ribble Valley and Pendle Hill. It then drops down to the hamlet of Walker Fold and finishes past the front and through the grounds of the Jesuit public school Stonyhurst College. Distance:- 7 miles; Going:- Height gain 200 metres, but not as you'd particularly notice. The huff/puff factor was not exactly up to wheeze level. Progress:- Walked 161 - to go 339.
A dim glimpse......
......of the Ribble Valley beyond the forests of Longridge Fell. Regrettably the day was dull and the views a little disappointing. That great hothouse of medieval witchery - Pendle Hill - was a bit dim and distant - see photo below.


.....behind the Stonyhurst cricket pavilion. The cricket oval is great setting on which to hear the thwack of leather on willow, nestling as it does close to the River Ribble 'twixt Pendle Hill and Longridge Fell.

Ent Lookalike?

Because it is common knowledge that JRR Tolkein was writing TLOTR at Stonyhurst during the war, everyone assumes that his inspiration for Middle Earth is taken from the countryside around the college. There is now a 'Tolkein and The Three Rivers Walk' around the school. Whilst the confluence of the Ribble with the Calder and Hodder might just bear some resemblance to the map in The Hobbit, I personally think that most of this so-called inspiration owes more to our own imaginations than to anything he was thinking about whilst he lived in the school. If you ever do the walk you'll see what I mean. So - the B 6246 that takes in Hodder Bridge is meant to be his Great East Road? I don't think so!

The Eagle Towers.
Symbol of Stonyhurst.