Day 65: Hawkesbury Upton – Little Sodbury – Old Sodbury – Tormarton – Marshfield – Batheaston – Bath Spa (Youth Hostel)

19.3 miles – A typical lovely English summer’s day

The colours of an English summer.
More English summer colours.

The glorious place names of yesterday and today are all genuine, and I genuinely passed through all of them. True, I have sometimes included small places because they have wonderful-sounding names – but that’s the author’s prerogative!

I think this place name wins the day.

The cockerel woke me right on cue at 5:00, and, as he persisted in his exaltations, I gave up on sleep and ate one of James’ tomatoes instead.

Today was always a day for miles over beauty; I was just that tired, and I knew a shower and a bed awaited me in Bath. This gave me a chance to contemplate the farmer’s remark yesterday, that outsiders move into villages and change their character.

Change must happen, of course, otherwise societies and individuals become petrified; but it’s the manner and speed of change which can be destructive. If only it could always happen by natural decay and renewal rather than by the stroke of a ravishing bodkin.

Physical communities do matter. Virtual ones (such as this blog) matter too, but the swing away from maintaining the strong bonds which hold agricultural villages (such as Hawkesbury Upton) tightly together, thus allowing strangers to be welcomed into their midst, is far too swift.

I thought back to my childhood, to the time when Margaret Thatcher did battle with the miners, eventually destroying many individual lives and communities in order to change mining practice. Change did need to happen, not only for the sake of the economy, but for the miners’ sake too, that they no longer needed to work at this crippling occupation. It was the brutal disregard for their dignity and wellbeing which remains so poignant still today.

At Marshfield I ventured into a pretty-china tea shop to have an ice cream, and immediately knocked a photograph off the wall and broke its frame with my big, clumsy rucksack and bearing. “Like a bull in a china tea shop,” a friend texted me. I felt I needed to make compensation, and so ordered tea and scrambled eggs on toast too! I met Geoffrey, a 90-year-old farmer, who had lived all his life in Marshfield. He used to grow potatoes, suedes and turnips, but now restores vintage tractors.

At last a row of cottages without cars to spoil the picture!

After lunch I went down the gurt steep hill, which leads to the wooded valley, where it’s thick and damp and peaceful. Here I found the mile-and-a-half of sublime tranquility which was my allotted portion for today. The valley twists snake-like southwards towards the river Avon and the fields have an air of intimate seclusion.

The valley south of Marshfield.
An ancient harrow, last drawn by a horse perhaps 70 years ago, still rests in the dark, damp woodland.
Ragwort is very poisonous to cows (and humans) and so remains uneaten to beautify the hillside.

Bath enters by the back door. One is alone in the fields, then one notices there are rural cottages dotted amongst them, and finally, without announcing itself, Bath is all about one.

Exhaustion set in too easily today, but I made it to the hostel by a quarter to six. The shower was pure joy!

The Church of St John the Baptist, Batheaston.
An original sculpture made from piano keyboards adorns this shop front in Bath.

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