Sunday, 15 February 2015

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

Yesterday I began the Oxford Canal walk. I'd planned it carefully - I had my prepaid and therefore cheap ticket from Euston to Coventry at 9.05, would walk first the Coventry Canal, which is about 5 miles, then another 11 miles or so along the Oxford Canal to a place called Newbold where I could get a bus back to Coventry.

I had considered walking all the way to Rugby, but that was 20 miles, and 16 is really the best length. On a 16 mile walk I'm usually just over half way at about 1ish when I start looking at places for lunch, and then the lunch makes the next few miles easy, and when that wears off there's usually just 5 miles to go and I feel like I'm on the home straight.

As it turned out though all my planning was wasted. We were all advised to get off the train at Rugby for a bus replacement and rather than hang about I thought I might as well just get on and do the whole thing.

There was a map at Rugby station showing that I should go straight up Mill Rd for the River Avon, and I knew the canal crossed the Avon somewhere so I supposed I just had to find a viaduct..

It's the sort of follow your nose logic that has had me going in circles before, but sometimes works well. This was one of those times. Mill Rd became a path through a park, crossed the Avon, and then there was indeed a viaduct and the canal and a couple of narrowboats chugging past doggedly in the slight drizzle. I turned left for Coventry, and walked.

It was this sort of a day when I started out:

Although it brightened up later.

It's probably because I live in London, but whenever I do one of these in early spring or late autumn I spend half my time astounded at the sheer strangeness of being alone in so much space and air. To start with it feels great, peaceful, then after a bit I find myself quite pleased to see people - mostly dog walkers and men fishing and passing boats - and then after a bit longer the lack of people can even become uncomfortable. Mildly apocalyptic.

The really strange thing though was the lack of signposts. The Grand Union has probably too many, but at least you have some indication of how far you're getting and how fast you're going. The Oxford Canal has the occasional circular plastic thing telling you you're on 'A Coventry Way' but no indication what, if anything, that means, or how long this way is.

What with that and the mud - and there were incredible amounts of mud, mud to the point my calves ached from keeping me upright - I started to wonder whether I was going fast enough, not for my train home, which was at 7ish, but to not run out of light. Walking in dusk is fine on gravel, less so on mud with holes where the bank had dropped.

So I skipped lunch, thinking I'd wait for Hawkesbury Junction where I knew there was a pub and I'd only have 5 miles to go, and then I got to Hawkesbury at 3ish and thought 'might as well press on, there's only 5 miles to go', so by the time I got into Coventry I was tired and hungry and muddy and my hair looked frankly mad but I was also quite smug and really enjoyed my coffee and cake before I headed for the station. Which I then couldn't find. There was a signpost, but the path it indicated was blocked and a sign was telling me to go via somewhere else, but gave no indication of where the somewhere else actually was.

I still had over an hour in hand so I followed the path I was on, hit a roundabout and an underpass, (no signposts) then another retail area with a vast car park and a TK Maxx and an enormous Boots and a Next outlet and all those things, but more importantly also the railway down one side of it. Then it was just a matter of tracing the tracks back.

I found that in fact I hadn't actually gone very wrong - it just felt that way because of all the concrete barriers stopping me from seeing where I was and the lack of proper road crossings forcing me to pop up and down through underpasses like a gopher.  Anyway I got there with an hour to go and found that trains to London were being disrupted, but there was one on the platform. It seemed worth approaching the conductor or train manager and asking if I should wait and risk my train being cancelled or..

He told me to jump on as long as I had a ticket - any ticket - and I found a nice cushioned seat with a drop down table and collapsed, comfortably and completely knackered. Planning is overrated.

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