I’m starting yesterday’s tales at the end, where I met the only serious mud of the day’s walk. In spite of the dire warnings by other walkers going north, who already passed this stretch, I found the going fairly easy. I ran into a few spots where there was mud deep enough to coat my Keenes, but it easily washed off in the tall wet grass as I moved through more pasture land, mostly uphill at the outset.
“What’s so bad about this?” I mused as I walked along brand new dry stone walls and ancient moss encrusted ones sporting heavy coats of moss, listened to the sounds of the high pasture– the gentle squench grazing animals make when munching grass, and gazed wistfully at the long view of the hills to the west whenever the sky lifted and the drizzle let up.
At the last pasture gate, at the low corner of a long sloping field full of tawny dairy cows, I got my commupence. The dense hedgerows of nettles, thistles, brambles and hawthorns on all sides of the gate were not only effective at keeping the animals in, they offered no escape for humans seeking to avoid a the certainty of being sucked into a possibly bottomless quagmire.
It turns out walking in the Cotswolds is a lot like the rest of life: There was no way out but through. I thought for a moment of the local fellow I’d run into earlier in the day. He was loading his pack and clean brown Crocs into his little Honda just as I rounded a corner by an uphill farm. “I just take them off and wade throgh the worst of it”, he said. He’d been out tending his hourse and he told me he had spoken with the trails commission about the mud, and that they were sending heavy equipment out soon. Clearly, they had not arrived at this section, on the outskirts of Winchcombe village.
Ignoring his wisdom. The mud was up to the middle of my shins, but there was a bottom. If you’ve ever stepped into mud this thick, the you can understand that it’s just about impossible to stand up. It amy be that your feet have disappeared entirely, and you get the sensation that nothing is holding you up, or maybe you just step into an old tractor rut. At any rate, seeking less depth, I made too long a step and found myself reaching into the quagmire to stop my fall–with the hand that was clutching my phone, map and guidebook.
Where there is mud, there is water. Over the mud frosted gate (the kind you have to climb over) and a short way down the lane, I found a stream flowing and immediately dunked my phone in to rinse it off, forgetting that it was a new model, and its Otter case was not solid and waterproof like my previous one. It survived this cleansing, miraculously, as did the map and the guide book, more or less.
Later on I bumped into a woman staying here at Blair House. She regaled me with tales of going back up hill and climbing fences and crawling over hedgerows, then striking out cross country with her compass, because she feared the mud I’d fallen into was a bottomless pit!
The highlight of this day’s walk was a stop at Hayles Farm, where local food abounds at the farm store and tea room. I stopped first in the store where an older woman was happy to take me on a tour of Hayles own produce: plump raspberries, pungent gooseberries (try one, she said) and a blank spot on the shelf where black currants should have been. Too wet to pick yet today, she told me. Then we went on to a cooler full of regional cheeses, where I looked longingly at some blue. Back behind the register, I noticed a whole wall of toast colored meringues, hanging in bags like laundry out to dry. I’d never seen a meringue apart form its pie, and asked about it. “We have them made specially to order,” she said with a smile.
I said I’d be back after tea for some home made ice cream and raspberries. My new friend suggested I have a scone with jam and cream. “I made them myself, she offered with a smile.
Up till then, clotted cream was just a vague image from English novels and BBC dramas. Imagine a delightful mixture somewhat like a combination of warm ice cream without any sugar, Greek yogurt, and unsalted butter. Now color it the soft gold of fresh scrambled eggs and butter up a hot black currant scone and put a generous dollop of home made yellow plum jam on it and you’ll know what I experienced–a delightfully unexpected medley of taste and texture. I washed this down with a pot of cranberry tea.
Back at the store, the keeper looked surprised when I said I liked the clotted cream. “It’s a regional taste,” she said. “I’m surprised.”
Have I said that the people are friendly and I’m loving it here, mud, rain and clotted cream?