This afternoon Caroline dropped me off at Birdwood, on her way to Ross-on-Wye, and I walked - aided by my new Leki - a further seven or so miles of the Gloucestershire Way, to Gloucester. Perfect weather for it! Warm, still, and bone dry underfoot - it's a section which could get extremely boggy, I imagine.
There was nobody else about, either on the path or on the River Severn, but I saw quite a bit of birdlife: a heron and a black swan flew off separately as I walked along the river past Minsterworth, and there were many more swans and lots of duck on the reservoir near Linton Farm. Had I been foraging, there were potatoes left lying around after their harvest; pears and apples - orchards abound - and of course it's been a brilliant year for blackberries.
The drawbacks about this section of the Way are the number of stiles and gates, and the traffic - both road and rail. And this photograph shows how it is impossible to see Gloucester Cathedral (from the West) without peering through a forest of pylons and their cables.
"Don't have blood on your feet," is the striking message on one of many leaflets I was given this morning, visiting Cheltenham Town Hall for The Incredible Veggie Roadshow. I thought it would be a considerable distance outside my comfort zone, but I was wrong: I rather enjoyed it, and was impressed by most of the samples that each of the food stalls was generously offering.
One of the non-foody exhibits was of 100% Vegan Footwear: it was there I came across the aforementioned message. Though I didn't buy any of their shoes, the company responsible does them in 17 different colours, so its stall looked very attractive: they are only sold via mail order catalogue and website.
The manufacturers' name had a familiar ring about it: Freerangers.
Our granddaughter, Ida was wearing her Winter coat today, whilst I was in shorts. In the garden, it was warm enough for them, and for shirt sleeves, but there is a chill in the morning air now, certainly.
Everything is very dry. The front lawn looks a real mess: Caroline is threatening to get some chickens and put them on it - they can't make it any worse. The apples are plentiful, and we have almost come to the end of a tremendous crop of plums on our Victoria tree, but few of them have grown to their proper size, some being more like prunes. My late leeks have shrivelled up, and I almost broke the fork, lifting parsnips on Tuesday. Surely the ones I saw at the Farmers' Market in Cheltenham Promenade today can't be grown organically!
A few months ago, I reported my delight at receiving through the post the first book I had had published by myphotobook.co.uk. Another book arrived today, and I experienced a similar frisson when opening the package. In some ways, this is a more ambitious effort: the format is enormous - 12" x 12" - and I have taken more trouble over the narrative.
As you can see from my picture - I could only scan part of the front cover - the book records my walk in April this year from near Nogaro to St Jean-Pied-de-Port along one of the ancient routes which lead eventually to Santiago de Compostela. Soon after my return, I posted a brief report about my experiences, but this is a fuller version, running to 48 pages, with more than 200 photographs.
Unlike some print-on-demand publishers myphotobook.co.uk don't allow just anyone to examine or order the book by going straight to their site, but if you should wish to have a look at it online, I can arrange that: just put a private comment on this blogpost with your email address, or do so by saying hello via my visitor's book.
On Saturday, driving through Winchcombe at teatime, we saw guests streaming out of St Peter's after a wedding (not this one), all the men wearing dinner jackets and the women slinky evening dresses. Yesterday, I went to a party given by friends whose daughter's wedding (again, not the one in this picture) had also taken place the day before: a mother of another bride-to-be was bemoaning how the village churches around her home only seated "about 60 at a squash", and were therefore far too small for the wedding they had in mind. Two others I spoke to at this same party were discussing the probability that their parish church would be declared redundant: "there were only three of us at Morning Service today."
Clearly, there is still a strong wish amongst many for a church wedding, albeit attenders dress for them with the subsequent dancing in mind. Yet there is insufficient commitment to keep the parish church going week in, week out.
The Jesuit theologian Fr. Gerald O'Collins, giving the Tablet lecture earlier this month, set out seven dreams for the future of the church. One dream is of a church reaching out to others - to those who have lost touch with the church, as well as to other Christians and to members of other faiths. "At times they feel that they have intruded on a rather cosy club, made up of the regular parishioners."
And another of Fr. O'Collins' dreams is prompted by the human race seeming bent on destroying the earth and itself. "The cry of the poor earth must be heeded." He dreams of a church serving those in distress - linking the altar and the soup kitchen. "Young people... sense the difference between what we say and what we do. They respond when there is no gap between our words in church and our actions in the world."
Caroline bought a bike for Agnes' birthday on eBay, so collecting it was my excuse for an outing to near Nuneaton on Friday. My reward for riding a 19" frame lady's bike from its former owner's to Nuneaton Station was a stop-off in Birmingham on the way there: I wanted to pop into the Art Gallery to see Burne-Jones' Perseus Series, on loan from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, the first time it had been on view in the UK. (The show was closing today.)
The pictures tell the story - as gruesome as any Tarantino film - of Perseus visiting the Graiae, Medusa's sisters, who shared one eye between the three of them, and making off with it; cutting off Medusa's head, and using it to win the affection of Andromeda (before turning various people to stone). It amazes me how the Victorian establishment obviously lapped all this up: Burne-Jones' commission came from Arthur Balfour, the future Prime Minister.
I fell asleep in the train going back, waking up with a jolt as it pulled in to Cheltenham. I had put my book on a low shelf beside my seat. Only as I was pushing the bike down the platform, the train moving off to Cardiff, did I remember.
En route home from East Anglia, we paused in Oxford in order to go to the Botanic Gardens. I'm ashamed to admit it was my first ever visit. Nor even this time was I there principally to see the Gardens themselves, but because they were the venue for "Susurrus".
This is one of the Oxford Playhouse's "Plays Out", put on to encourage audiences to think differently about theatrical work and where it's performed. At the entrance, you pick up headphones, a miniature iPod-type device and a map. At each of eight different points, you are invited to sit down and listen to a passage on the tape, with appropriate music as you walk round in between.
Susurrus - meaning a soft murmuring or rustling sound - is perhaps not the most appropriate title for a play being performed quite so close to the Oxford traffic. Though the content itself is dark, the musical reference points (Britten's Dream, Janet Baker, and Maria Callas's last UK concerts) and the beautiful setting of the Gardens made it, for me, both a nostalgic and an enlivening experience.
For Caroline, it was rather less so, but both were glad we had made the effort to set aside an hour to go. Susurrus is on till 27th, I see from the theatre's website: if you are anywhere near between now and then, I recommend it.
I certainly hadn't appreciated how extensive and impressive the Botanic Gardens were, nor how close to the Cherwell: next week, with the new term starting, people will doubtless be in these punts if the weather holds.
As we were driving all the way to North Norfolk for our Friends' wedding last weekend, we thought we would extend our trip by a couple of days, taking up the offer of another good friend to stay in her cottage near Framlingham. So it was that we found ourselves walking to Framlingham on Monday, inspecting the handsome castle, fine church - and also this ductile iron cover in the middle of the road with its philosophical message.
It reminded me of Beethoven's "Muss es sein? Es muss sein!" written at the start of the last movement of the score of his Op 135. Here's an interesting take on that, which you won't find in any Gramophone catalogue.
Though caravans by the seaside invariably dismay me, these colourful beach huts at Wells-Next-The-Sea lifted my spirits when, coming out of the dark woods behind, I first saw them on Sunday morning. The previous day's wedding celebrations had continued with all meeting up for breakfast together, leading to a windy walk on Wells beach. Even, for three hearties, a swim: I kept well wrapped up.
In the woods were swarms of twitchers, looking apparently for Icky, the Icterine Warbler. They can't have been best pleased to have a noisy post-wedding party walking through their midst.
On Saturday last, we were present for the first time at a marriage in a Friends' Meeting House. The celebrating couple and their guests sat round in an open square. There was piano music from a CD player before the appointed hour; then silence. Virtually the only formal words spoken were those of each of the parties: "I take this my friend John," in the bride's case, "to be my husband, promising through Divine assistance to be unto him a loving and faithful wife, so long as we both on earth shall live." It was delightful in its simplicity and in the sincerity with which the words were spoken: how often does the presence of a priest or minister prevent one from remembering that marriage is a sacrament administered by the parties to one other.
The guests originated from 15 different countries, all coming together to celebrate in Wells-Next-The-Sea on the remote North Norfolk coast. There was a party in the evening in one of the seaside Whelksheds, part museum witnessing to the town's maritime history, part John's studio.
We had stayed a distance inland the night previously, in a gracious estate house with 16th Century origins: above shows the kitchen. On the night of the wedding, our B&B (recommended) was of similar age, in the incredibly picturesque village of Little Walsingham. The atmosphere could not be further removed from that of Lourdes.
If ever your car should need attention when travelling near to where Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire meet, then Lilbourne Garage is the place. Seldom have I ever had better service. It wasn't that sinister a noise that I detected in one of the back wheels, but we had a long way to go to our destination last Friday, so I wasn't taking any chances. Up on the ramp within seconds went our car, and though it took two men an hour to sort it out, the charge was just £20. A third brought us cups of tea.
Before coming back to Lilbourne, we had stopped at nearby Stanford-on-Avon to admire many things about St Nicholas' Church, not least the 14th Century stained glass, recently restored.
What a beautiful Indian Summer day it was today! Caroline and I caught buses to Winchcombe, and walked the dozen or so miles from there to Tewkesbury. It's the last leg of the Gloucestershire Way, but we have still to go back and do the first three.
Surprisingly, for quite a modern long distance path, it's not well signposted. So, for instance, we got lost for a while on top of Langley Hill above Winchcombe - and this wasn't the only stretch that needs attention.
Although we were never far from a main road, we passed through some spectacular countryside. After looking back from our first climb over a view that took in both Cleeve Common and Meon Hill, the Malverns and Bredon then became the focus. My photograph shows Tewkesbury Abbey with the Malverns behind, taken on Crane Hill above Oxenton.
A highlight of my extremely brief stage career was playing Lady Teazle in Sheridan's School for Scandal on the stage of Ampleforth's theatre. Opposite me, playing Sir Peter was Edmund ffield, a couple of years older than me. That was in the Summer of 1957.
Edmund joined the Monastery at Ampleforth after leaving the school, and became Fr. Richard ffield OSB. For many years a teacher and Housemaster in the school, he has since 2003 been part of the community at the Monastery of Christ the Word, established by Ampleforth in Zimbabwe.
He is at present back for some well-earned holiday, and was saying mass this evening at St Gregory's Church here in Cheltenham: here is a photograph of our reunion.
Mike Monaghan: "An excellent idea. I find it sad (scandalous!) that in religious publications one can read on one page an article about the need for Christians to take the issue of climate change seriously, accompanied by several adverts for pilgrimages all involving long journeys usually by air."
Tony Emerson: "Totally agreed - we should not even think of pilgrimage as involving air flights, given that one air flight to Knock or Lourdes would use up your total sustainable carbon ration for a year. Let alone to the Holy Land or further afield. Another alternative: in my childhood in the West of Ireland we used to have 'the stations' every Lent in one house in each street, with different households taking turns each year. In the process, I think we built a better sense of community. I don't know how long the practice lasted - but could it not be revived?"
Pam Cram responds "as someone who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land last November! This is was the first time I have flown anywhere in maybe 10 years. While I agree there can be a problem of hypocrisy, there are also complex issues here. Peace and justice in Palestine are possibly as central an issue to all our futures as is climate change. The Palestinian community is begging us to go to see for ourselves and stand alongside them - which was why I went, though it was also a pilgrimage to the holy sites. I would very much like to go again in the future to be involved in some practical peace-making project, and, yes, go on pilgrimage again. Although it is possible to get there without flying, the reality is that because of timing I would probably have to fly at least one way. Similarly, last year my husband went out to Kenya on a mountain trekking holiday in which he also met the local people and has made personal friendships he wants to follow up. He too is looking for ways to return to make a difference in people's lives there. Of course, he will have to fly. These are all complex juggling acts with which I struggle!"
Tony Emerson replies: "Let's start with the data: from the Choose Climate website. I've got the following CO2 equivalent estimates: England to Holy Land return - 2.6 tonnes; and England to East Africa return - 4.7 tonnes. Now, given that the safe, sustainable per person ration is about 1.5 tonnes a year, that creates a problem. I do not deny that good may come from your and your husband's trip. But is the good worth the increment in climate damage that may be attributable to your trip? Given that people in places like the Middle East and East Africa are much more vulnerable than we are to the effects of climate damage, in the shorter term; and that in the longer term of course we all may pay the ultimate price. There are also shorter term cultural consequences of richer European people visiting poorer communities. Now I'm not saying that particular trips are not justified. But I do think we need particular ethical criteria for assessing this particular activity, air travel, which is largely a modern luxury engaged in by more well-off people (very much contrary to what our government claims) and which has a very high carbon footprint. Any views on what these criteria should be?"
From Fr. Peter Doodes: "Last year I flew for the first time in 20 years (and perhaps for the last time) to Belfast, for religious purposes. I had only two days, start to finish, in order to carry these out and so flew short-haul from nearby Gatwick to Belfast City Airport, a few minutes away from my destination. Aircraft are like any other form of transport, some are economical, and some are the SUVs/stretch Hummers of the air, and so I chose Flybe, whose Bombardier and Embraer aircraft are among the most economical and quiet aircraft available today. I did look at the website mentioned above and wondered what aircraft they based their figures on. I agree that flying is wrong as a mass movement industry and that carbon offsetting is Enron Accounting, but if there is no other option, and at times of emergency there may not be, then choose carriers the same way as you would choose a car. PS If you want to see the Flybe figures then click here."
Caroline's dream is to build a carbon-neutral house in the countryside. It's a dream stimulated by, amongst others, Kevin McCloud the presenter of Grand Designs.
Yesterday, Kevin was one of many celebs. who was announced as having signed up to 10:10, the pledge to try to cut our individual carbon emissions by 10% next year, in order to put pressure on politicians that we want tougher action - a very grand design, indeed - on global warming. Some of them were asked "Do you know what your carbon footprint is?" I liked playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah's candid answer to this question: "Absolutely not. It's a bit like looking at your bank account when you're overdrawn. You just don't want to think about it."
Having sounded off just the other day about air-borne pilgrimages, I also liked the answer Kevin McCloud gave to the question: "Who in the world would you like to sign up to the 10:10 pledge?" "I think," he said, "if it's not going to be Jeremy Clarkson, it's the Pope. He's responsible for the ethical position of tens of millions of people worldwide. And responsible for millions flying to see him in St Peter's Square. He should be encouraging all those nuns to quit the plane and make the pilgrimage on foot."
Our local greengrocer, Robert Young closed its doors yesterday for the last time. As my photograph - taken a couple of years ago - shows, it featured a garden centre, and indeed the shop grew out of a nursery business that started many decades ago: someone will be able to tell me when.
Robert Young was a landmark, an institution and a way of life. At one extreme, it was always worth a look "under the tree" to see if something was going cheap. At the other, there were Sue Artus' fabulous flower arrangements, as for that Winter wedding I wrote about last year.
Now what, for this key site at the end of our Bath Road? Not another Tesco Express or Metro surely!