I leave Caxton and head off in the direction of Huntingdon. The first village I come to is Eltisley; I am fascinated that the local pronunciation of this is Outesley especially when I discover that it originally started out as an old English derivation of Hector’s ley (or meadow). I think about the difficulties we have nowadays understanding the English spoken by some of our nationalities and reflect that English has always been shaped by its myriad different incomers for as long as history can remember.
Eltisley is memorable because of its beautiful village cricket green that spans the length and breadth of the village with the roads and houses skirting its edges. There is also an avenue of large lime trees planted by villagers in memory of their young men who were killed in the First World War, and a very large coniferous peace tree at their end. I am also struck by the unusual name of the church – St Pandonia’s & St John the Baptist. St Pandonia ran away from an arranged marriage and made the choice such spirited women had in those times; to become a nun. Churches seem to feature quite a lot in my journey; very often the footpath in or out of a village leads from the church.
I leave the village by the path leading out from opposite the church and find it is barely used, it is nettley and overgrown. Two minutes later I find out why; it has been cut in two by a large road. I am using a map that is clearly out of date. It doesn’t get any better when I find the other half of the path either; the signpost is clear, the way through planted crop isn’t. Eventually I pick my way across in tractor tracks until I come to a large ditch. There is no way on but through it. I have 3 attempts to throw my rucksack across it so I can scramble the banks unhampered; each time the pack falls back into the ditch. Resigned, I use my pack as a stepping stone and drag myself across and on to the other bank.
I finish crossing the field, find where the path clearly continues , look back and now see where the path should have come out, avoiding the ditch. The walk improves after this.
The next village is Yelling. At first I attempt to think of a different meaning for the name than the one that immediately comes to mind but I am soon confronted with SNAP posters in every house window. “Say No And Protest” is a very angry jack russell sounding campaign against wind farms. I muse as I walk through on just what their objections might be, what the hidden disagreeable features of having free energy being generated on your doorstep can be.
The next village is Graveley and I find out the name of the offending farm; Cotton Farm Wind Farm. From the plethora of signs in the house windows, at the end of drives, and on every available space, I gather this wind farm meets with serious opposition from the locals. As I leave Graveley and find the bridleway onwards I see I am on that farm’s land and a planning application is stuck to a telegraph pole. It asks for permission to erect 8 wind turbines, a sub station, and various other appendages. I wonder if it is the plethora of appendages that make this project so unappealing to the local residents, rather than the gently unassuming rather elegant tall white slim turbines, blades gently turning in the wind, harnessing it power as windmills always have.
The application is in the name of one woman and I wonder if it is a requirement of planning to have one named person responsible or whether this is a one woman show to make money and not a project involving the community.
I arrive in Godmanchester feeling quite tired and then feel privileged; it isn’t every day that we get the opportunity to happen upon such a beautiful town. I allow myself half an hour to sit by the river and enjoy the view of the Chinese bridge and the sunshine.
Then, I want to walk into Huntingdon by the river and the water meadow I have been told about. It is in asking directions that I learn how we should always trust our own intuition before anyone else’s directives.
First I ask an older couple sitting in the sun reading the Times. The woman tries to help but the old man cuts her off in mid flow, it’s clear he doesn’t want his paper reading interrupted for something he can’t be seen to be the expert in
“We don’t know” he says
I ask another couple walking past; they turn out to be German;
“You must go by the main road, over there,” pointing “it’s impossible to go any other way” the man declares.
He is so emphatic I am determined to get a second opinion. I ask a woman next, she is a stranger to town too, takes a guess it is possible but cannot help. I am just about despairing and heading off to the edge of the park when I see another man with a young boy and a football; they must be local I think.
The Brazilian, for that is what he turns out to be, does live locally and in true Brazilian fashion says of course it is possible. Now I know that to a Brazilian everything always seems possible, it is their great charm, but he is able to tell me exactly where to head for. I follow the path indicated, past the Germans now sitting on a park bench overlooking the river and looking quite horrified that I haven’t taken their advice, and come to the largest water meadow in England; Portholme Meadow, and a large tourist board explaining all about its flora and fauna and sporting a map with the various pathways leading across it to Huntingdon.
I hate to stereotype but I can’t help beginning to wonder as I walk that my frustration with the several Germans I know and their emphatic following of rules, even if they have to make one up themselves, to make life less spontaneous and fun, may well be a national trait rather than an individual quirk. It is rather sad and must be terribly restricting.
I arrive in Huntingdon with anticipation after walking through its close neighbour in delight, only to be horribly disappointed. It must have been lovely once but now it is pedestrianized and populated by chain stores and the usual milling of soul deadened late Saturday afternoon shoppers. I sit in the much reduced church yard in the centre, where it is hemmed in by surrounding post war buildings, to wait for my host for the evening, and listen to the sounds of young men practising their aggressive tones for the evening ahead and young women screaming at one another about clothes, make up, and bling, and at their men about anything they can think of. It is a snapshot of our times and if the end of the era of cheap oil means the end of this culture of guilt and blame with its very shallow salve of consumerism then I for one cannot wait.
Mary arrives and we walk to her street. She tells me of a recent accident when she was ran into and knocked over, not by a car, nor even a cyclist, but by two dogs racing across the water meadow resulting in 2 operations, a metal insert into her foot and a year later still more physiotherapy. We lament the number of loose dogs that can be encoutered when out walking. I have been frightened on a number of occasions by dogs careering towards me barking. It is of course impossible as a walker who does not know the dog in question to know whether the animal racing towards you barking is friendly or not and in any case it is difficult to predict with any certainty what feelings might be provoked in a dog by a stranger coming towards them.
I arrive in Huntingdon with very sore shoulders; I have walked in a heatwave and now look like a dalmation only my patches are not black and white but white and red. I ask if Mary has any aloe vera and she shows me her plant. She is surprised to learn that you can simply strip off a leaf open its succulent centre and use the gel inside to soothe burns.
Mary and discover a common interest in mental health and its link with emerging spirituality as well as some experience of Buddhism. We also note we have both enjoyed work that has brought us in touch with very diverse peoples of different class. I have a bath powered by solar power, and enjoy Mary’s garden full of greenery and trees.
The next morning Mary walks with me to the footpath that will lead me out of Huntingdon and out towards Oundle, my next stop. I learn that Huntingdon has had three famous personages; Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys and John Major. We pass very close by John Major’s house on our way.
Mary asks about transition and if there is anything happening in Huntingdon and I realise that Ivan, from the steering group of Transition Cambridge, might be very pleased to find another interested person in his neighbourhood and promise to put them in touch.