The Milk Of Human Kindness
By Steph Bradley 30th March 2010
Well I have to say it’s been quite a day…
Set off from Totnes on the first day of my 6 month walk around England to collect transition tales at around 12.30 – after a bit of a photo shoot centred around my feet ….the local journalists seemed to get quite excited by the idea of my walking in my flip flops. For me they are the footwear of choice having been inspired by the ability of South American guides in the Andes to navigate mountainsides like the proverbial goats.
It was heart warming and touching to see friends family and colleagues come to see me off, after I had been sung to on leaving Bowden House Community (http://www.bowdenhouse.co.uk/)
may the circle be open
may the love of the goddess
be ever in your heart
merry meet and merry part
and merry meet again
… and accompanied down the hill by a merry band of fellow communards. I was given chocolate bars by friends ( funny how folk know just what addictions you have isn’t it…! ) hugs, and kisses, and it felt as though I would take each and every one of these folk on my journey with me.
I left Totnes with 5 then 4 then 3 companions and then was met by our lovely office manager Jo with her little daughter Sammie who was in floods of tears after being put back in her buggy after walking with me a while – I think the walk may just have taken a wee bit longer if she had accompanied me all the way!
By the time we had left the road and got onto Bourton Lane we were 3, and then 2 and my trusted back up person Sally turned back a few miles on at Ipplepen to get on with helping plan the next bits of my route. Not before she had waded through the milky coffee coloured ankle deep puddles the rain had made of the green lane with me though! I was glad of my flip flops at this stage!
Once alone I strode off in direction of Abbotskerswell determined to see the priory but was greeted by private signs and no sign of life – so much for a mile and a half detour up a steep hill…! I must remember not to get too excited about everything I read on my OS map! Still I count the episode worthwhile for the old man I stopped in the village to ask for directions – the pride in his hometown glowed as he told me.
Arrived in Newton Abbot at 6.30 wet and just starting to feel chilled. Was really struck by what a different impression I had of the town by coming in on foot – I noticed the old buildings, the shape of the town first and only then noticed how the modern buildings superimposed themselves on the landscape. Went in my first supermarket for a long time – toilet stop, and a cup of fruit tea and a dry place to pick up any messages on my newly acquired windows mobile, and was struck by the friendliness of the people and the weirdly homely sense in the cafe – grandad and 2 small grandchildren, a mum and her little one with a friend.
Somehow in spite of its multi international branding, bright lighting and vastness, this place had taken on the persona of community cafe – we are such a versatile species – even in the most artificial of environments people form community, how we hunger for it – found myself wishing a local market meeting place for these friendly folk.
On leaving the town I met a man who asked where I was off to.
“to walk around England” said I
“where ‘s your first stop?” said he
“Kingsteignton” I said
” I was born there” he said proudly “& both my mum and dad are buried in the churchyard there”
“Can I give you some money?” he continued and gave me 50p from the handful of change he drew from his pocket. He smiled and waved me on.
Then came the aching thigh muscles that didn’t stop reminding me of their existence as the rain fell, and dusk began to fall, and I began to realise that my map had run out at Newton Abbot, my windows phone was out of charge, and that I didn’t know how to get to the place where I had earlier that day been offered a bed… fascinating when you ask for directions in a new place… from the helpful petrol station attendants who let me look at their maps but who couldn’t think how to get to the next village if you didn’t go on the dual carriageway… to the man in the next village who gave good directions for one on foot, then the 2 men further on who gave me completely different information. And me as a stranger, which of them should I listen to for each and every one gave me the very best of their knowledge.
I believed the last 2 guides, for it was dark now and I headed for the nearest village and found my way to the delightful Samsons Farm (www.sampsonsfarm.com) a place I had contacted a couple of days earlier asking if they would sponsor the walk.
The welcome in this 14th Century thatched inn has been just wonderful! From Adam the waiter who greeted me and brought me steaming peppermint tea and olives, to the amazing old photo of a family picnic facing the entrance where the young wife is clearly head over heels in love with the photographer, and Nigel, the owner, who saw to it that I was given a bed for the night after a lovely supper. He told me tales of the Bovey Basin, and I learnt of the clay that used to be taken to Teignmouth by canal from Dartmoor and the Templar Way that runs by the inn, named for the orphan in the 1700s who made it all happen and ended by founding a school. Once again pride of place was touchingly evident. Nigel lamented the coming of the likes of the Travelodge whose faceless institutions take business and sense of community from the places where they are built. Nigel is looking forward to the new cycle paths that are being created and more walkers and cyclists passing by – I can vouch they ‘ll be sure of a warm welcome!
So day one is over and I sit in a four poster bed in an ancient inn after soaking my throbbing feet in a hot bath and muse over the milk of human kindness – it floweth yet and it is good.