School will start back on Tuesday and I feel the need to hold myself to account for what I have ‘achieved’ during the official ‘break’. When I start to write this list (I love a list) I realise that this task will not take me long.
Pre-Covid I would have beaten myself up about my lack of achievement, but the new me decides to blame Gavin Williamson instead. He is the reason that I have been shouting at the radio, drawing huge masks over his face if he appears in a newspaper and spending much too much time in the school office this summer thanks to his inability to drive education forward in a straightish line. If it wasn’t for GW I would surely be posting a photo of my sour dough loaf alongside this blog.
Favourite Man (FM) and I had smugly congratulated ourselves on downsizing any grandiose plans for our summer holiday by deciding to go simple and to walk The Cotswold Way (CWW). Staycation (tick), cheap (tick) and a valiant attempt to be active (tick x2). We hit on this plan as Boris eases the edict to exercise only once a day and go wild on our first anniversary by purchasing a map of the route (Getting Mama J’s priorities right, I am less interested in contour lines and gradients and source a map of coffee shops and pubs along The Cotswold Way, but sadly don’t predict mask wearing/booking ahead at this stage).
As school closes for the end of term we do some vague planning along the lines of ,’shall I buy a flask?’ (yes), ‘shall we do the CWW in one go and camp each night?’ (no), ‘how many miles do you think we can walk in an hour?’ (haven’t a clue). Reassuringly, when we spread the map out, The CWW just rolls out before us – not a U turn in sight unless we get the map reading wrong.
Then life and weather start getting in the way. Miss Trunchbull herself could not have walked – or rambled – away after the two ‘unprecedented’ exam results days Gavin Williamson gifts to us without fretting about university and Sixth Form places. FM and I have a moment of realism and decide that we need to downsize our plans to join the Ramblers Association. We agree that we will devote just one week walking, ‘what we can’ (#niceandvague) of The Cotswold Way.
We console ourselves by binge watching Bear Grylls (love you) and ‘his’ World’s Toughest Race on Amazon Prime (this race makes putty of the most amazing athletes, or as Bear would say, ‘total legends!’) and then, last Saturday, we start the first leg of our adventure.
Cutting a short story long, let us just say we overcook it and, although the scenery and company are idyllic, on our first ramble we wipe ourselves out for Sunday and Monday and cry tears of relief when FM gets ‘called back in’ on Tuesday for some more meetings (I am not sure if you can say, ‘called back in,’ when you are working from home’, but you get my drift). Then I am ‘needed’ back in school… so we downsize again. ‘The Cotswold Way isn’t going anywhere. We have got years ahead of us, my love. The weather looks terrible’ – these are all things FM says, while I am busy scratching out my list of ‘Summer Holiday Good Intentions’ and making myself a camel hair shirt.
So it transpires that we are fair weather Cotswold Way walkers and that we only walk on Saturdays. Good job I held back from entering us into The Toughest Race on Earth 2021, then.
On our CWW second leg I like to believe we were slightly older and wiser. The first ‘leg’ nudges us to:
- Buy a flask
- At least pretend to look at the CWW map before setting off
- Double up by asking my seasoned rambler of a brother for his guide book for the CWW (he finished this walk many years ago so counts as a veteran rambler).
- Make better sandwiches
- Set off earlier (still a work in progress).
- Take more snacks
In just two weekends of walking we discover that there is a ramblers’ etiquette that you do well to embrace for many walkers you meet are also walking the whole of the CWW and you are thus likely to bump into them again in the future. At some points you will hit peak rambler rush hour and at then you need to work hard not to morph into a London commuter who wants to overtake as you romp up some steep hill (Mama J, this is not the underground escalator and you do not have a train to catch).
It pays not to be too judgemental for the couple you meet with ‘all the gear but no idea’ often tend to be the couple you later need to ask for directions when your cheese and pickle sandwich has erased part of your route map. It also pays not to be too engaging when you fall into step with other walkers – there is a fine line between neutral banter and becoming so engrossed with their Cotswold tales that you find it difficult to extricate yourself seamlessly and end up walking the next miles in convoy wondering if they too are trying to shake you off.
In truth I am far too nosy to be a neutral rambler; I want to know what time other walkers are eating their lunch (and what they have in their sandwiches), how much they paid for their walking poles (and are they useful?) and how far they intend walking in one day. In my head I also like to guess what career they have and what their relationship is with the people they are walking with. I realise I am late to this malarkey, having spent too many years running rather than walking – you meet a more eclectic tribe walking. I find myself jealous that Clare Balding pitched that ‘Ramblings’ gig to Radio 4 before I even realised rambling was a ‘thing’. (Note to self, will I sound too breathless if I pitch my ‘jogging with mates’ idea to the Beeb?)
Anyway, I am happy to report that we now have two legs under our belt (you know what I mean, two very stiff legs each but two legs of our pilgrimage done). This is fortunate as there were two points yesterday when I felt that I may not live to write this blog.
The first was when a becorduroyed ‘gent’ was so incensed that we were daring to picnic on a verge alongside the CWW trail running through his fiefdom that he aimed his sit-on lawnmower straight at us. Note to Gavin Williamson, we stared that lawnmower down and refused to U turn – i.e. we pretended we couldn’t understand what Mr Yellow Cords was saying – which enraged him further – finished our flask of tea and then gathered our things up (slowly and dramatically) before recommencing our ramble.
The second was at the end of yesterday’s walk when we tried to reconnect with FM’s car. As we crossed a farmyard, a resident farmer shot over the brow of a hill, yelling at us from his buggy to leap behind a fence so that he could corral three cows into an adjacent field. We acquiesced and FM mustered every ounce of rambling bonhomie to explain – from deep behind the fence – that we were looking for a path that might lead back to our car. ‘Are you the owner of that bloody blue BMW blocking my gate?’ yelled the farmer, before shooting off again in his buggy.
His brother then appears and apologises for his sibling’s dark sense of humour and coaxes me out from behind the gate where I am still cowering and looking around for hidden sit-on lawn mowers. ‘It’s fine,’ he says, ‘we get hundred of walkers through the farm every day and my daughter is hoping to open a tea shop for ramblers ..it is just my brother we need to talk around…still, it could be worse, you should meet that tosser over the hill who scares off walkers with his lawn mower.’
No U turn needed, we return to the car with a jaunt in our step, fancying ourselves now as seasoned ramblers – the only turn we make is one to look over our shoulder to see the first farmer grinning at us from his buggy and pretending to shake a stick and a V sign in our direction. Country Folk, eh?
In summary, we may only be ticking off one quarter of The Cotswold Way, but we are still driving forward and this lady is not for turning. We will take this as a Covid Summer 2020 win. It is a Bank Holiday tomorrow, so who knows how many landowners we will get to upset if we brace the trail again? In truth, my new priority is to get back into school on Tuesday so that I can keep an eye on that Gavin Williamson from behind my mask. I have prepared a list of teachers’ expectations of him – algorithm free. I hope he has had a refreshing holiday.