About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taking the High Road

So that's me, looking very British I must say, taking the High Road in Layer-de-la-Haye on the English Country Walk I took during my London Book Fair trip.

This was serendipity at its very best. Whenever I travel, I think it's always nice to touch base with Persons of Interest in the areas I'm visiting. When I discovered that David Wenk, the webmaster for Peter V. Brett, lived in London, I decided it might be nice to try and hook up with him on my UK trip, and then to make things more interesting I found out one of the other hats he wore was that of running English Country Walks, which is oddly enough exactly what it sounds like. You go out into the English country, and you go on a walk. I like very much to walk, and I think the country is a very nice place to visit though I wouldn't want to live there, so this sounded very enticing. Not a sure thing, since I have only so much free time on the trip. I don't know if I would have gone on the walk if London was full of theatrical offerings I was just dying to see, which it wasn't. Or if the wonderful screens on the West End had been overflowing with movies I'd love to see on a huge screen for the bargain price $29.50. But neither applied, so meeting up at Liverpool Street Station at 9AM on a Saturday morning seemed alluring, and I have to say the walk was all and more that I could have hoped for.

There were six of us total. There were two expats who worked for Bloomberg, and the siblings Hal and Sue from the US. Hal was on his first trip outside of North America, in spite of doing IT work for a travel agency, while the others were fairly well traveled and I believe veterans of the English Country Walk experience.

Our first stop, around an hour's train ride from London, was in Colchester. The vending machines at the main-line train station, where we transferred for a short ride to the downtown station, are not to be trusted, and if you try and take a picture of one because that's the new way of writing down the phone # to complain about your lost shillings (I would have done this the old way), you might be thought a suspicious character. As to Colchester itself, it calls itself England's oldest recorded town and was one of the original Roman settlements. Near to the train station one finds St. Botolph's church, with centuries old ruins adjacent to the current and still-functioning church.

That's me walking thru the ruins.

It's then a short walk to the main Colchester bus station, where we had a short wait for the bus to the Colchester Zoo. Next door to the bus station, a cultural center is being built, and would you believe that there are people who are upset because a government building is over budget, behind schedule, and of no practical use to anyone? That's what we were told.

We didn't actually visit the Zoo, but rather went there pretty much just to add distance to the walk and appetite for our lunch. We paralleled the road the bus had just taken us on along a footpath to some ancient Roman ruins that really aren't. Someone has the exciting job of maintaining lines of stone that mark where once upon a long long time ago there was a Roman temple and a Roman ampitheatre, and where an ancient Roman statue of Mercury was once plowed up and given over to the Colchester museum (which is near the bus station and St. Botolph's but not part of our itinerary). Sadly, I can't seem to find the picture of yours truly orating some Shakespeare on what once upon a long long time ago would have been the stage of the Roman ampitheatre.

From there we meandered a short way thru the woods to Layer-de-la-Haye. Along the way we met up with the UK equivalent of JROTC cadets doing some "wilderness" training. An honest bunch; they wanted nothing to do with our map. As we exited the footpath right before the pub we found some adult troops waiting on the cadets at the checkpoint. My lunch was an OK steak and ale pie with the first of two disappointing hard ciders I had on this trip; does anyone make a good hard cider any more?

After lunch we continued our walk past an old mill, past my first encounter with a foot turnstile that helps keep the footpaths to people actually on foot and able to put a leg up and over, through country lanes and adjacent to pastures and horsies, and along a narrow footpath adjacent to the Abbeton reservoir. We took a brief snack break, took the footpath across a military training field, ascended the hill past the crows to St. Andrew's church in Abberton, and ancient Anglican church that creaks of age from its every pore but is also fully functional, complete with the CCTV that is everywhere in the UK and posted right inside the door the fee schedule for life cycle events that you can find here if you're thinking of getting married or buried at the Church of England anytime soon. Hal took this
nice picture of the church.

Leaving the church we walked a bit further along to the second of the four pubs included in this walk. I'm not much of a drinker, so I leafed through the local free newspaper which had lots of ads and not so much news while the rest of the group partook. We then had a nice walk through a hilly farm area between Abberton and Fingrinhoe were we saw lots of cows like the ones Sue photographed which are pictured above.
(well, these cows were actually a little earlier in the walk, but the ones we saw here looked pretty similar) and along to pub #3, which is across the street from a 700-year old oak tree. Sue took this photograph of her brother Hal nestling in its very broad trunk, which took me 28 very good size paces to circumnavigate. You can see for yourself that this is a really really really big oak tree, and I wouldn't want to be the one who has to pick up the acorns when they fall.

With the sun starting to set, we embarked on the final walk, through and along a tidal marsh, with the footpath ending at the Rowhedge Harbor, which had been very busy when it was one of the only ports open when the unions were striking during the Thatcher years, but now looks very desolate. A few blocks into town we arrived at the Anchor, the final pub stop of the day. Our friends from Bloomberg had to get back to London and cabbed back to Colchester while David, Sue, Hal and I chowed down on dinner. I had the tortellini. We then walked a few blocks to catch a bus back to the main line station in Colchester, where we had a short wait for a train back to Liverpool Street.

This was a day to treasure. I had great weather, and the other people on the walk were great company, and neither can be guaranteed. But the totality of the experience is something you really can't have just anyplace; I can't conceive where or how I'd duplicate the totality of experiences anywhere by me, that's for sure. And it's an experience I'd heartily recommend. The only drawback to me was that the day went a little longer than planned, which left precious little time to read the Saturday newspapers, so I got behind and had to work to catch up. If you're heading UK way, there's only one English Country Walks.


Peat said...

I've already booked the Stonehenge Walk for my trip over there in August. I can't wait!

Dan said...

Gotta love that tree!

sue said...

Hi Joshua!
It was great meeting you - I actually *do* have a photo of you orating from the amphitheater "stage", but the light wasn't very good. I'll email you a link!
A great walk, a great crowd and a great day, if I do say so myself!
---sue h

Dr. Dume said...

Looks like you were lucky with the weather. It can be a little 'variable' here. One good thing about walking in the UK is that we have very few dangerous animals running loose, and even those aren't really very dangerous. There's nothing big enough to eat you in our woods.

By the way, those cows are sheep. Cows are bigger and have spikes on their heads ;)

Tim Akers said...

The old Country Walk is something I missed on my last trip across the pond. Beautiful pics, though. 4 pubs...ah, 4 pubs, and exercise to burn off the alcohol in between. That would have been wonderful.

cindy said...

wonderful fotos and travelogue. you make me miss the english countryside. thanks for sharing!

sue said...

Hi Joshua!
I just posted the photo of you orating from the "amphitheater" - as you'll recall a somewhat featureless landscape; at any rate you can see the pic here on my photostream:
sue h

Toni L.P. Kelner said...


It's a shame you didn't make it to the Colchester Museum. As you go in, to the right, there's the centurion stone of one Valerious Maximus. Why do I care? Valerious was my husband's ancestor, and the reason we named our daughter Valerie.


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