Stage Four Harlington to Turvey

Another start in the dark. A dull moist morning too. I am getting the hang of this now. Saturday rather than Sunday but there is something very similar. It used to be that six or seven am was early morning at the weekend and it still is for some. The people, mostly immigrants who use public transport to get to jobs with unsocial hours. But nowadays it is also still the night before for clubbers. Off their faces youths, a bit loud and wasted. Two worlds ignoring each other as the day begins to dawn.

Back to St Pancras station and then back up the line, from Harpendon pretty much tracing the way I went on the last leg. Past the trio of tower blocks in Leagrave (Leegrave? can't remember) standing sentinel over the source of the River Lee. Funny name that. Why grave? It is where the Lee is born...

And back to Harlington. No one else gets off at the station and I dont go back into the village. Heading off instead to the north west. The road soon takes me to a footpath. No, scrub that, I soon realise that there is no path, merely a right of way.

The first field is stubble and the route worn clearly through it but the next one has just been harrowed. After the rain the clay soil is claggy and as I set out hopefully, going by the map as there is no sign of any path at all, just a gap in the hedge far ahead to aim for, the clay starts to stick in heavy clumps to my boots. Oh well, at least I am wearing boots rather than the trainers of the last two sections. Something told me it would be a good idea today.

Heading over the next ploughed muddy field I see a sort of promontary of green sticking out into it on the far side. A few trees and some grass. But I think it might be the place to aim for. As I approach something large and pale runs away. At first I think it is a hare. This looks like hare country though I have yet to see one on any leg of the walk. But I soon see it is far too big. A muntjac? Too pale and the legs seem longer and then their is the gait. This thing seems to bounce, springbok like across the field. Then I see more of them heading the other way. There are four or five. I am astonished as I really don't know what they are. The bouncing gait is really peculiar. Too small and pale for roe, not muntjac. I try to remember what Chinese Water Deer look like. What else is there? Sika but I think they are like fallow deer.

The promontary is not the way. I should have stuck to the map. There is a ditch with a gurgling stream in it and a fine mass of nettles and brambles on both banks. I go the way that the map seems to indicate even though it is the wrong direction, passing depressions in the long grass by the ditch. Clearly something biggish has been sleeping here.

To my relief there is a bridge. I cross the A1520 and head across some more just harrowed fields. Getting sick of it I try to find away around the field edge which is a mistake that takes me meandering round until I finally get to the hamlet of Wood End where a pair of spaniels rush out and bark furiously at me, worrying close to the backs of my legs, until I shout at them and they run off with their tails between their legs.

Never mind.

I have a bit of welcome road walk which runs by the side of a wood and spot some movement. This time I have the binoculers out. There are some of the same things that I saw in the field and one of them stops and lets me get it in focus. It is too far to be sure but I think it might have tusks. It definately has a strange, almost capybara like face and funny teddy bear ears. I am beginning to think that they must by Chinese water deer but the only one I have seen before was dead in a dyke on the Norfolk Broads and that was a very long time ago.

The sky is starting to clear as I head on. Bits of road, some unpleasantly busy, interspersed with pleasant footpaths by or through woodland. After the village of Steppingly I can see wooded hills ahead. Millbrook Warren. Sadly I am going to bypass the fascinating looking Vehicle Proving Ground, a vast circle that looks on the map as if you could see it from space.

There is a good path, a nice broad byway lined with trees on one side up to the Warren and then the track skirts its southwestern edge as I go up Moneypot Hill and hit the A507. Busy but I dont have to follow it for long. Another track through horsey fields takes me to the village of Lidlington.

Apart from a fine looking pub it isnt particularly scenic, but on the road to the station there is a little shop and its open! Inside it is tiny with just enough space for a woman and a teenage girl to stand behind the counter. I look at the food on display there are five cream cakes, some pasties and sausage rolls, and a couple of cheese rolls. I am thinking about it when the woman asks if she can help and then says that her daughter is admiring my camera. She asks where I am walking to and I tell her that I doubt if she will believe me. In the end I buy a pasty and a huge cream cake.

Nice freindly folks in Lidlington, was my experience.

A little road takes me on to the A 42. Hardly any traffic. I come round a corner and a rabbit hops out of the long grass at the side of the road and starts coming towards me.

"Have you got myxie?" I ask aloud to let it know I am there before it runs into me. It hasnt, clearly because it stops, and runs back the other way, disapearing back into the verge near the point where it emerged.

Very strange. But as I pass the point where it had come out, a stoat puts its head up, apparently as puzzled by my sudden appearance as the rabbit. The mystery is explained.

Another right of way across some more fields and I am confronted with a massive barrier. Massive machines are moving earth, creating a huge scar. The footpath seems to go right to this with a sign that reads "pedestrians give way to plant." Can they mean me, I wonder? There is no sign of a path across the devastation though there is gate. A man in hard hat and flourescent jacket is hammering a sign in nearby so I ask him.

"Oh aye, it's still a footpath" he tells me in a West of Scotland accent, explaining that it is a bypass.

More fucking great fast roads. Just what this country needs. After that though things change for the better. I reach Marston Thrift an ancient woodland with welcoming signs. The walk is very pleasant though the views back towards the Greensand hills show a mutilated landscape. It is all public amenity land though through to Cranfield.

Cranfield, a long straggle of a village that has both a university and an airport, according to the map. I looked it up later and it is a bone fide university that grew from an air force research station. There is a coop in Cranfield and something else. Non-white people. The villages I have passed through so far have been mostly white, unlike towns like Luton, but Cranfield has black people, South Asian looking people, Japanese looking people. Students perhaps? It also seems to have a lot of obese people. Those being white.

It is too early to stop for lunch and the pasty is still with me so I head on out after buying some orange juice in the coop. It is a long road slog to start with but not a busy road so it is ok. Then I pick up the Milton Keynes Boundary Walk for a while and it is footpaths again. A bit footsore now I trudge on into Astwood, ready for some lunch. Unfortuntaly the pretty pub I stop at has stopped serving food so I just have a pint of soda and lime and a pot of tea. Then I sit outside and eat the enormous cream bun that I have saved from the Lidlington shop. It is so big that it is almost a meal in itself.

Right away I hear a cry and in the field above me are a pair of buzzards being mobbed by a gang of crows.

Back to big freshly ploughed or harrowed fields. Scrub that, these are huge freshly harrowed fields. No sign of a path but this is marshalled country. Wherever there is doubt there are signs either side saying "no entry" and yellow posts in the far distance marking the way. It feels sort of feudal after the freindly community walks of Cranfield. But at least they are showing you the right of way not blocking it. I guess.

Further on buzzards again. I can't tell if it is the same pair or another one but I guess the same. This time one is being harried by a raptor. A sparrowhawk I think

On to the last part of the walk. The land is getting a bit hilly again and there are more woods, though it is still very neat and managed. The feudal feeling is increasing. I see Turvey Hall in the distance and something is happening. Cars and a marquee. The track goes over a high bridge above a disused railway line that looks like it is used as a farm track but cries out to be a public path.

Never Mind! On down the hill and I get a glimpse of Turvey which looks... lovely.

It is too. The buildings are all honey coloured stone - Cotswold like, but the houses though weathered look oddly regular. A later google tells me that it was rebuilt by the Higgens family in the 19th Century. Which makes sense.

I arrive with minutes to my bus so can't check out the pub but find the bus stop. However, I need the toilet really badly. Across the road is the village hall and it is busy. Cars are arriving, people, mostly women and children bustling. What the hell. I go across and ask a girl if there is a public toilet in the village. She asks a woman at the door who says I can use the toilet in the hall if I am quick.

So I go into the hall. The toilet sign is straight across so off I set, to a roll of drums. A band is setting up in the stage part to my left whilst an audience is getting settled to my left. The toilets are a great relief. I scurry back across the gap between audience and whatever show is being prepared. I cant quite get out quickly though because the entrance is jammed. Two women wearing crinolines (just crinolines over their clothers, no dress over the crinoline) a large woman with a tray of cakes. Kids in the gaps. Eventually I extricate myself and get back to the bus stop.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Turvey has a vibrant amatuer dramatic society, and I guess I had a close encounter with it!

Nice place, Turvey. Beautiful village and friendly people but it was noticable that we had gone back to white. I didnt see a non-white face in the village or the hall. I mention this because the bus, which runs from Northampton to Bedford arrived. It had a black driver and most of the passengers where black or Asian. Stepping on the bus I had gone from the rural village world which is still overwhelmingly white to the urban world of multiple ethnicity.

I wonder if that will change as I continue through the country. Somehow I doubt if it will that much. Oh and I should say that it ended once again in glorious sunshine.

This was a four (all green) woodpecker day. And the big animals were Chinese water deer.

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