Horribly early start on Good Friday morning. Not really very well prepared for my first two day trip. No food for starters. I think there will probably be somewhere on the way I can get something but I haven't really worked it out on the map.

Planning! Didn't do Scott of the Antactic much good, did it?

The M&S Food place in St Pancras is closed. Oh dear. But I have time for a cappuccino and a bagel before my train leaves for Market Harborough.  This journey is great. It whisks me past old mates from earlier legs like Harpendon Common, the sewerage works before Luton, the three tower blocks that stand sentinal above the source of the river lee.

Then it is the Sharpenhoe Clappers and after Harlington station my train and walking routes diverge. It is a damp greyish morning when I step off the train at Market Harborough.

   Market Harborough station

The rules of the game say that I have to actually cross my path from the last leg, but I soon come to the route I took to the bus stop last time, and follow my own tracks to the middle of town. Luckily there is a Tesco open so I go to buy some hot cross buns. They don't have any. You can get hot cross buns all year now but not, it seems, on Good Friday morning. Oh well, I make do with some malt loaves and head out.

The first part is along a road and none too inspiring, but at least there is a footpath and traffic is not that heavy. The road takes me to a spur of the Grand Union Canal and and take the tow path for a bit. This is quite a long leg, or it will be if I fulfil my ambition of walking beyond my sister's house to give myself a head start for tomorrow. So I get back on the road to avoid a big bend in the canal. Rejoining it shortly before Foxton. 

The tow path is good here. Some sort of hoggin type stuff. The drizzle has stopped and though the forecast is for more rain later things are not looking too bad. The only problem is that my right foot is rubbing a bit on the ball. I think maybe the cheap outer socks I have on are a bad idea. And my boots are almost worn through at the soles. My beautiful lightweight, waterpoof  Brashers, are very near the end of their working lives. 

Past Foxton I come across a woman and small girl who are struggling to move a swing bridge, watched by a man at the tiller of a narrow boat and a boy. I offer to help and, once the boat is past, assist them to close it again. There aren't many photos of me on this trip so I ask the woman to take one of me.

I set off again and soon come to Foxton Locks where the spur meets the Leicester branch of the Grand Union Canal. The path is less good here, being simply wet grass for the most part.

Shortly out of Market Harborough I noticed a change in the countryside. Nothing dramatic, it was still gently rolling, but less was arable and more was pasture, mostly with sheep. Young lambs in the fields reminded me that it was supposed to be spring, though it was still grey and dismal. But the other thing I noticed was that there was lots of ridge and furrow around. This corrugated landscape is a relic of the big communal fields before enclosure. Divided into strips those strips were ploughed in such a way that the strips became long low ridges divided by shallow depressions. I had come across it once or twice on the last leg and seen it before from Ivinghoe Beacon looking out from the Chiltern escarpment over the start of this Midland Plain. 

But here it was everywhere. Every other field seemed to have it and I could see it from distant hills to the fields across the canal where the ridges and furrows had been truncated by the canal builders. 

At Debdale Wharfe I left the canal because there was a tunnel coming and even though I had remembered my head torch, I didn't fancy swimming. I was puzzled as I set off down the track. I checked the map. Looked at the country. Checked the map. This must be the right track, surely? But there were buildings, big farm buildings and a large house, and the farm buildings were old looking, and not a thing on my 25,000 scale OS map.  The track got seriously muddy quickly, especially past the farm buildings.  And soon I passed another house that wasn't marked. Strange as it was a brand new map.

After the village of Smeeton Westerby the track gave up and became a mire through a ploughed field. My feet were hurting much more now, and I was getting tired and desperate for some tea, but there was nowhere to stop and sit. So I pressed on until I came to a little Woodland Trust reserve, with a very timely bench placed for me to sit and sort myself out. 
I decided hat I had better change socks, putting on the better pair I had been saving for tommorrow. My right sock was wet and, no doubt that had not helped. I dried my feet and changed the socks and had a cup of tea and a croissent I had saved from breakfast. Then something small and ginger caught my eye. Dancing madly twenty meters or so away. A weasel. Only the third I have ever seen. Cheered and refreshed, I sorted out my boots and set off down the small hill to rejoin the canal.

The good tow path was gone now. It was a mass of mud, rutted deeply from mountain bikers and destroyed by tyres and boots. From this point on to when I finally gave up on the tow path it was an absolute nightmare. Often it sloped quite steeply and the tyre ruts and boots had made the lowest part a continual puddle. But if I tried to walk on the higher, drier parts I kept sliding off, even using my walking pole, and this was painful on my ever more sore foot. Smears showed where other people had tried and failed to do this before me. And the rain had set in again.

Still there were some pleasures to be seen. An old church marooned in a field which the map told me was the site of the medieval village of Wystowe. More lambs, more corrugations, a great spotted woodpecker and a solitary buzzard. 

But mostly it was mud. I was getting hungry and tired and sore but slogged on as there was a pub marked on the map at Kilby Bridge. But it was a hell of a long time coming. I slogged down a long stretch of canal, marking off the locks and bridges as I past them. Turnover Bridge, Lanham's Bridge, Tythorn bridge. On and on through the slithering mud.

At last I made it to the pub. The Navigation.  Not fancy but they gave me a table and I was a steaming lump of mud spattered misery. They had a two course special for £5.00 which I had. Horrible packet soup made very thick and a small piece of plaice with oven chips and peas and the most horrible cappuccino I have ever had, I think. But it was warm and welcoming and cheap and filling, and I was grateful for every bit of it.

But eventually I had to leave. And it was really pouring now. I stopped to put my over trousers on and set off once again into the pissing rain and mud.

The less said about the next couple of hours the better maybe. The path got worse if anything. I knew I had a blister on my right foot and probably on the left. The rain was relentless, the tow path unspeakable. More locks and bridges to tick off. Knights Bridge, Pochin's Bridge. And finally the houses of South Wigston.

The plan, such as it was, had been to carry on for another mile or so, but here I siezed the chance to get out of the mud and took a little lane into Blaby. Hobbling now, and knackered. But it was only another four K or so to Enderby. All thoughts of going further long since vanished.

On a good day it would not have been very pretty. Through urban sprawl and on busy roads. At last the sign for Enderby, but I still had to hobble over the M1 and go another kilometer or so.

The map was puzzling. I had been to my sister's quite a few times though had only made my own way once, many years ago. Still, I thought that I should be able to recognise the curving streets of her housing estate. Probably I was just too tired and stupified by the pain of my feet, but I could not see it. I hobbled on, past a cricket pitch that, to my surprise had what looked like remnants of ridge and furrow in the outfield. And then I felt the blister on my right foot bursting. There was a wet feeling and a scalding pain.

I knew I was very near to Nina's house but I really did not want to hobble round in circles on my burst blister. I got out the mobile and got her to come in the car and pick me up. 
I had a quick cup of tea and then had a bath and inspected the damage. The blister was not as big as I had thought but it was in a horrible place for walking, right where the toes met the ball of my foot. And there was as smaller unburst one on the left foot. 

Later, Nina and I looked at the map and she saw the problem straight away. Her estate was not on it, though it was twenty years old and I had only bought the map back in November. The unmarked houses on the muddy lane were no longer a mystery. 


  1. JaneGS said...

    Excellent travelogue, Spencer. Loved the pictures, especially of the Market Harborough station and the church. Nice pic of you at the tiller to--an eventful leg that will in memory if not infamy, I'm sure.  


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