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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saturday Walk to Wilstone Village

"Chimes ring out, calling the wind to play." ~Jaqueline Almdale Biggs

   As Les said we did make it off the Aylesbury Arm, where we fetched up at Marsworth only to be pinned down again by the next storm front--and the next. Rain continually lashed from leaden skies, and the winds grew steadily over the last few days until the trees appeared to be engaged in some wild, staggering dance. 
   Last night we lay cuddled together under the down comforter as the boat lurched and jerked against its mooring. It felt like a night spent in a Texas bar drunk on tequila, riding the mechanical bull.
   Saturday morning after we set ourselves right with a hot cup of tea and a quick look at the online BBC for news updates, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine making a casual appearance between wind tossed clouds. Les and I wanted to pick up a Saturday Daily Mail with the TV guide and some bread. We walked up the towpath, over the bridge on Church lane that spans the Grand Union canal overlooking our mooring, and down Watery Lane onto the towpath along the Aylesbury arm. 
   Though the wind was still gusting, it was a warmer wind now. Sunlight erased harsh shadows and lit up the damages which took place overnight: storm strewn branches from the hedge littered the ground, making the slick mud chunky in places. Still the world glittered as fat water droplets hung from everything--the leftover confetti of last night's storm, gilded golden by the morning sun. A tiny Wren sheltered in the thorny, twisted twigs of a hawthorn hedge.
   We walked along past five locks and decided on a whim to cut across a farmer's field, following a public footpath into the village of Wilstone--renown as the place of the last public ducking of a witch in in 1751.
   The field was bogged down with water and half stiffened mud as we slogged along. The wind picked up and assaulted our faces, making us bend forward against the onslaught to reach the edge of the Village and its back side allotments (public garden spaces). The path into the village was sodden with too much water, squelching as our boots assailed the mud in a deluded effort to seek out any bit of higher ground. Ahead a large dark puddle had grown in the storm to create a deep pond obscuring the end of Rosebarn Road. I spotted an alternative path through the trees and directly along the sides of some fenced yards. Ducking into the overhanging brush, the high ground here was dry.
   We quickly came to a right turn between two houses which tumbled us out without fanfare into Wilstone village along Grange Road. Les and I traipsed along, buffered now from the wind by the houses on either side. Turning left onto Tring Road we walked past the community centre as the road curved back around to the village shops. 
These cottages had sandbags at their doors
   We passed the fronts of cottages with sandbags stacked across the front entrances. Wilstone reservoir has exceeded its ability to hold any more water. The overflow passes into Gudgeon stream which comes out in the Village, running along Tring Road. Their septic systems flooded as well, the mixture of sewage and surface water inundating these homes in January with no relief in sight.
The Half Moon Pub
   As we carried on up Tring Road into the center of the Village we passed the 16th century Half Moon pub--site of the inquest for the accused witches John and his wife Ruth Osborne, were drowned as a result of being ducked in a local pond. 
   Just beyond the road splits in two with the old village forge building sitting in between. Tring road continues on to the right and eventually meets up with The Icknield Way--an ancient track way that pre-Roman peoples used to travel from Norfolk to Wiltshire. Eventually Icknield Way became one of the four major highways in the 12th century.
   To the left in the heart of the village is New Road and the Wilstone Community Shop resides here. Unable to make a going concern of it, in 2012 the proprietors turned the premises over to the community which held a series of fund raisers to reimburse the former owners some of their monies. The shop is staffed by local community volunteers with limited hours of operation. Nonetheless it is surprisingly well stocked. We purchased the most delicious brown bread studded with seeds and dressed with a scattering of rolled oats across the rounded top. Moist, tender with a lovely crumb of real dark wheat--not molasses and caramel colored bleached wheat bread--this loaf makes fabulous sandwiches. It is produced by Prudens Bakery
Wilstone Village Shop, left side,  courtesy of NB Caxton, © 2010
    After a quick and cheery exchange with the shop volunteers, we stepped out the door with our fresh loaf of bread and Saturday paper in one hand--and a freshly baked pasty in the other hand! Heaven!! I really do mean it! Pasties are the original British fast food and they beat McDonalds hands down. Served hot, a pasty will warm you down to your toes; eaten cold, they are delicious stodge which will stick to your ribs and keep you going.
   Walking along New Road, we relished the tender, flaky pastry shaped into an oblong pocket filled with a mixture of potatoes, onions, parsnips, carrots and spiced beef mince. Steam poured off the ruffled dough seam across the top, filling our noses with the scent of good food.
   We were on the hunt for the Wilstone Farm Shop which came highly recommended by several Cow Roast boaters. Les eschews these establishments because they are usually very pricey but I love to go in and look around. Les was reluctant to search for it but as far as I am concerned, it is all an adventure--especially given typical English instructions by the locals who told me as we stood outside the Community shop, " Oh yes the farm shop is just up this road, " pointing up New Road, "just follow it along to the right and there it is at the top of the road." Righty-oh then...
   Eventually New Road gives way to a public footpath parallel to Wilstone Green--the old common. A large pond lapped at the edge of the private road which bends round the far end and meets up with Tring Road. Was this the pond in which poor Ruth Osborne was drowned?? We walked along, Les attempting to get me to turn back--turn back!! This from the man who NEVER takes the same route out and back on a walk! 
   We reached the end of New Road, followed the private road around to Tring Road, turned left and walked about 150 yards to the intersection with Icknield Way. A left turn and we spotted the farm shop 20 yards up on the right. 
   Les waited outside, using his touch phone map app to suss out the best way back home to our boat. Inside I wandered the aisles eyes agog with delight at the expensive offerings: Gin and Tonic skin and bath products made me think of our friends Chrisi and Keith Kincaid and Chrisi's mom Sandy Field back in Pullman: G & T's on the back deck of their farmhouse in the sinking sun on a scorching Palouse evening.
   I loved the way the Wilstone Farm Shop had its own line of frozen foods--Field Fare. Instead of offering frozen mixed vegetables or single veg or fruit in bags, they were flash frozen and sat in tubs in the freezer section. One just dipped in a scoop and bagged up as much--or as little as one wants. Brilliant! 
  Shelves were lined with glowing jars of chutneys, jams, mustards, vinaigrettes, and sauces; freshly baked breads were mounded atop one another in rounds, loaves, planchettes, and flats with tomato sauce, cheese and garlic baked on top; freshly baked pasties, both savory and sweet mingled with Victoria sponge cakes. Chocolate espresso sponge cakes frosted with coffee frosting and small Bakewell tarts perched saucily nearby with bright red cherries on top made my mouth water. A fresh food section offered bins filled with really lovely fruit and vegetables--all quite costly. A tea bar tempted shoppers to sit and have a Danish or a slice of cake with their cuppa. 
   The Wilstone Farm Shop also offers bags of coal, cut firewood, special mixed blends of animal feed for a variety of farm animals large and small, and a plant shop with seeds and small pots of blooming plants ready for another season. 
Our 2.5 mile journey is marked in red. A: NB Val moored up on the Grand Union canal at the bridge into Marsworth village; B; Wilstone Community shop; C: Wilstone Farm Shop; D: Angler's Retreat Pub.
   Outside Les and I set off up Icknield Way heading back around toward the village of Marsworth where we are moored, skirting the Reservoirs--there are four just South of Wilstone Village--created to keep the Grand Union Canal and its arms in water.
   Sighting the 13th century square stone tower of Marsworth's All Saints church we set off with the wind at our backs, buffeting us along the road side. To our right was the steep green wall of Wilstone Reservoir.  To our left across the wet green fields ran the Aylesbury Arm. We could see the new Cala Homes (half a million pounds for these new townhouses) being built with their backs on the Arm. 
   Nearing the roundabout with Wingrave Road we looked back from high ground towards Wilstone Reservoir in total astonishment to see the water lapping at the very top of the walls, buffeted into waves by the wind which lashed spumes of watery foam over the sides!
   Up the road and past The Angler's Retreat Pub where we ate out Wednesday last for our monthly date night, across the canal bridge, down the stairs on to the towpath, picking our way gingerly through the muck and finally--"...home gain, home again when market is done!"
   A bracing walk of 2.5 miles, a hot cuppa, an afternoon nap rocked by the continuing wind, dinner of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and carrots, steamed chocolate pud for dessert, a hot shower, clean jammies and the re-make of the movie True Grit on the telly. This is our version of "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou." (Omar Khayyam, Persian Poet, 1038-1131)


K1 said...

Goodness me Jaq... You have lead an exciting life "a night spent in a Texas bar drunk on tequila, riding the mechanical bull"

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Well I've not actually done these things, however as a writer I can summon up a good simile when needed!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs