Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lost in the Cotswolds

It was a beautiful day today: sunny and 5 °C. We got a bit of a late start, but had a good breakfast, a quick grocery shop, and then we were on the road to our chosen destination for the day: Brimpsfield. The walk we had picked out would take us from there to the village of Caudle Green and back.

We weren't long in Brimpsfield before the charm of village living became apparent: the village hall that promised free parking could've been mistaken for anyone's house, and pigs, chickens and a horse shared a field across the road from it. So peaceful. And, down at the T-junction that was the 'busy' spot in the village, the ubiquitous war memorial with a fresh poppy wreath, surrounded by little wooden crosses.

The map in our guide book was decidedly lacking on landmarks, but well-versed in the language of stiles and berms now, we started out with confidence. It wasn't long, however, before we started scratching our heads and doubling back on some of our choices. Still, we felt we were heading true, keeping the water -- the one landmark of any consequence -- on the appropriate side of us at all times. And the scenery was incredible, as usual; this was one of my favourite walks -- at that point, anyway.

As we approached what we thought was the halfway point, we had some difficulty finding Caudle Green. I'd heard it's nice, but after a bit of looking, we decided to take a shortcut and start heading back. (The walk provided for this option, so there was no case for alarm -- yet.) As we approached a village from below, feeling very smug about how good we felt, this close to the end of the walk, doubt began to creep into Tea's mind. I assured her that we'd recognize something once we'd crested the hill, and make our way to the village hall by road.

Well, striking out a bit ahead of Tea, not only did I fail to recognize anything in the picturesque village that greeted me, I also spied a bus stop. In disbelief, I was still staring at the large block letters of CAUDLE GREEN when Tea joined me. While fairly confidently following the map to what we believed was the walk's conclusion, we'd managed to land at the halfway point! Now, coming to the realization of how badly disoriented we were, combined with the setting sun, gave me more than a moment of concern, to be honest. Still, this post's title is a bit of hyperbole on my part; we knew where we were; it was just a way's from where we wanted to be -- a mile 'n' a half, to be precise.

Still, we struck out on the road for Brimpsfield with all haste -- no more tricky footpaths for me! -- GPS software running on the Blackberry, and got back to the car within a half-hour or so. The moral of the story: we need to get an earlier start, so setbacks can be dealt with in the light of day. Oh well, no harm, no foul, and lots of fun again -- I think it's clear how much we're both enjoying this when we can still laugh about things in the heightened moments, shall we say. And we can sure as heck laugh about them now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Back to the countryside

Tea and I were happy to bid the snow goodbye for a bit the weekend past -- we had some again today, but it didn't stick around -- and enjoyed a Sunday afternoon walking in the hills surrounding Prestbury. Prior to that, our last walk was a nippy one around Broadway Tower two weeks ago. That one was a bit surreal, starting out on the snowy hilltop -- well before that record-breaking snowfall, mind -- working our way down to the clear village of Broadway, and then back up to the white. Broadway was beautiful -- it's Tea's favourite village to date -- and the carvery we had at the Horse and the Hound was delicious.

Tea laughing at my slip
This Sunday's walk started with a spot of lunch at the Plough Inn, and then, after a few streets, we were through our first stile, enjoying the grass below and the sun above. It wasn't long before I was thinking about my wellies -- sitting in the car, but still too far away at that point: there was a tricky jump from a step, over a stream to the muddy bank opposite. Tea didn't think I'd make it, but I did; didn't even spray my legs with mud. However, in searching for a branch or two for her to step on, I slipped in the mud, throwing out my hands to balance myself. I recovered, only to discover that I'd thrown our guide book in my panic; you could barely see it, it was so deep in the mud! In the end, I managed to clean it up a bit, and Tea got across dry, despite dipping her toes in the stream for a moment. (Gotta love Merrells.)

And that wasn't even the biggest water hazard we had to contend with. A great moment on the walk came as I was partway out in a stream, standing on a narrow board. As I'm trying to maintain my balance I hear this splashing behind me, and turn around to see two dogs jump in and start playing around me. I know attributing human emotions to animals is overdone, but I'd swear these two were gloating about how easily they could cross this obstacle, the water up to their bellies. Their owner was more definitive on the matter, splashing through in her knee-high boots a moment later, saying, "You'll have a hard time without wellies!"

It was good fun, though. As Tea said, I think we'll miss days like this the most when our time here is up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Arctic' living

Well, we've been having great fun the last few days. Comments like, "You must feel right at home," abound as a cold snap, and a nice bit of snow, hit Britain. Southern England has probably seen close to 30 cm of snow over the last two days -- the most they've seen in some 30 years! -- with temperatures hovering around minus 10 degrees Celsius today.

Our backyard Wed. morn
Headlines of "Frozen Britain" and "Arctic conditions" are rarely out of the news. Tea and I must've been in bed for an extra forty minutes this morning, shaking our heads and laughing as BBC Radio Gloucester talked about it almost non-stop. Seriously! "Is it safe for my eighteen-month-old cat to go outside?" and "How do the ducks keep warm?" squeezed out all but a thirty-second piece on the lacklustre coup attempt in the Labour Party. People were phoning in with the temperatures in their areas like they were entering the most lucrative of contests.

We've had a couple of beautiful walks to work; particularly yesterday, when the snow was still fluffy, with that pleasant scrunch; and it was so quiet, with most folks staying home. It's actually getting a bit treacherous now, as sidewalk snow that wasn't cleared has now been compressed to an icy sheen. And I guess that's the main message in all this: they just can't cope. 'Grit' (i.e., rock salt) is running low, side streets haven't been touched, villages are snowed in -- not in a Canadian sense, but a hill of any size, covered in icy snow is too much for most vehicles, especially considering the tires here -- and folks are trying to stay warm in rubber boots. Grocery stores are packed; it'd be like them forecasting another ice-storm at home, I'd imagine.

And there's more snow on the way this weekend, apparently. Still, even if it gets down to the minus 20 °C they're talking about, I find it much nicer than winter in Ottawa: they simply don't get that biting wind here -- well, in the city proper, anyway; my boss lives up on the surrounding hills and paints a slightly different picture. I also like the child-like novelty of it all: a bunch of the younger crowd organized an impromptu snowball fight over lunch yesterday, and everyone's eager to share pictures of the snowmen (and snow-dogs, in one case) they've made. Look for that to wear off as this continues, though; proper mitts, snow shovels and scrappers are all in short supply over here, and cat flaps and mail slots don't do well for keeping houses warm.