Inspired, perhaps, by Harold Fry, Phil and Rene are walking to London from the depths of Northamptonshire. They’re taking the path that follows the Grand Union Canal for 92 miles. This pair recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary so, like their marriage, they’re taking the trip slowly and in stages to make it last.
Accompanied by three sea bass, a bag of seaweed and two bottles of the red stuff, I went up to see Phil and Rene the other day. They always have plenty of their own red stuff but, living in middle-earth, not much in the way of fresh fish; unless you count Waitrose, which I don’t. During our fishy dinner, I was asked to join them the following day on the next stretch of their unlikely pilgrimage from Stoke Bruerne to Grafton Regis. This was a great privilege, being the first time that they’d allowed a fellow traveller to join them; a dangerous strategy, I fear, given what happened to Harold Fry when other folk hitched a ride on the bandwagon.
Phil and Rene are prepared for the terrain: flask filled with coffee – check; walking boots in the car – check; walking sticks on hand – check; route well-planned – check; pub located at end of stage – CHECK! And off we go.
I forgot to mention the number of cars involved. We take two cars to the end point of the stage. We leave one car there and all drive back to the beginning of the stage. We do the walk, get in the waiting car, drive back to the other car and everyone drives home. Simples.
They didn’t check the weather but it was ok: no downpours even though they said it was always sunny when they travelled alone. And there were people to talk with and lovely English countryside to enjoy.
Phil and Rene were lulled into a false sense of security. A veritable horde descended the following day. Wikipedia gives a definition of horde as ‘a socio-political and military structure in nomad cultures such as the Mongols…sometimes from the Caucasus Mountains’. This lot comprised extended family from Dorset. So not much difference then. And Phil and Rene made the mistake of inviting them on the next stage of the walk that would commence at Grafton Regis.
The socio-political structure from the south had not arrived bearing gifts, it being a Friday which is always a good excuse for forgetting the preceding week and anything they should’ve remembered. Further, they ate no intellectually stimulating fish, but still managed to down sufficient quantities of the red stuff to ensure that eight people felt adequately qualified to offer their opinions on how best to accomplish the task ahead. At the same time as each other.
The first suggestions involved the use of four cars. This was, naturally, deemed ridiculous and the plan was whittled down to three. One bright spark maintained that if we could work out the solution to the conundrum of the man, the chicken, the fox and the corn crossing the river, we would know what to do next.
What we did next was drink some more of the red stuff. Next, it was agreed to take only two cars and split into two splinter groups which would start the walk from opposite ends of the trail. We would pass each other at the half way point, exchange a wave and car keys and drive home in the wrong car. We drank some more of the red stuff. There were other suggestions entailing some people doing the walk and then turning round and walking back again. Others argued that it would be better to walk one way and wait for another group to reappear. Others fell off their chairs. As it happened, we divided into two groups each of whom went for a walk in completely different places from the other and none of whom ever saw a canal. A number of photographs had to be taken to prove everyone was present.
We left on the Sunday. ‘So long, and Thanks for all the fish’, shouted Phil and Rene, unaware of their plagiarism. They were too busy clearing up and planning never to ask for company again.
“There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.” Douglas Adams (1984) So long, and Thanks for all the fish.
Follow Phil and Rene at http://watman-somewhat.blogspot.co.uk/