Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
John Keats – To Autumn
One of the many treats of going on a 1,500 mile charity walk, is that it takes you out of your normal routine. It’s not every day that I can sit outside a tent cradling a mess tin brimming with korean spicy noodles, contemplating the day ahead!
The morning didn’t get off to the best of starts when I emerged bleary eyed (a combine harvester had been active half the night in the adjoining field!) from my tent and headed over to the shower facilities which consisted of a couple of cubicles with a menacing looking nozzle jutting out from the wall above a rusty silver button. I optimistically pressed the latter and was met with a torrent of freezing water in my face! It was a rude wake up call I definitely didn’t need. I decided that a freezing shower at 6am in the morning wasn’t worth the risk of contracting double pneumonia and beat a hasty retreat back to my tent!
Spicy cheese ramyon noodles probably aren’t everybody’s idea of the perfect breakfast! I’ve been eating them on a regular basis for the last 30 years, from the time I was a research analyst based in South Korea, responsible for writing research reports on the company (Nongshim) that makes Shin Ramyon noodles. From eating them on freezing winter nights in Seoul with a bottle of the local hooch (soju) to serving them with Taimen to Mongolian nomads near the Russian border in Hovsgol province, I am a self confessed Shin Ramyon noodle addict. The good news is that you don’t have to buy them from South Korea by mail order anymore – even my local Tesco store in Amesbury stocks them nowadays!
There was a definite feeling that autumn was in the air as I headed out of Pitton under leaden skies. Olivia and I ate our first blackberries of the year on Sunday, harvested from a bush on a south facing wall in Laverstock.
I always like a quirky signs and there were a couple in West Winterslow that raised a smile!
Sadly the doors of neither the Church of All Saints at West Winterslow nor St Mary’s Church Broughton weren’t open for private worship this morning.
I contented myself with admiring the dovecote in the churchyard of St Mary’s, the original of which was reputed to have been given to the church in the 14th century by King Richard III.
In the Middle Ages dovecotes were a sign of social status as pigeons were a valuable source of meat, particularly in winter.
It’s not every village that can boast a monumental dovecote in their churchyard, hence the fact that the dovecote occupies pride of place on Broughton village green!
I met a lovely lady just outside Broughton walking her 3 dogs. She asked if I was walking far, and seemed quite taken aback when I replied that I was embarking on a 1,600 mile charity walk to Rome! “I wish I had some money on me”, she said, “because I’d really like to donate something to help”. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.
The Clarendon Way crosses the River Test at Houghton. Most walkers probably don’t attach much significance to this stretch of chalk stream. But if you are a dry fly fishing aficionado (as I am) then the words ” River Test” and ” Houghton” go together like champagne and caviar. The River Test is the country’s preeminent chalk stream and Houghton is the country’s pre-eminent fishing club.
Founded in 1823, the Houghton Fishing Club (HFC) is the oldest private fishing club in the world. The club has exclusive fishing rights to 13 miles of the River Test near Stockbridge. Money can’t buy you membership of the HFC. The current elected membership is restricted to 25, and includes the likes of Lord Tanlaw, Lord Tryon and the Duke of Northumberland. And the President of the club? Well that is none other than HRH Prince Charles for whom there is a changing area especially reserved. The 13 miles of fishing are valued at £600 a foot! It probably means that the trout that are caught on the Houghton beat of the Test are worth more than their weight in gold!
Farley Mount is the highest point in Hampshire but the major point of interest is not a trig point but a monument which is dedicated to a horse called ‘ Beware Chalk Pit’.
The impressive pagoda-like monument commemorates a horse owned by Paulet St John, the 3rd Earl of Bolingbroke which plunged into a chalk pit while its owner was out hunting in 1733. The horse and rider were survived their misadventure, and the following year the horse was entered in a race and given the name ‘ Beware Chalk Pit”. Needless to say Beware Chalk Pit carried his owner to victory and a memorial was erected in its honour by its grateful owner when the trusty steed died.
At around 4pm the sun finally came out from behind the clouds as I descended from Oliver’s Battery into Winchester. I dropped off at the Abbey of St Cross and was given a pilgrim’s dole – a mug of beer and a crust of bread. The Hospital of St Cross has maintained this tradition for helping wayfarers since their foundation in 1136. It’s also the origin of the term, ‘to be on the dole’.
From St Cross I walked along the banks of the River Itchen, (where as a boy at WinColl I spent far too much time trout fishing rather than studying!) towards Winchester College. Over 200 years ago, the poet John Keats had trodden the same path when he spent time in Winchester in 1819. It was his most productive year as a poet as he worked on ‘Lamia’, ‘Otho the Great’ and ‘Hyperion’. “The air is worth sixpence a pint” he told a friend. He took regular walks in the water meadows beside the Itchen and wrote his beautiful ode ‘To Autumn’ after walking through the meadows to St Cross. 2 years later he died of fever in Rome, almost 200 years ago to the day.
My final port of call for the day was the cloisters at Winchester College where I wanted to pay my respects to a school contemporary of mine called Christopher Gray, a brilliant student who became a priest after a distinguished academic career at Oxford. He had an annoying habit at school of winning pretty much every school prize that was on offer. After leaving Oxford he had become a priest and spent a year looking after handicapped people at the L’Arche community in France, where he discovered his flair for learning living languages – in addition to Latin, Greek and Hebrew, French and German he was fluent in at least 5 Slavic languages including Czech and Rumanian.
In 1992, after training for the priesthood at Mirfield in Yorkshire, he became a curate at St Jude’s Church, Cantril Farm, in Liverpool. Cantril Farm is a 1960s housing estate with one of the highest unemployment rates in England; the community there was under siege, with high levels of drug use, crime and violence.
Christopher knew the limits of a priest, but within those limits he exercised a sacrificial ministry, especially working with young people who had no connection with the Church. He did not see himself as doing the work of a social worker but felt strongly that the Church is responsible for giving meaning to the lives of those that present them to her.
His life was tragically cut short aged 32 in 1996 when he was savagely stabbed to death 5 times with ax5 inch knife outside his vicarage in Anfield, Liverpool by Peter Storey, a vagrant he had befriended and lent money to. Destined for great things, his life is commemorated with a simple Latin inscription in the college cloisters.
As a theologian, Christopher had written a number of pieces on the role of a priest one of which included the following strangely prophetic passage:
The supreme act of the shepherd is to lay down his life for the sheep . . . [Priests are called to be] people who grow to be like Christ in their faithful service of their flocks; even to the point of sacrificing their own lives.’
As I returned from the cloisters, I passed the school chapel and Chamber and Flint Courts, where both my father and myself had spent so much of our youth at WinColl. Ghosts from the past came flooding back, memories of attending daily morning chapel before heading round the corner for lessons in Flint Court.
With thoughts of Chris Gray and my father fresh in my mind, after checking in to the Wessex Mercure Hotel, I headed over to the Cathedral to attend Choral Evensong. Listening to the choir sing the final anthem ‘ The Lord is my Shepherd’ I couldn’t help but dwell on the life of Christopher Gray and the ultimate sacrifice he made for his religious beliefs.
From spicy noodles to choral evensong in Winchester Cathedral. It really was a case of ‘ from the ridiculous to the sublime’ I thought to myself as I immersed my throbbing feet into the bath and dimly wondered what surprises tomorrow’s journey would bring.