Pilgrim day 5
Navigating Milton Keynes first thing was like doing the ups and downs of a crossword puzzle, 4 letters beginning with e? At 7:30am, the paths were deserted; a few early morning dog walkers, a jogger or two, but nowhere the office worker walking? I suspect, looking at the roads, that the motor car has conquered all. So it was an isolated pilgrim that traversed parks, saw beautiful lakes and made his way to the charming old village of Milton Keynes with its parish church. The horse chestnut trees are in abundance here and I reflect on how, with my dad and then my own sons, we collected bagfuls of these shiny treasures. The conker season with awl, string and a drop of vinegar produced champion nuts and nutters in the Miller family.
Crossing the M1 took 1.5 hours from the centre, hunting for the one footbridge, and it felt wonderful to escape into the flat Bedfordshire countryside. I spotted my first butterflies today as they braved the
strong wind to hold onto the occasional flash of autumn sunlight. I crossed ploughed farmland tucked up for winter, as I journeyed to Cranfield village. My ankle had by now flared up and so I kept mostly to the roads as I hobbled into Bedford. The city was busy and my radar was searching all things Bunyan. The Bunyan museum, though small, did not disappoint and an amiable curator took this willing pupil around each artefact. I sat in a mock cell and reflect the isolation, 12 years in prison for preaching in the open air. But what a heritage - Pilgrims Progress is the most widely printed book after the bible and I suspect Harry Potter. What Christians of influence came from around Bedford, and what dear Christians today originate from here, men and women I deeply love and respect.
Pilgrim Day 6
Bedford folk were enjoying their weekend lie in as I left and headed west to a village called Bromham. The path snaked its way across farmland and I was able to keep a good pace for most of the morning. Lunch was a sparse affair, a few Tesco sushi bites and a packet of crisps. I now headed for Wellingborough but finding a way in was like picking a lock, too many by-paths. The problem is signs, both their lack and then when you find one it points in an altogether different direction. I was quite frustrated navigating this city and then crossing the last 7 miles to Kettering. A kind farmer pointed me over his land and shook his head in pity to hear I had come so far. Today didn't feel like a Saturday - I missed my staple final football scores of the afternoon with my son Joseph. It was a good deep bath I sank under, reflecting 6 days gone and 160 miles covered.
Pilgrim Day 7
The prison warders of my boots summoned the cowed prisoners of my toes, blisters, nails and ankles to their confinement once again. Their sentence was a shorter 23 miles to Oakham but detours added 3 more miles and they looked dazed and battered at their evening open doors. Leaving Kettering, I crossed mainly harvested wheat fields. Occasionally I came across the "land trawlers" bright green tractors ploughing, turning over the rich brown Rutland soil. Following them in their hundreds, sea gulls not diving for the small silver fry of our oceans, but juicy brown earthworms. Their actions mimic shoppers at the New Year sales barging and grabbing, then emerging with guttural shrieks.
My route led me along Eyebrook reservoir, a stunning piece of water where trout anglers flicked and retrieved their flies, and herons stalked along the shallow banks. I grabbed half an hour for lunch and
rested in the sun watching a nearby boat. The last 7 miles to Oakham took me mostly on farm tracks passing many cheery cyclists in their Lycra looking condescendingly at this hobbling scruffy hiker in need of a shave. The Admiral Hornblower is my resting place tonight.