Blog

Page One of the Literary Tome: Antiquing–The Literary Way (A Book and Its Travels)

I was in the middle of writing a different entry in my blog, but kept thinking about writing the entry you are about to embark on. I put what I was working on aside…it will be good and worth the wait, I’m sure, but some thoughts are more pressing than others, and currently my day of literary explorations will not leave me to write in peace. It was such an exciting time. Don’t you care to hear about it?

Alright already, I’ll write about you, literary travel memories. Oy. Pushy little thoughts.

It all happened one glorious day in Northampton, England. Or, well, it started in Northampton, but moved beyond. OK, let me just tell the story already.

Floating on my back in the pool at the Raddison in Northampton, I tried to picture what the following day would hold. The echoing sound of water in my ears. The warm water–

No, no, no, no, no. This story actually started long before this day in Northampton. I need to go back in time. Pardon me while I get the prologue of this story down. Click the link below to travel back in time where this momentous, magical day really started…

Prologue: Fall semester 1994. Aged 24. State University of New York, College at New Paltz.

Chapter I. Aged 45. February 2016. Orlando, Florida. Pre-sabbatical.

Chapter II. Aged 45 Continued. An Epistolary Tale of a Blossoming Friendship

Traveling “With a Little Help from My Friends”

I am dedicating this post to a very dear friend and colleague who died this morning back home in Florida and the wonderful wife he left behind. I love you Ken and Debbie Carpenter. You both mean so much to me.

As suggested by the title of this entry, I have the Beatles song in my head right now and am struck by how near I am to where the Beatles originated and how far I am from my friends back home.

Usually, my blogs take days. I write them and then come back to them the next day or a few days later, but this entry may be more rushed, and I feel I need to say my thanks now. Therefore, playing with the lyrics a bit…

What would you think if I wrote out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll write you a blog
And I’ll try not to write too poorly…

I have been holding on to this topic for a bit now, having other topics more pressing on my mind. However, after Ken’s death this morning, I knew it was time to write this. Yes, I saved for this grand adventure to the UK for some time, but the trip would have been a bit more stressful was it not for my friends who took me in so I could give up my apartment and not have any rent or utility or internet payments to make while away.

In August 2015, having stored much of my belongings in a storage unit, some of my things at the Coombes’s home, my gal Cal and I moved in with Ken and Debbie (and Rocky the cat) Carpenter. ken and debbie hockey pics.jpg

It was quite an adjustment for all of us (and especially for Rocky Raccoon), but soon we were settling in. This is where I realized I did not mind living with others. I had lived on my own for four years and while that had been nice, I liked knowing someone was downstairs. I liked that the Carpenters so often invited me to dine with them. I liked sitting on the chair, Debbie and Ken on the couch, watching a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey match or watching the Cleveland Browns lose again and again. I was watching sports I typically didn’t watch (and sometime never knew existed)—horse racing, basketball, hockey, football, baseball, and yes, handball. I discovered sports doesn’t need to be about being a fan but being around people, getting caught up in the excitement of a sport.

And Debbie welcomed me, introducing me to her friends, inviting me to girls’ night, watching Dancing with the Stars on Mondays (yeah, thanks for that addiction, Debbie, haahaha).

And Ken and Cal had a very sweet relationship. He discovered (as did I!), she loved hard boiled eggs. Often in the morning, Ken would take out the pot, and Cal would run into the kitchen, knowing what this meant. He often took her for walks while I was at work. If she were allowed on the couch, I’m sure she would have found her way to napping with Ken as well.

rocky and calrock and cal 2

Rocky, too, got used to Cal. The two of them lying far enough from each other so as to maintain Rocky’s personal space, but close enough to each other to commiserate during a storm or my absence.

By March, Ken and Debbie had learned of his diagnosis, and they needed to deal with it together. It was time for me to move to my next host’s home.

I am ever grateful to Ken and Debbie and Rocky; to Mayra, Gary, and Lani; to Esther, Allan, King, Phantom, Fay, and Nat; and to Adam and Juan and Sasha–all of you for taking Cal and me in. You all made the peace of mind I have on this trip possible. I hope Cal and I have not been too much trouble.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean I want to be alone. I want to be with people. I have been single for many years, but I have never been alone, never lonely. I am content to know I have people who will be there for me when I need them. I must be doing something right in my life to have such supportive friends.

What do I do when my love is away?
(Does it worry you to be alone?)
How do I feel by the end of the day?
(Are you sad because you’re on your own?)
No I get by with a little help from my friends…

–the Beatles

Can We Prepare the Camembert?

I hate cooking because of all the steps involved–find a recipe, go shopping for ingredients, then follow the recipe. Too many steps. So my first recipe was inspired by the camembert mom already had in her fridge. She said she was trying to find a good way to bake it.

I decided to look in Cooking for Jeffrey to see what Camembert recipes the Barefoot Contessa might have. “Camembert & Proscuitto Tartines” was perfect. Yes, I’d still have to shop, but mom already had most of the ingredients: camembert, thyme, salt, and pepper. All we needed to pick up was the prosciutto and a “round rustic country bread.”

I laid out all the ingredients and set to work, cutting the bread.

I was a bit too zealous with the cutting. I made them small to match the picture in the book, when I was supposed to keep them long, only to cut them after I’d broiled. Not sure if this made a difference…

Slice the Camembert and place on the slices of bread. Mom helped separate the prosciutto, covering the Camembert. Then I sprinkled on the thyme, kosher salt, and pepper. I wondered about the salt, though. Laurie says I might be a super taster…I have sensitivity to tastes. No salt on my hard-boiled egg, while Laurie pours it on. Actually, I rarely add salt to my food at all. If I ask for salt, the food is bland, indeed. However, I am inexperienced when it comes to the Barefoot Contessa’s work, so I followed her recipe. I added salt.

It came out perfectly! Looked just like the picture!

The salt, however, was too much for mom, too much for me. Next time, I’ll skip the salt. Prosciutto and cheese both have plenty of salt. The thyme, the pepper…that’s all it needs. But this was most certainly yum: crispy. crunchy. cheesy goodness. I’m so proud of me!

wp_20161229_015

Not too shabby for my first Cooking Attempt with the Barefoot Contessa!

And thanks for your help, mom!

The Biggest (and Happiest) Losers

Or…How to Lose a Race in Ten Ways…

#1 Planning

Planning for the Diva Half Marathon & 5K at St. Augustine was a breeze. My running partner, Laurie, would send me daily messages…

let’s stay here…

bam, I booked a room at this bed & breakfast…

let’s eat here…

ooh, actually, let’s stay on this boat; oh wait, I get seasick…

look at this Airbnb. Let’s stay here (can’t recommend this place enough!). We can make pizza to carb up– look at this recipe…

martini
The Tini Martini

let’s have drinks here…

dinner there…

let’s have pizza here—but I thought we were making pizza—yes, but I forgot this place makes the best pizza (and Pizza Time did)…

 

 

And I would go with the flow, and she would plan as she is wont to do because, let’s face it, she’s really good at it. I just had to pay for my half marathon entry and show up.

#2 Training

There must be training before running a half marathon. So when the race weekend arrived and we had done no training, we changed from the half marathon to a 5k—“downsized,” she called it.

I will have no problem if we just drink and eat and have fun and otherwise sleep through the 5k, I offered.

#3 Carb up the Night Before…and Wine?

The morning of the run, much wine consumed,

the_social
The Social Lounge

Laurie’s eyebrows and some of her hair singed from the fire pit she lit, we may have, indeed, decided to sleep through the race if it weren’t for the bells ringing. The 6 am church bells ringing?

 

Was that your phone alarm, I asked.

I thought it was yours, she answered.

And we were up.

#4 Get to the Race on Time…and Coffee

We made it to the race early.

Let’s get coffee, I suggested.

Absolutely!

A Circle K, let’s see if they have donuts.

Nope.

coffeediva

 

Coffee in hand,

we were ready to go.

#5 Crossing the Start Line

And the best idea of all…

let’s be the last ones to cross the start line.

I thought Laurie said the finish line, and I was excited. I have this giant fear of coming in last. Every race, I would say to her, but what if we come in last? So the idea of coming in last on purpose was like facing my fears. Owning my fears.

We accomplished Laurie’s idea of crossing the start line last, deciding to also be the last to cross the finish line. We had a goal!

We sized up the group of four women who looked as if they had the same idea. We got this. You will not beat us. We will be the biggest (and happiest) losers ever!

not_too_far_from_the_back_of_the_line
A Group of Four Women and One Solo Runner became Our Competition for Winning Last Place

They’re wrecking our flow, yo, Laurie said.

Two girls straggled upon us at the one mile marker, and we realized, to our great dismay, we were not the last to cross the start line. But I had a plan…

#6 Taking Pics…

We stopped at mile 1 to take pics.

You should take pics, I suggested to the late-comers.

Laurie looked at me funny. I knew she was wondering why I was allowing them to stop, wondering why I would want them to slow down even more.

Here, let me take pics of you. It’s the one mile marker.

And in one move of what appeared to be a helpful runner helping another runner commemorate her race, I had wasted time and spaced out the distance between us and the four women and the one solo runner. The two girls ran ahead. We were a sure thing for last place.

Or were we?

Last place, it turns out, is not an easy accomplishment. The four women after turning to look to see if we were still behind finally gave up and decided to move on. The solo woman, however, wanted it badly.

#7 Tying Shoes

We stopped so I could tie my shoe. It wasn’t untied.

#8 House Hunting

We stopped to take a listing for a house for sale.

#9 Chatting People up

We asked people cheering along the way if we could get a refill on our coffee. We stopped at the water station and helped them clean up.

We moved the giant orange cones off the race path. the_cones_we_moved

Rick from NYC riding a moped at the back of the race kept us company, and I like to think we kept him entertained. “You’re keeping me from going back to bed,” he said. We came upon a man playing music, but he was packing up. He quickly turned on the music for us while the race photographer gave us a high five. He’d already packed up for the day.

#10 Otherwise Clowning around

Laurie started walking backwards. We stopped to hug the woman who donned us with our tiaras and boas. We congratulated the 5k runners who had already finished, happily eating their bananas, sporting their medals.

glamdivamiletwo

We crossed the finish line at.. actually, let me look it up…1 hour 8 minutes and 22 seconds.

And…fulfilling my competitive spirit, I came in dead last! I beat Laurie at coming in last! divafinish

It’s probably alphabetical, Laurie said, for we have the exact same finish time.

And that, my friends, is how to lose a race while really really trying.

 

Chapter I. Aged 45. February 2016. Orlando, Florida. Pre-sabbatical.

This is the third page in a longer blog entitled Antiquing–The Literary Way (A Book and Its Travels)Do click on this link and read the first page (and then the second page), if you have come to this page without doing so. 

I could tell you a story about these past 24 years, a divorce, two more moves, a new degree, my dream job, and the book of Shakespeare plays not faring well through it all, its cover almost detached from the pages within.

The story of my 45th year, however, is a most amazing one. It is a wonderful tale of the universe bringing people together, lovely, magical coincidences and human connections making my story into an adventure.

I volunteer as lead copy editor for a journal called ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830 and have been active in the Aphra Behn Society in past years. 2016 was an election year in the society, time to choose a new member-at-large. I personally knew one of the candidates but wanted to see what the other candidates had to offer. As a conscientious voter, I did my homework and read through the bios, stopping with glee at this happy tidbit:

“Graham Lampard is a bookbinder in Northampton, England.”

A bookbinder?

And a member of my most trusted Aphra Behn Society?

And from England?

Why, yes, universe, I understand.

My sabbatical to England was still six months away. In the meantime, I looked up Lampard’s book binding business online, Craftsman Binders, pinned it to my sabbatical board on Pinterest and considered whether I would show up at his business unannounced while in the UK, book in hand, or contact him in advance.

Oh, and I voted for him for member-at-large, though sadly he did not win.

Less than a month until my trip, I emailed Graham and set the universe in motion.

Click the link below to eavesdrop on the correspondence that followed…

Chapter II. Aged 45 Continued. An Epistolary Tale of a Blossoming Friendship

Prologue: Fall semester 1994. Aged 24. State University of New York, College at New Paltz.

This is the second page in a longer blog entitled Antiquing–The Literary Way (A Book and Its Travels)Do click on this link and read the first page, if you have come to this page without doing so. 

I was working on my master’s degree in English literature and writing a paper on Lady Macbeth’s “Unsex Me” speech from William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth (have a listen, click here). I was obsessed. I was an archaeologist exploring an ancient tomb. I was digging through all sorts of books, looking up nearly every word in the Oxford English Dictionary to see if there was some now obsolete meaning I was missing which would add depth to my exploration. I was looking at symbolism and language, and rhythm, and rhyme.

And boy did I love to talk about what I was uncovering with whomever was willing to listen. lady_macbeth_speech

My six foot five piano-mover (and computer repair) boyfriend at the time was friends with a history teacher at Middletown High School. While my boyfriend was obviously tired of hearing me speak Shakespeare, this man seemed most interested. With my boyfriend at his computer, working in his office–and doing his best to ignore us (can’t say I blame him)–I sat behind him, on the couch, beside the history teacher and monopolized the conversation.

The teacher must have become caught up in my obsession because days later, he returned with a book. A gorgeous, leather-bound 19th century edition of Shakespeare’s plays. shakespeare-bookI took it from him carefully, breathing in the old book smell, gently fingering the gold-gilded pages, opening the cover and turning the pages. Copy paper covered, protected each image throughout the book. It was the loveliest book I had ever held in my own hands.

“It’s for you,” he said.

Perhaps I squeaked. Perhaps I fainted. I really don’t remember. I had to recognize this for the momentousness of this kind act. Didn’t I?

“I have had this for some time, but I know you will really appreciate this, and I want you to have it,” he continued.

Sadly, I don’t remember this man’s name, and I have a vague memory of what he looked like, though the memory may be a romanticized image—beard, mustache, tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. Yes, most likely a romanticized picture of him. However, forever I will be grateful for this amazing gift. I knew it wasn’t worth anything monetarily—not as if it was an original folio, but it meant everything to me. A most heartfelt gift if ever there was and still the most beautiful book I own.

And here ends the prologue, my friends, but this is not the end of the story, for time passed, a lot of time passed, and now at 41 years old, the story continues.

Having moved quite a lot, the book shakespeare-worndid not fare as well as it should have. While I always kept it together with other old books I had collected, the moving around a lot had done its toll on this special tome. The front cover was beginning to wear and was beginning to
shakespeare-front-cover-tornsplit from the pages of the book. I thought about bringing the book to a book binder who could mend my treasure and restore it to its original gloriousness (gloriousity?). To make it pretty again.

However, without a recommendation from someone I trusted, I feared placing my jewel in just anyone’s hands.

Are you still here, my friends? If I have held you this long, perhaps you would like to read on? Click on the link below to follow me a little longer…

Chapter I. Aged 45. February 2016. Orlando, Florida. Pre-sabbatical.

Chapter II. Aged 45 Continued. An Epistolary Tale of a Blossoming Friendship

This is the fourth page in a longer blog entitled Antiquing–The Literary Way (A Book and Its Travels)Do click on this link and read the first page (and then the second and third), if you have come to this page without doing so.

As I said in the previous chapter, I emailed Graham and the universe took over…

email_number_one-edited

See how polite and formal I was? I didn’t know if an English bookbinder would be stuffy or cool, so I played it safe. I was pleased with the response I received the next day.

email_number_two-edited

I instantly liked Graham.

  • I could tell there was an intelligence and sense of humor.
  • He was quick to respond
  • and he had agreed to work with me.

What’s not to like? I was a bit slow on responding. Nearly a week later, I wrote him:

email_number_three-edited

And three days later…

email_four_edited_twice

From the opening line, I found Graham hysterical. My first impressions were correct.

Now despite my usual wariness of strangers, I instantly knew I would accept his offer to see Behn’s play at Shakespeare’s birth place. For some odd reason, though (a reason I can’t recall if I had a reason instead of just being my usual slow to correspond), I made Graham sweat it out for five days before telling him I accepted his invite.

I was sitting at my computer at Valencia College, checking the dates for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover…

And thus began an exchange of literary chats I will let you go through, or you can skip in this slide show…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The date I suggested didn’t work for Graham but he offered the 13th or 15th. I booked two tickets for the 13th for myself and basically a complete stranger.

His question,“Do you often book to see a play with someone you’ve never met – you seem very matter of fact about it :)!,” made me stop and think for the first time.  Yet I did not stop to think about the possible dangers of doing something like this, but was, rather, surprised at how open I was to it. No reservations. None.

  • He mentioned Margaret Atwood (one of my favorite authors)
  • he wanted a copy of my dissertation to read.

Again, what’s not to like? Plus…

On July 26 I mentioned Mary Leapor, the poet on which I focused in one of my dissertation chapters:

“Not surprising you don’t know Leapor. She’s a lesser known, working-class poet and none of her work was published until after her death. I need to put her place of birth on my list of places to go, as well as Edgcote house, for her poem ‘Crumble Hall’ was based upon it.”

My friend, please don’t think less of me, but I did a quick search of Mary Leapor and Edgcote house on Wikipedia. I know. I know. But I was doing a quick search and this did the trick. Little did I know where exactly Edgcote house was, nor Mary Leapor’s birth place.  I pinned both places to my sabbatical Pinterest board and thought to get back to looking at the details later.

As you may have noticed in our correspondence, it was Graham who offered to take me Leapor visiting. Apparently, the Universe extended its magical hand in my direction once again; both places as well as my new bookbinder friend, Graham, all were in Northamptonshire.

What are the odds???

I firmly grasped the universe’s hand in my own and jumped forward in my literary adventures. Once again, I would be traveling with a total stranger, down quiet country roads, and I gave it no thought. I was completely in the universe’s hands.

I was more and more excited about my trip. I finally had a friend in the UK. And my beloved book was going to have a makeover!

Graham emailed me a few days before my departure to wish me safe travels. I emailed him from the waiting area at the airport, minutes before my flight. And I was off to the UK in search of more adventures, many of which you, my friend, have already read about.

You haven’t?

Try these until I can write my next installment of An American Introvert in London’s, now Northampton, literary adventures because, no, this is not the end of this story.

Nettles and Farmers and Thorns, Oh My!

In his poem “Flies and Nettles,” English poet Fergus Allen writes:

The purpose of nettles is to make more nettles,

green, bitter, sharply hairy and introverted…

Introverted nettles?

Introverted me?

Put these two together…

well, you shall see…

Good morning, friend. Yes, I am heading out on another long hike, this one around 14 miles. No, I’m afraid you can’t come with me on this one. This one, I fear, will be rather dangerous, so dangerous even I wish to remove myself from the reality of it. Therefore, I am going to tell you about it in the third person. You stay right here in this graveyard. This should set the mood for the scary story to come (perhaps the story will be scary because the telling of it is so frighteningly appalling, but you shall be the judge of that).

. . . . . .

OUAT3LogoWITHEDITION.jpg… isn’t this how all good stories begin? Or maybe: it was a dark and stormy night… but it was not dark and stormy but bright daylight, 73 degrees, warm, sunny, a beautiful morning when Nicole headed out on what should have been a six-mile hike (according to Google Maps.UK) from Corsham to Castle Combe.

“Have you a map?” her host asked.

“Oh, yes, I have very good directions,” she replied assuredly. According to what she saw on Google Maps, she could do this walk with more ease than the Wye Valley walk. And unlike her two previous well-cooked walks, today she was prepared. Sunscreen on and the bottle in the bag for reapplication along the way. Water. Cell phone. Cell phone charger. No getting burned this time.

“I got this,” she told herself.

And “got this” she did. Aside from the lack of sidewalks and the too-tight roads where she had to stop and back herself up against the side of the road to allow cars clear passage, the way was straightforward with areas of wide-open and empty fields as far as the eye can see, tiny bridges crossing tinier streams, and sheep grazing in the distance. Out in the middle of nowhere she stood gazing and gazing, seeing no one as she walked. This picture was for her alone.

While the gorgeous paths afforded sheer pleasure (and much exercise), the roadways caused frustration. On one of these roadways she had a small altercation. At one point, while backing up to allow a large truck hauling logs to barrel its way down what she feared was actually a highway, she felt burning on her legs.  She was backing up into nettles. The sting was fierce. She’d felt this before at the Dairy House Farm. “Perhaps I should have worn jeans instead of capri workout pants,” she considered.

The tight roads and nettles were worth it for when she entered the town of Castle Comb, she was instantly enchanted.

Bridges with multiple arcs crossed small, quiet streams. Couples and small groups wandered up and down the road, enjoying the unseasonably warm September afternoon. The town where multiple movies had been filmed was a pleasure to see.

Quaint. Historical. Charming.

She found a church and walked through the graveyard, admiring the worn gravestones. “These are much more beautiful than the markers we have today. So cold. These are warm, elegantly designed.”

She entered the church softly and strode quietly through, taking in the serenity and peace.

But six miles. One can understand what happened next. Hunger was calling and she responded.

With a lunch (and dessert) at the Castle Inn Hotel now satisfyingly digesting away, she set out to continue her journey back.

Up the path to the right, into the woods. Follow the markers. “Where is this wall and stile I’m supposed to climb over,” she wondered. Piles of wood lined the path from recent felling. She continued onward.

Then she saw it. A crumbling pile of rocks where a stone wall had once stood. “Maybe this is the wall I was supposed to climb,” she wondered. “Perhaps the lumberjacks destroyed the wall and it’s not reflected in my map. Maybe this map is outdated.”

And with that, she decided the loggers had destroyed the wall. She decided this must, indeed, be the place where she was to cross. She crossed over the stones and continued on her way. Following the worn edge of a field, she traveled, across farmlands, over a gate and into another field.

She admired a field of clover, lush and beautiful.

“Well, this is misleading,” she whined as she moved through the clover. “This looks so soft and wonderful but it’s actually like stepping on top of snow, thinking it’s not too deep, only to drop down, up to your knees in snow. I’m up to my calves in lush clover.”

But she didn’t go back the way she had come. Truthfully, because truth is what we narrators are to tell, truthfully, she wasn’t exactly sure she could find her way back at this point. Also truthfully, she was stubborn and hated to have to retrace her steps.

She stopped and turned on her phone, checking her map. The triangle showed she was not far from where she needed to be. She needed to go east. She crossed an open field and found a gate. She climbed over. “At some point, some farmer is going to come out with a gun and ask me what I’m doing. Accuse me of trespassing on his land.”

But she saw not a soul.

She heard cars in the distance speeding along. “A busy highway. I need to go in that direction.” In that direction she headed. She came out on a road, Long Dean. Castle Combe Circuit read the sign, explaining the sound of speeding cars. Not a highway, a race track. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” she cried. This road was on her map. This road would take her back. This was actually the road she had wanted to be on in the first place. “Well done,” she laughed. “How funny. I ended up right where I need to be. Easy!”

But we all know about “the best laid plans” and “pride cometh before the fall” and my own personal favorite, Billy Crystal’s line from Forget Paris, “I never say ‘piece of cake’ [and] Never say, ‘Famous last words,’ because they could be.”

Everything looked familiar. Familiarity made her comfortable. She walked along the too-tight roads, roads she had been on that very morning. She passed through the center of Biddestone where the ducks were crowded along the pond, locals sitting on the bench as their children played. She crossed the busy intersection to continue on the road on the other side. She re-greeted the horses grazing in the fields on the side of the road. But she tired of the stop and go, stop and go.

Every time a car came, she felt she needed to make room for it, stopping, backing herself up against the side of the road. As before, there was no shoulder. There were no sidewalks. And she just did not want to get hit by the one person who looked down for a moment (maybe texting?) only to look up just before hitting her, no time to swerve, like a bug on the windshield, splat. End of story. She did not want this story to end (as much as you, about now, probably are wishing this story would end), so the side of the road she hugged, and waited, and then continued on.

Growing even more weary of the stop and go, she took advantage of a footpath sign and left the road. Up through the plowed hay field she happily walked without stopping. The extra unplanned wandering across the fields made her tired. “And miles to go before I sleep,” she uttered, so tired that the only thinking she could muster was repeating the same words over and over, “and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Over and over she repeated the phrase, “and miles to go before I sleep,” until it became a lifeless repetitive chant, “and miles to go before I sleep.”

horse.jpgUnfortunately for our wanderer, there seemed to be no exit from the footpath. It merely came to an end—as footpaths are often wont to do. She pulled out her phone. The road showed just at the end of the field ahead of her. No longer caring about any wp_20160907_042confrontations, she climbed over a locked gate and walked assuredly toward the road, stopping to say hello to the horses, taking pictures of the beautiful creature having his dinner, watching her as he ate.

The footpath ended and she was back onto the road. Stop and go. Watch the cars. Don’t get hit. 13 miles already walked today.

She knew she should have arrived home by this point.

Another foot path sign and she again left the road. Had she not done so, she would have made it home quite quickly, for she was but two miles or so from home. Yet, if she had not left the road, this story would be not much of a story (or even less of a story as is). So she did leave the road to follow another foot path.

However, after trudging across the field, short stalks of wheat crunching under her feet, she found there was, once more, no opening for her to reenter the road, no opening into the field on the other side of a tall shrubbery bordering two fields. “I’m not really in the mood to scrape myself up trying to get through to the other side.” She saw a gate quite a distance beyond. “What’s a few extra miles,” she reasoned. “I’m already beyond what I planned to walk today.”

Again she trudged across the field, headed through the gate, walked back along the other side of the shrubbery and then continued forward, all the time she could hear the cars on the road she had been traveling. She was fine, or so she told herself.

But then she wasn’t. She wasn’t fine. She turned her phone on again, and walked along with the triangle, heading through fields as best she should, trying to stay in the vicinity of the road. “Battery critically low.” “Shit. Let’s hope my charger works.” She attached the phone to her charger. She breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the charger icon blink. She continued on her way.

“All walk and no play make Nic a very dull girl,” she mused. She pictured herself typing this sentence again and again like crazed Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. “All walk and no play make Nic a very dull girl.”

“It’s just on the other side,” she cried out loud. She was talking out loud now. She was low on water. She was tired. She wanted to get back to the road. “It’s just on the other side,” she repeated.

Shrubbery. A stone wall. Barbed wire.

“I need to get across. Ok. Barbed wire it is.” She grabbed onto a tree. “Shit,” as the tree bark stung her hand. She placed her fingertips carefully back on the bark, placed her sneakered foot onto the barbed wire, and hoisted herself over.

“Still need to get farther over.” She climbed over a long gate. She was no longer worried about angry farmers and private property. “Maybe a farmer will come and point a gun at me, and I’ll say, ‘yes, please shoot me.’ Or maybe ‘please, escort me off your property, to a main road where I can find my way back.’” But she saw not a soul.

Another gate and she was in a pasture, cows resting on the other side. She recalled a sign she’d seen earlier, “beware of bull” and wondered if this was the field with the bull. She hurried along and crossed another wire barrier. “Ok, no more. I’m not putting on extra miles walking the long way around these walls of shrubbery anymore.” She dropped her backpack on the ground, pulled out her water bottle and took a swig, put it back in her bag and put her phone in alongside, freeing her hands for what she was about to do.

She confidently zipped up her knapsack. “Let’s do this,” she asserted. She climbed another barbed wire fence directly into a dense field of shrubbery. Thorns pricked against her leg. She moved forward and felt the stinging of the nettles. “Oh God. Oh God. Ow. Ow. Ow. Shit. Keep going,” she willed herself. “I need to move forward. Yes, it hurts, Nicole, but you need to keep moving.”

Thorns pulled at her capris and tight shrubbery snagged hold of her foot, holding her in place. She lost her balance, falling forward, but the weight of her body leaning forward freed her from her captor and she allowed the momentum of this to shoot her forward faster. A thought briefly crossed her mind that she might have ripped her clothes, and then more nettles.

“Oh shit. Oh shit. Ow. Ow. Keep going. Need to get through. Don’t stop.” She hopped into a less dense area. “Can’t stop here. Need to just get this over with. Can’t stay here. Need to move.” And move she did. Thorns. Branches. Nettles. She saw the blood dripping down her leg. She felt the stinging nettles burn her legs.

And finally she was through it. She threw herself down onto the open field, and grabbed for her water bottle. Instinct moved her to wash her wounds, the idea of cold water washing away the pain. She took a drink first before pouring the rest onto her legs. The stinging increased, and she pressed her jacket up against the wounds in response. She whimpered.

And finally she heard it—cars driving nearby. She looked up and saw the top of a car peak out above the wall. The road was just on the other side of a long rock wall. She ran to the wall, looked over, and recognized the intersection.

“Less than a mile from here. Less than a mile,” she said as she jumped into a sitting pose on the wall, swinging her legs over. As there was, “of course,” she thought, no sidewalk, she waited for traffic to clear before jumping down and making her way quickly to the intersection.

The adventure was over. She was bloody, scraped, in pain, tired, and thirsty. She needed a shower and some antiseptic. She wanted to sleep. But she had made it through. She had survived the nettles and thorns and angry farmers. Her legs had stopped bleeding but burned steadily, feeling constantly as if they were coming out of pins and needles, but never settling.

She continued the walk along the comfortable sidewalk. She continued toward the familiar, home.

the-end

You now see why I didn’t want you to come, my friend? Much more comfortable sitting here in a quiet, well-manicured graveyard, the friendly spirits of the dead to keep you company. Perhaps I should have joined you instead. Care to join me for a trip to the drug store for some calamine lotion?

Are You Sure This Isn’t a Mountain?

Oh, hello! Sleep well?

I just ran the two miles here. Great run. Great views of the seaside, the restaurants, hotels, and tourists.

Pull up a chair, there’s room at my table. Would you like a cuppa? Grab yourself a scone, too.

Look right here behind The Kiosk is the path up to Beachyhead. path-up-the-hill

Um…no, I wasn’t planning on doing this right now. I just came for tea and scones. My to do list for the day is complete.

On the other hand, you do have a point.

It is right here.

And we are right here.

There is much logic in this, my friend. So I say, yes! Let’s just go up to the top of the hill and take a look. I have my water bottle, but you can buy bottled water here, and we can go see what’s at the top of that hill. Just to the top of the hill, that’s all. Then we’ll come back. Short excursion…

Time to climb to the top of the hill. Race  ya? Heheh. I don’t think so.

Crikey, I haven’t climbed a hill like this in years. Hey, let’s stop halfway.

Turn around. Let’s take in this view (shhh…it’s as good an excuse as any to take a rest. I won’t tell if you won’t tell. It’s a good cover story).

This is stunning in every direction. Toward the city, back the way we came. Toward the countryside. Toward the channel.

the-hill-just-keeps-going-upShall we stop here? I bet the view is even better at the top, and we’re halfway there. We will just go to the top. See? There’s only this small hill to go.

Well, and this green path also moving in the upward direction… still half way to go up the hill.jpg

We made it!

We have really come a long way! Look how tiny Eastbourne looks!

We will go to the edge and turn around and go back home from there.

Remember how confusing the markers were on the Wye Valley? Arrows pointing at each other. Arrows pointing in two different directions. Arrows pointing to the left but the path going straight ahead.

This trail is much better. Plus, we can clearly see the Channel is to the left, country side everywhere else.

Let’s go on this path to the left. It seems as if everyone else is going to the right. This one has to move closer to the Channel. It’s the path less taken!

magical fairy pathway.jpg

It’s making all the difference!

               This is an enchanting, magical fairy path.

                                    Shall we take these stairs?

shall we take these steps.jpg

The view is better and better the closer to the edge we get. WP_20160830_013.jpg

Finally, the cliffs are in sight. I’m so glad you agreed to go beyond the top of the hill with me.

Wide open hills beyond, cliffs below, the sky goes on and on. So gorgeous. Cliffs so white.

I can imagine King Lear‘s blind Gloucester wandering up the hill, wanting to throw himself over the cliff.

I know. I know. That was actually the Cliffs of Dover. But the image still holds.

This trail has been so different from the enclosed, tight spaces leading to fields going on and on into the distance. And the way is clear. No nettles. No stiles to climb over. No gates to unlock. And, except for the magical fairy path, no tree cover to block the sun.

Speaking of the sun. We should probably go back now. It has been such a lovely day, but since we left directly after my run, I–once again–didn’t bring any sunblock. I am feeling rather burned.

Thank you f–

Huh?

Really?

If you’re sure. I don’t want you to get burned as well.

Ok, let’s go see Beachyhead up close and personal. Hurray! I’m already burned. Let’s go on!

Beachyhead is a very historical place. The last view of England many soldiers saw before they died during battle in WWII.

Perhaps someone should have proofread their plaques, though…

he has the best view.jpg Wow.

This guy.

He has the best view.

 

 

I’m going to get some great shots of this view…and myself. Time to practice my selfie-taking skills. They’re a bit lacking.

Too much squinting…

I don’t know where to look….

But black and white makes me look good. 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You talked me into coming this far, so it’s my turn. I’m going to push you to go even farther. I have my fingers crossed that there is a place with food just ahead…and hopefully a loo.

 

Ice creeeeeeeeeam! And a cloudy lemonade. Yes, please.

No loo. We will have to hold it for the wp_20160830_047six or so miles back.

Can you believe how far we’ve come?

Too bad we’re not staying here at Belle Tout B&B. We’d be home!

And homeward we shall go.

 

What’s this? Oh right. I heard about this.

A gentleman at a cafe in town asked me if I knew what Beachyhead was grave-markers-at-beachyheadfamous for. My response was, of course, the history during WWII. But he responded that Beachyhead is the number two (behind the San Francisco Bridge) favorite place to commit suicide.

Thus the grave markers.

…and on a happier note…

It’s nice to see the lighthouse and cliffs from both sides…

Thank you so much for coming along with me. Isn’t it nice to hike a well-marked, open trail? To not have to stress about whether we are going the right direction or getting completely lost?

Sometimes it is fun doing the unplanned. And all the time it is most fun doing the unplanned with you.

 

Hiking the Wye (am I doing this?) Valley Walk

Are you all rested? That’s good because it’s time for you to join me on a journey, a hike of over twenty miles. Come with me as I take you from the countryside along the River Wye to a small beach town on the English Channel. Actually, these are two separate hikes, two separate days, in case you were worried you couldn’t keep up.

While staying at the Dairy House Farm B&B in Staunton on Wye, I did quite a bit of walking trails—you may have read about one of my walks with my canine pal Kanga (“… Just Give Me That Countryside”). A week later and I was following another trail in Eastbourne, a small beach-side city with trails to the historic Beachy Head. During this second walk, I kept comparing my surroundings and the act of following a trail in Eastbourne with my adventures on the Wye Valley Walk. And I definitely mean adventures, as you will soon see. … If you’re willing and ready to go?

Day One: Wye Valley Way

Good morning! It’s time to pack for our trip. Oh, yes, yes, you’re coming with me on my first hike along the Wye Valley Walk.

There’s a pub to stop at on the trail, but having a snack would be nice as well, perhaps in some secluded field along the way? Have we the essentials for surviving a hike? We are heading thirteen miles to Hay-on-Wye, the quirky bookstore town I’ve been wanting to visit. We have plenty of water. Also, in case we get lost and my phone battery dies, I have my portable charger. I even have a map, but unless you know how to read a map, I’m not sure what good this will do since I apparently can’t read a map to save my life. Well, otherwise, I think we are good to go.

At this point, you probably should be asking, “Mightn’t a hat be helpful? And maybe some sunblock?”  Neither have I but I do have the important items for a tasty snack break: bread, cheese, a half a scone, and a miniature bottle of wine, and we are ready to explore. Are you starting to get nervous?

WP_20160822_012[1]
“I’m Rudy the Rabbit!”
You probably should…WP_20160822_011[1]

“I’m Rudy the Rabbit! Rudy the Rabbit.”

What am I chanting, you ask? This spot here, leaving the open space outside the Dairy House Farm B&B and entering into the wooded space, this looks like the place where Rudy enters the woods, speeding up his run in the 80s classic movie, Meatballs.

You don’t know it? It should be on Netflix. Go watch it. No, not now, we have a hike to continue…

Look! A trail marker. And a distinct path in this direction. Ok. This isn’t so bad. And look at the beautiful views. …

I keep thinking about the time when my childhood friend, Sue Rich, and I wandered into the woods at Fancher Davidge Park in Middletown, NY. We soon became lost but after what felt like hours (or maybe days!) we managed somehow to find our way out. Wow, was I surprised when I returned home and my parents were sitting in the living room as if nothing had happened, not even aware their daughter had been in mortal danger, didn’t even know they should have been worried sick about me. And will my family be worried about me now while we walk this new trail together?

Will yours?

Crap. Which way now? The trail in Wye Valley is not user friendly. I can’t quite figure out which way those arrow markers are pointing.WP_20160822_013

But look now, we are not alone in this. Here, where three roads meet, a man is coming, ooh, and he has a dog! He says his name is Toby—the dog’s name, that is.

No, I didn’t ask what the man’s name was. Why is that important?

The three of us (oh, yes, you should come, too) should walk up this third road together. Hmmm…smoky fields and muddy roads?

Looks as if Toby and his human should have gone the direction we came from and we should have gone his. Not too late to do that. “Nice chatting with you. Goodbye, Toby and your human.” Actually, looking back, it makes sense that this is the direction we should have gone in the first place.

It’s going on 11:30, and I’m a bit peckish, but here is the Brobury House & Gardens in Bredwardine. Let’s pay the five pounds, shall we? And we can wander around these beautiful gardens. This is much smaller than Kew Gardens but no less beautiful and peaceful.

Actually, let’s sit here, just the two of us, completely alone by the river. We can read, eat our snacks, and drink the wine. I don’t know about you, but I feel very much at peace. Perhaps we forgo the long trip to Hay-on-Wye and stay here… I do so love a garden.

Remind me to tell you sometime about Kew Gardens, Osterley Park and House, and St Fagans National History Museum…

It’s nearly 1. We should get going. What? No, we’re not heading back yet. Part of me still wants to travel to Hay-on-Wye. We can do it.

We need to cross the river here, and head across this field. Look, the church. That’s on our map. We must be heading the right way.

Aw man, another three way intersection. Let’s sit on this bench and see if we can figure out this map. Maybe if I turn it on its side?

“Oh hello Toby and your human! How goes the hike? Anything of interest out that way?” Toby’s human says the pub is closed because it’s Monday. Stupid Monday.

There’s a marker over there. Let’s get going. Why are these markers appearing farther and farther apart?

I probably shouldn’t worry you like this, but I’m not sure we’re going the right way half the time (ok, maybe 90 percent of the time?).

Yes, yes, I looked at the map, bdirections.jpgut this is no help. First of all, as I said, I can’t read a bloody map. And second of all, the map is attached to step by step directions—IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION—from Hay-on-Wye to Hereford instead of the direction we are going.

The. Complete. Opposite.

So every time I see a marker, I breathe a sigh of relief. Every time I come upon a sign with information about the history of the place, I breathe a sigh of relief. We’re not lost. We’re still on the right track! Phew.

Some of these paths are tight. Holy your hands up over your head so the blackberry branches don’t scratch you.  Good thing I wore jeans.

climb the gate
Step on this beam to climb over. Seriously? And which way is this arrow pointing? Diagonally? Put the path looks straight ahead.

Looks like we go through this gate. And we need to climb over this fence here.

Why not another gate?

Where are we now?

I’m not sure.

Where’s the next marker?

I don’t see one either.

What’s that sign say, Moccas? I don’t see Moccas on this map!

I guess that’s it. Yep, I think it’s time to head back.

I’m afraid I can’t say how far we traveled. I actually lost my Garmin Vivofit at about four miles in. I didn’t want to tell you.

At least I do know the way we need to go to get back home.

See these pictures I took? There’s my finger pointing toward exactly which direction we need to go.

Passed the pheasants here, passed these sheep. Why are they staring at us? Passed rusty old farm equipment and round bales of hay.

Did you notice, aside from Toby and the Man and the woman to whom we paid our five pound admission, we have seen no one? Sorry about all those long quiet moments as we traveled, but I do tend to relish not running into people, I relish being the solo traveler, just me, my backpack, and the thoughts in my head.

Here we are. That wasn’t so bad, right? Overall, I can safely say we traveled at least ten miles.

We have another ten miles to go still, but don’t worry, let’s save those for another place and another day. I’m a bit tired and sunburned. I probably should have put on sunblock.

(Part Two, climbing the hill side by the Channel to come…)