On the Levels

Today I left the hills behind for a while. It has been wonderful if tiring walking in the old wooded lanes and paths of the Quantocks. This morning I descended on to the Somerset Levels. The change of landscape is quite abrupt as is the increase in traffic and an associated rise in noise level. I crossed the M5 three times, two over and one under the motorway.

The wayside flowers have also changed: the Primroses are gone and there’s a lot of cow parsley and buttercups. There was also a number of Goldfinch and butterflies including the Red Admiral.

There were several quiet cool churches on the route. In this week after Easter many still have Easter flowers and decorations. The first was St Marys, North Petherton; quite a large church.

There was a bit of construction related bother on the tow path of the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal. Bob and I converged on the Boat and Anchor, a canal side pub, and enjoyed some early lunch.
Later I obtained some local strawberries at a farm. These are grown in polythene tunnels and taste delicious.

I walked passed the campsite on the edge of Bridgewater where we stayed in Hannah’s end to end in 2012.
Footpaths lead me along fields and across the drains that criss cross the levels. My final path of the day was alongside the King’s Sedgemoor Drain, one of the largest. The battle of Sedgemoor was fought in this area in 1685. Day 22 finished in Bawdrip.

Many of the churches were dedicated to Mary so for today, here’s a reflection on the Magnificat:

Come let us make God bigger, as Mary did.
Let us rejoice in knowing God, as Mary did.
For like Mary, we are not important in the universe.
Even so, God has blessed us, as Mary was blessed.
Through us God’s ways may be known in the world, just as Mary made them known, lifting up the poor and humble, casting away the arrogant ones.
For we are part of the human family stretching back to Abraham and Sarah, through whom God promised many things, just as Mary was.
And so we too give Glory to God, Creator, Son and Holy Spirit, as Mary did.

JAL 23.04.2019
The 22nd day of the End to End, from King’s Cliff Wood to Bawdrip.

Psalm snippets

Benedictine spirituality is very Psalm orientated. In the Rule of St Benedict the order of the Psalms to be used for different offices on specific days is given. As I walk along I make up songs and sometimes using imagery from my remembered bible, I make up Psalm Snippets. Here are some for today.
This morning on the way across Exmoor to the start point for Day 21 we encountered a family moving their sheep. At the back of the group, the youngest member of the family, a girl of about 8 or 9 years of age, was learning the skill of keeping the sheep moving.

The family of shepherds are like God in their ways :
Encouraging their sheep down the road
To the fields of new grass
They imitate God’s care of me.

Having decided to take the Macmillan Way West the first challenge was the climb up Cotherstone hill. St Agnes Well was near the bottom.

However the way proved to be rather poorly sign posted. Some mountain bikers helped me get on track and I eventually met Bob coming towards me on a path across a field.

At lunchtime I was recumbent under a beech tree in Fyne Court car park. Looking up it seemed to me that:

In the green meadow, so cool and calm,
Every new leaf is like a mini solar panel
Tuned into the energy of the universe
As I long to be tuned into God.

After lunch the second half of the Way wound its way along with the interesting observation that the signs only made sense in the opposite direction from which I was walking. I saw a doe in the wood and earlier heard a Woodpecker drumming.

As the deer searches for cool water,

On a day as hot as this
I too seek the cool shade
And welcome the one who brings me water.
The doe and I continue our searching:
Although the path is poorly marked
I find the right direction.

The car park at the end of Kings Cliff Wood was a welcome haven when it came. Emerging from this quiet green corridor onto the road near North Petherton and then to the M5 to get to our accommodation was like entering a different world. There’s a promise of cooler weather in the next few days. Four hot days often uphill were hard work. I have now passed 200 miles and have only 99 walking days left.
JAL 22.04.2019
Day 21 of the End to End, Bishops Lydeard to Kings Cliff Wood car park

Hot and Holy

Day 20 of the walk was Easter Day. It was hot and broke temperature records in some parts of the UK. We broke the walk up into short stages to provide plenty of rest and water stops which meant Bob was busy in his support role.
The first section was from Wiveliscombe to Fitzhead. A sign post at Wiveliscombe helpfully said it’s 53 miles to Bristol. I think our route is longer. The church of St James at Fitzhead was open and the scallop shell badge was stitched on the kneelers.

The New Inn Pub at Halse was also open which provided some cool drinks. The route was fairly easy going after the first steep hill, and a cheeky little footpath through a beautiful meadow allowed me to cut the corner after Halse.

Ash Priors Common, a nature reserve, was a good place for a late picnic lunch. It had some interesting flora (and possibly also fauna but I didn’t see any of that).

At Bishops Lydeard there as a steam train in the station of the West Somerset railway so we admired that for a while and ate ice cream. The walk ended for the day on the outskirts of the town.

We came back to Exford for our final night in the hostel, which has been comfortable and good value. The adjacent pub has provided good breakfasts and tonight’s evening meal: Hot and Holy in every way (with hot cross buns for Breakfast).

In the heat of the day,
When the sun burns its way across the sky,
And news comes in of more inhuman acts
And suffering beyond enduring,
It’s hard to credit the notion
That a rock rolling God
Can move heaven and earth
To make all things new,
But Christ makes all ordinary things extraordinary today.
A bun, a breath, a life:
Hot and Holy.

JAL 21.04.2019
Day 20 of the End to End, Wiveliscombe to Bishop Lydeard

The Old Ways

He descended into hell….

Red earth shows through in the harrowed fields. Knobbly beech hedges line the roads,  branches meeting cathedral like above my head. In places, ancient lanes wind between the sharp valleys, some are stoney tracks, others deep in last year’s leaf fall. It proves to be an amazing day. The not so silent earth is vibrating with the call of various creatures. Two woodpeckers keep up a tattoo drumming through the woods.

Each lane bears its own decorations: dandelion in one, bluebells in another, primrose and violet still making a show.

Lambs bleat from behind the hedges, running off as I approach. I regularly surprise pheasants who in turn surprise me with their strident alarm cry as they fly up ahead of me leaving the odd feather as witness by the roadside. Orange-tip and speckled wood dance along beside me.

The rural silence can be noisy too until the top of the last rise, when waiting to catch my breath from the steep climb, I look up and see two buzzards silently circling through the bluest blue.
After that one more dodgy stile and it’s downhill to Wiveliscombe and days end in a small town where even the post box wears whimsical Easter decorations. That was Day 19 and another 10 miles further on.

Meanwhile we are waiting…

Every molecule,
Every cell,
Is rearranged.
Every vessel,
Every organ
Is reanimated.
Coming back
Was hard work.
As Spring pushes up
We can only imagine
What it took to burst
The gates of hell
And rise again.

JAL 20.04.2019
Day 19 of the End to End, Bury (near Dulverton) to Wiveliscombe.

Steps that count

It’s day 18 of the walk is also Good Friday, which seems incredible. As well as counting days, I have an app on my phone that counts miles. It also counts steps which has become a popular thing. These are the ways we motivate ourselves. Other ways include people walking with me, like Bob who walls a bit each day. Today James, Fiona, William and Ollie came to join in from Brushford.

It was very hot by the afternoon. It was good to be able to find cool shady places to walk, including a disused railway path (even though it was not clear if this was available for public use). At some point I stepped from Devon to Somerset but it was not clear exactly where.

Another motivation method is a treat, like the lovely cream tea we had in Dulverton together at the end of the days walk.

Bob and I then went on by car over part of Exmoor to Exford Youth Hostel where we are staying this weekend. We made a side trip to Tarr Steps on the way. It’s a place we would often visit on the way back from Cornwall when I was a child. The longest clapper bridge in Exmoor, it is a brilliant bridge, and a place where steps count.

On Good Friday, of all days, we remember steps that count:
Steps through Jerusalem’s streets;
Steps alone on a hard way with a heavy burden;
Steps of another compelled to help, coming alongside;
Steps taken knowing that death waits at the end of the road;
Steps of those running away, steps of others standing nearby;
Steps of a military guard;
Steps of a crowd in narrow streets;
Steps on stones, steps in dust;
Steps to a criminal’s death;
Steps to the cross:
Countless steps.

May we who step on The Way today be sure to make every step count, for the sake of Jesus.

JAL 19.04.2019
Day 18 of the End to End, Balls Corner to Bury, via Brushford

Good Friday song

About a week ago I passed a notice which advertised ‘Good Friday Fun Fair‘. With such a wide range of activities available on a Bank Holiday these days, what will you be doing today?

Let’s have fun crucifying Jesus:
I’ll bang the nails in, you throw the dice.
Let’s have fun crucifying Jesus,
On a day like this that would be nice.

Let’s have fun insulting Jesus:
You hold the sponge and I’ll get the wine.
Let’s have fun insulting Jesus;
On a day like this that would be fine.

Let’s have fun torturing Jesus:
I’ll stick the spear in, out comes the blood.
Let’s have fun torturing Jesus;
On a day like this that’s quiet a flood.

Let’s have fun burying Jesus:
Let’s get a stone so he won’t get out.
Let’s have fun burying Jesus:
They say he’s risen, hear that shout!

JAL Holy Week 2019 on the End to End

I make up lots of songs on the road and I know you don’t know the tune but try to skip into it and see what happens.

Walking and Eating Together

The 17th Day of the End to End walk is also Maundy Thursday. My friend Rosie met us at Mariansleigh for the start of the day’s walk. The village church there was restored after being gutted by fire in 1932. One of the additions was a stained glass window above the altar representing the Last Supper, set there in 1954.

Rosie and I walked together via Bishops Nympton. I’d last seen her 7 years ago when Hannah came through on her End to End and walked a while with Rosie’s daughter Freya. The hedgerows continued to bloom and so did our memories. We stopped for lunch at the Blackcock Inn which wasn’t open. However, the landlady was happy for us to have our picnic on one of the tables outside the pub.

Bob gave Rosie a lift back to Mariansleigh while I walked on. It was a lovely afternoon. More early purple orchids appeared in the hedges and more Butterflies danced from one side of the road to the other.

There was a farm called West Lee which was soon followed by Middle Lee. The option of a footpath to East Lee would give me a full house of all the Lee’s. Always one for a challenge I took to the footpath which was fine until a marshy and muddy boot sucky section by a gate had to be negotiated followed by some cattle, more mud and another gate. But you can’t really do such a walk without the occasional episode of adventure peril.
Bob appeared around the corner of the road and we made the final three quarters of a mile of Bulls Corner together.
We drove back to Rosie’s house to share a meal with her family. Here’s to our next encounter.


Where shall we prepare the Passover meal?
It was an upper room, an ordinary place made extraordinary by that night.
Tonight we shared an ordinary meal, the sort any family might have together.
We give thanks for food shared, for bodies energised, for spirits raised.
We give thanks for the ordinary made extraordinary by friendship and love.
We give thanks for memories both old and new; previous meals and occasions shared, the commitment to future sharing.
We give thanks on this night of nights, for its pivotal part in the story of faith.
We give thanks and remember:
This is my body, this is my blood, do this to remember me.

JAL 18.04.2019
Day 17 of the End to End, Mariansleigh to Bulls Corner.

Celebrating walking

From Isaiah 55:

You shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace;
the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into joy,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Walking is something I have been able to do for about 59 years. It’s not a skill everyone is able to develop or maintain all their lives and those of us who can do it without difficulty may forget this. On Day 16 of the walk I’m mindful of walking. Indeed being aware of the physical act of walking has grown in me each day, and helpfully chased away quite a lot of the less useful negative stuff I’d been carrying around with me for too long. Today I passed 150 miles walked which makes this my single longest walking expedition so far (the Cleveland Way and Hadrian’s Wall were my other two long distance walks both shorter than this one).

The 150 mile mark

Once again the countryside is beautiful. The narrow lanes rise and fall, winding their way through small valleys and over rounded hills. There are more lambs in the fields, more leaves on the trees and diversity in flora and fauna to celebrate. These included early purple orchids and Brimstone Butterflies. No wonder nature is so joyful!

It followed a notice to an historic church and found myself in a farm yard which was once the centre of a small community. This was Satterleigh and the historic church was St Peter’s Church now no longer in use.

The Castle Inn at George Nympton was a welcome place for a cold drink as the day was getting hotter. We made three short stops today which worked better from the walker’s point of view. There was a stop at the Blackberry Farm Shop for ice cream on the way back to our campsite.

Reflection for Wednesday of Holy Week: Here’s a short reflection linked to the theme of wood.

How much wood do you need in Passover Week? It’s not as if folks want furniture or household repairs. Not this week.
This week it’s all about hospitality: food and particularly meals are top priority.
So what’s a carpenter to do to put Passover food on the table? I can make crosses for the Romans of course. Being holiday time there’s bound to be a few crucifixions. There’s still demand for crosses. I’ve some wood I can use for that.
See that fig tree over there. Yesterday it was thriving and healthy. Cursed by that Rabbi from Galilee as he went by, it’s dead now. Never seen anything like that. But the wood could still be useful.

JAL 17.04.2019
Day 16 of the End to End from Kingford to Mariansleigh

Through the wood

From Psalm 42

As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, God: I thirst for God, the living One. 

As well as the beautiful hedges, I love the strips of woodland on the walk. On Day 15 there are many of these strung out along the route. Each day the trees come out a little more, one at a time, not all at once. So too the flowering plants change a little with the Primroses now passing their peak and the bluebells yet to come into theirs.
As I took the road out of Great Torrington I heard a male cuckoo call. A few miles later, on one corner I surprised a doe. She bounded away, cracking branches as she departed. A few steps further on I noticed something small on a wood anemone flowers. A closer look confirmed it was the underside of an orange tip butterfly, which are a beautiful green and white pattern.
Each of these small beauties is wonderfully at home in the woodland.

There were other more sobering things to remember. I sat on a bench that recalled the loss of two airmen in a helicopter crash in 2008.

It was a long morning walk to Ebberley Hill for lunch. I was tired and had a snooze in the car for twenty minutes. It had been a tiring route with many ups and downs.
The last four miles continued the woodland theme. Along one such the first early purple orchids were coming into flower. 

Then a fallen beech tree in early leaf, maybe bought down by yesterday’s winds. A few miles to Kingford and across the main road for the end of the walk for the day.

We returned to Great Torrington for a meal with my lifelong friend Rosie and her family. One of the good things about this walk is the opportunity to connect with family and friends old and new.

God grant us a quiet night and a peaceful end.

JAL 16.04.2019
Day 15 of the End to End, Great Torrington to Kingford

Blowing in the Wind

Day 14 of the walk means I have been going for two weeks. Unbelievable! I have now walked 138 miles. As we moved on from Doublebois to near Holsworthy in Devon, there was a very strong wind to weather.

On some of the more exposed lanes on higher ground it was a challenge to remain standing let alone progress along the road. It was tiring and at one point I ducked down into a deep ditch just to get out of the wind.
Inspite of all of this lambs continued to bleat from the fields and wildflowers bloomed continuously in the hedges.

I got lost briefly and then found myself again and eventually the welcome sight of Bob coming towards me with a bun urged me onto the Tarka Trail, a more sheltered route to Great Torrington.

There was a slightly hair raising final mile from the trail to Taddiport church. What I call the map, app, track dilemma. Which should be believed? The track was deeply rutted and there was a tight squeeze round a metal barrier at one point with the threat of the track ending before the road junction. It didn’t and I made it to the junction and met Bob for the end of the days walk.
Our new camping site is lovely with a huge safari tent as our accommodation. The high wind makes it a bit flapy. Here’s hoping the wind drops.

The day after prayer

When we think about the day after a moment of high excitement;
Deflated, tired, questioning.
Did it really happen?
The broken palm branches on the road,
Ground into the dusty track
Are evidence that he passed this way.
The day after we might wonder
Where to now?
The wind blows where it will.
May we be willing to go with him
On the next stage of the journey.

JAL 15.04.2019
Day 14 of the End to End from Gidcot Mill using the Tarka Trail to Great Torrington.