A Knight’s Tale (118: The Long Walk Begins)

In March 2004 my son Sam completed a solo row of the Atlantic, covering 3,000 miles in 59 days.  In doing so, at the age of 23, he became the youngest person ever to have rowed any ocean and won the solo race.  The previous summer he had taken delivery of his specially crafted boat at Henley and, with his friend James on board, rowed it to Newark along the linked canals and rivers.  I had walked alongside collecting sponsorship.  This was an 11 day trek over a distance of 215 miles.

En route Mum telephoned me.  As often when someone rings a mobile phone her first question was: ‘where are you?’.  Now, Mum didn’t realise what we were doing, so she was somewhat surprised when I replied:  ‘well Mum, I’m in the middle of a field of head high thistles and stinging nettles – and I’ve got a dustbin on my back’.  I then went on to explain that what I had thought was a simple matter of a stroll along towpaths involved some pretty scary diversions, one of which I was in; and the dustbin was meant to collect donations from all the people we would encounter en route.  Unsurprisingly there were no donors in this field.  I had got myself into this predicament as it had seemed a better option than a field with a bull in it.  Upon encountering the bull I had crawled under a barbed wire fence, chucking the dustbin over first, and come to this.  I then had to waste more precious minutes ferreting around for those few coins that had been in the dustbin.  As I couldn’t see above the undergrowth to gather how far it stretched there seemed nothing else but to press on.  Going back would have meant more of the same.  Of course, I hadn’t got a clue where I was when I eventually emerged, so I knocked at the nearest house for directions.  The woman who answered the door took one look at me, dashed inside, and bolted the door.  When I reflected that, quite apart from wearing nothing but sandals and a pair of shorts, and being covered in bleeding scratches, I was sporting a dustbin, I began to see her point. 

Just to add insult to injury, t-shirt-and-shorts-clad Louisa and her friends, in a couple of hours outside Nottingham’s waterfront pubs, collected far more money than I had managed on my magnificent effort.

Sam and friend James in Pacific Pete 7.03
Sam and friend James in Pacific Pete 7.03

Sam took delivery of the specially designed rowing boat at Henley on Thames, and off we set on a fine Summer’s afternoon around the time of my 61st birthday. He and his friend James took the boat, whilst I walked along what I had hoped would be the footpath. I soon discovered that the banks of the River Thames and the Oxford Union canal were not as smooth and foliage free as that branch of London’s Regent’s Canal alongside which I had trained for the event.

Couple on riverbank 7.03

The stretch along which I followed this couple was plain sailing in comparison with what I had to battle through when talking to Mum.

Lock gate 7.03

Elderly lock gates, green tresses dripping with possibly unsavoury water, were to be a regular feature of the journey. This was quite useful, as it gave me an opportunity to catch up.

Waterfowl 7.03

Waterfowl were plentiful;

Suckling goat 7.03

a woolly goat, or perhaps a sheep, suckled its young;


slightly older horse riders ambled leisurely along;

Lichen 7.03

and yellow ochre lichen clung to knobbly branches.


Numerous bridges were to be negotiated.

House 7.03
House 2 7.03

This house is one of those in which I enjoyed a peaceful overnight stay. The story of the most notable exception will follow.

Field 1 7.03

These fields were probably located in the vicinity of the above house.

Further stages of this trip will occupy the next few episodes of this Knight’s tale.


On a beautifully sunny morning I aimed for the wood beyond the rape field. What, earlier in the year, when the crop was young, I had described as a brassica field, had in fact been sown with rapeRape 1Rape 2 which has completely overgrown the public footpath.

Footpath overgrown

I wasn’t about to tackle that in sandals with my dodgy leg.

Footpath less overgrown 1

Another path has been trodden around the edge of the field. I took that one.

Footpath less overgrown 2

Stinging nettles made it rather less inviting in parts.


Today’s ‘bee’ is probably a hoverfly. The disguise of these harmless insects is so deceptive that I can’t always tell the difference.

I eventually made it to the wood and walked down to the stream where I rested on the rails of the wooden bridge, watching overhead foliage flickering in the shallow water, before retracing my steps.Reflections in streamHolly shadow

The filtered sunlight dappled the dark, sheltered, path, casting fascinating shadows.


Our own garden now being less overgrown, we can appreciate our antirrhinum snapdragons,

rose Compassion

and the rose Compassion.

The rest of the day was jointly occupied in weeding and planting. Sometimes I wonder if the necessity of eradicating unwelcome flowers has come about purely to make space for the trays of the more acceptable bargains that are brought back from garden centres every time Jackie ‘pops out for compost’. When my Dad ‘popped out for some cigarettes’, you would not see him for an hour or so. So it is with Jackie and compost. When I ran out of weedkiller whilst treating the future rose garden, there were, it being a Sunday, just ten minutes to closing time at Otter Nurseries. I thought I might escape by being able to finish the task tomorrow, but she volunteered to go and buy some immediately. As she said when she returned very soon afterwards, that must have been her quickest ever trip to a garden centre.

This evening we dined on garlicky chicken Kiev, creamy mashed potatoes, roasted peppers and mushrooms, crisp green beans, and pure white cauliflower. Jackie drank her customary amber beer in the form of Hoegaarden, whilst my red wine was a little more of the chianti.

An Alfresco Bath

The red bottle brush plant, which I passed on my way to continue work on the kitchen garden, is now looking resplendent.
There are a great deal of treasures hidden in the undergrowth of today’s target area.

Peeking through nettle leaves, for example, are raspberries. A blackcurrant bush bears fruit, strawberries soon will, and St John’s wort lies at the bottom of the green cage.
A previous post, in which I described mistaking an acanthus for a thistle, demonstrates how it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between somewhat similar plants. Today, until the head gardener informed me that raspberry bushes are less thorny than brambles, I was uncertain in the application of my loppers. Neither was I sure about stinging nettles which look very similar to another plant that bears a spire of purple flowers. When I was faced with a plentiful crop of both, there was nothing for it but to remove my gloves and clutch the leaves. These particular nettles bear slow acting poison, so I rubbed them a few times before I was sure I had been stung. They were a little like a strong curry that doesn’t betray its chilli content until you’ve taken a few mouthfuls. And rather less pleasant.
I am pleased to report that the acanthus has recovered from my savage attack, and has produced new shoots,  one in bloom.
By mid-afternoon it was apparent that the expected rain, which had deterred me from thinking about a bonfire today, was not going to arrive. I therefore left the kitchen garden clearance for another day, and began the fire. This was rather fortuitous, because I had reached a stumbling block near the back fence. This came in the form of a box hedge which had got beyond itself and barred access to the back section. I cleared this as best I could of weeds, convolvulus, and the ubiquitous bramble, by stretching over the obstacle. I then struck something I could not clear without circumventing the box. Jackie had transferred a number of the finds, like a pleasant saxifrage, the St John’s wort, and several kinds of mint, to other parts of the garden.
What I had found needed to be emptied before it could, no doubt, be moved and filled with colourful flowers.

It was a bath.

Towards the end of the day I was grateful for some assistance from the head gardener in cutting up combustible materials and placing them in a wheelbarrow so I didn’t have to practice touching my toes to pick them up. This helped to ensure that I didn’t topple over while doing so. In fact, even in what Sam would call my able-bodied years, I never could touch my toes without bending my knees.
Before dinner Jackie planted a clematis texensis Duchess of Albany in a cleared part of the kitchen garden, and trained it against an existing pergola. Our rose garden will also contain clematises. She added a shell to the fence, for the humorous touch.
After this we dined on chilli con carne (recipe) with wild rice and peas, followed by Post House Pud based on strawberries. The strawberries were eight days beyond their ‘best before date’, so they were a bit furry, but with a certain amount of judicious cutting, we saved a few.  Jackie drank her customary Hoegaarden and I enjoyed a Longhorn Valley cabernet sauvignon 2012.


Early morning light on the garden was most enticing today.

We have eagerly awaited the emergence of the splendid red poppies from their hairy chrysalises:

The first picture in this post shows part of the brick path at the back of the house, and demonstrates its need for weeding. Following my effort with the patio two days ago, I had planned to remove the grass and other small plants from the cracks in the paving. But I changed my mind.

To the right rear of that same photograph there is a triangular patch of ground that was covered in plants, for instance a tree peony, that had been purchased or potted up ready for insertion in the soil. There are perhaps a couple of dozen. I decided to do something about sorting these out and maybe planting some of them.

I removed all the pots and lined them up on the path. The next job was to clear the weeds, including tentacles of catch-weed, a few nettles, and the odd bramble. This done I had to summon the head gardener for identification of specimens and suggestions as to planting. I complicated the process a little by deciding to plant the pieris and the azalea mentioned on 6th April in some of the space. I had had these two shrubs in pots for six years. It seemed only right that they should have a permanent home at last. But it did mean that there was less room for those left by our predecessors. And there are of course 80 potted plants awaiting collection from Shelly and Ron’s.

Some of the items I was working on today were trees, and therefore did not belong in the flower beds. Jackie suggested a position for the tree peony in part of a shrubbery that didn’t seem to have too much of importance in it. This area, and its invisible gravel access path, was in fact filled with brambles, sticky Jack, and other weeds entwined among some lovely shrubs and a huge rose bush that Jackie tied to a myrtle tree to keep it from gouging my scalp. So, here was another clearance task that diverted me from the planting. The path will also need raking when I’ve finished.

Again, there were trips down the garden to the compost heap. On my way there, I tended to step into other areas of growth and emerge with armfuls of the multiply nicknamed gallium aparine mentioned a few days ago. This becomes more and more urgent as the weeds’  little white flowers multiply.

Gardening, in these circumstances, is full of diversions. Maybe I’ll get the planting done tomorrow. On the other hand, I might cut the grass. After all, we did buy a strimmer for the purpose.

Regular readers will have followed the progress of the cleaning up of our new home. Now the worst of this is over, Jackie, the practical member of our team, has been applying herself more to the task of righting some of the appalling DIY efforts. She is still working on the master suite bathroom. Some rather amazing colours have been used on the walls over the years. Recently a white wash of sorts has been sloshed over these.

It is not enough simply to clean and polish fixtures and fittings. Spatters of blue, turquoise, orange and red paint have to be scraped off. Even cover-up magnolia has left its spots. To this end, Jackie, having polished it, found it almost impossible to remove a toilet tissue holder from the  wall in order to scrape off offending material. Until she tried the almost unthinkable.

‘He couldn’t have’, she thought.

But he had. This photograph of the fixture was taken the right way up.

Not realising the aberration, Jackie had been, as expected, pushing the container up to release it from the wall. How was she to know that this one should be pushed downwards? She thinks it was only frequently painted-over masking tape that kept the object clinging to its perch.

We dined this evening on delightful chilli con carne (recipe), peas and rice, and garlic bread.

Along The Shingle

Jackie spent most of the day continuing the fumigation of the kitchen, the porch, and the entrance hall. She also tackled the stairs and more of the light switches, all of which need to have their original cream revealed once more. We both continued to unpack and find homes for the contents of various storage boxes, and moved more furniture upstairs.

I then took a walk down Downton Lane, left at the bottom and along Hordle Cliff beach.

The verges and hedgerows of the lane are blooming with wild flowers. Periwinkle, primroses, daffodils now a bit past it, lady’s bedstraw, stitchwort, dandelions, and bluebells can all be recognised. Nettles and cow parsley are beginning their emergence from the earth beneath.

Some way down the lane on the left lies Downton Holiday Park. A red telephone box peeps through the hedge from over a caravan.

The ripple of waves around a tractor ploughing a field proved to be the massed wings of seagulls in the wake of the swirling blades of the plough. As I leant on a five-barred gate listening to their squealing and screeching, I felt that that great high-kicking French philosopher, Eric Cantona, stood by my side, just as had imagined Steve Evets in Ken Loach’s brilliant film ‘Looking For Eric’. For those who are not aware of the significance of this observation, Cantona famously offered an enigmatic response, concerning seagulls following a trawler, in a television interview.

The Isle of Wight and The Needles were visible from the coast road.

I was soon crunching and slithering along the shingle which I shared with a sprinkling of hardy young families enjoying the seaside.
My choice from the Tesco microwaveable meals this evening was beef stew with dumplings; Jackie’s was chicken hot-pot. Fresh runner beans were the accompaniment  which Jackie cooked with her new hobs. She drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Isla Negra.