Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?


Michael Palin


Today I travelled back to Hackpen Hill to do the Marlborough Downs malarkey. For the first time in ages I was Jimmy No Mates (the Irish-Catholic equivalent of Billy No Mates) as all my walking friends were unable to accompany me on account of them having worse things to do. I do quite enjoy a good old stomp around on my own though, and today I notched up nineteen miles over undulating terrain.

I set off painfully early in the day to take advantage of the dryness and the sunniness of the morning’s meteorological outlook and to avoid the pissiness of the stuff forecast for the mid afternoon. By one o’clock I began to wish I had set off agonisingly early rather than just painfully so, as for the last hour and a bit of my walk the wind howled and the rain came down in sheets, lashing against my naked thighs (I hasten to add that I was wearing shorts) and rendering them crimson. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all (i.e. me). 

Nineteen miles hurts just a little bit, though surprisingly not until I get home and my legs stiffen up. But it was all worthwhile as this was probably my last exceedingly long walk before Peru. What I find just as painful as the training for my trip is the compiling of the list of things I need to take with me. The Exodus website, various internet travel blog sites, my guide book, my herbalist, the spotty girl that works on the till at my local Tesco Express and my well meaning friends and customers are all full of very useful advice on what to take but the bottom line is that I’m not allowed to take very much because it all has to be carried up a big pointy mountain. Oh dilemma, dilemma! 

So tonight, after much soul searching and head scratching, I eliminated my iPod, sandals, most of my personal hygiene products, Carmen heated rollers, dinner service, fondue set, cuddly toy! cuddly toy! and golf clubs from the list. I also compiled a shopping list of things I really will need, even though I’ve done this once already and I thought my purchases were complete. So next Saturday looks as though it will be a day of great spending. I took comfort from the fact that most of these items are essential and having them as my possessions will further inspire me to go off and do more exotic trips in the future. 

I took even further comfort from a couple of glasses of wine and I booked a flight from Amsterdam to Bristol. I love booking flights, even though this one wasn’t for me. It was for my third born child returning in June for the summer to the family home from her seat of learning in the Netherlands. 

Yesterday I travelled to Lacock with my old mate, Claire. There we had a traditional Wiltshire Cream Tea. A Wiltshire Cream Tea is the wilderness equivalent of a Devon Cream Tea and consists of a pot of tea made with fresh leaves, warm freshly baked scones, clotted cream and a selection of root vegetables. Not being a regular on the cream tea scene I chose to deviate slightly from the traditional menu by having coffee instead of tea and strawberry jam instead of the veg. 

In recent weeks I have been confronted with the question ‘Should the clotted cream be applied to the scone first or should it be the jam?’ Well, I won’t lie to you, I hadn’t a bloody clue. But yesterday, without any thought or prompting, it just came to me so naturally. The laws of physics dictate that it must be the cream, unless you’ve got very stiff jam. I suppose if you were to have a Siberia Cream Tea the frozen jam could quite easily form the first layer but I can’t imagine in what other circumstances this would work. 

But it was a lovely occasion, the refreshments served up in a delightful little tea room at King John’s Hunting Lodge by a very friendly and obliging waitress lady. Oh how frightfully twee. Yesterday I travelled to the English middle class, and all as a crucial part of my training for Peru. 

We also visited Lacock’s Fox Talbot Museum and the Abbey which were fabulously and miraculously free to enter on this day only. What attracted us was the fact that the museum was the temporary home to an exhibition of photographs taken by Basil Pao, the photographer who accompanied Michael Palin when he was recording his many remarkable travel series for television. They were amazing images, two of which had been taken in bits of Peru that I am soon to visit, so I got a bit of a tingly feeling up the back of my spine and my itchy feet became a degree more itchy. 

I bet you thought I was being a bit pretentious by using Michael Palin’s name as the title for this bit of my blog, as if he and I could ever be compared! But it was his exhibition that prompted me to do so . . . together with the fact that I have always loved his travel programmes and his films, and that he was my favourite Python (he’s pining for the fjords). However, if the BBC where ever to decide that they’d like to appoint a successor to him, I would always be available. 

Lacock Abbey, a nunnery of the Augustinian Order, is a beautiful example of thirteenth century architecture and well worth visiting, even if we'd had to pay. The experience was tainted a little for me though as it had been used as the location for the school in the Harry ‘Nerdy Git’ Potter films and Holiday on the Buses

The adjacent Fox Talbot museum celebrates the achievements of former Lacock resident, William Henry Fox Talbot, famous for his contributions to the invention of photography. Wiltshire people claim that the world’s first ever photograph was taken in Lacock. The experience was tainted a little for me though as I had forgotten to take my camera.

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