The Kennet and Avon Canal, Day Four: Slow meets Sloe

When I get up this morning I feel rested, and even have the feeling that I’m growing stronger. This may be an illusion, but I cherish it nonetheless.The view from our campsite stretches for miles: lush, grassy hillocks, grazing cows and clumps of trees. Mark asks for some toilet paper then disappears for a long time. I need to go to but not that badly yet.

We pack our tents wet, as it rained in the night and the sun isn’t hot enough yet to dry them. My pack feels heavier as a result, and we haven’t walked far before that familiar knot under my left shoulder blade makes its presence known. When we stop for a rest, I change out of my sandals into my boots, hoping my feet are recovered enough to handle them, and that the difference in weight will be noticeable. My feet feel more comfortable in my boots today, and I cross my fingers they are broken in sufficiently to be able to say the worst is behind me.

As the day wears on however, the trail narrows, almost disappearing in places, and is filled with ruts and small holes. Several times I twist my ankle, but quickly right myself before I can go down. I’m glad I’m wearing the boots, as I know I wouldn’t fare as well in my sandals, but the twisting and turning from side to side means they are rubbing all my sore spots over and over. I feel the need to stop and rest frequently; we sit down at almost every bench we can, which admittedly isn’t often. Mark, damn him, is chipper, chatty and seemingly pain free. His only complaint is that he doesn’t have the patience for walking when he could be covering the same ground in probably a quarter of the time on his bicycle. If he ever decides to go along a canal again, he tells me, he’ll cycle rather than walk. I can appreciate that, though I find there to be something comforting, almost reassuring, about slow travel, as if by taking my time and observing the people, creatures and environment surrounding me, I’m expanding my world rather than merely passing through someone or something else’s. 

We go all morning and into the afternoon without coming upon a place to get food. There are blackberries growing all along the canal which we’ve picked and eaten as we’ve walked. I’m especially glad of them today, and for the pear I found yesterday along the way. We pass bushes bearing a reddish-purple berry I don’t recognize, which Mark identities as the Sloe berry. He easily recites his recipe for making Sloe Gin, which leaves me wondering if I can come by Sloe berries back home. I’d like to give it a try. At last we come to the town of Bedwyn, where we make our way to Wendy’s Community Cafe and Juice Bar. It’s located behind a playground and next to a neatly manicured lawn-bowling green turned into a croquet pitch. Several men and one woman, none of them a day under seventy-five I wager, are taking turns. The sound of wood smacking wood is broken by the occasional low murmur of cheer, comment or critique. The cafe is decorated in a combination Rastafarian/Hollywood/cute animal photo style, with a corner couch covered in cushions away from the main seating area. This is where we settle in to peruse the menu and chill before our food is ready. We both order the lasagne which comes with cole slaw and salad and is both plentiful and delicious. I expect to get a desert as well but don’t have room for more than a cup of tea.

We putter on for a few more miles before stopping for the night on the top of a lock surrounded by countryside. It is the first night we’ve spent actually on a lock, number 66, and we set up camp with a good hour or so of daylight still ahead. I revel in the feel of the thick soft grass beneath me as I lie down on the wide, green expanse, vast compared to the thin swaths we’ve carved out for ourselves along the canal previously. Nobody else comes around except for one person, a woman snapping photos periodically. Mark naps briefly while I scribble in my notebook, then we prop ourselves up against our packs and drink the beers we bought before leaving Bedwyn: Dinner. Soon the sun begins to dip and the air cools. In the waning vestiges of daylight we walk a short ways up and down the canal hoping to catch sight of the elusive water vole, endangered and protected, written about on the signs posted along the canal. It feels so good to walk unencumbered that it’s tempting to just keep going. 

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