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An awful few days – hayfever burning the eyes as the countryside turns yellow around the town. I have to go for a meeting in Stratford and… it's raining! For those afflicted by such maladies, what perfect weather for a walk. It does though rather restrict the opportunities for photos, especially as the visibility today is pretty minimal.
In the garden of Shakepeare's birthpace people are milling around on their literary pilgrimage, wrapped in plastic and proofed fabrics against the rain – stoically enjoying their day-trip (the rest, 'embracing sour adversity', populate the cafés and coffee shops).
Personally I think this weather is brilliant. Woke up this morning able to breathe, and I'm anticipating a wonderful, if damp few hours out before I get the last bus home.
Though I hurry through them, speeding for the open field and road, I find my thoughts trending to remembered strains of the bard from those distant hours spent in English Language and Literature… "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
In my head I've got a version of Perfect Day running in time to my feet – though I have the feeling that the tourists milling around the town are probably reflecting in a more Learian sense… "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, spout, till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!"
I cross the river on the old tramway bridge, it's tracks marked in the tarmac, and head up the incline.
The Stratford and Moreton Tramway was originally designed to ferry goods from the basin of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal (filled in to create the Bancroft Gardens in front of the Shakespeare Theatre) to Gloucestershire. Like the canals it was designed to service, it fell foul of the growth of the railways and collapsed. Now it makes a really nice, tree-lined route out of town – though the person walking in front of me appears shrunken by the rain which now falls steadily… "Hath Britain all the sun that shines?" (clearly not, Cymbeline!)
Beyond Seven Meadows there are all sorts of options, but I stick to the route down the Stour valley – following the ridgeline that separates the Stour valley from the Vale of Evesham – parallel to the main road where the 50A bus service runs. This allows me to walk as far as possible with the time available and then dart across the valley to catch the last bus.
The land here is a sandy, silty soil, that's unfortunately really slippery when wet. Despite gaiters the fine liquid mud created by the rain splashes above my knees. I pass a field of lettuce being harvested by a gang, plastered in the same fine mud. The gang-master gives me a strange gaze as, unlike them, I'm not clad in plastic – I've only shorts and a sleeveless shirt.
In warm weather like today, rather than 'broil in the bag', or having to douse my clothing in toxic chemicals regularly to keep the fabric waterproof and breathable, by far the best waterproof layer to wear is your skin… "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."
I pause a while by the road bridge at Atherstone. Here the Stour is more like a canal, hemmed deep in its channel, tamed by weirs on its low slow course. A very different river to that above Shipston, or the loud gushing spring from which it emerges at Swalcliffe.
In the shelter of the trees – watching the fractal eddies in the water, and the mirror of foliage pock-marked by raindrops – it's quite relaxing; but I've sat err too long… "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me".
Then, off to the top of the hill above Alscott Park to catch one of the best views of the lower Stour valley from the viewpoint – which today was rather an anticlimax as the low cloud and drizzle limited the visibility to just a few hundred metres. Instead I just remember what it was like… "The lunatic, the lover and the poet, Are of imagination all compact".
Time passes, and I need to work out where to end. A rough estimation of speed across the map indicates I won't make Newbold via Crimscott. Instead I take the direct route across the valley, cross the stout iron bridge that carries Shakespeare's Way over the Stour (not to be confused with Shakespeare's Avon Way, which I left back in Seven Meadows), and climb the river's steep cut slope into Alderminster.
I walk through the village to the main bus stop by the church. Takes about fifteen minutes for the bus to arrive while I ponder the lilting patterns of the drizzle… "For the rain it raineth every day" (though, during hayfever season, unfortunately not).
Sat high above the hedgerows, I can see that the cloud is scraping the top of Ebrington Down, and the hills around Brailes are shrouded in mist. The old, leaky and decaying double-decker bus, which I was told only has a year or so before it will be scrapped, won't be driving this route much longer. Johnson's will be taking over in less than a month. Unfortunately they don't have a double-decker to enhance the view from this wonderful bus route…
"Our revels now are ended".