Day 2: Stanton to Cleeve Hill

Let’s talk breakfast.  This “English breakfast” has me baffled.  This morning, I sat down to more food than I probably normally eat during an entire day.  A starter of “whisky porridge” four pieces of toast, fried in butter, two poached eggs, two good sized pieces of highly salted ham, two sausages, a grilled tomato and bunch of mushrooms.  I opted out of the baked beans.  That doesn’t include the prestarter starter of fresh fruit and yogurt.  I started by filling my bowl with yogurt and few berries and sat down with my tea.

God, this yogurt is good!  Wait, it’s not yogurt at all, it’s pure cream.  Good lord, how do these people not have heart attacks by 12.  I assume this English breakfast is more like, “on holiday” breakfast.  There’s no way people can eat this much.  There’s enough fat and salt content to produce a whole pig’s worth of sausage.

At any rate, I started my day full.  The road out of Stanton was serene.   Mostly pastures, the landscape gave way to a storybook scenery complete with palatial manors and creepy forests.  One charming feature of this walk has been the kissings gates.

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From here, I climbed a pretty big hill.  Excited about my achievement, I took this picture.

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At the top of the hill was a few miles of farmland and open pasture.  Coming down from the hill and passing a ruined abbey, I started to experience intense pain in my right Achilles.  I wrapped it with an ace bandage and trudged on to the town of Winchcombe where I enjoyed a quick lunch and a few beers.  Achilles a’blaze, I set off up another steep incline to an ancient long burrow and down another steep descent to my stop for the night at Cleeve Hill.

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Winchcombe

I learned the stingray shuffle, an essential gulf coast maneuver, from my wife.  Today, I discovered how to do the sheep shit shimmy.

I had a strange encounter as sat down for dinner at the restaurant in Cleeve Hill.  When I got lost yesterday on my way to Stanton, I ran into a long haired, 20 something, roving music festival worker.  He helped point me in the right direction.  Coincidentally, he had a friend moving to Flagstaff to go to NAU.  As I sat down for dinner tonight, I heard a group of guys behind me say “Hey! That’s the guy!” and sure enough, my free-spirited friend was among them.  I can’t imagine how he ended up nearly 20 miles from where we met, as he was headed in the opposite direction.  We shared a few drinks and had a good time as the sun set.

Another day down.  Tomorrow, 16 miles.  Exhausted.  Foot status: 3.  Happiness: 9.  The best picture I’ve taken yet:

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Feeble footed forbearance for fried food and friendly free spirits.

How Quiet is Quiet?

The bell rang ten times at Stanton’s only church.  A church older than the first settlement at Jamestown.  I sat on a wooden park bench in pitch black, save for the illumination of a street lamp older than my state, with its soft yellow light barely giving form to the hedges, likely older than the furthest generation in which I can trace my heritage, in front of cottages built by wool barons but now occupied by millionaires who disappear with the sunset.

It’s so quiet that I can hear the subtle crackling of tobacco as I draw on my cigar.  The quiet clink of my steel flask as I drop the lid is almost deafening.  This is it.  This what I came for.  This little strip of grass, flanked by Disneylandesque manicured shrubs, has not been altered by modern times.  This park bench still entertains the sounds of shoed horses – at least as much as cars.  This has not been fabricated.  It has been preserved.

On stiff legs, I hobble and wobble and swagger back to my inn in perfect serine darkness, extinguish my smoke and say good night to Mr. Elijah Craig.

How can I describe magic?  Pure alchemy.  What an amazing evening of solitude.

I spent the pre-dusk portion of my evening at Stanton’s only restaurant, the Mount Inn.  Amazing beer and food that were trifling compared to the view.  IMG_2023

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The sun setting behind the spire of Stanton’s church

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Tomorrow, 13 miles through Winchcombe and on to Cleeve Hill.  Day one: unmitigated success.  Smoking, sipping in silence. Satisfied in Stanton.

Day 1: Chipping Campden to Stanton, 10 miles

The 2-hour train ride from Paddington station to Moreton in Marsh was uneventful.

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When I arrived in Moreton on Marsh, I was immediately approached by an unlicensed taxi driver who was looking to take someone to Chipping Campden.  I politely declined after he quoted me a price of 20 pounds.  Chipping Campden was only 6 miles away and my train fare was a mere 15 pounds.  I set off looking for the bus spot and when I finally found it, I discovered there is no bus service on Sundays.  Luckily, I had a pub guide, which directed me to a close establishment, where I enjoyed my first (and second) real ale of the trip.

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The publican gave me a number for a local cab and soon I was off, twisting and turning through the countryside on my way to Chipping Campden.  The driver, a Cotswolds native, was very enthusiastic about my trip and told me a couple cool stories.  Total cab cost 8 pounds.  Score.

My Chipping Campden inn was part 17th century pub, part Indian restaurant and part b&b.  I had a quick pint, checked in and headed to a more upscale pub for lunch.  After a bite and a beer, I roamed the village for a couple hours.  Every twist and turn in the road revealed new wonders.  This place is brimming with character and history.

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After my little walk, I crashed for a few hours, woke up, and had dinner and promptly went back to sleep.  I think my family in London showed me too good of a time the previous night.  I was beat.

I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to get on the trail this morning.  It’s hard to believe something I looked forward to for so long was finally starting.  I practically pranced to the stone that marks the beginning of the trail.

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In about 10 minutes, I found myself outside the village, climbing a steep hill.  At the top, I was treated with my first, of many, sheep pastures.  The next segment of the path was relatively flat, crossing through wheat fields and pastures.

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Overlooking Chipping Campden

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About three miles into the trail, I came upon Broadway Tower and climbed to the top.  On a clear day, you can see 12 counties.

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It’s another two miles to the village of Broadway, almost all down hill.

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Broadway was another beautiful village.  I stopped in a pub for lunch and had a few beers.  On my way to Stanton, I made a wrong turn and walked about a mile before I realized I was no longer on the right trail.  Unfortunately, that mile was all downhill so I had to go back up a steep hill to get back on the path.  Normally, this kind of detour would make me all grumpy but today, I didn’t mind being on the trail for a little longer.

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A picture of a person minutes before they realized they are lost

Describing the path thus far is a little hard.  Today I went through open country with huge vistas, down to flat farmland, through numerous woods and down old country roads.  Every part was unlike the previous parts.  It was exactly what I was hoping for.

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I’m currently lying on the bed in my Stanton inn.  I don’t think I’ve heard a car for an hour, but I’ve heard at least four horses trot by.  Birds are chirping and the breeze is rustling the trees.  It’s bliss.  I’m off to explore Stanton now.  Here’s a short video of what it looks like right when you enter the village.

Arrival

I arrived at Chiping Campden, the official start of the Cotswold Way, yesterday. This place is beautiful. Utterly breath taking.


I’d like to describe it in detail but Wifi and cell signal is sparse, so I’m pecking this out  on my phone (which I managed to shatter yesterday) over breakfast.


Before jet lag caught up with me last night, I managed to visit three pubs and sat down to a nice Indian dinner.


  

I am minutes from starting the hike.  Flask is full, cigars at the ready. Belly butterflies bounce before boldly bounding Bathward.

Preface: On Real Ale

We all have our pet passions. Those things of which we spend a silly amount of time devoting our attention. That one thing that you know better than any of your friends simply because no one gets as excited about the subject as you do. I’m not talking about umbrella hobbies like video games or baking. I’m talking about that passion you have for Super Mario 3 or baking pies. You bore your friends with minutia about the subject and people begin to refer to you as the “Super Mario 3/Pie Guy/Gal.” If we, meaning you and I, spend any meaningful amount of time talking, without a doubt, I will subject you to a homily on the virtues of my pet passion: real ale.

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To be technical, “real ale,” also referred to as “cask ale” or “cask beer,” is beer that undergoes a maturing secondary fermentation in the vessel from which it is served. More simply, real ale is beer that is carbonated naturally by means of sugar and yeast, rather than by the application of pressurized CO2, and then served from the vessel, the “cask,” in which it was naturally carbonated. The result of this technique is a living product swimming with yeast; it is “real.” Typically, real ale contains less alcohol (2.5%-4.5%) than other craft beers. Almost all modern beer sold in the US, craft beer included, is carbonated in relatively giant tanks then moved into kegs, bottles or cans (clap your hands) for consumption. Historically, all carbonated beer would have been carbonated using the natural cask method.

The beer is served somewhere near 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the natural temperature of most English cellars. As a result, the beer contains about half the amount of dissolved CO2 as beer served using the modern method causing the uninitiated to complain that real ale is “warm and flat.” Of course, real ale is far from warm, it is just not as cold as the flavor muting, near freezing temperature employed by modern bars. And it is not flat, it’s just not fizzy.

Another unique feature of real ale is that the flavor changes rapidly over the life of the cask. Real ale is typically served employing a hand pump or a gravity tap. To facilitate the free flow of beer, a small venting hole is opened in the top of the cask. As beer leaves the tap, oxygen enters the cask and oxidizes the beer. If the beer is not consumed within a few days (usually about three) from the introduction of oxygen, it will spoil due to excessive oxidation.

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Less cool temperatures, lower carbonation, low alcohol, yeast and evolving oxidation produces a full flavored beer with rounded edges. A wholesome fresh product more akin to warm bread right of the oven than soda. Beer so quaffable, it’s like drinking sun tea right off the porch.

Over the last few decades, in the face of an ever increasing homogenized beer market, a grassroots movement to restore real ale emerged in the UK. This movement, the “Campaign for Real Ale,” or “CAMRA” for short, effectively brought back real ale to the British pub and fostered a now thriving real ale culture. While real ale is generally lauded by American craft brewers, the production of it rarely extends beyond novelty; it is rarely available and when it is, it is often brewed out of style or chock full of exotic ingredients in an attempt to make it more appealing to the consumer. The resulting beer often lacks the one quality that makes real ale so great: drinkability.

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Example: Russian Imperial Stout (9.8%) on cask with marshmallows, graham crackers and cacao. Not my cup of sun tea.

The first time I drank an English pale ale “on cask,” I suddenly understood the pale ale style and what modern brewers are striving to imitate. I understood how beer was viewed as sustenance historically. And, oh yeah, it was delicious too. I’m a huge fan of real ale. Annoyingly huge.

The Cotswolds is rich with old traditional pubs that serve up heaps of traditional cask – serving the type of beer I want to drink, in the exact atmosphere I want to drink it. There’s a type of nostalgic alchemy that occurs in an old slouching pub, with no TVs, real ale in hand and seated before traditional country fare. I’m transported to a time with fewer distractions and more connections to the physical environment around me. The irony that I feel the need to chase the past to live in the present is not lost on me, but that is exactly what I am striving for. Live in the moment, not the cloud.

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There will be many pictures of pints and pubs here. I hope that, in light of this post, you will understand what role drinking plays on this adventure. It’s not only a way to pass time or socialize or relax. Drinking real ale and visiting traditional pubs is every bit a part of my pilgrimage as spending time alone in the country. A pedestrian’s passionate pursuit of perfectly pulled pints perpetuating peaceful personhood.