From Leicester to Milton Keynes, through Northampton: 89 km (total: 296 km)

From Leicester to Milton Keynes, through Northampton: 89 km (total: 296 km)

The World Photo Tour: 89 kilometers through the Midlands, getting closer to London.

Advice: have something to eat, have a drink, walk the dog, feed the kids, this is going to be a pretty long reading.

I started the previous post writing about some of the tunes that come in my mind while on the road, walking the long miles.Well, for the past few days, although speed is not my artefact, it’s been Billy Idol’s Speed. Kind of missing the days of riding the motor bike, I guess.

It was the previous Sunday when I last had a day of rest, in Leicester. Managed quite well to do nothing at all, but take some photos and play some table tennis. The Romanians I’ve been staying at, one working on construction sites, one in a car repair shop, both said that’s what Sundays are for anyway. But in the morning after I left early.

Leicester did struck me in a way. I mean, I’ve been told beforehand about its multicultural part, but it was surprising to me to witness the change in the urban landscape as I walked it all North to South. Seems like all the oriental communities are concentrated in the North, with all the local businesses (not talking about the obvious shops with food from all over the world, but in the north you can even find banks with names you never heard of before), whereas the South switches back to your regular British urban landscape. And it’s all very in your face in the North – the buildings and the street level are slowly becoming to posses a close resemblance to other places in the world, while even a Gandhi statue looked to me as being planted in the same way – being fenced, caged all the way around. A bit more central, a Thomas Cook statue was standing proud in the middle of the pavement in front of the Leicester Railway Station.

It was nice in the town centre. After a short visit to the market for some juicy fresh tomatoes, I wondered around to be drawn to this street where music came from. And what seemed at first to be just random notes, it slowly became clear: a sax version of Take Five. And it was brilliant! The man sang it like he wrote the piece.

At The Navigation, south of Wigston, I had a water refill, then continued walking South, until I reached Shearsby, where I pitched the tent at a local farm. In the morning, after the usual toiletry session (my wounds still take a lot of time to care of), I had a pit stop in a kinda weird place called Armourgeddon. I do not necessarily fancy weapons and artillery machinery, in fact I do not fancy anything to do with modern warfare, but I was curious to see what thee place is, in the middle of all the farms around. As I entered the property, it became a bit more clear: lots and lots of tanks and cannons and military transporters of all sorts. Been offered the chance to get inside and operate one of the tanks, but I did not want to go that far with the military fun. It felt awkward anyway as some info notices mentioned where each machinery was used [read: killed people]. There were places like Angola and Niger and  many others. And the fact that some of the tanks were named after girls drawn on a side only added to my lack and comfort and disbelief in what lied around me.

As I went further South towards Northampton, the terrain got more animated, for the hills and plains succeeded one another. All the wavy terrain, all the mist, all the farms around looked like coming straight from  J. R. R. Tolkien’s works. I like the British farms and what I like more is that some of them have a tourism dimension as well. Such a place I’ve seen is Quinton Green, south of Northampton, but there’s one I’ve only read and heard about is Benchmark’s Oxford farm, but I’m sure there are many, many more farms like these, where visitors can get a hand-on approach to the farming business in all sorts of fun activities.

I pushed myself to reach Northampton by sunset, as the promise of a place to stay dangled in front of me like a carrot in front of a donkey, only to find out that I actually had no place to sleep, the planning failed. At nine o’clock, in the middle of the town, I started to analyse the situation – not so desperate, but being in town already made a second choice out of pitching the tent. I had no back-up plan and Couchsurfing proved to be a good tool, but not for any urgent means, as I received a lot of replies in the morning. So there I was, on the Racecourse, just outside the uni campus on the Avenue, pitching a tent in the middle of the night. The morning came as a blessing. Full mist. Fuelled. Ready for another day.

A day in which I was again surprised to see apricot flowers, fully blossomed, so early! On my walk through Northampton I came across The Church of the Holy Spulchre – said to be the best preserved of only four remaining circular churches in England. It was built by the crusaders, who, after returning from Jerusalem in the twelfth century, started building churches like they saw in the East. Another place that intrigued me was the Greyfriars Bus Station, and only by its sheer size. The place is huge, and pictured is only half of the West side.

I always thought of England as being very environment oriented, and that thanks to the people living here. And it generally keeps its reputations, but as far as my walk goes, the fields tell a different story. Well, at least different from what I though of it, or from what I’ve been used to in the north, in the Dales, surrounding Harrogate. Random skipping is a problem here as it is in Romania and anywhere else in the world, I can say now. From worthless pieces of junk that spoil the green every here and there and then to bigger and more dangerous stuff, anything goes. Tires, refrigerators, TVs, trolleys, basically anything you can think of, may it be metal, plastic or rubber. And when it goes, it literally goes anywhere, even in rivers protected areas.

One such area is Salcey Forest, a really interesting place, with a fantastic treetop walkway. I hear elephants lived and worked here during WW2. Nice to visit. Nice to relax. And it was nice to have the almighty Coronation chicken sandwich for lunch at the coffee shop there.  And further down the road through the forest, before I passed the M1, I came across a happy-grave – just another place where someone died. But that someone was everything to some people, and it was shown. No mourning. But the celebration of that guy’s life. Little colourful objects surrounding the place, lights, cans of beer beside, a Liverpool FC scarf and these beautiful words on death that I took with me:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not here, I did not die.

Three hours later I was in Milton Keynes, at the house of a Romanian friend, George. And it was quite a gathering by the end of the night, as Camelia, living in a town near by (it was nice to find out she is from my home-county in Romania, just to prove that the world is small, so small you can walk around it – I even started not to be surprised any more by these coincidences), came over with her Australian boyfriend to meet me. Sweet! A little bit of music knowledge exchange followed, accompanied with chicken and risotto rice, followed by a bit of beer, a bit of whisky, a bit of Margarita, a bit of a laugh. Office jobs for me then, and finally went to bed at about 2 in the morning.

About Milton Keynes – not your usual British town. A rather modern-Orwellian look, as the town is one of the last in the series of British New Towns, and one of the largest, built up in the ’60s with an intended population of 250.000, to meet the London housing overspill. The place is truly unique, with its broad grid roads, mathematically drawn, and if it wasn’t for the rich vegetation all around, it would probably look like somewhere in North Korea. Milton Keynes is mainly a business and shopping district, deliberately located equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge. Definitely a place of wonder, and most certainly of study for the architecture and urban development enthusiasts. More interesting stuff about its history can be read on the Wikipedia page.

My road will now take me to Luton and then London will follow.  Have a brilliant spring, everyone! A tune to go with it all? Hopefully this will do. Already dreaming of summer over here.

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