“What’s the plan for the canal then?” I ask Harry.
“It’s a two year project all undertaken by volunteers.” says Harry. “There are volunteers working on the restoration six days a week, with larger groups on Tuesdays and anyone is welcome to join, to learn new skills and work with other members of the community.”
As I walk towards Cirencester the canal looks more forgotten and feels in places like a scene from Lord of the Rings, a ruined civilization with nature slowly covering it up and taking it back. On the one hand I love to see life thriving in forgotten spaces, but the benefits of walking along a canal and perhaps once again transporting our goods by water not road are also very appealing.
Greenery extends right up to and over the edge of the canal wall, trees arched overhead and in places, were even growing out of the bottom of the canal. Parts of walls were fallen in, all along the bottom was brush, branches, bricks and small shrubs.
The Golden Valley is full of dappled sunshine, trees, rare plants, and at a little distance, the steep green valley sides. At the end of a steep forest valley I reach the entrance to the Sapperton Tunnel. The partially ruined tunnel entrance has large stone blocks, decoratively protruding bricks, carved decoration and is flanked by two pillars built into the rock. A pair of large smooth alcoves are also inset and the tunnel top is topped with a large scroll-edged block.
The next morning Miranda is to meet me at a pub so I amble on, through a large wood with stern warnings to leave by 6pm. It’s well past that but I’m not about to camp exposed by a roadside.
Arriving at the pub I discover it would best be described as a gastropub. Walkers are definitely not welcome and my backpack and muddy boots are viewed with alarm. The rest of the clientele are wearing shirts, pearls, polo shirts, heels and parking very expensive cars. They also all appear to be getting absolutely wasted.
Ever the optimist, after ordering an orange juice I enquire how they would feel about my pitching a tent. The disapproval and refusal is immediate (no need to check with their manager) so I return to the woods and tuck my tent in behind the wall out of sight.
When I return to the pub garden I do my best to eat my oatcakes surreptitiously. As the sun goes down a man comes out into a large pen at the rear of the pub to put away the chickens. His voice at first encouraging, quickly becomes aggressive and impatient when the chickens don’t do what he wants. He shouts at them, calling them stupid and a few other things, moving aggressively at them. It’s amazing how often men assume an animal is stupid when it doesn’t do what they want it to. I wondered if their coop could have red mites, and how long it would take for anyone to notice.
The sun had set and the only other people in the garden were a table of very wealthy sounding students playing a game of ‘I have never.’ Amidst the skiing holiday scandals, the bottles of wine were fast disappearing, and after hearing more about their sexual exploits in hot tubs than I ever wanted to, I decided it was time for me to retire to the woods.
It was difficult to fall asleep, but I kept telling myself that I was well camouflaged and no one was likely to come past.
Some time later I’m awoken suddenly by a loud snuffling next to the tent… Badger, got to be… We don’t have bears here, there’s nothing here that would attack the tent… How big are badgers? Can they hurt you? Too scared to go check, I assume it’s a badger and I lie waiting until it goes away. Eventually I fall back to sleep.
And am sharply awoken by gunshots.