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Potato Road

Cotswold WayFifteen miles of sheep dung cover the northern end of Cotswold Way, a series of footpaths that meander through English farmland from the city of Bath to the town of Chipping Campden. This is the heart of England’s Cotswold region, with its yellowish stone villages, rolling hedgerows, and loosely piled rock walls. On the beautiful October day I spent along these paths, it was easy to understand why walking is such a beloved English pastime, second only to standing in orderly queues.

Broadway Tower

Finally, I am able to get a photo without anyone in it. No wait…

The official Cotswold Way is marked with a National Trails acorn, which is variously displayed on metal waymarks or carved in posts and signs along the trail. But the main path is crossed and re-crossed by countless other public trails, bridalways, and something the English tantalizing call “permissive paths.” With all the connecting trails, it is easy to put together a loop through the countryside rather than needing to backtrack. This means that you might pass the same walkers going in various directions two or three times on your way to a destination. It also makes it easy to get lost.

Much of the Cotswold Way is not a path at all, but just a general direction to be followed across a field of grass or mud or crops. Arrows point vaguely toward an unseen stile or kissing gate somewhere beyond the horizon, and you are on your own to find a way there.

The most distinctive structure along the northern leg of the Cotswold Way is an architectural folly called the Broadway Tower. I spent much of my time at the tower trying to capture a photograph of it without any people. I told myself that others would like to see the structure itself, but there were so many walkers, and they kept getting in the picture. In retrospect, I should have focused on the people. Broadway Tower, like Chartres Cathedral, remains essentially the same through the centuries. But the tourists, after a time, become increasingly strange and interesting.

Leaving Broadway Tower with a walk across Clump Farm, I came upon something that was already strange and interesting. Potato Road. Now here is something you will never find at Chartres Cathedral.

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Potato Road in Clump Farm

 

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St. Nick’s Church in Saintbury

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One field, many choices.

 

Cotswold Way Maintenance Committee

Cotswold Way Maintenance Committee

ATM Soup

underground_gazpachoLast night I dreamt I was using an ATM in the London Underground to get cash, but inadvertently ordered a £17 bowl of gespacho. Then the machine ate my debit card, and I came away with nothing but a voucher for cold soup. I’ve heard that heart attacks are most common in the early morning hours. Maybe this has to do with circadian rhythms and heart rate, but I think it is more likely related to the stress of having to endure a good night’s sleep.

divorce plate

Charles and Di Divorce Plate at Windsor Castle

A rival pub owner described Windsor Castle to me as the cluttered basement of an eBay addict. He was talking about the little Windsor Castle pub near Edgware Station in London, which I should point out is not the actual castle where the British royal family lives. That is a different Windsor Castle.

But this Windsor Castle is definitely worth a visit. The walls are covered with curiosities that seem at first glance to be dedicated to the House of Windsor, but also include collections of obsolete tools, celebrity photos, countless plaques, and—my favorite—a bas-relief of the exploits of Sir Francis Drake.

Prince George Plate at Airport

Prince George Plate at Heathrow

The ceiling is covered with commemorative plates, which if you come from earthquake-prone Seattle can be a little unnerving. These plates are really where the royals get their best tribute. Kings and queens, princes and princesses, maybe a distant cousin or two. Having visited the pub in August 2012 (based on the “cluttered basement” recommendation), I was eager to return this year to see what sort of plate they had commemorating the July 22 birth of Prince George. But I couldn’t find one anywhere. Finally I asked the barman, who politely explained that it would be unbecoming to exploit the birth of a child with a plate. That was a private family matter, he said. He said it standing below a plate commemorating the divorce of Charles and Diana—complete with a jagged painted crack.

At Heathrow Airport a week later, my colleague found a plate celebrating the birth of Prince George of Cambridge and was kind enough to share the photo with me. Possibly it is too unbecoming for the hoarder’s museum. Also it is £30 new, and might still be too expensive on eBay.

baby mountain goat

The Kid

I’m don’t know if Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley were climbers, but I think they must have been inspired by mountain goats. Beautiful, powerful, and mysterious, the mountain goat stalks you through the fog, defies gravity astride the icy cliffs, and will buck you to oblivion on a whim. Also he longs for your salty fluids, so don’t pee near camp.

Last weekend, the first of many goats first joined us as we made base camp at 4,400 feet on our way up The Brothers. The welcoming committee consisted of a big billy, a shedding nanny, two wary juveniles, and a very cute kid that scampered around just like a puppy. They milled about us for about an hour while we sat patiently, holding our pee.

Then just after midnight, I was awakened by a sound in the rocks. Two adults and one juvenile appeared in the moonlight and came within a few feet of our party, sacked out as we were in four bivy bags. I clanked my ice axe on a rock nearby to scare the them off. Which had absolutely no effect. Another hour passed before they left us to investigate the climbers in the main base camp 1000 feet below.

And then it was morning and the push to the summit. The goats allowed us to ascend all the way to their ambush in a narrow chute known as the hourglass. At this point, rocks began to hurtle toward us–I assumed from a clumsy mountaineer above. The proper climbing etiquette is to yell “rock” whenever you kick something loose to warn anyone below. But no one called down to us, so we bellowed something about our presence up through the chute. More rocks came, bigger rocks, one of which struck me so hard in the middle of the thigh my whole leg stiffened up. Then the Goat of the Baskervilles slowly stuck his head into view. He had nearly killed us. He looked amused.

In fourteen years of climbing The Brothers, I have only encountered a single mountain goat there before. We must have seen twenty this weekend. Even with the rock kicking and the pee sniffing, they are fantastic to encounter. But I also know what can happen because I have read Three Billy Goats Gruff and it does not turn out very well for the troll.

The Welcoming Committe

The Welcoming Committee

Annette

Ghoulish GirlTwo blind contour drawings  from my son’s junior high art class: Good Girl and Ghoulish Girl. The exercise required sketching a classmate without looking at the paper. It did not, however, require creating a gruesome version of the model. That was Nick’s idea. Good Girl fulfilled the assignment. Ghoulish Girl took the inevitable distortion of blind sketching to a perfectly (un)natural conclusion.

Good Girl, I tell myself, is real and outgoing and full of confidence. But I see Ghoulish Girl and I remember Annette from my own childhood, who lived in the last remaining farmhouse on Pacific Avenue with its peeling apricot paint and grandiose porch columns; Annette who was never ready when the school bus stopped in her long gravel driveway each morning so that the driver had to sound the horn while thirty kids watched for movement in the pulled draperies and closed front door, waiting for the shy girl who never wanted any special attention but found it day after day; who one afternoon in fourth grade broke a full bottle of perfume and brought a classroom of her enemies to its knees.

Red Pup

molly_mediumThe dog trainer eyed our puppy suspiciously for a moment before quizzing me. “What kind of Labrador is this?” I sensed a trap, but was prepared. I knew that the AKC only recognizes three variations: black, chocolate, and yellow. Red Labs like ours are officially yellow, whereas yellow retrievers are officially gold, and golden poodles are officially apricot. Makes perfect sense. Talking about breeders made the trainer animated and grumpy. He was looking at a yellow Lab, but he was seeing red.

A week later, our puppy outraged a woman by prancing about happily in a park without a leash. The woman pulled out her cell phone and began photographing the license plates of every car she could find near the park, presumably so that she could turn us all in to the authorities. This may have been unfortunate for the owner of the car behind us, whose dog was also off leash. But our puppy is not yet registered with the city, so in addition to not being officially red, she does not officially exist.

Regardless, the red puppy cannot be bothered with philosophical problems when the physical world is so engaging. Yesterday she found a taxidermic piranha and chewed it to smithereens. All puppies are existentialists.

Waiter Tense

quail

This quail is going to be eaten.

I would like waiters to stop using the simple future passive voice to describe my food. As in:

The special today is going to be a sablefish, which is going to be lightly grilled. And it is going to be served with bright saffron sauce and quince puree.

I understand that my food is going to be prepared in the future. That’s not so special. And as far as the passive voice is concerned, I think someone has tricked America’s waiters into believing that it creates a more formal dining experience. Perhaps they don’t realize that I tip more for the active voice.

Latest incident: This Tuesday at Wild Ginger, our waiter came by to ask what food we would like boxed up for leftovers. Panang curry? Yes. Duck? Yes, please. Then someone at our table carelessly motioned to a half-eaten short rib. What about this? The waiter looked serious for a moment, and then explained that we should not try to save the rib. He offered helpfully, That is going to be a bone.

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