2002 Q1 Vacation:  51°49.46251’N, 0°44.9946’W

Day 2: Thu 21 Mar 2002

00:00 – 06:00 GMT (Sleep)

Toward the end of my sleep, I had a dream involving me being in an engineering type back room at a radio station my friend Ron was working at.  I was borrowing some of his equipment to do some audio and video editing on some sort of thing I was working on.  Imagine some sort of Muppets “Manamana” sketch combined with a description of my vacation.  In the process I had accidentally turned off one tape machine, and some other machine.  Ron came back a little later, and saw the machines that were off.  One was doing some sort of dub that he needed, the other was the UPS for the station.  He was not happy with me at all.  He spent the next few minutes pushing and pulling huge levers on dangerous old electrical looking equipment, attempting to undo the damage I had done.  I felt bad.  Then I woke up.  In any case, Ron if you are reading this: Sorry for messing up your dub and turning off the UPS.

06:00 – 10:00 GMT (Morning at Spindleberries)

I had ordered breakfast for 08:30, and had set my alarm for 07:30, but I woke up on my own around 06:00.  I listened to the radio for a little bit, then turned on the TV.  I gradually woke up.  I wrote a bit more on the computer.  I got up and got ready for the day, then went down for breakfast.

 

The breakfast area is a nice sunny room with a view of the garden.  I had some cereal and tea, and bacon and eggs and toast.  All good.  But it was also served with cooked tomato and mushrooms.  The cooked tomato wasn’t bad.  I tried the mushrooms, but fungus just really isn’t my thing, especially the kind that still looks like mushrooms, as these did.  But it was a good breakfast.

 

 

After breakfast, I dallied a little more upstairs in my room, got all my stuff packed for a day out, and was ready to go.  I intended on doing as the proprietor recommended, and heading into town to check out the tourist office first to get brochures, maps, all that sort of stuff.

10:00 – 14:00 GMT (Random Point Walk)

But that is not what I did.  Within seconds of walking out the front door, I decided to head straight for the random point.  I pulled my GPS, camcorder, and digital camera out of my backpack.  The GPS told me that the random spot was just less than 1.5 miles away, roughly to the Northeast.  So off I went.

 

First along the A41 until there was a roundabout and I could hang a left onto a smaller road.  The smaller road had no sidewalks, so I was walking directly in the street most of the time.  I was smart enough to walk on the right so I would be facing traffic though, and whenever a car approached I would step off the road into the bushes or whatever was available.  I didn’t want to get crunched you know. 

 

Soon though the GPS was pointing me off the road to the right.  At one point I saw a sign that said “Public Footpath” going in the right direction.  But I could see no path.  All I could see was a field, and it was behind a fence to boot.  So I kept going.

 

 

Soon though I came to a canal going in the direction I wanted to go.  I knew it would be there, because I had seen it on maps.  So I followed the canal towpath, which at least at first was going in exactly the right direction.  I started right at one lock where the canal went under the road.  On either side of the road were open fields most of the time.  Usually empty, occasionally with sheep.  The path itself was well kept, and occasionally I would see other people, although not too often.

 

 

AppleMark

 

AppleMark

 

The first notable people I saw were related to a canal boat.  It was a long thin boat, parked next to the side of the canal.  There was a guy fishing from a chair a few feet away from the boat, and I could see a shadow from someone else inside the boat.  The guy fishing at me glanced up at me as I passed, but basically paid me no attention at all.

 

AppleMark

 

As I kept going along the path, it became clear that my random spot was actually going to be on the other side of the canal.  No problem.  Every once in awhile there was a little bridge over the canal.  I’d just take one of those off to the left, and follow on toward the random point.  So I climbed up the hill toward one of the bridges and got on the bridge and…  it didn’t go anywhere.  There was a stone bridge.  It went over the canal.  But on either side of the bridge there was…  a field.  No road.  No path.  No nothing.  Odd.  So I kept going.

 

 

I tried again at the next bridge.  Same thing.  Except this time there was barbed wire between the bridge and the field in the direction I wanted to go.  And as I looked over the bridge, I saw that the long canal boat I had seen at first was now following behind me.  It was chasing me!  Well…  if drifting along a canal at walking speed could be called chasing, which I guess it can’t be. Especially since it wasn’t chasing me.  Just going in the same direction.  But in any case, it was coming up behind me.  So I kept going.

 

At this point my GPS had gotten down to telling me I was 0.40 miles from the random spot, and then started to go up again.  I was starting to wonder if 0.4 was as close as I was going to get.  I was still hoping for a place I could make a left and get a bit closer though.  Up ahead I saw a whole bunch of the canal boats parked by the side. (Berthed?  Whatever…)

 

AppleMark

 

Right past those, I saw another lock in the canal…  With a bridge over it…  With a ROAD over the bridge!  This was my left turn.  And the canal boat couldn’t follow me any more.

 

After a bit the road looks like it is dead-ending.  Right at the end there is a factory.  Looks like they were making septic tanks.  There was a whole bunch of these really large things that were the tanks.  A big truck had just left carrying one, and a bunch of men were loading another one onto a truck to leave.  I was thinking I would have to turn around and go back to the point where I was 0.4 miles away, and maybe just head off across one of those fields I had seen.  But then I saw that the road continued on a few more feed as a muddy dirt road.  So I headed off onto that.  The men loading the septic tank looked at me strangely.  But I kept going.

 

A few feet down the road ended.  But there was a little “public footpath” sign.  And looking to the left I saw that there was a path going off to the left…  exactly where I needed to go.  It was basically just a grassy path a few feet wide.  It was pretty muddy.  But it had a sign, and seemed to be a public path.  So off I went.

 

I walked on down the muddy path.  On the left some horses looked at me from their field. 

 

AppleMark

 

On the right was an empty field.  There were rows of bushes and shrubs making the boundary of the path I was on.  After awhile, there was a gate going across the path.  Ah, but it was not blocking my way.  It again had a sign saying it was a public walkway…  and bridleway too now.  I didn’t have a horse.  One might have been useful.  For as far as I could tell, there wasn’t actually a path past this point.  The gate led onto a big field.  At the far end of the field I could see another gate.  So, across the field I went.

 

 

Now, up to this point my travels had been pretty muddy.  The towpath had started out dry, but by half way through that part of the walk, it was very muddy.  And then the public walkway I had just been on was getting muddier still.  But what I had seen was trivial compared to what I was going to hit next.  As I trudge across the field, I realized that despite looking like just a grassy field at a distance, this was really just a bunch of clumps of grass growing in almost pure mud.  Every step squished.  I tried to hop to places where I saw a ridge of mud and grass, as opposed to the places where there was clearly a puddle.  But I was still getting quite muddy.  But I sloshed onward.

 

 

Eventually I got to dryer ground, and went through a couple more gates.  Then the path headed off to the left.  But the random spot was just about another quarter mile straight ahead across yet another field.  But the path went to the left.  Hmmm….  After a little hesitation, I headed off away from the path, across the field.  On the other side of the field there was a gap in the trees and an entry into yet another field.  I was now only 0.11 miles from the random spot.  It was off to my right.  It was in this field. 

 

AppleMark

 

I followed the arrow on the GPS.  500 feet…  400 feet…  300 feet…  200 feet…  100 feet…  50 feet…  25 feet…  10 feet….  2 feet.  Now, the variability of the GPS signal is far bigger than 2 feet…  so I was at the spot.  I had made it!!!  This was the first of my random vacations where I had managed to get to EXACTLY the random spot.  Usually I would be at the closest road…  from a quarter mile to a couple miles away from the actual spot.  But this time I had gotten to the actual spot.  Hurrah!

 

AppleMark

 

So what was there?  A field.  A big empty field.  Lots of green grass.  The area of the field was bounded by lines of trees.  I saw a jackrabbit run away at one point.  In the distance some electrical lines rand across the countryside.  But that was it.  A field.  A very nice field I must say though.  And pretty dry.  Not like the muddy bogs I had been crossing to get there. 

 

AppleMark

 

AppleMark

 

AppleMark

 

I stayed there about 10 minutes, took a few pictures and a little video.  But there really wasn’t too much to do in the field.  Perhaps if I had thought ahead I could have brought a picnic or something, but I hadn’t.  So it was time to go.  I decided that rather than just backtrack the way I had come, I would just set the GPS with Spindleberries as my target, and go whichever way it pointed.  This first took me back to the little walking trail I had been on prior to leaving it to go the last quarter mile to the random spot.

 

 

 

After walking following the path signs through a couple fields, I realized that this was undoubtedly going to lead to one of those bridges I had seen that didn’t appear to go anywhere.  These paths did not actually look like paths.  There were markings every once in a while, but there were not actually PATHS as it were.  No areas that looked worn down by passing people.  It was just little markings that told you “go through this field”.  It was usually along the edges of fields, but sometimes right through the middle.

 

 

Indeed, I ended up on one of those bridges.  And there I was on the towpath again.  I started heading back toward the way I had originally come.  But then at the next bridge I decided that if these were public paths, then by gosh I would go that way and do something different on this return trip.  At this bridge there was indeed one of the little signs that said there was a path going off to the left, which was the general way back to Spindleberries.  Nothing but a field there.  Oh well, I’d done this before. 

 

So off I go into the field.  Pretty quickly it becomes clear that as bad as the muddy filed had been right before I got to the random spot, this was much much worse.  This entire field was just a huge puddle of mud several inches deep.  Every step became a chore.  Squick.  Squelsh.  Suck.  Thwip.  My left shoe and foot was entirely encased in mud.  I was ankle deep in the mud.  As I pulled my foot up there was a loud sucking noise of the vacuum being pulled.  As I kept trudging forward, almost every step was like that.  I almost fell into the mud several times.  But I didn’t.  Hah! 

 

 

I had to go through two or three fields like this.  Each worse than the one before.  In the end I finally saw the way out.  Ahead was a road.  I knew that when I got to the road I would stick to the road.  By this time I had had enough mud.  As I approached the road, I realized that this was the exact spot where I had seen the sign announcing a trail soon after I had started. 

 

AppleMark

 

I had looked and not seen a trail.  I now knew why.  None of the trails actually looked like a trail.  I didn’t see the path because you NEVER see the path.  Not to mention, that all there was here was a muddy field.  If I had started this way, I would have been highly discouraged.  But as it was, I was exuberant to have found my random spot, then made it through all these muddy fields without major injury.

 

AppleMark

 

I didn’t stay on the road long though.  I knew I was close to being back to the B&B.  But I saw a stream to the right of the road, and a path…  an actual paved path…  on the other side of the stream.  I wanted to walk down that path.  The stream was a bit too large to just hop over.  I looked down at my feet.  They were completely coated in mud.  There was nothing but mud up to about half way to my knees. 

 

AppleMark

 

I look at the stream again.

 

 

I just step right in it.  The water is cold.  It is up to my ankles.  But I just walk across.  Brrr…  Then off on the path I go. 

 

Two things to note at this point.  One, the dream from the previous night was haunting me.  The “Mahnahmahna” song was going through my head over and over at this point.  At times I even sang out loud a little bit.  I could not make it stop.  I kept seeing the muppets singing that.  “Do Do, Do Do Do…  Mahnahmahna!  Do Do Do Do!”

 

Second, I was now no longer in the countryside.  This was a suburban type development.  Mown grass, a playground for kids, rows of nice neat houses.  Unlike the houses I had seen on the train in from the airport, these were fairly new houses.  They didn’t have that look of age that those others did.  But they did still look lived in.  And had personality.  And were a look distinctively different from what I was used to in New Jersey.  But very compelling.  This was a nice neighborhood with nice houses, and small roads that kids could bike and play on.  I kept thinking what a wonderful place to live this would be.  It looked great.  I want to move to Aylesbury!

 

 

AppleMark

 

After wandering a bit through this neighborhood, I curved back around to the street Spindleberries is on.  It had been a long walk but I was back.  I looked down at myself.  The shoes had been washed off slightly (although not enough) by walking through the creek, but my jeans up to my knees were just completely coated with mud, that was dripping everywhere.  I took off my shoes and socks, intending to run in and up the stairs and change before I could do too much damage. 

14:00 – 15:00 GMT (Clean Up and Rest)

So I get in and run up the stairs.  Mr. Mason hears me come in and from the bottom of the stairs asks how I got on.  Then he sees me encased in mud, despite my best efforts, dripping mud onto his carpet.  After the initial look of shock dissipates from his face, I explain that I got a little muddy.  (Duh!)  I start saying how I’ll clean up the bits of mud that just fell off me as soon as I can change to a clean set of clothes.  He says not to worry about it over and over and also offers to take the pants straight down to the laundry.  I quickly change and give him my filthy jeans, shoes and socks.  I thank him purfusely as he runs them down to be washed.  I then get down on my hands and knees and do the best I can to get the more solid chunks of mud off the carpet and into a dustbin he had brought.  He insisted I should worry about it, and as soon as it dried he would just vacuum it all up.  But I felt really bad and did the best I could to help clean up.  I felt bad that I had tracked in mud.  But I was so coated in it, that I was pretty much sure the only way I could have completely avoided tracking in mud would have been to strip naked on the front porch, and just leave the clothes there to dry as I went inside to change.  But I’m not sure he would have appreciated that much more.

 

AppleMark

 

AppleMark

 

Anyway, I got in I showered, I changed into nice fresh clothes.  It felt so good to be clean again.  Then I watched the 30 minutes or so of video footage that I’d gotten on my video camera from the morning adventure.  Perhaps I’ll be able to edit it down to a couple interesting minutes later.  We’ll see.  After resting up a bit, I decided to go ahead and go into town.

15:00 – 19:00 GMT (Aylesbury)

I had no real plan for town.  I was just going to explore.  As I walked into town there was a park.  I wandered into the park.  I used a public restroom.  I only mention this, because they had this awesome “cleaning station” thing.  It was a hole in the wall with three buttons above it labeled “Soap”, “Water” and “Air”.  You pushed the button and then put your hands in the hole, and then your hands were squirted with the selected substance.  All your hand cleaning needs could be accomplished in a matter of seconds, with one device.  This is much better than the way normally seen in the US, where there is a soap dispenser, then you go over to a sink, then after you are done with the sink you find paper towels or an air dryer; three different “stations” to find and use.  This is much more efficient and neater.  I like it.  I want one for home.

 

I proceeded to finish exploring the park, which had various athletic facilities, and a water park, complete with water slides in those big plastic tube things.  Although I’m not sure they were open yet.  Then out the other side of park, and toward the center of Aylesbury.

 

I then proceeded to essentially spend four hours wandering aimlessly around Aylesbury, going round and round in circles.  Occasionally stopping to sit awhile or go into a shop.  I went up and down most of the streets and alleys in the center of town multiple times.  I’d be surprised to find any I hadn’t been on at least once. 

 

I did find the tourist office, and got a supply of postcards to send to the 20 folks who sent me the most email between Feb 2001 and Jan 2002.  (Actually, 18 people, but two of them will get two cards because they switched email addresses during that time and made the list twice…  but that is a whole other story.)  I determined I’d do 4 postcards a day for the next five days.  Also in the tourist office, I picked up a few pamphlets of things to see or do in the area, and a couple books with old pictures of Aylesbury, and a small stuffed bear with a blue Aylesbury sash.

 

AppleMark

 

Soon after I finished at the tourist office, I decided I was hungry.  So I started looking for a place for a late lunch / early dinner.  This was when I discovered that apperantly there is no such meal as a “Linner” or a “Dunch” in Aylesbury, or at least restaurants don’t seem to serve it.  (Not that there is any such meal at home either, but you can always find a restaurant to get something pretty much 24/7).  As I wandered around Aylesbury, I saw many restaurants and pubs.  Many were closed.  The ones that were open, looked completely empty.  And I didn’t feel like testing things by being the only one at a restaurant.  And the ones that were also pubs…  had people in them…  but they were all drinking.  I didn’t see anyone with food.  It seems lunch ends at 15:00 and dinner does not begin until 18:00.  If you want food in between those times, your choices are quite limited.  I eventually found a place in one of the shopping areas.  They were no longer serving hot food, but they still had Danishes and the like.  (Actually, a lot of places had that sort of thing…  I’d been looking for a real meal, but eventually I just wanted to sit down and have a bite…)  After that I was still hungry, so I did another thing I had told myself I wouldn’t do.  I stopped at the McDonalds.  (I generally avoid McDonalds even at home…  I’m more a Wendy’s guy, but definitely wasn’t looking for it here.)  I got some sort of chicken thing, which I didn’t notice until too late had salsa sauce on it.  I’m OK with salsa sauce on chips, but it wouldn’t be my choice for chicken.  I accidentally walked away without my drink too.  The chicken wasn’t actually too bad.  Still would have liked it better without the salsa though. 

 

I was still thinking I wanted to go someplace for a real dinner, but was no longer immediately hungry.  Plus I was getting tired.  With just one brief interruption when I stopped and changed out of the muddy clothes, I’d basically been walking around for nine hours.  Lets call it seven hours after allowing for my stop and various times I sat down for a bit.  Lets say averaging three miles an hour, which is a normal walking speed (if I remember right).  Well, some of it was trudging through mud, so lets call it two miles an hour.  That is still about 14 miles.  Which is more walking in a single day than I’ve done in years probably.  So I went ahead and walked the mile and a half or so back to Spindleberries.

19:00 – 00:00 GMT (Goofing Off)

I got home fully intending to sit down, write up the days experiences, and then start editing the video I had gotten.  With that Mahnahmahna song going through my head, and the dream about using it in a video of my trip, I was determined that would be a great idea.  I even had a copy of that song on my computer which I had downloaded off the Internet a couple of years ago last time I couldn’t get it out of my head.

 

But I was tired.  I hadn’t realized how tired.  Every time I thought about actually doing that kind of stuff, my will collapsed.  I would find myself time and time again watching TV or playing computer games.  Before long, any thoughts I had had of going back into town for a real dinner, or of doing any of that productive fun stuff just slipped away.  Resting at the B&B and pretty much doing nothing just seemed much nicer. 

 

Suddenly it was midnight.  I hadn’t intended on being up this late.  The alarm was set for 07:30.  It was time to sleep.  I turned out the lights.