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

Day 6: 25 Mar 2002

00:00 – 08:00 GMT (Sleep)

Nothing but Zzzzz….

08:00 – 10:00 GMT (Breakfast)

I’m slowly running out of things to say about breakfast.  I asked for a little bit less today.  But it was still a lot for me.  These breakfasts really are enough food for a whole day!

10:00 – 11:00 GMT (Interview)

Soon after I had arrived, I had asked Mr. Mason if he would mind if sometime before I left I did a short little Q&A with him and his wife on my camcorder before I left.  He said that would be fun, and as time was running out, now was the time to do it.  We did it in their garden behind the place.  I didn’t get too many good shots of the garden, but it was very nice.  I asked them a few questions about Aylesbury and the area, how they got there, how they got into doing the B&B thing.  All of that.  My full intention is to edit up all the video I did over this trip into a couple of minutes of interesting stuff.  But that all kind of assumes I will find time to actually do it.  I will try.

11:00 – 17:00 GMT (Search for Balloons)

After the interview I got ready to do my search for balloons.  I left Spindleberries and headed out to the East on the A41, but I intended to make toward the airport, which I saw on some of the handout maps I had was south of Ashton Clinton, where I had been before.  So as soon as I had an opportunity, I took a right onto another one of these public walkways.


Let me just stop right now for a second to remark how much I love these public walkways.  They are literally all over the countryside, at least in the area I was in.  They crisscross the land nearly everywhere.  It had taken me awhile to figure out exactly what they really were, but they are great.  You can go tramping all over the place on foot through scenic rural landscapes.  I gather some of the pathways go over private land and some over public, but they are maintained and kept up…  at least the signposts.  The paths themselves as I found are often through muddy fields.  Although, admittedly, the first day I had been getting all muddy, it had rained heavily the previous night.  My further travels seemed a little dryer, although never exactly mud free.



I started by following the “Round Aylesbury” path.  Which, as it implies, goes in a circle around Aylesbury.  (Another path, the “Aylesbury Circle” also does do, but at about double or triple the radius.)  The problem was if I followed this path along to the south, eventually it would veer to the west to go around the town.  But I wanted to head southeast.  So when an opportunity lent it self, I veered back toward the east on another path.



This ended up taking me through Weston Turville and back onto roads, and I continued along through.  The road was closed to motor traffic for construction but was still quite fine for pedestrians.  At one point I looked up a hill to my right, and at the top of the hill there was a windsock.  This must be the airport!  Sure enough, I saw a plane land just over the hill a couple minutes later.  But I was on the wrong side.  I was at the far end of the runway (which I couldn’t actually see due to the hill).  I would have to go around.  But at least I knew where it was now.


So I continued walking, and soon to my right woods appeared.  And there was a fence around the woods.  And right behind the fence was a big sign saying this area was protected by the official secrets act and all trespassers would immediately be killed, shot, jailed and then arrested.  In that order.  Or something like that.  Hmmm…  well, good thing my random spot wasn’t in there.  Right behind the sign, another 10 or 15 feet into the woods though, there was a child’s rope swing.  So obviously not everybody paid 100% strict attention to the sign.



I kept walking along, and eventually the road took me back into Ashton Clinton, at just about the same point I had entered it coming from the opposite direction the previous day.  The place where the previous day I had turned right instead of left and thus missed the balloon sign.  Well, this time I would take a right, and I would catch the sign.  But I got distracted.  There was a footpath going to the right that was before I got back to the A41.  So I took the footpath.  It took me back behind an old cemetery. 




Then it dumped me right back on the A41…  and there was the balloon sign.  Right there.  Perfect.  I took a picture of it in order to get the number, then went in search of a payphone. 




I kept heading East along the A41 away from Aylesbury.  I passed one, but it was on the wrong side of the road.  I just kept walking until there was a gap in traffic.  By then though I saw a road going off to the right in the direction I had seen the airport.  Hmmm…  I decided to go back for the payphone. 


I called the balloon place.  “Hi, I saw your sign about the hot air balloon rides, how much are they?”  “We aren’t doing them right now because of hoof and mouth disease, we are all shut down.”  “Do you know if anybody else is still doing them?”  “They all have the same problem.”  I then started to ask about the balloons I’d seen the previous day, but he had already hung up on me.  Oh well.  Guess the balloon thing was out.



Well, I’d still go seek out the airport.  I started back and headed down that road that was going in the right direction.


At this point, let me mention something I’ve been meaning to mention.  On all these walks I had my iPod with me, packed with 1000 songs from my collection, ready to listen to.  I had thought I would be listening most of the time while walking.  But I never turned the thing on once after I got off the plane.  It was better just walking and listening to the sounds of the countryside (and sometimes the traffic and the people).  I was here to experience the place, not listen to a bunch of songs I already knew.  No, instead as I walked I listened to the rustling of the grass in the wind, of my own footsteps in the mud, of small animals scurrying away in the bushes as I came near, of the birds singing and squawking.  Just absorbing the place.  Now, I can’t say I did any major huge introspection; I didn’t rethink my life or anything profound like that.  I just absorbed.  And relaxed.  Let my self just be there, not caring about home or anything that might be going on there.  It was just me, walking through the fields and pastures, going nowhere in particular.  Just walking.  It was good.




Well, before too long I crossed another canal.  I decided to ditch the road and go on the canal tow path.  I had seen on the map that the towpath headed past the airport.  It was a different branch of the same canal I had been on before.  But this one rather than mostly going through fields and pastures, went through more wooded land. 



As I walked, I started to hear popping and yelling.  And the occasional “Boom”.  There was more and more of it as I went on.  In spurts.  Then it would stop.  Then someone would yell.  Then it would start again.  Gunfire.  Some individual rounds.  Some machine guns.  And then the occasional thing that sounded a bit bigger.  As I got closer I could hear that the yelling was things like “Fire” and “Cease Fire” and other such commands.  Sounded like shooting range practice or some such.  The sign about official secrets and “Ministry of Defence, Keep Out” came to mind.  There must be a military training center around here.  Well, I presumed they knew enough not to shoot toward the public footpaths. 


I then saw the airport, clear as day.  But then I saw the military folks.  A line of them walking toward the hanger.  Hmmm… 



A few minutes later I came into the town of Halston, and took a right toward what seemed to be the entry to the airport.


Well, guess what.  Military airport.  Royal Air Force.  Not civilian at all.  Big “no civilians” and “keep out” type signs everywhere.  Instructions for visitors to go to some guard post 3 miles away to get checked in if you had legitimate business. 




Needless to say I did not have legitimate business.  “Hey, can I get a joyride in one of your trainer planes?”  Because that now seems what the many planes I had seen had to have been.  They were in a variety of sizes and configurations, there were often several flying together, etc.  Pilot training.  At the RAF base.  Where they were also doing some target practice and other excersizes. 


Oh well.  No flights over Aylesbury for me.  But I knew when I set out for this that it probably wouldn’t happen.  But it gave me something to do for the day.  I had successfully found both the balloon place and the airport.  The fact that neither was doing tourist flights didn’t really bother me.




So I went back to town, and continued on the canal tow path.  I was getting hungry though, and at one point on the towpath, right after I has passed one teenage couple making out, and another couple of teenage girls sitting on a bench and gossiping, I saw a sign that indicated that there was food a mile down a footpath going off to the right.  OK, no more towpath, back to going through fields…  They were nice fields though.  And they eventually took me into a big field behind an old church, with an equally old graveyard.  At about that point I had to pass a crowd of about 15 eight to ten year olds running at the field straight at me.  I was being stampeded!  They of course went right past me, and the woman who seemed to be leading them nodded at me.  Then on the other side of the church I was back in Weston Turville.  I had seen a food place there a few hours earlier, so I headed for that.



You see, by this time (a bit belatedly) I had caught on to the fact that these places that showed no sign of activity on the outside and looked like they were not active or open, in fact were active, open, and serving food.  So I went in and ordered fish and chips.  I figured I should order that at least once while I was here. 



Let me backtrack again and mention something I meant to mention when talking about the Duck In, where I’d eaten a few days earlier.  Coins.  Britan has coins for one pound and for two pounds.  That means when you get change from a 20 pound note that you get back from a money machine or the money exchange or wherever, you get a lot more coins back than you do when you break a 20 dollar bill back home.  Now, at home my habit is to never spend coins, unless there is no other choice.  I follow this rule, never pay with coins when you can pay with paper, never pay with paper when you can pay with plastic.  My debt card gets a lot of use.  But I make a lot of paper money purchases as well.  And when I do so the change goes in my pocket.  It does not get spent.  Each night it gets collected in a big bag I keep of coins.  Then once or twice a year, I’ll take it to a coin changing machine at the local supermarket and get several hundred dollars of coins changed back into paper money.  It is a good way of saving.



Here I was shy about using by debt card (even though I knew full well that was fine) so I was using cash a lot.  And I was getting lots of change.  Because of those one and two pound coins, I was getting LOTS of change.  Typically I’d get several pounds back with each transaction.  And they were coins.  So I was not respending them.  They were building up.  Several days in I counted and realized I already had almost fifty pounds in coins. 


Also, I got in trouble, because since I did not take coins with me, I did not have the right amounts for tips.  In the US, when I go out and eat by myself, I can usually get “close enough” to 15% with dollar bills.  So I give them a bit extra tip that if I did it exactly with coins (I always round up).  It is more convenient.  And I’m sure they appreciate the tip.  But here the smallest note was five pounds.  Which was almost always too much for a tip.  (I think…  I never did verify if 15% was normal in Britain like it is in the states…  if I find out normal is 50% or 30% or something I’m going to really feel bad.)  So when I was not taking any coins back out with me I never had the right change for a tip.  I would hope that the amount that came back in change after I paid would have enough coins for a good tip.  And one time I remembered to ask for additional change, which was good.  But at least once, at the Duck In, I didn’t have enough for 15%, so I ended up leaving a little bit less.  I felt really bad.  If anybody from the Duck In ever reads this…  sorry!  Anyway, after that I always remembered to take at least ten pounds in coins whenever I left, just in case I needed them for tips.


All I can say, is that if they ever actually go through with getting rid of the dollar bill and replacing it permanently with a coin then I will end up saving money in my coin bag much faster…  that stuff will add up fast!


So anyway, after a lovely meal, I started heading back toward Spindleberries.  Rather than retrace my path from earlier, I pulled out the GPS and followed the arrow back.  A few more footpaths through woods and fields, and then I followed a road for awhile.  This road had no good place next to it to walk, so I was constantly on rough surfaces to the side of the road, occationally almost falling, and sometimes (carefully) walking in the road and jumping off when traffic approached.



The road dumped me back onto the A41 right at the Aylesbury Holiday Inn.  Which was about a quarter mile from Spindleberries.  I’m glad I didn’t stay there though.  Not only was it more expensive, but the B&B experience is just a lot nicer in terms of getting to know the place.  Maybe not all the same amenities…  I didn’t have a phone of my own, the TV just got five channels, no cable, no satellite, it was probably smaller than the hotel would have been…  but a corpratized Holiday Inn was just not what I was looking for. 


Anyway, I walked the last quarter mile back to Spindleberries.  My feet and knee still ached all the time.  My feet were throbbing and tingly.  But I really didn’t notice most of the time any more.  I was completely used to it I guess.

17:00 – 21:00 GMT (Nap & Rest & Write)

As usual, once I got home I checked out the continuing damage to my feet…  that toe looked worse!  Then I lay down and napped for awhile.  Not too long though.  I woke up and flipped between the five channels for a bit, and spent some time catching up on this little diary.


21:00 – 00:00 GMT (The Quest for Food)

So, at around 21:00 I decided to go out and look for dinner.  I was not really all that hungry, but I knew this would be my last chance for dinner in Aylesbury.  So I decided to go. It was also the latest I had yet left for dinner.  I was hoping things were still open.  I headed out the door and toward town.  When I got as far as The Plough Beefeater I saw that it was still open and rejoiced.  But then I went inside and discovered that they had just stopped serving food a few minutes earlier, now only the bar was open.  (Actually, I had sat down at the table, and it took about 10 minutes until a waitress noticed me and told me no more food…  but some guy at the bar was looking at me strangely like I was an idiot the whole time…  which of course I was.)


I decided to try to keep going, to try to find someplace still serving food.  I walked up toward town, but took a right before the center of town.  I knew I had seen a restaurant there.  I got to it at about 21:58.  There was a sign on the door.  They stopped serving food at 22:00.  OK, technically they were still serving food, but I wasn’t going to be the annoying guy who came in two minutes before closing and ordered food.


So I kept going.  I passed a bunch of open take out places.  But I didn’t do that.  I didn’t want take out.  I wasn’t really even that hungry.  I just wanted to sit a bit, write my last four postcards, and chomp on a little food while watching the people and scenery, preferably at someplace I hadn’t been before.  I had only stopped at the Beefeater because I was worried that nothing might be open, and I had to go in while I could.  It had just turned out I was already too late.


Anyway, eventually I made my way into the center of town.  No sign of places still doing food, but there were a number of pubs all open.  I was somewhat ambivalent about doing the pub thing, but after several laps of the town center, I decided to go ahead.  I selected the Hogshead, because it had big windows and I could see in and check it out before actually going in, and I could see there was a free table that would be perfect for me. 


So I went in.  I tried to order a coffee drink, but their machine was off.  I wasn’t in the mood for alcohol, so I just got a coke.  I sat down.  This place was great.  Nice young crowd.  Comfortable furniture.  Nice music, but not too loud, so you could talk and think.  Not crowded.  Tables you could work and read at.  It was very nice.  If I lived there, I think I would be a regular there.  Too bad I hadn’t checked it out earlier.  (Actually, I had gone in once a few days earlier on one of my searches for food, but they were only doing drinks, so I left right away.)  I stayed for about an hour.  As 23:00 approached they started closing up.  So I headed home.


I went home slowly because of the tingling feet, achy knee and all that.  Got home slightly before the end of the day.  Watched some TV and such, then dozed off.