The weather had turned. The sky was overcast. That and, to be honest, annoyance at the preacher and how I had let him get under my skin gave me a change of heart. I no longer wanted to follow the Cotswold Way. Instead I decided to head over to the Malvern Hills that I had been looking at all day yesterday, on the other side of the Severn River Valley. I got some grub and a crappy foldable roadmap at a newsagents and set out for Little Malvern.
I walked the A4019 out of Cheltenham. It’s a bland, straight, modern road, that somehow suited my mood perfectly. Busses passed me several times but I never considered taking them.
I like to walk out of a city. The world changes around you, step by step, going from urban to rural. I like the in-between places that are neither, the retail parks, and garden centres, sports grounds, and the low income suburbs that you pass through. (The high-income suburbs are never located along those arterial roads, what, with all the noise and those loathsomely common people on them.) And then there are those places that used to be villages of their own, a long time ago, but that have now been almost entirely dissolved in the corrosive commercialism, ugliness, refuse, and asphalt that flows outward from the cities, until all that is left of them are desolate crossroads, a handful of houses with blind windows, some run-down non-brand garage that has given up trying to sell you an oil or tyre change, and maybe a failed nightclub, water warped boards hiding the door and windows, still plastered with fading posters dreaming of parties long past. And there is always that one house that seems to still be inhabited, the one that must once have been the pride of the village, almost stately, and that now defeated by filth you can only imagine someone like Ed Gein living in.
Scattered between all of this are the first fields, sporadic, then increasing in numbers, until slowly they begin to dominate the landscape. Finally you get to the big motorway that marks the farthest reach of the city – in the case of Cheltenham that border is the M5 – and once you are past that and over the first slight rise the buzz of traffic begins to recede, the fields actually look as if they belong to farms, and villages are again places people can come home to instead of just rush through.
The A 4019 ended 2 km beyond the M5. I had been on it for about 3 hours. Where it ended I went neither left nor right but kept on in the same general north-westerly direction I had been on, cutting through fields and meadows.
The day was interspersed with showers, some light, some heavy, and brief flashes of sun, reflecting off the wet ground. I felt very liberated when I didn’t seek out shelter, didn’t even try to cover myself. I just let it soak my hair and clothes, raindrops tickling as they ran down my face. I crossed the river Severn sometime in the afternoon, and still I walked on.