Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Southbound hike
My old pal, John Gilbert (left), and I met up on the Bridgwater to Taunton canal, and I took a rest day at his coachhouse home in Stockland Bristol
DN12 Bridgwater-Taunton Canal
DN12 Swan nest
DN12 John Gilbert and author
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Southbound Home
Saturday, March 31, 2007

Time of departure: 8.15 am
Time of arrival: 3.30 pm
Place departed: Taunton, Somerset
Place arrived: Bridgwater, Somerset

Miles: 14.7
Cum miles: 191
Percent miles: 20.6

Bed sign With friends, John and Alison Gilbert, near Bridgwater, Somerset

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Today I arranged to meet my friend, John Gilbert on the towpath of the Bridgwater-to-Taunton Canal.  He drove his car from Stockland Bristol and parked it in nearby Bridgwater before hiking on the canal towpath towards Taunton. I started in Taunton and walked on the same towpath towards Bridgwater.

But first I just had to get seriously lost in the suburbs of Taunton, taking nearly two hours to reach the canal near Hyde Farm. Right near Hyde Farm, straggling Allen’s Brook, the map showed a cider farm. A cider farm near Hyde Farm in the county of Somerset, famed for its cider, reminded of an old limerick:

"There was an old woman from Hyde,
Who ate an apple and died,
The apple fermented
Inside the lamented,
And made cider inside her inside.”

The Bridgwater-to-Taunton is a beautifully maintained canal, with neat-and-tidy, user-operated locks and swing bridges, some rest benches, and informative plaques.

After coordinating on the cellphone, John and I met about halfway between Taunton and Bridgwater, he uttering the famous line, "Dr. Livingston, I presume", and I being too dumb or too deaf to appreciate it.

At the age of 16, in about 1960, John and I were both apprentices at the famous aircraft company of Hawkers. (For those who don't know, Hawker Aircraft Company, which had taken over Sopwith of Sopwith Camel fame, produced the Hurricane airplane which really won the Battle of Britain though the Spitfire did its share. John and I went on to become young engineers at Hawkers developing the early Harrier before the company went through a series of mergers to become a part of today’s BAE Systems.)  Later, by coincidence, we were also colleagues at McDonnell Douglas in Southern California for some twenty years. John and Alison had now returned to Britain to retire, while Jennifer and I lived on in the States.

After greeting me like an explorer in the African jungle, John turned round and we both followed the towpath to Bridgwater. I then spent the next day with him and Alison at their Stockland Bristol home - resting, giving my legs and blisters some relief, and doing laundry chores.

Our canal walk was more interesting together than it would have been for me alone. John had local knowledge, but beyond that he noticed things I just didn't - and we discovered one reason why: the weight of a backpack requires one to lean forward. Unless one crooks one's neck up, or left and right, one gazes more at the ground in front than does a walker without a backpack. So John noticed a swan's nest that I would have missed. Later, near North Newton, we stopped for a sandwich and tea near a lock, and did some catching up on old times.

There were fishermen on the towpath, fishing mainly for bream.  Judging by their gear, most took the sport quite seriously, with camouflaged outfits, rod racks, 15-ft long fishing poles, live bait, nets, umbrellas or tents, seats, carts for carrying their gear, and tea-making equipment.  One of these men said he'd caught 45 lb of fish on one recent day.  He sounded truthful about it too, and who would doubt a fisherman?

Who would doubt a fisherman?  There's a great line in Chapter 17 of Three Men in a Boat (the classic book by Jerome K. Jerome):

"I never knew anybody catch anything, up the Thames, except minnows and dead cats, but that has nothing to do, of course, with fishing! The local fisherman's guide doesn't say a word about catching anything.... All it says is the place is "a good station for fishing" . . ."

In fact, all of Chapter 17 is wonderful, and it's available here.

Of all hiking routes, canal towpaths must be the flattest, because canals are generally routed and graded to minimize the expense of locks. In any case, with some exceptions, a lock is a matter of a modest elevation change. But a flat route for a canal may require a circuitous routing, and so it was with the canal today.

When we reached John's car on the outskirts of Bridgwater, and partly as a result of my Taunton mis-navigation, I estimated that I must have walked nearly 15 miles, and John only slightly less. I gratefully jumped into John's car and he drove us to his beautifully restored, most comfortable 150-year-old coach house home some miles to the northwest. It felt quite curious being in a car again, and covering the ground so quickly! I then spent a relaxing-for-me weekend with John and Alison, and their visiting, Canadian friend Judith. It would be hard to hit the road on Monday, I thought. And, when I first saw a freeway again, mightn’t I just say "three hours to Heathrow" and make that a reality?

But, tired as I was, I was thrilled by my progress. Quitting was the last thing on my mind.
Fishin', and thinkin' of fishin', on the Bridgwater to Taunton canal. Which fisherman caught more?
DN12 Fishin' DN12 Thinkin' fishin'
DN12 River Parrett at Bridgwater Patrick Mackie creative commons
West Quay on the River Parrett at Bridgwater, photo by Patrick Mackie licensed for use per http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
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