Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Southbound hike
|Top: Sunrise over Gloucester as seen from my pub's bedroom window. Bottom: New Inn at Gloucester where I checked my email at the table where my backpack can be seen|
|Days N15 - N24 English Midlands|
Start hiking here
English West Country
North of England
Friday, April 6, 2007
Time of departure: 8.00 am
Time of arrival: 3.00 pm
Place departed: Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Place arrived: Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
Cum miles: 280.9
Percent complete: 30.3
Tudor House Hotel, Tewkesbury ****
Cost for bed and breakfast: £30 ($60)
| Overview of both
What others say
|Clockwise from above:
A typical stile; Author at Red Lion near Bishop's Norton;
Daffodil-edged road at Apperley; Odda's Chapel at Deerhurst;
Below: the River Severn next to The Red Lion, and a home in Apperley.
Unless attributed to others, all photos on this website are © Daryl May 2007 and 2008
was an easy day. My seven hours were punctuated early by an
internet break at The
New Inn, a 1450-era hotel in Gloucester where I
sat in a very ancient courtyard connecting my PDA to BT by
The old and the new couldn't have contrasted more. The British
are masters at transitioning to the new without entirely destroying the
past. In the case of wifi, that’s as easy as plugging in a
box. But modernizing the plumbing and electricity in these old
thermal insulation, keeping them dry, and maintaining and cleaning
them, must be expensive.
My wifi service worked here in Gloucester, as it did in some other places. But BT Openzone’s service was lamentably poor, and it made maintaining my other life in America very difficult. If I had to transfer funds, I couldn’t. When I needed to apply for an income tax filing date extension, I couldn’t. I hoped to book accommodation, but I couldn’t. I had planned to go online to talk to relatives and friends, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t pay my bills, congratulate people on their birthdays, check that my pension was being paid, renew my prescriptions, and argue with my Tampa “luncheonaire” friends on their choice of the Tuesday restaurant. Fortunately, my good wife took over these roles, but our communications now had to be by expensive cellphone (mobile phone) calls, on which I must have driven her mad with detailed instructions to go to this website, use that password, and so on.
To add to my ire, I had bought a wifi-enabled PDA for this online communication, with special software that would send attachments such as my journal and my photographs. I had even downloaded, and painstakingly edited for brevity, the address of every one of their advertised hotspots on my route.
Wifi service has always worked effortlessly in the States, where it’s often free too. My wifi contract with British Telecom (BT Openzone) was far from free. Yet I experienced every problem that was possible. At some of the advertised hotspots, there just was no service – often confirmed by talking to the bar staff who had never heard of it, or who knew that the equipment was broken down. At other places, the signal was too weak to log in, even after walking round the establishment looking for a hotspot within the hotspot. At other places, the login screen appeared but was not responsive to input. At yet other places, where BT’s partner provided the connection, the login to the partner appeared, yet did not transfer me when requested to the BT login screen. Finally, after futile attempts at multiple establishments in multiple towns, I realized I needed to cancel this service or continue to run up charges for very little service. But even that wasn’t easy, because cancellations had to be done by email, which their lousy service was depriving me of! Eventually, Jennifer at home managed to cancel it.
And that’s when I started to get really mad. First, they wanted to bill me beyond my cancellation date. That made me ask for an entire refund even for the miserable three weeks of their decrepit service. This they declined to do, on the basis that I had had some use of the service even though less than promised. They explained that I had ordered a subscription, and not a wifi service, as if a subscription to a non-performing wifi service had satisfied the terms of the contract. Now more incensed than ever, I asked them why they didn’t even want to know at what hotspots, and when and in what manner, their service was failing their customers, which I had offered to list. This didn’t interest them, even after a review I requested from their customer service chief, who - and the mind boggles at the conflict of interest - is also in charge of billing. No wonder customer satisfaction is a low priority.
After my hike, when I had a proper telephone to use, I called to discuss this with a succession of BT’s fine and dedicated professionals, and was asked why I had not called them for help. Since I had done exactly that early on in my connectivity saga, and could name date and time, that didn’t help things at all. Finally, they said that they never canceled bills without the customer listing the places where the service had failed. When I pointed out that I had offered to do just that earlier in the correspondence, and had not been taken up on it, they said that I still needed to put the list in writing. When I did just that, I finally got a pontificating note from them saying that I owed the money, but they would cancel the bill anyway. Talk about giving in ungraciously.
But it wasn’t over. Next I still got billed. When I pointed out that the bill had been canceled, I got reminder letters about my bill. But even before the reminder letters arrived, their collection agency was after me.
So, because of inefficiency but most of all because of customer unresponsiveness, BT lost all my respect – and gained a special mention in my journal.
For all the few hours actually walked - on generally flat land - and the easy day I referred to, I was still more than ready to rest at my destination, the picturesque and historic town of Tewkesbury. I wrote the first cut at this day’s journal on my bed at the Tudor House Hotel, which dates back to 1540. Old though it is, it has more comforts than The Bristol in Gloucester.
What I saw of Gloucester was disappointing. Grimy and plain describe my impressions, and I’m being generous at that. Of course, a passer-by often sees a swath of the city one street wide. And yet, other passers-by have commented similarly while some have drawn attention to Gloucester's fine cathedral.
As with last night’s cafe, The Bristol in Gloucester was really grungy. So perhaps I need to explain my accommodation situation for much of this hike. I didn't want to book in advance, because I really didn't know how far I could walk, though that is becoming clearer with experience; but even if I were to book ahead, I had little information about the establishment, and could still make a bad selection sight-unseen. Without a reservation, it was late when I looked for a place, which also meant that availability of rooms was in doubt, so I couldn't be too choosy. Then, too, I didn't know where exactly all the B&Bs were located, which meant that when I found one, my options to reject it and find another were limited. As well, at this time of day, I was dog-tired and ready to crash. This meant that my needs were limited to not much more than a clean bed and a shower anyway.
Cost and quality were not the main factors on my part; I'd accept either end of the spectrum though, if it was early enough, I'd shy away from grime, expensive rubbish, and pure high-cost. But there really wasn't much choice within most areas where I started to look. On the side of the B&B, cost and quality often were stacked against me: these places don't have as many singles as doubles and they want to rent the doubles . . . to doubles, for which they can charge more. When they actually have singles, it's usually in a room that cannot possibly accommodate two people or they would have configured it for two. So it's usually a small room.
The Bristol in Gloucester looked reasonable outside. Inside was another story. It is a pub, and a music group started up when I retired, and played until midnight, so loudly that the floor of my room above the band shook. In the next room, a dog whimpered in accompaniment. Doors crashed shut. Smoke infiltrated the room. I could not open the window, which once must have served one larger room, because they had built the wall creating the two rooms right up to the window glass.
The shower in many B&B rooms is built on a plinth to allow for the retrofit of drainage pipes underneath; in this case, the plinth had rotted, so I stepped out of the shower on to a not-firm floor. The floor was, in fact, soft enough for me to wonder if the entire shower might not descend a foot - or more, perhaps down to the band stand on the floor below. It wasn't a comfortable thought, though I could imagine myself stepping out of the shower on to the stage in the nude and grabbing the microphone.
In the morning, the breakfast cook explained proudly that there'd been a brawl in the pub last night, as if the pub had once again demonstrated superior virtue. Breakfast is often a redeeming feature of a B&B that has a poor bedroom, but in this case that was poor too.
You might wonder at my tolerance for places like The Bristol in Gloucester, and the cafe meal I described earlier. So perhaps I can tell you a little about my life in England when I was between 16 and 18-years old. In those years, I was an apprentice in an airplane factory, which is to say a trainee getting a practical education in conjunction with a college education to come. At the start, I earned not quite £3 a week, or $8.40 in those days, which my parents supplemented because even inexpensive lodgings (“digs”) cost a little more than that. For a while, I stayed at Mrs. Slade’s semi-detached house in Teddington, Middlesex at 22 Elmers Drive, along with 21 other tenants: mostly Irish and Scottish laborers, though there were also two store clerks and another aerospace apprentice. Mrs. Slade, a Scottish woman with a gap in her teeth and in her mentality, was braw at the brogue (had the gift of the gab) and somehow kept all of these tenants, though she had only four bedrooms and no laundry facilities. I never heard her turn away a tenant on the basis that the house was full. “Jock’s on holiday,” she’d say, “and ye can have his bed for this week, dear, and then we’ll find ye another.”
Then, later that same evening, “Jock’s returned early, dear. But, dinna worry, ye can have the sofa in the living room. Ye’ll have your own room by Tuesday.” On Tuesday she had another “solution”.
Mrs. Slade served an adequate breakfast (“a Scottish breakfast, dear, not a wee English one”) and an evening meal that rather resembled the cafe meal that I had in Gloucester, which perhaps explains why I described it so unlovingly yesterday. After dinner, we all sat in the one living room, watching TV while the laborers smoked and drank beer. Soon, the room would fill with smoke from the ceiling down, relieved from time to time when a laborer opened the door to go and unload his beer in the one toilet in the house, some of it into the toilet bowl.
In the whole house, there was one toilet, one bath and one washbasin, though I suspect that Mrs. Slade had a private bathroom somewhere in the inner sanctum. Mrs. Slade would turn on the hot water for a bath occasionally if you asked her nicely and not more than once a week, as if she were doing you a big favor. The laborers, who worked on building sites all day, usually didn’t bother. On Saturday nights, they would part their hair crisply after licking a shared, half-toothless comb, and head out with their undiscerning girlfriends to the movies and then a pub. Or, if the girls were a little bit more undiscerning, they’d go to the pub and then the common. Of course, if they were going steady, they would go to the movies and then the pub and then the common, all on the same night – a big night out for sure. Mrs. Slade, a model of rectitude in these matters, would not have girls in the house. “That isn’t richt, dear,” she would say. She probably worried that she would have to feed them.
My room was in the attic, my bed under a sloping roof with a window that leaked. For some years afterwards, I had some sort of chest pain that I think stemmed from the damp. But there, with my college notes spread across the damp bed (there was no desk in the entire house), I prepared for university entrance exams at a very competitive time for that in England. With an Empire-Corona portable typewriter on my knees, saved for from my salary, hunched forward to avoid the roof line, I researched for and typed aerospace articles that were actually published, one being an eight-page spread in Flight International magazine.
I left Mrs. Slade when I got into university, where I had my own room and decent meals. Much later, I went on to a more gracious lifestyle.
Thus, as you’ll infer, I am quite comfortable at both ends of the economic spectrum. With my British past at the lower end, perhaps that is why I easily suffered this type of place on my hike – or perhaps I even gravitated there.
My route today was a mixture of the Severn Way, country lanes, public rights of way through farm or brush, and a spell along the A38.
The Severn Way of course borders the River Severn, and today was peacefully located in grassland with occasional trees and birdsong. The views were less featured than I hoped, however, and the path itself was sufficiently rutted and uneven that each step required concentration. Of more interest and quite blissful were country lanes running somewhat east of the Severn, which I also took at times. There were some beautiful homes in the village of Apperley. My route there from the Severn started inauspiciously with a muddy track up to Apperley Court, which I just know is named for a fish that gave itself merrily to the hook in the nearby river. You will have inferred this already from the name "Apperley Court".
Apperley itself is a sweet backwater of a place, and held a treat for the hiker in the form of a bench dedicated to the Queen, set in a manicured grass triangle on the south end of town. Here I got a phone call from Jennifer, and received it in rural solitude and quiet. Later, I stopped for a chat with a gardener, starting of course with an enquiry about the weather, because that is the proper way to approach a stranger in England.
Twice I took shortcuts from the country lanes, when they went around farmers' fields, by taking public footpaths across them. These often start and end with the ubiquitous stile, and today had stiles between the fields also. I trudged across one field of sun-caked mud, which could have been a disaster after rain, but was uneventful enough today.
My section of the A38 today was always replete with footpaths, and nice and quiet on this Good Friday morning. For all that, the stores were open, and later in the day, the streets of Tewkesbury were busy with both local shoppers and day-trippers. I felt that it was my weekend too, and I enjoyed some English cider in the evening.
|Day N16 © 2007 and 2008 Daryl May Day N18|