Hike Southbound through Britain with Daryl May
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The Feathers, a famous hotel and pub in Ludlow, where I met up with the Tippetts
DS47 Ludlow Feathers
DS46 Garden
DS46 House
DS47 Ploughed field
Days S44 - S52                                                                    English Midlands
Day S47 - Church Stretton to Ludlow
Day S46                           The Shropshire lad                         Rest day 16
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Northbound Home
Monday, April 7,  2008

Time of departure: 9.15 am
Time of arrival: 5.30 pm
Place departed: Church Stretton, Shropshire
Place arrived: Ludlow, Shropshire

Miles: 19
Cum miles: 667.7
Percent complete: 68.8

Bed sign With friends, John and Andrea Tippetts
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DS47 Shropshire Way sign
DS46 Five sheep
DS46 Two lambs
Shropshire is a distinctive county. For Americans, think the Cotswolds, enlarge it, add a heavy dose of rural and rugged. Remove the city slickers and London influence. Add an independent spirit, farming, and grungy clothes. That's Shropshire as best I can describe it. So different from the Cotswolds, why start with the Cotswolds as a reference point in the first place? Because of the rolling countryside, thatched cottages and old buildings.

I took a backroad out of Church Stretton, where I'd been nicely accommodated by a first-class B&B, but was soon forced on to the A49 all the way to Craven Arms. There, I ate my baguette and cheese, and finished my orange juice, all bought at the Co-Op last night. I also topped up my mobile phone account, mailed a birthday card to my grandson, Steven, and got cash from an ATM. And, also significantly, I considered how to route myself to Ludlow with minimum use of the A49.

I've been reading excerpts from A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad". Places in it came up on road signs. By the miracle of electronic communications, Jennifer quickly sent me these passages:

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow."

I could easily relate to this. Then, thinking of my route, I found a stretch of the Shropshire Way to walk on this afternoon, stepping right into Housman:

"Now hollow fires burn out to black,
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.
Oh never fear, man, nought's to dread,
Look not to left nor right:
In all the endless road you tread
There's nothing but the night.
Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.
In valleys of springs and rivers,
By Ony and Teme and Clun,
The country for easy livers,
The quietest under the sun,
White in the moon the long road lies,
The moon stands blank above;
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.
Still hangs the hedge without a gust,
Still, still the shadows stay:
My feet upon the moonlit dust
Pursue the ceaseless way.
The world is round, so travellers tell,
And straight though reach the track,
Trudge on, trudge on, 'twill all be well,
The way will guide one back."

As an abstract matter, I am as ready as anyone to embrace the romance of the trails. They cater to our independent spirit, they contrast strikingly with our city lives, and they somehow beckon us to an unlimited future.

But, in practice, the Shropshire Way wasn't much fun today. It was muddy, it was hilly, it was rough underfoot, it didn't go where I wanted it to, and I had to deal with barbed wire and locked gates. It added miles and exhaustion to today's hike. I wouldn't say it was much worse than walking on highways, but I thought it a poorer choice than backroads.

Reaching Ludlow, I made for the Feathers Hotel, where my friend John Tippetts is coming to pick me up. I'm going to take my first rest day after leaving Tain nearly forty days ago, and we'll be headed to John and Andrea's place near Sheffield some 125 miles away. John and Andrea are also going to drop me back here on Friday morning. I've mentioned the kindnesses I've received before. I can't easily understand why people are being so nice to me, and I know it will be almost impossible to reciprocate.

Exhausted upon reaching Ludlow, I've nevertheless learned a most significant hiker's secret: the best way to take a pack-on rest.

Of course, a pack-off rest is better than a pack-on rest, but it's more of a business getting your pack off and on again. Also, I like a bench for a pack-off rest, and there 'aint a whole lot of them. Some local governments have removed all their benches, and used the wood to board up their public toilets, an inspired and serendipitous strategy to eliminate two public services at the same time.  A couple of days ago, in Prees (not to be confused with Prees Branch, Prees Green, Prees Heath, Prees Higher Heath, Prees Lower Heath or Prees Wood, just to be clear on this), I found a bench next to the post office. Now, if I haven't mentioned it before, I'm taking pictures of certain distinctive benches for my Benches in Britain collection. Some of these benches lack seats, some lack seatbacks, and some lack both, while some have these virtues but have experienced the abrupt arrival of an obese customer, resulting in shattered timbers. Yet others have disappeared altogether about the same time as someone has acquired a picnic table for his yard. However, the bench at Prees was quite unique. It had experienced the arrival of a saw blade but evidently fought it half-off. The seat was fine on the left, but the wood slats had been neatly cut away on the right, on which side the Prees-model 2008 bench was now fit for only very small posteriors.

Now what sort of citizen would steal a slat or half a slat? I have the answer for this. A citizen who steals such a thing is not to be thought of as a low-life crook. Heavens, no!  In fact, he'll be such an upstanding citizen that he'll probably have made a donation to local government in return. A donation? Yes, he'll probably have donated an old appliance to a grass verge, or a stream, or the middle of the road, thus saving a dump charge.

Now, benches aside, and I'm sorry it's been such a long aside, a pack-on rest doesn't work well on a bench, because your pack pushes your bum too far forward to sit comfortably, or your bum is in the right place, but you have to lean too far forward because your pack strikes the seatback. So a pack-on rest needs something else.

Often-enough, I have slouched against a wall, with the weight of my pack carried on top of the wall. Or, to strike a fine pose for a photo to send home, you can nonchalantly lean against a trashcan in the same way, preferably one whose wheels are chocked in some way and which also doesn't overbalance. This mode of pack-on rest is good for your shoulders but does little for your legs. So, what is the best way to enjoy a pack-on rest?

Here's the answer. A pack-on rest is best enjoyed on a grassy bank with a moderate upslope of 20 deg for a big pack, and 30 deg for a smaller one. (These figures are for a bog-average sized bum, and naturally need adjustment for over- and under-sized bums.) Sitting down on such a bank, your pack now supports your upper half, while the slope is moderate enough to take the weight off your legs and, especially if there's a plateau in the bank for your bum, you're not threatened with a slide down the bank either.

I've taken lots of pack-on rests like this now. It works wonderfully. Just don't sit on nettles, dead animals, or manure. (Molehills are OK at this time of year, 'cause they're often warm.) Don't let your legs protrude into the road - and don't leave fresh bread or anything else crushable in the back pocket of your pack, and especially not your cat or dog.
Half-slat bench
Detective work has revealed that the guy who stole the slats from the bench above generously made a donation to the town to even things out. His donation was the refrigerator below, delivered free of charge
DS47 Fridge donation
Day S46                                        2007 and 2008 Daryl May                                      Rest day 16