The Last Day
Consciousness came to me slowly in the morning. I lay watching the
daylight slowly gain mastery over the darkness with a feeling of
being strapped down to my knobbly earth bed. I was aware that my legs
were aching after days of constantly pushing pedals, and parts of my
body were sore from lying on lumps in the ground. My mind was quite
keen on the idea of moving, but my body kept giving it erroneous
information about the difficulty of breaking free from the invisible
bonds that held it down.
Eventually, with the sun now high in the sky and dogwalkers once
more uncomfortably active, I persuaded my upper limbs and torso into
enough movement to supply my mouth with the usual first cup of coffee
and bowl of muesli. The combined effect of caffeinne and nutrition
was enough to persuade the rest of my physical being of the
possibility of movement. Unusually, I raided my flask for a second
cup of coffee and, taking great care because my body was still
groggy, climbed down to sit directly above the tunnel mouth.
After the first train had passed, glinting in the morning sun, the
black & white cat trotted confidently across the tracks and
disapeared into the woodland on the far side. It occurred to me that
the cat was probably feral. Another train, bound for distant Norwich,
burst out of the tunnel
Revived by the coffee, I climbed back up and went to unlock my
bike and wheel it over to the stile ready for loading. As I did so I
noticed a man walking towards me down the slope of the field. A short
but solidly built man in his late sixties, he was wearing a cloth cap
and light brown smock. He reminded me of Mr Seden, a farmer from the
village where I grew up
Ladbroke could refer to:
who had an uncanny ability for knowing when me and my friends had
entered the bounds of his land.
"I was just coming to move that bike" said the farmer
"one of my cows could have broken its leg on it and that would
have cost me a lot of money". It occurred to me that this
fantasy was slightly more unlikely than one of the said beasts being
struck by lightning. In any cow/bike interaction I suspect that the
bike would come off worst. He didn't seem angry but appeared to be
one of those people who enjoys lengthy but resigned grumbling. I did
my best to re-assure him that I meant his cattle no harm, was about
to depart and would leave no litter. He continued in an unstoppable
monotone, complaining about the trouble that was caused by people who
didn't understand the countryside, then wished me a good day and
departed back up the grassy slope.
Soon I was following him, wheeling my laden bike past the herd of
precious cattle up to the stile and on to the road. I pedalled slowly
uphill to the roundabout, then turned left to continue my Southbound
The next village was Astley, where, behind the church, I spotted
the ruins of a castle. I decided to investigate, and found the
fascinating remains of Astley Castle. This moated sandstone fortress
used to belong to the father of Lady Jane Grey. Her brief tenure on
the English throne led inexorably to her own and her father's demise.
In more recent times the place was an hotel, but it burned down in
1978. The way in was now barred as it was being restored by the
Astley Castle is a ruinous moated fortified 16th century manor house in North Warwickshire. It has been listed as a Grade II* listed building since 1952 and as a Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1994. It was derelict and neglected since it was severely damaged by fire in 1978 whilst in use as a hotel and was officially a Building at Risk. The building reopened as a holiday let in 2012 after extensive and novel renovations that combine modern elements with the medieval remains.
I dislike being excluded from anywhere so I stalked around the dry
moat, seeking a weak point in the defences. I found a place where the
wall had crumbled to a climbable slope, which I breached, without
damage to myself or the venerable structure. I then spent a good 15
minutes exploring the fascinating ruin and taking pictures. I
discovered an easier route out which brought me into the churchyard.
Remounting my bike, I pedalled onwards.
I was now cycling through the lands of my ancestors. A while ago I
went to a gathering of descendants of the Griffiths boating family at
the nearby village of Keresley.
My parents grew up in Coventry, just
a few miles away, and went walking in the countryside round here in
the 1930s. For a while, as I rode along narrow lanes, it seemed like
nothing much had changed since my parents walked this way 80 years
ago, then a neatly radiused curve brought me to a concrete bridge
over the roaring traffic of the M6. To my left lay the sprawl of
Soon the madness was behind me and I was back on to country lanes
again. I came upon a road junction great trees towering over it.
Behind the first row of trees was a great sandstone outcrop. My map
showed an ancient hill fort at the top of it, and what an excellent
place for a fort, looking out over the valley with a precipitous
slope for any invaders to have to fight their way up. The hill is
called Burrow Hill. At Daventry, where I went to secondary school,
there is a hill fort at the top of Borough Hill.
climbed some of the lower rocks and sat down for a munch of food
and a drink of apple juice. With my nutritional needs satisfied I
climbed to the top to see what was there. The hill top was a flat
ploughed field, nothing remarkable, though I imagine Time Team would
enjoy digging trenches through it. I descended again to my bike and
started slowly pedalling up the hill through a rocky defile towards
the village of Corley http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/71506
Over the top of the hill I reached Corley village, where I joined
a bigger road. It was now downhill, so I didn't mind so much. I left
the main route to go down the delightful Hollyfast Lane. This tiny
road was at first a winding tunnel of holly trees, then opening out a
little with frequent oaks
still travelling steadily downhill. A sharp left turn at the end
brought me into the beginnings of posh suburbia, with big houses in
their own grounds set back from the road, leading me into the
junction with another main road at Brownshill Green.
I became a little confused along the main road. What was shown on
my ancient map did not accord with what I found on the ground. There
should have been a winding lane going off to the right, instead there
was a roundabout and a new straight road. I followed this as it was
going in the right direction, then noticed that the original lane
still existed, but was chopped into truncated sections. I diverged on
to the old lane where I met frisky horses carrying their teenage
The hill against me steepened and I dragged my way slowly into the
suburban fringes of Allesley. I made my way through the old village
and then found a concrete footbridge over a dual carriageway into
proper suburbia of semi detatched houses. At the other side of this
estate was the main A45 dual carriageway. I followed this roaring
road through grim grey urban dreariness for about a mile.
Anticipating a substantial train fare I was pleased to see a bank. I
stopped to extract folding money from its hole in the wall facility,
then carried on to turn away from my Southbound trajectory to head
for Tile Hill station.
I had always imagined that Tile Hill was rather upmarket. The
reason for this stemmed from my childhood. My big sister, 11 years my
senior, had an Adam Faith lookalike boyfriend who came from Tile
Hill. The romance came to an abrupt end when his parents intervened
to prevent him from getting too involved with a mere typist. The
upshot of this was days of big sister lying in her boudoir crying her
eyes out. Every now and then I would burst in singing "Big girls
Don't cry" in a high voice and she would shout "Mum, get
him out of here".
As a result of this outbreak of mid 20th century snobbery I had
imagined that Tile Hill would be a sort of minor Hollywood, with the
mansions of the wealthy set in rolling acres behind high walls with
electric gates. Instead I pedalled along a mile or so of dreary
industrial units. I was glad to reach the station, but surprised that
the booking clerk, though clearly in his office, had a closed sign
up. I went on to the platform and enjoyed watching trains rush by
The ticket office reopened before my train arrived so, with my
wallet lightened, I climbed aboard a crowded local train to
Birmingham. With a change at New St station I was able to complete
the return journey in just a couple of hours. My holiday was at an
end. Another time I will continue my southward trek.