~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 26th 2012
In three weeks' time I'm taking part in a 26-mile charity walk between the cathedral cities of Winchester and Salisbury. The Clarendon Way, as it is called, takes eight or nine hours to complete, and since online editing is a fairly sedentary activity—I have a seven-minute walk from home to the tube station, and a four-minute walk from the tube station to the office—it seemed sensible to get a couple of longer walks in.
So yesterday afternoon I did the Wiltshire half of the Clarendon Way. It would have taken me four hours, except I took a wrong turning, reached the bottom of a hill and realised I was meant to be at the top of it. I hadn't taken a map because I'd been told there were signs. As it turned out, there were signs, but they were fitful and at times positively misleading. To have some signs, I now know, is more unhelpful than to have no signs.
Luckily, I had an email on my phone from a friend who had done the walk, and after my half-hour detour, I opened that. It had a six-page attachment for everyone going on next month's sponsored walk which was rigorous in its detail:
"Immediately bear right, following footpath sign, IGNORING CLARENDON SIGNS POINTING STRAIGHT ON, keeping leylandii hedge on your right and farm building on your left."
From then on, I was fine. It was an idyllic spring afternoon and I passed through some of the most beautiful and historic countryside in southern England. Saxon and Norman kings had hunted in these woods. Roman soldiers had marched along these lanes. For most of the time I was also alone—except for deer, pheasants, rabbits, butterflies, pigeons, rooks and a buzzard. In the four and a half hours, I only passed a dozen people. It was hard not to think that many more people might have been out in the sunshine sharing this spectacular walk, if only it were better signed.
Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life