Early morning haze has become another beast entirely, grey brown tentacles spread out into the countryside follow the train tracks all the way to Swindon.
Looking like the bedraggled backpackers we are, Alan (our new housesitting host) has no trouble identifying us as we leave the station. He is a friendly, fit looking older gentleman who makes us feel immediately welcome.
We pile into his Jaguar Estate and make our way to Cricklade.
Alan and his wife Marlene have lived in the Swindon area most of their life and have lived in their Cricklade house for many years. What we see of Cricklade as we make our way to their home exudes peaceful, timeless, friendly country hospitality.
Marlene is also very welcoming. First order of business is to meet our new charges, two lovely female Golden Retrievers, Bella and Jasmine.
Dogs always like me and love Pam, we are going to have no problems here. Alan and Marlene are taking a holiday in the Canary Islands and run us through their expectations for while they are gone. Bella suffers from epilepsy and has both special dietary and medical requirements.
They would prefer that we don’t leave the dogs alone for more than four hours at a stretch however we don’t see that as being a problem in sleepy Cricklade.
We are so far in arrears with our blog that basically my arse is going have to be welded to a chair as I type away for most of the time we are here.
Cricklade, a Saxon town, will provide the ideal opportunity to make some headway in our blogging catch up.
Alan takes Pam for a walk through the little town while Marlene, the ‘girls’ and I go for a walk. There is plenty of green space surrounding Cricklade. I would go so far to say it is a dog lovers paradise.
Bella and Jasmine are released off the leads in the fields however they don’t stray far.
When on the lead Jasmine walks even slower than me, this is going to be an easy assignment.
Alan and Pam have returned by the time Marlene, the girls and I make it back. We spend a lovely evening getting to know Alan and Marlene a little better. Alan will soon be retiring from his IT project manager field, he currently works for the National Trust setting up an improved system. Marlene is a long time teacher and educator who is now retired.
By the end of the evening Alan tells us that he feels he has known us for a very long time which is a lovely thing to tell people whom you have just met.
It is good that they feel comfortable with us as this is the first time they have had house sitters while they are away.
Early the next morning I help them with their luggage and we reassure them ‘that all will be as you left it on your return, so just enjoy your holiday’.
Pam and I adopt a slow daily rhythm, walk the girls in the morning, type type type type type, walk the girls in the afternoon, type type, dinner, type, sleep.
Weather by and large is great and on our second full day in Cricklade we are granted the little miracle of a full virtually cloudless day once more.
The mighty Thames that flows through London also flows by the outskirts of Cricklade. Alan and Marlene have told us that in dry spells it can almost be jumped across. Due to the wettest winter on record and the marshes surrounding low lying Cricklade it would take a much fitter man than myself to attempt that leap however this far into it’s headwaters it really is just a pretty little stream.
Days slide by, we have lovely dinners at a few of the bars and restaurants in the nearby town which is within easy walking distance.
At first each time we walk the dogs I take the camera however after a while I stupidly neglect to follow the number one shutterbug rule, always have your device on hand.
Bam Bam (from the Flintstones) walking the streets of Cricklade complete with oversized club is a sight I will not soon forget but only the chosen few will get to see.
Late during our stay an afternoon shower hangs a perfect double rainbow over the first field we take the girls to. A friendly local fellow dog walker emails me shots taken on his phone which I stitch together.
As we return through the town centre with the slow walking girls in tow the shower returns bearing the gift of hail.
We shelter in the lee of a stone house threshold and scare a local woman out of her wits in doing so. As we apologize profusely the lady tells us ‘that’s OK, everyone should feel scared like that at least once in their life’.
Cricklade’s slow paced beauty permeates our beings.
I am making great headway with the blog however it is obvious that due to my verbose compulsions I am not going to get it back to real time before we have to depart for Turkey.
‘Should I just say we went ‘here’ and ‘there’ and it was great’ I reply to Pam’s questions as to why it is taking me so damn long. I am rueing the wild winter days that I blissfully wasted in Anglesey.
It is important to both Pam and I that we give a good account of our adventures and to cut the sermon I am delivering short she just tells me once again ‘to get the lead out’.
It took her some time to get the use of that particular phrase right on the Camino as she had never heard it prior to my laughing explanation of what the Oprah Winfrey documentary crew told me to do to catch her after their interview on the first day of the Camino.
Now she uses it constantly like a whip to crack my lazy arse into action.
Alan and Marlene return from the Canary’s refreshed and reinvigorated. Our dinner at the local Thai restaurant is delicious and accompanied by interesting conversation.
Prior to their departure Pam and I were not 100% sure of our plans for after their return. Cricklade is close to Stow on the Wold which is where our friend from the Camino, Susan lives.
Amy, her daughter and fellow Camino traveller also lives nearby in Shroud and our plans to catch up with them prior to our departure for Turkey enable us to stay one last full day in Cricklade.
Alan and Marlene think this is great news and offer to take us to Stonehenge on our last day.
I have always wanted to go to Stonehenge however we had not thought we would be able to find our way there within our time constraints so we are all too happy to accept the kind offer.
Stonehenge morning dawns blue and cool. Pam returns from the walk with the girls reporting light frosts and fine weather.
Winding our way down country roads passing through little villages Alan and Marlene provide us with volumes of local history. They have a great love for their peaceful area and are keen to share their enthusiasm.
Alighting from the car at the new Stonehenge visitors centre we see the blue skies of the morning have become a battlefield with the blue skies and white dappled clouds beating a hasty retreat before the might of dark grey squalls heading our way.
Marlene feels the cold and we decide to catch a lift with the wagons towed by a Landrover that ferry visitors from the centre to the stones themselves.
To beat the scourge of graffiti and chipping fragments from the stones, visitors can no longer walk amongst the mystery of Stonehenge. We join the circle of tourists mulling around the circumference of the roped off path.
Despite not being able to get within the ancient stone ring I am still impressed by this mighty visage.
I take a shot of Alan, Marlene and Pam with Stonehenge as a backdrop and many many others.
With the sun still shining on us suddenly it begins to rain, I have my Rainbird in my pack however can’t be bothered stopping taking photos to get it out.
The rain turns white and hard. Occasional small hailstones bounce upwards from the grass.
Occasional becomes a flurry, it is freakin’ hailing for real now. Pam winces as hailstones bounce off her face.
The mulling circle of tourists becomes a rush for the transport wagons.
I am laughing so hard I nearly swallow a hailstone whole.
Alan apparently knows nothing of chivalry, he waves goodbye as the early transport he has caught makes its way round the roundabout to return.
Luckily a bus is not far behind. Pam, Marlene and I are last on which means we are first off back at the visitors centre where Marlene laughingly chides her naughty husband.
The visitors centre is very modern and well laid out, we have a drink and make our way through the historical display.
Taking a new route for our return to Cricklade we pass another less well known Henge site at the village Avebury as well as the famous white horse cut into the chalk stone of the Wiltshire hills.
Stonehenge; rain, hail or shine, makes for a fabulous funny day.
Marlene has kindly offered to drive us to Stow on the Wold the next morning so we don’t even have to think about transportation.
We are immensely grateful as this means we will have plenty of time to spend with our Camino friends.
Pam has smoke in her eyes as she cuddles the girls for the last time. She has fallen in love again.
Bidding Marlene farewell we wait for Susan in Stow on the Wold town square. I set off in quest for photos leaving Pam minding the bags and return just as Susan is greeting Pam hello.
Susan is a lovely lady. She and her daughter Amy came to our rescue when we were exhausted and having trouble securing a bed for the night in Zubiri, Spain on the third day of the Camino.
We met them in Orisson on our first night of the Camino and had matched their swift walking pace up until Zubiri however that evening would be the last time we saw them on the Camino.
Susan is delighted to see us. As for so many others the Camino was a pivotal experience in her life, her face lights up as she shows us her photo book and recalls her experiences as we chat in her home.
She has recently acquired a new fangled device (an IPad mini) that enables her to show photos of her Camino experience on her television. We are both delighted to watch her ‘slide show’ for we are constructing one of our own.
Great memories flood back for all of us.
We show Susan our blog and she manages to get it up on her TV as well. For the first time we see some of our own photos blown up on a large screen.
Her daughter Amy is completing important certification and testing needed to maintain her electrician’s installation license and calls Susan once she has completed it.
She has passed no problems, we all cheer into the phone.
Susan drives us to Amy’s house and we spend the rest of the afternoon chatting before driving to Amy’s boyfriend Nick’s house.
Susan bids us farewell at this point. In the hubbub of our afternoon excitement we have forgotten get a photo of her however Pam has an excellent photo of them together we took outside a bar in Zubiri late in the afternoon.
Amy, Nick, Pam and I head out into the night for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Nick is an interested, inquisitive young guy and we have a great evening together.
As we relate our experiences in London Nick tells us an interesting story about the building Londoners have dubbed the Walky Talky.
Architects had not anticipated the refraction of sunlight through the glass roof and walls being focussed as ‘Death Rays’ from a gigantic magnifying glass onto the footpath far below.
Apparently it was possible to cook an egg on the footpath on sunny days after the building’s completion.
The friendly waiter brings us shots of some liqueur. Amy and Nick are regulars here and they and their guests are well treated. By the time we leave the restaurant is nearly fully cleaned.
Nick has to rise early the next morning so bids us goodnight. Amy, Pam and I stay up late reminiscing.
Amy is the mistress of her own destiny and has time to take us to the train station the next morning.
It has been such a great opportunity to have seen her and Susan again.
Though we only knew them a couple of days the shared Camino experience has bound us lifelong friends and comrades in arms.
Buen Camino indeed.
Pam and Mick