|The Warwickshire Centenary Way|
By Mark Walford|
Date: Saturday December 15th 2012
I have none of the aches pains and blisters I usually return home with after a walking holiday and also missing is the sense of restlessness and general gloom about returning to the routine of a working week. This walk has been unique in that it has taken place over several months and three different seasons, giving my body a chance to recuperate between sections, with the whole adventure woven in and around my normal working life. I find this has both pros and cons. There are none of the physical knocks picked up whilst hauling my ageing carcass across a hundred miles of the Great Outdoors, which is good of course. But also, there is no sense of this being a true walking holiday – I didn’t stay in strange new places, I didn’t experience radically different scenery, I wasn’t away from the routine of my life.
But the pros outweigh the cons, and the biggest thing I take away from walking this path is that there are places of great beauty, tranquillity and genuine interest on my very doorstep – a fact that perhaps I needed to be reminded of. It’s easy to write off the Midlands as an industrial wasteland but that is far from the truth. As I found on my travels; not only do I live amidst a very rural landscape but I also reside in an area which contains a unique industrial heritage. It's a legacy that enhances, rather than detracts, from the experience of walking through Warwickshire – the miles of canal-side tow-paths being a prime example. And I’m not just talking about the obvious attractions like ancient castles and country parks (as fascinating as they may be) but also the smaller unsung jewels tucked away in seldom visited corners of the shire: Churches with a thousand years of history, villages that seem all but timeless, odd little pubs where Oliver Cromwell or William Shakespeare ‘may’ have spent the night.
I confess that I have been pleasantly surprised by this walk. I expected a long journey across endless fields interspersed with less than beautiful industrial sections (and yes there was an element of that) but I got so much more out of the experience than I would have imagined.
Changes occurred in my life during the five months it took me to walk across Warwickshire, some expected, some unforeseen, and somehow it seemed fitting that as my life changed so did the seasons and the landscape around me, a synergy I have never experienced in quite the same way on previous journeys. I would never have imagined, when I limped into Leamington Spa after a long days hiking that I would soon be working out of offices not three minutes’ walk away. I would never have imagined that I would begin the walk owning one dog, and complete it with another waiting for me to return home. The Centenary Way accompanied me through these changes, exhibiting its own shifting values along the way.
As a counterpoint to these variances there were the beautiful constants - indelible and enduring - landmarks such as Warwick Castle and on a more humble level the wonderful 10th Century church at Stoneleigh; stolid reminders of that undeniable truth: The more things change, the more they stay the same. If you live in or near Warwickshire then give the Centenary Way a chance - you won’t be disappointed.
The Centenary Way tally:
Country parks 4
Major wrong turns 11
Category 4 Cow incidents 1
In memory of Tom-dog and all your footsteps beside me