Stg 1 Day 6 – Sun 30 Jun

Great Sampford to Audley End

Really struggled to tear myself away from the BBC’s excellent coverage of Glastonbury.  (How ridiculously talented is Billie Eilish?  If we’re looking for hope for the future, need we look further?)  I know some readers of these daily updates were there – deeply envious!

Anyway, if you did manage to flick over, you might have seen Countryfile on BBC One on Sunday evening.

It was from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), one of the three chosen charities of 52 in Britain.  And within 10 minutes, the programme had also covered Heartwood Forest, the largest new forest in England, which has been planted and is maintained by The Woodland Trust – another of my chosen charities.

Am I incredibly topical?  Or just late to the party?  Either way, no matter.  Let’s all get behind more sustainable living, loads more trees, and (through the Wilderness Foundation) helping more young people feel OK and connecting with these things too.

I saw the programme with my son Adam at 11:00pm on Sunday night when I got home to Wokingham.

The way I’ve structured 52 in Britain is to walk for 5 or 6 days, then return to Wokingham for a day or so.  This will allow me to spend time working on the edits for the weekly highlights videos (which I hope will be a key tool for engaging a wider audience in this endeavour).  Dan Mountain is putting Week 1’s video together this week – watch this space!

So, it was quite a long day.  What I’ve learned during this first week is that the early hours of the morning are absolutely the best time of day.  Here I am having my bowl of cereal, enjoying the view of the Essex countryside from Sorrells Farm, at 06:30 on Sunday.

I’ve had a lot of lovely company during this first week, but even when I’m on my own, I don’t get lonely: if you look behind my leg, you can just see a very handsome chap holding the door open for me – here he is in close up.  So cute!

Getting back on the path by 07:15 was fantastic – definitely a habit I’m going to adopt for the rest of 52.  As I said on Instagram, the early morning Essex countryside was a glory.

And you discover things like this: three interlinked walks between Hempstead, where “anti-hero” Dick Turpin was born, and Thaxted, where he worked.  Love Britain!

This was a fantastic morning’s walk.  I felt bad as both the temperature and the paths were much more tolerable than they had been for Helen & Wendy the day before.  Sorry ladies.

52 in Britain is fairly well planned – you don’t say! – but even so, it’s still possible to stumble across the unexpected.  This part of Britain is peppered with old airfields – a reminder of the Second World War – in fact I visit three further airfields later on 52.

As I approached Saffron Walden, I came across the former RAF Debden base.  This is now known as Carver Barracks and is the headquarters of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).  Today, however, the old runways were being used for rallying.

Just to the west of Saffron Walden, Audley End House and Gardens, run by English Heritage, was the end of today’s walk and the end of Week 1 – a sixth of the walk done.

I had arranged two appointments at Audley End.  Firstly, the Property Manager Augusta Barnes and the Duty Manager Nicole Brace had very kindly offered to show me round the house and explain why they feel Audley End inspires and gives hope for the future.

Audley End has an incredibly rich history and it does look and feel fabulous.  I was particularly interested in how this history resonates today.

The house today is only a third of the size of the decadent palace built in the early 17th century by the 1st Earl of Suffolk.  In its day, it was the largest private residence in the country.  All the front quadrant in the illustration below has now gone.

Picture source: English Heritage website
Longitude: 0°13’E (OS Map / Google Map)

And the house today:

Talking to Augusta and Nicole as we explored the house was fascinating.  What came out particularly was not just the history of the house, but how the lives that people lived here were so different to today.

I had no idea how hard the Audley team work to bring to life these different ways of living, over many different periods of history.  This weekend they had two of their “Bringing Audley End to Life” days, with various Victorian delicacies being made in the kitchen.

They also use online media: the Audley End cook Mrs Crocombe is a YouTube sensation.  Some American visitors ask to meet her when they come to Audley End.

The kitchens are supplied by Audley’s large organic kitchen garden, with surplus going to a local organic retailer.  The gardens, as a whole, are fantastic.  There is a well established training programme – in fact, Audley’s current Head Gardener started as a trainee here 10 years ago.

I could write about Audley End all day, but this update is already far too long.  I suppose, in relation to the themes of 52 in Britain (i.e. finding hope and positivity across the country), what I took away from our chat was how well placed Audley End is to help us better understand different, simpler, ways of living in the past, and how these compare to now.

We certainly wouldn’t want to go back to a world of great gender inequality, with no health service, and limited educational opportunities for the masses.  But some ideas from the past (locally sourced produce, a society based around local communities, and so on) are undoubtedly ones to which we’ll need to return if our future is to be sustainable.

The culmination of Week 1, and my second appointment at Audley End, was more personal.

You may have read that both my parents died last year.  Mum was from Essex, and Dad’s parents were from Gloucestershire and South Wales – so, in a way, 52 connects our family heritage.

One lovely aspect is that Mum’s cousin Shirley, and Dad’s cousin David, both still living in their respective counties, are coming to meet me on 52.  I’ll have dinner with David in Gloucestershire later in July, but today, it was lovely to have some Audley tea and cake with Shirley.  Here she is with two good friends (and true Essex folk), Bridget and Richard.

Suffolk and Essex have treated me incredibly well this week and I hope I’ve reflected some of that positivity in these updates.

Thank you so much if you’ve made it this far.  Your feedback means so much to me: please do keep messaging me – it’s a real motivator.

Monday is a day off walking, then on Tuesday I travel back to Essex (thanks again South Western Railway and Greater Anglia), ready to start Week 2 of the walk on Wednesday 3 July.  Further updates in due course, as well as the Week 1 highlights video – fingers crossed!

Thanks once again.  Bye for now x

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