After breakfast with home-grown, home-squeezed, apple juice at Charlotte and Chris’s house in Kintbury, I walked back to the canal towpath, which was my path for the entire day. This being a Saturday, there were lots of people out, enjoying the good weather. Since narrowboats move at a walking pace, I frequently saw the same families making their way through the locks.
Between Kintbury and Speen, I sat on a bench by a bridge to watch life on the canal; dog walkers, cyclists, runners, kayakers, and families on narrowboats. An elderly man walked past me to touch the gate at the bridge before turning to go back the way he had come, explaining “If I don’t touch the gate, it doesn’t count.” This, his daily routine, reminded me of swimming laps. We got into a conversation and I moved my bag from the bench so that he could sit. He told me that he changed career several times during his life, and with each change he got poorer and happier. He was a stockbroker in his 30s, then later an Anglican vicar, and now, at the age of 88, he has become a Quaker. “Anglicans say a lot and do little, but the Quakers say nothing and do a great deal.” We spent a long time discussing mental health, the Affordable Care Act, and how to avoid Basingstoke on my way to Canterbury. Later on, as I was reading a sign that explained the concrete “pill box,” emplacements that were constructed along the canal in World War II, he caught up with me and wryly observed “They’re used, these days, by the druggies. But they need somewhere to go too.”
In Newbury, I made a short diversion from the canal path to visit Blacks, the outdoor gear retailer, to buy a rain cover for my backpack. I forgot to pack mine and I think I’ll need it tomorrow, if the weather forecast is right. The shop has a sale on. I hope it’s just an end of season thing rather than a harbinger of another high street retailer going out of business. Sometimes I think that there will soon be nothing but fried chicken and vaping supplies in our town centres.
Newbury’s centre was a reminder of the things that I was hoping to avoid on this walk. I had a plate of falafel at a Lebanese restaurant and got back onto the canal path for the short walk to Thatcham, asking directions to find my Airbnb, which is at a family home with children and grandchildren enjoying a birthday party in the garden. My host, Colleen, kindly put my hiking clothes in the washing machine. I hung them out to dry in the last hours of daylight.
I was told that Thatcham’s Szechuan restaurant is popular (but my hosts don’t like that sort of food). On inspection, it has Thai and Szechuan menus, and the Szechuan one lists sweet and sour soup, but no hot and sour soup. Red flags. I fled to the nearby Bella Vita for a salad and a risotto.
I’m leaving the canal path tomorrow to go cross country to Sherborne Saint John, near Basingstoke.