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"It's 10:30, are you ready? The dogs are making a fuss" the Webmaster yells up the stairs. I am in bed reading on-line newspapers.

"I can't find my trousers. You put them away somewhere different every time. Where are they?" Although I haven't looked, it is a safe bet.

"Drying from yesterday's washing."

"I've got more than one pair. Where are the others?" shouting down the stairs and jumping out of bed.

 

The Webmaster comes back into the bedroom and begins hunting through the piles of folded up washing he has not yet put away from last week. He looks in a few drawers and the wardrobe. Eventually he finds several pairs of trousers. Everyday is hunt the clothes day. He never remembers where to put any thing.

Five minutes later we are ready to leave, dogs on leads, by the door.

"I haven't got my glasses" compains the Webmaster.

"They are in the kitchen, on the window sill."

"Not that pair." He goes up stairs to look for his other pair. I don't say anything but I know both pairs are exactly the same prescription.

Finally we leave. The Old Dog pulls more than usual as we set off down the lane. The neighbours' dog rushes to the end of her chain and barks loudly, tail wagging wildly; her typical greeting.

"Shall we go through the woods?" The dogs zigzag across the lane as though unable to decide which side offers the best smells. We turn right into the old farm yard and the Young Dog sees a black cat sitting on a gate up ahead. The cat leaps down and takes flight retreating into the inner yard. The Young Dog begins to make chase, but rather than follow it directly into the yard he bounds the stile and follows the path round the outside edge of the farm. He pulls hard, looking ahead, drags the Webmaster behind and over the second stile. 

"He's trying to cut it off behind the building."

By the time we emerge into the field, the cat is nowhere to be seen. The Young Dog stops and surveys the field, looks behind, then lurches forwards, yanking the Webmaster down the path towards the woods.

"Sh*t. Now he thinks the cat is in front of us. He's going to pull all the way trying to catch it."

"He'll forget soon and find something else. Squirels maybe."

The path through the wood, down to the Head of Trent, over the bridge and up again is almost dry, even the section which in recent years has become almost a permanent bog. The sun is bright and the air is warming fast. A good day for a walk.

"The pound closed at $1.24299."

"299!" scoffed the Webmaster, "Point 3 of a cent, isn't that close enough?"

"Well, I suppose it depends how many dollars you want to buy. If you are trading in millions it makes a difference."

"But we aren't."

"No but it was a good move buying those dollars on Thursday night. I wish I'd got them earlier in the week."

"I hate to break it tou you, but that was a fluke. You didn't know it was going to crash overnight."

"No but I was pretty sure it would go down."

"How."

"Reading the forecasts by the experts. Should have listened to them sooner, but I didn't think the government would keep making statements they knew would weaken the value of the pound."

The Young Dog kicks soil and leaves. They fly out behind him but we are well out of the way. He leaps around, full of energy and kicks behind him again. At the top of the path we turn left along the track. 

"She got the money the next day even though it had said by next Wednesday. It was quicker than last time. She can use it now rather than use her card. Maybe the experts will be wrong and it will go up before she needs more, but they don't seem to have been yet. They are predicting it will go down to $1.20. Bl**dy H*ll."

We continue in silence, turing right onto the path across the farmland. The top of the field is boggy but as we decend towards the lake it becomes firmer and easier going. The gates and stiles between the fields are no longer overgrown with nettles. A benefit of Autumn.

As we reach the lake we see two workmen are gathering fallen branches into a heap. They have a large mowing machine, engine running, parked nearby. We speculate whether it is for mowing over the scrub, the brambles and small saplings and soon see that it is.

"We could do with one of those for the top of our garden."

"We might be able to hire one. But we need to clear the big stuff away first. The chainsaw should make it easier to deal with the rhododendron. Cut through a bigger branch from underneath rather than trimming back all the small ones."

"How much is it likely to cost?"

"Don't know. Fifty. Hundred a day?"

"They never clear that section there." Pointing to an area of thick scrub over to the right of the path. "That looks like a very old tree. Must be of a similar age to the one that lost the large branches in the gale."

"There are a few of them around. How old was the house that used to be here?"

"Eighteenth century I guess. It was that sort of style. These were its grounds, landscaped, so those trees may have been planted then. It used to be a valley before the dams were built. The works look Victorian but it I think this lake was made to provide water to feed the canals. The Trent and Mersey was built in the late eighteenth century, was it James Brindley? This place belonged to Hugh Henshall, I think they were related. There'll be some of the girls' school project work about it somewhere on one of the computer archives. It was a local history topic at the junior school."

We reach the tree damaged in the gale. It is still taped off. The large tear in the bark is beginning to look weathered.

"Has some of it been cut down?" muses the Webmaster, "maybe not."

"There aren't many people here today. What time is it?"

"Just after 12, but I think people go into town shopping on Saturday. More come here on Sundays."

"The paths weren't like this when I was a kid and we came here with my Grandad. They were like that," I pointed to a narrow path now used by fishermen to reach the fishing places, "and further round they were overgrown."

By habit we take the right hand path down the edge of the Serpentine lake. For some reason we don't often cross the middle dam that divides the two lakes. The dogs stop and sniff every few metres. We make slow progress but eventually we reach the far end of the lake. 

"Let's go on the loop up to the visitors' centre for a change."

"This way dogs" called the Webmaster as the dogs continued on the usual route while we turned off to the right. We walked past the reeds and the marshes, up the steps and out into what once were the immediate gardens of the hall. 

"Shall we double back down to the lake or go down the road?"

"The road" suggested the Webmaster, "Come on dogs."

Almost opposite the drive out of the visitors centre is another footpath.

"Let's go this way. I've not been along from this direction but I think it drops down to the feeder and comes out by the bends in the river."

The stile is difficult for the dogs. We have to encourage the Young Dog to climb over. He is very reluctant and makes several failed attempts. Eventually he almost falls over it. The Old Dog finds a way to sqeeze round it. The path follows the top edge of a field that slopes steeply down into the valley, through which the early stages of the Trent and the canal feeder run. The path is rough, potted with sunken hoof prints hardened into the now almost dry mud. We walk under a row of horsechestnut trees. There are spiky chestnut cases and conkers scattered everywhere.

"I think my dad used to come here for conkers when he was a boy. He spoke at a community meeting when we were fighting the open cast mining. I think all these woods would have gone if we hadn't won. The claim was that they would restore it all to how it was but the older people were asking how they could restore old woodland to its characterful, mature state."

"I thought it was the Serpentine at risk."

"I can't remember the details now. I think that was something different. The rules about dams changed and the county council didn't want to spend the money upgrading the middle dam. If the dam went so would the Serpentine. But we won that too. We had a Conservative counsellor who fixed it. He was very good. I even voted for him in the next election. How times have changed."

We stop and admire the view. Across the valley we can see the village and the church, and off to their left the hill.

"It's a long way down and up again" commented the Webmaster. "Look, there's the path up from the feeder to the church. It looks much steeper than I realised."

"Andy and I used to run that way. It was quite a tough drag going up there. We knew we'd done it when we got to the top. Well, it wasn't the top. We still had to go up into the village and then up out of the village, but that was on road. It is a long haul up from the feeder to the top of the hill."

We reach the second stile and the dogs once again struggle. We try to persuade them to squeeze under the bottom bar but the Young Dog has his own ideas. The Webmaster whinces as he jumps, changes his mind and crashes onto the cross bar of the stile, drags himself over and falls off before managing to get his legs clear.

"Oooh. That must have hurt his under-carriage."

"Yeah, but he doesn't seem to notice. It was damage to his legs that worried me." In the meantime the Old Dog crawls under the stile, stretches herself on the other side and continues to walk on, unperturbed.

"Where does the path go now?" asks the Webmaster, as we approach what seems like a thick hedge across the route, but he does not wait for a reply. The path drops to the left, passes through two stone posts and into a wooded reentrant. The path contours around the sides and we emerge into another field almost opposite the point we entered but now the route of the path is less clear. We follow the edge of the field until we reach a fence. There is clearly no way across so we double back a few metres and realise that the path had turned left to make its way down into the valley to merge with the path along the feeder. 

"I think this is the path that comes over the top from Bemersely. I haven't been this way since I was a kid and I've never approached from the Greenway Bank direction."

We are heading down towards the valley. The path is clear but narrow and rough.

"My mum walked this way once, from her house to ours. This is the shortest route. She had T and his pushchair. She must have had to carry both of them on this bit, from the road at Bemersley until the top of the steps. I'm not surprised she was knackered when she arrived."

We reached the flat bottom of the valley.

"It's boggy here." The Webmaster stops and watched the Young Dog sink in to the soft ground up to his ankles. We pick our way across, stepping on the firmer clumps of grass, without difficulty but the dogs blunder across, now on solid ground, now up to their knees in mud. 

We reach the river and turn right onto our usual route. We walk across the little bridge and reach the point where the feeder emerges from its culvert.

"I'll take some photos. Maybe I can use them to illustrate my blog. Hold the dog while I get the camera."

As I pass the lead of the Old Dog to the Webmaster, the lock on its lead slips, it slackens and the dog jumps into the water. The Young Dog leaps after her and the Webmaster is pulled to the edge and looks as though he may fall in. Unfortunately my instinct is to grab the Webmaster and the Young Dog's lead to prevent another splash. I'll never make a photo journalist. 

We continue along the feeder, across the lane and up towards the church. There are no cattle in the field, but at one point a grey gelding comes over to investigate. The pizza box is now showing signs of wear and is unlikely to survive another week.

"I haven't done much local history or genealogy research recently. I don't want to be sitting at a computer when the weather is good and we can do outside activities, but when we walk round these routes I do think that a lot of it must be exactly as it was for my ancestors. A connection with the past. Except the trees are bigger."

At the top of the track we decide to turn left and take the footpath through the fields, past the allotments and up the lane rather than round through the village. The dogs struggle with the stile out onto the lane. It isn't a difficult stile but the land on the road side is much lower than the field side, reached by three or four steps. The Young Dog is not keen on jumping when he us unsure of his landing and he hunts around for a way under, but he is far too big. Suddenly and without warning, he leaps the stile and follows through by leaping all the steps in one bound. The Webmaster and the Young Dog find themselves deposited in the lane. The Old Dog wriggles under the stile and sedately walks down the steps.

"What do you want for your birthday. If you think you have been dropping hints and I should know, I haven't picked them up and I don't have a clue."

"No, you're OK. I haven't. I don't know. But it is a big one."

"I know. That's why I'm asking. Don't expect a suprise party, or even a not surprise party because I'm not doing one."

"Do you think we are old? When I was a kid I thought anyone around 60 was really old. Are we younger than the 60 year old of 50 years ago? What do the kids think now?"

"I don't know about younger but we have better nutrition, better health care and easier lives. We probably aren't as knackered and wrinkley from outdoor work. Farm work in fields and navies on roads working topless in the sun and wind."

"Ladies have never worked topless in the fields."

We walk up the lane, past the potholes we reported. It emerges onto the road that skirts the hill which rises above us. We see two young men and a dog looking for the path down to the road juntion. There is definitely a path there somewhere and it is clearly signposted, but like us a few weeks ago, they can't make it out. Their black dog appears and disappears as it makes its way leaping the heather and bilberry bushes. The young men give up and and return to the path which follows the contours just below the brow of the hill and follow it round to the next path down. 

By now we have reached the road end of the same path. They are coming down and we are going up. But this path is almost as overgrown as the first path. The young men call down ask us if we know where the path is. We point to the signpost and suggest they just head towards it.

We climb up through the vegetation until we meet the path below the brow, turn right and follow it until it meets the path main path following the ridge of the hill. We turn left, and head downwards to the track and the path through the cow field.