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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, April 12, 2007
    The walker and the public house
     
    Someone has probably already written on the fascinating subject of the relationship between long-distance walkers and public houses. In a way, Charles Hurst and his ilk do it as part of their wider narrative. His fuel stops and overnight stays were also the scene of meaningful encounters, valuable conversations, and adjustments of perspective to the loner on the road. And one pub in particular was the place he picked up his forward companion - a dog called Pontiflunk. The dog's owner wanted to give him a new home, but instead set him on a journey which would be long, enjoyable and (due to an unfortunate collision with a speeding car) his last.

    Our first pub stop the other day (pictured below) was typical of what the romantic traveller might expect - a village pub with a sense of history about it, and community, with conversation flowing easily around local characters, local places, and the tale of Hurst's visit warmly received and contemplated by all present (landlady and three regulars).

    But it was the interchange in the second one which was the more fascinating. In Ratcliffe on Trent, a commuter town just outside Nottingham, one of those pubs floating in a sea of car park concrete which is eerily empty during the day, relying solely on retired local couples taking their lunch from the (limited, preprocessed, but bearably passable) menu. Three strangers bearing backpacks were a most unusual addition to the clientele, sitting beneath the Golf Society rolls of honour which hint at the fuller sports-based fraternity who meet there in the evenings.

    The traveller asks questions which aren't normally addressed in such places, and tells tales which seem extraordinary there. The barmaid was visibly astonished that we were walking into Nottingham - "You mean, not getting a train or a bus...?" (the pub is close to a station which gets Ratcliffe residents to and from their Nottingham offices in just sixteen minutes). To the story about Hurst's acorn-planting walk her responses were mostly of the "wow" or "really?" variety. It wasn't that she was scandalised or cynical about what we were doing, it was just that it seemed to be completely outside the frame of reference of the usual (probably quite scant) conversation she was invited to join in this place.

    So when Phil gave her a copy of his Crab Walk picture cards as a parting gift, and we bade her farewell, she wished us good luck and gave Phil a very warm kiss, a kiss which might have been saying "be careful out there, intrepid traveller", but seemed more to be her way of thanking him for weaving her into a lovely story, the like of which, in her carpark sports bar, she might never hear again.