It was wonderful to see the 20 or 30 friends gathered at the west door of Salisbury Cathedral this morning to see us off. Fortunately, the forecast weather held off and although it wasn’t exactly blue skies and sunshine it was at least dry (ish!). Photographer Spencer had us all completely organised: poses with charity banners, line-ups and shots under the north arch. It felt just like getting married all over again! We’d barely got out of the city centre when a car pulled up alongside us and the occupants inquired: “Are you the couple walking to Rome?”. We can only assume that they’d heard about us on the local radio. Full of enthusiasm for our project they told us about their son’s impressive long-distance walking achievements. They wished us well and asked us to say a prayer for them when we reach St Peter’s. Once out of the city we climbed up towards the ruins of the Clarendon Palace to see a yellow clad figure running downhill towards us. Blow me (us), if it wasn’t Tom’s old rivers friend Malcolm who he hadn’t seen for several years and now lives out that way. Quickly, the two of them sorted out all the major environmental issues facing the planet, as you would expect: climate change, agricultural practice and over-abstraction among them, before we got back on our way east. Really great to see Malcolm again. Need more time to talk later. We passed the ruins of Clarendon hunting palace shortly after. They are well guarded by llamas.
By now Storm Dennis was truly making its mark and it was anorak hoods up pretty well for the rest of the day. Next stop Pitton village where the bus shelter provided a convenient location to do a map transfer. Ten minutes later we were enjoying a welcome hot cup of tea with St John Singers friend Wendy and her husband at their house on the edge of the village. Wendy, an impressive linguist and professional translator, seemed keen to know how our Italian was getting on!
We pressed on up and along the Winterslow escarpment. Sadly, the views were rather grey. Some seriously impressive gusts (50-70 knots) reminded us how glad we weren’t out sailing! At least the wind was behind us. By now we were seeing a number of downed branches and the occasional whole tree too. So, we moved on with caution.
Waymarking, having been pretty good up to this point seemed to completely disappear now (Wiltshire Council, please note), and we became hopelessly lost for half and hour. Even Google Maps gave up on us on account of lack of signal.
Back on track, we headed on in the rain with the blessing of a good straight Roman road to lead us. But it seems Roman Roads weren’t built to avoid flooding! Or at least the 4×4 brigade had rendered this one pretty impassable on foot. We hadn’t thought to carry lifejackets!
At last the crest of Broughton Down came into sight. With its steep north-facing escarpment and nature reserve it’s an inspiring place to be on a sunny spring day! A steep decent led us down into Broughton village and to our friends Beryl and George, where a change of clothes, a hot cup and sumptuous lemon cake awaited us.
Well, we survived Storm Dennis and the first day on our long journey to Rome. Only a hundred and fifteen days (or thereabouts) more to go! As one of the Cathedral Clergy said to us “the weather can only get better from here!”.
But let’s spare a thought for those across England and Wales, who haven’t survived Storm Dennis so well, and who’ve suffered such terrible flooding of their homes.
A big thank you to all those friends who came to the Cathedral to see us off. Your presence gave us a deep sense of support and encouragement, which will remain with us all the way to Rome.