An alternative commute – hiking to work
For a couple of days a week, I am often based on-site at a customer’s office in Stony Stratford, just over 8 miles (by road) from my house. We are a one car family, which naturally means I do not get use of the car, so I have to travel in by bus. As I live in a village with only one bus route, this involves catching the 9am bus* to Wolverton (another nearby town) then waiting around at a bus interchange for a connecting bus to Stony Stratford, arriving by 10am.
(* due to a very odd bus rota, the bus driver who picks us up has to go on his break at the next village, so we have to swap buses – it still counts as a single bus on the timetable though!)
Earlier in the week I was idly day dreaming over a local OS map when it occurred to me that after only 10 minutes on that first bus, we pass though Castlethorpe, a village that is only 4 miles (by road) (3 miles by crow) from my final destination, and the countryside between is actually rather pleasant – two river valleys (one is the Great River Ouse) and the Grand Union Canal. Why don’t I walk to work?
Rather than catch the same bus and probably get to work a bit late (and certainly sweaty and out of breath), I decided to catch the earlier bus (at 7.30am). I woke up at the usual time (7am), grabbed a quick shower (rather than the usual longer one), grabbed the bag I packed the night before and headed to the bus stop.
Castlethorpe is a small village originally formed from the servants and manual workers of the castle – now destroyed, although you can clearly still see the mounds of the former motte-and-bailey castle. The village also had it’s own railway station until 1964 (date from Wikipedia) and, after alighting from the bus, my commute on foot began by climbing a footbridge over the London – Birmingham (and beyond) mainline and heading across a field behind the village. No sooner had I got into my stride (passing a few dog walkers) when I stumbled across a place of wonder.
A bench (inscribed with ‘In memory of John – loved, missed, gone fishing!’) looking down on a lazy river bend, with grassy fields and a small wood behind – you can just make out the haze (despite the Instagram filter) although it was sunnier than the photo suggests (sun glasses were required). Despite having only got off the bus five minutes before, I stopped, got out my stove and made a coffee.
I could have quite easily have stopped here for the rest of the day, but sadly work was calling (metaphorically). I followed the river downstream before crossing it and a parallel stream and heading towards the village of Cosgrove – I took a slight diversion to avoid the field of cows and their calves, instead following the drive from The Priory (an 8 bedroom manor house) into the village – where I joined the Grand Union Canal.
Rather than following the main canal I crossed over a lock and headed down the now disused Old Stratford and Buckingham arm (passing a gorgeous flowering red rose in the hedge – presumably planted by one of the near permanent boats moored up nearby). This part of the canal network was in use from 1801 but closed in 1960s. I have previously done some volunteering work with The Buckingham Canal society who try and ensure public access along the canal route with an ultimate aim to flood and return the arm to full use as an extension to The Grand Union canal.
It was all too quickly time to turn off the old canal (sadly before passing the old lock that has been restored), to cut across a field of oil seed rape to cross (over a bridge) the busy A5 dual-carriage way. I have to admit to feeling a little smug watching these fellow commuters flying past in their little shiny boxes unaware of the lovely countryside around them. Now in the outskirts of Old Stratford, I followed a path through a park along the edge of a fairly new housing estate before crossing the road and entering the Ouse Valley Park. The park is a well kept green-belt around the North and West edge of Stony Stratford – following the meandering curves of river Great Ouse. I arrived at the part of the park just behind my final destination with plenty of time to get the stove out again to make another coffee (much to the amusement of the passing dog walkers).
I arrived in the office metaphorically (and literally thanks to my MS) buzzing from the experience – a quick change of clothes in the next door empty office and a spray of deodorant (no showers available), and I was at my desk ready to start the day. Fantastic! (and as an added bonus I saved £2.10 by the shorter bus ride!)
An alternative route
The next day I was due in, I decided to mix things up a little (a risk taker I know!!) and take a slightly different route. Rather than turn off the Grand Union Canal onto the Buckingham arm I stayed on the Grand Union Canal to the Iron Trunk Aquaduct, where the canal crosses above the river Great Ouse.
The Iron Trunk Aqueduct was built in 1811. Before it was built, canal boats had to go down then up a series of locks to cross the river. There is a tiny tunnel under the canal which I think I read was originally for horses – although I would like to see a horse go through it! From the aqueduct, I followed the Ouse Way path along the river, entering the Eastern most part of the Ouse Valley park, which I followed around Stony Stratford before taking a short cut along some footpaths and into town.
On your bike
As I was walking, it occured to me that there are also several nice cycling routes that go ‘door-to-door’, large parts of which are off road. I do not own a bike at the moment…. but that might change soon…. 😉