Our Travel blog
Braughing part 2
As a final flourish to our last entry I promised to cover a few bits and pieces in part 2 including:
The first draft of the threatened book, details of our thoughts and ideas about what may lay ahead, Alison’s apology to a speed sign, I find a cannon ball, just how painful getting temporary cover for car insurance can be, visits to friends and relatives, celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary and more about Braughing and the surrounding area.
So here goes, in no particular order:
Yes I’ve been working on a book version of the blog. So far it’s at around 85,750 words, with much literary jiggery-pokery to come. It’ll be an enhanced version of what’s already been published on the blog, losing a lot of the ‘we went here and did this…’ stuff and expanding upon the lifestyle, background, preparations and some surprises too. The journey’s not over yet though so the manuscript is still being added to. At some point I need to stop and find the time and space to give it the attention it needs and beat it into shape. I imagine that will be over the winter while we are settled. In the meantime we’ve uploaded a map of our route so far which should be available here; Travels with Mavis.
We are thinking of trying out Buxton in Derbyshire. We’ll need to find somewhere to live; Mavis is not suitable for the full force of a Peak District winter as she’s designed to dump the on-board water if the temperature drops to 2 degrees or lower to save the pipes from freezing and splitting, which would be an embuggerance to a cosy winter. We’ll also have to find temporary jobs. Why temporary I hear you ask? Well, we really want to do this all again next year and we have a cunning plan that may make it work, if the various components can be coordinated and we keep arrangements flexible to accommodate changing circumstances. After a brief dalliance back on the road we’re off up north to explore possibilities.
Back in Braughing and we had the good fortune to have use of a car for our stay. This made travel much easier. Well, easier once we’d got over the not inconsiderable hurdle of adding us to the car insurance. Alison’s was relatively easy, just 30 minutes of increasingly intrusive questions, with answers that somehow I’m sure they already have access to on their screen anyway. When it came to me I thought I’d declare that I have a part time job. It’s only 5 or 6 days a year and pays precious little more than expenses but hey, it means that technically I’m employed. The trouble really started when they tried to slot it into one of the available tick boxes. Because it doesn’t fit I was recorded variously as an NHS Consultant, Management Consultant, Aerobics Instructor, Dog Trainer and God of Thunder. None of these adequately described my role but we settled on Management Consultant on the understanding that it was the closest, assuming of course that you disregard the known facts.
After an hour of battling the system we were quoted a figure just short of the national debt of Greece for the both of us. We settled on Alison being the sole driver as she’s the better motorist and most likely to be driving anyway. I could remain as navigator and I secretly hoped I really could be the God of Thunder and smite Audi’s and insurance companies. By the way I feel I should interject an uncharacteristic apology at this point to members of the Audi community. Well, those who don’t drive like shiny bats out of hell. It’s not that we have anything against Audi’s, it’s just that they seem to have replaced the Ford Sierra and BMW as the company car of choice for testosterone driven egos squeezed into suits. It’s these impatient fools who have quotas, deadlines and targets to fulfil who are then seated behind the wheel of a powerful lump of German engineering they don’t own and let loose on public road where normal people are pootling to Tesco’s.
One representative of the pootling to Tesco’s brigade is Alison, who I overheard apologising to a speed sign that had politely informed her she was a couple of mph over the speed limit. I love that. Where else but England would someone be so unselfconsciously polite that they instinctively apologise to an inanimate object? As it happened we were on our way to Stevenage to visit my Aunt where we shared stories of my parents motoring escapades as members of The Reliant Owners Club (ROC). I really cannot begin to describe the trauma of growing up the son of a Reliant owner. Not just that but one who actually joined a club of likeminded enthusiasts. There comes a point in a child’s life when they come to terms with the fact that mummy and daddy are human beings after all, with all the idiosyncrasies and failings that are inherent in human nature. For me it occurred one sunny afternoon in the back seat of our Reliant Rebel. For anyone not familiar with the Reliant Rebel it was a rare excursion by Reliant into conventional 4 wheeled motoring rather than the 3 wheelers they were known and ridiculed for. Whatever chapter of the ROC my father belonged to were invited to take part in a carnival. I think Harlow. The cars were all decorated and displayed badges, shields and other shiny adornments to enter into the festive spirit. All except one.
Yup, the only 4 wheeled car in the parade wore nothing more than its dull beige paint. Driving gloves clutching the steering wheel my father indicated and pulled into the parade and I slunk as low as I could into the back seat. For the spectators lining the route it looked like someone in an obscure beige car had taken a wrong turning and wound up in the middle of a parade of cheerfully decorated Reliants. Goodness I was embarrassed. I have no recollection of the rest of the day; I think I’ve repressed it. What I do recall though was him winning a ROC treasure hunt. My aunt had a picture of the cup being presented to him, a monochrome moment in time. My father’s slight figure, a ghost from my past, was smiling and accepting a cup from some ROC dignitary, both face slightly away from the camera and a startled man in an ill-fitting suit and odd bootlace tie stares straight at the lens. It’s as if they’ve been caught furtively awarding cups in a Police sting operation. I do recall being in the back seat, I think then it was a 3 wheeler Robin we owned, following clues and recording waypoints en-route. It was all good innocent fun from a time when going for a drive was a regular Sunday afternoon activity. I have no idea how we won, my mother couldn’t navigate. On long journeys she was charged with reading out a lengthy list of instructions my father had received in the post from the AA. It wasn’t uncommon for her to turn two pages over together, sometimes missing out whole counties. Somehow, out of the fracas that followed we’d end up in approximately the right place, although not necessarily pointing in the right direction.
Meanwhile back in Braughing, while out on one of my expeditions with Maddie we were following a path across a recently ploughed field and with an absent mind I kicked a ball for Maddie. While she was snuffling around looking for it where she expected it to be I was nursing a bruised toe. Upon inspection I’d kicked a solid ball of iron about the size of a tennis ball. My first thought was that it could be a cannon ball, but it’s more likely a piece of old agricultural equipment, maybe a weight of some sort. Whatever it was Maddie now bounced around trying to get me to throw it, which she would certainly regret if I did. As it is just passed harvest time many of the fields are ploughed and all sorts of debris gets turned over. There are lots of pieces of red brick tile which could well be Roman, parts of old farming implements, fragments of pottery and myriad unidentified bits and bobs of uncertain origin.
Wandering over the fields and around the paths is a real treat, although the longer we are here the harder it is to motivate ourselves to get out; but it’s always worth it when we do. We took a longer than usual walk across fields and through woods to the village of Furneux Pelham, a settlement with the curious distinction of never being pronounced the same way twice, sometimes by the same person in the same conversation. It’s a charming place with a fine church, St Mary the Virgin, which was light and airy inside when we took refuge to escape the searing heat. Maddie lay on the cool tiles of the porch which were worn and eroded where countless feet have walked over them. How many people have trodden this path in times of grief, sorrow, joy and celebration or just to hear a sermon on a Sunday? I always feel a church porch tells a story, funnelling all those people and emotions into the church beyond and compressing them again so they file out together, Lords and Ladies, peasants and servants, for that moment in time all equal. The church has had a succession of vicars since Robert de Drayton in 1291, right up to our friend and Maddie’s owner Alice.
Furneux Pelham was once part of a cluster of medieval hamlets that formed a parcel of land known as Pelham, mentioned as one area in the Domesday Book of 1086. Today there are several Pelhams surviving as separate communities. We only explored from the 18th century Hall, where the path we were on entered the village, up to the church but apparently it has a fine pub and is known for having a 1km long ford across The River Ash, apparently to the joy of genuine off road drivers who love such muddy challenges. I imagine though that the people who own rugged looking 4X4’s solely for dropping their precious tykes off to school go miles out of their way to avoid getting any mud on the paintwork.
What we didn’t know at the time we were visiting was that Furneux Pelham was once the scene of bloody murder. On the evening of 7th January 2004 retired Lieutenant-Colonel Robert ‘Riley’ Workman was in his pyjamas and was quietly enjoying a glass of whiskey. He was in poor health and at 83 years old was not a sprightly man. He had lived alone in his cottage in the village since the death of his wife who, by the accounts of his family and friends, he was still mourning. On the evening in question neighbours reported hearing a gunshot although that wasn’t so unusual in a rural community where some locals took a stout approach towards vermin. The police attended thanks to an anonymous call from a local phone box that may have been made by the killer. Mr Workman’s body was discovered where he’d been shot at point blank range on his doorstep.
The murder made the national press and became tabloid fodder when they revealed that the 83-year-old colonel had a secret gay past. During the 1950s and 60s he visited London clubs that were patronised by gay men in the military so detectives appealed for other club regulars to come forward. For some time the trail appeared to be cold, despite lurid press attention until in 2007 a cell mate of Christopher Docherty-Puncheon, a former local gamekeeper, came forward to allege that Docherty-Puncheon had confessed to murdering Mr Workman. Docherty-Puncheon was already serving time in Parkhurst jail for the murder of a local traveller Fred Moss and had worked for Mr Workman as a pest controller. He’d been questioned during the initial police investigation in 2004 but was released as there was no evidence of his involvement. Police seized on this new development and as a result of the alleged confession the case was reopened and in July 2010 Docherty-Puncheon was formally charged. The press picked up on Prosecutor Richard Latham QC’s remarks that “the weeks and months that followed the killing were like something out of ITV drama Midsomer Murders.…” and when reporting on the trial many of them referred to it as ‘The Midsummer Murder.’ After a five-week trial at St Albans Crown Court Docherty-Puncheon was found guilty by a majority verdict and sentenced to serve a minimum of a further 32 years in prison.
We knew none of this as we wandered around the village which was pretty and refreshingly less murdery than that fateful night 12 years ago. Today it was basking under a hazy sun as we looked for the footpath to take us back, which Alison eventually located between pretty thatched cottages that led us down to a footbridge, over a dry stream bed and upwards under a canopy of trees to open pasture wilting in the sun. We trudged across open fields and winding paths in the full glare of the sun. We returned via the hamlet of Bozen Green, which now consists of three houses, one of which is a former pub, and a farm. It was once part of the larger settlement of Bordesden but like many such places it withered and died as agriculture came to rely less on manpower and more on machinery. Maddie found a ditch and emerged much refreshed and looking jolly pleased with herself and we contemplated doing the same thing but contented ourselves with cold beer from the fridge when we returned to The Vicarage.
We celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary while in Braughing, going back to Bar Hill Church on the Sunday to mark the occasion and passing the day reminiscing about our wedding, the year we’ve had and how important it is to live your dreams; then much to Maddie’s disgust we went to the pub without her for a slap up meal. On our last night we packed up with mixed emotions. We’d loved our stay in Braughing; the house was lovely, the village warm and welcoming, the countryside inviting and Maddie the perfect host. We are indebted to Alice and Fred for their generosity, which we’ve repaid by giving them silly pseudonyms and stealing a bag of frozen peas from their freezer (I don’t wish to incriminate anyone but it wasn’t me…just saying). In a reverse of the norm we felt like two weeks in a house was a holiday and we were itching to hit the road again so after a brief reunion with Alice and Fred on the Friday morning we left them to unpack, settle back into normality and hunt for missing peas while we bade farewell to rural Hertfordshire and made our way through torrential rain to a site just outside of Bungay in Suffolk, which sat on what looked suspiciously like the flood plain of the rapidly rising River Waveney.
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