The Tithe Barn, cold, white, built too well and defying age. The church
built it in the fourteenth century with five feet thick walls and whole oaks
as rafters, scale like flints cling to the roof by their pegs. Five hundred
odd years of delivered taxes, grain and other produce, have ploughed
smooth ruts in the hardstone floor. Inside, the walls of age hardened bath
stone hold out noise, light and time. Quiet and cool, it's only chink is a
cross carved high up in the far wall, the late afternoon sun beams through
casting a crucifix on the floor.
We wander down to where the avon splits lazily and rejoins, crossed by two
small stone bridges. Turning left, I let Tess off the
lead. She races the cyclists before darting to where the bank is less steep
so she can scramble into the water. By the time I've caught up she's finished
wading and lapping and bursts back up to join me.
She knows the way as well as I do, so I plod up the steep path to the canal
while she bounds to every dog walker, child and jogger. Wag, sniff, look, wag,
bound, wag sniff sniff.
There's a wooden bridge over the canal, I'm already over by the time Tess has finished saying hello and decided to catch up again. Along
a small dirt path, over a stile, and into a cow field. The canal wanders
slowly on my right, I wander slowly straight on, Tess sprints
left towards the cows.
There was a time when Tess was frightened by cows, she would
shy and shake and sit. If she was on the lead, she would pull and
stomp and rear. We decided to try to help her, so my wife coerced and cajoled
her to within a few steps of a cow, and then waited. Quite quickly Tess realised that cows rarely eat dogs. Since then, Tess
has been somewhat over interested in cows, she charges them like a wolf on
a hunt. Occasionally they charge back at her, which is exactly what she wants.
If Tess loves anything more than chasing it's being;
I reach the next stile, and clamber into the following field. The ground
now rises quickly up to the woods, the steep slope and afternoon heat are
making the going quite slow. Tess races past, turns, and trots
towards me with her tongue lolling, and her tail pointing to the sun.
She walks with me, humouring my slow progress, and only trots off again as
we enter the woods. From the shade of the first tree it is noticeably cooler.
The woods cling easily to the side of a hill, and paths wind up and down and
across. Tess scampers up through bluebells and wild garlic,
as if she was looking for something. After a couple of minutes she finds it,
and a startled pheasant bursts squalking from the undergrowth.
Trees felled in storms lean like arches against other trees. Every few hundred
paces huge carved blocks of bath stone lie half submurged in the soil, as
if a massive wall on the crest of the hill had been breeched. Walking through
the silent cool idyll of these woods, you can almost forget what century you're
At length I come to the edge of the woods, Tess joins me
again and we walk down the short road to Avoncliff. Down the path and some
steps and under the stone aqueduct that carries the canal across the Avon
and on to Bath. On the other side of the aqueduct is the Cross Guns,
I buy a beer and descend the steps down to the bank of the Avon. From here
I can see a swan gliding gently under the aquaduct, the weir to my right
babbles next to a derelict water mill, walls crumbling, ancient iron and wood
wheel hanging still.
I light a cigarette as Tess circles the river bank investigating
the ducks, darting from side to side she chases them away from the bank. She's
never had any luck getting them to chase her.