Day 8 of the #185milewaffle – Henley to Tilehurst accompanied by Maisie.
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Knowing that Labradors are the U.K.’s most popular dog, I’ve been quite surprised that one hadn’t materialised until today. However, I thought I’d just check the previous statement before writing it. It transpires Labradors are indeed the most popular but Spaniels are the second most popular breed – that I didn’t know. It also explains why, so far, I have enjoyed the company of two Cockers, one Springer, one Cockerpoo with a further Cocker to come on Saturday.
However, Friday was Maisie the Labrador and a three-year-old wriggle of energy she was too.
Having endured five hours in the traffic on Thursday, it was a total delight to have Simon deliver Maisie to the Baskerville Arms in Shiplake where we began the day’s walk. For the first time, a suggestion of rain, but happily it turned into nothing more than a few drops. In line with my usual practice, we did the first couple of miles on the lead with plenty of treats while we got to know each other.
After the first couple of miles, Maisie was cautiously off the lead – the bond reinforced by one or two more treats which was all fine, until as we passed a couple of moored barges something unknown completely spooked Maisie, who levitated into the air with a series of woofs and shot back down the path the way we had come. What followed was like a game of grandmother’s footsteps: every time I got close, preferring a treat she would pause till I was tantalisingly close, then scamper a further hundred jobs backwards. I was beginning to worry it was me rather than an unknown spook that was the problem until I was joined by the brilliant Katie and Lisa who were biking down the towpath.
Very dog knowledgeable, friendly and utterly practical, they joined me in the attempts to reassure poor Maisie but she continued to elude all of us. Finally, after a combination of the three of us plus an artfully thrown trail of treats, Maisie was lead into Lisa’s arms and the lead was restored. None of us could get to the bottom of what had given her a nasty shock but, in interests of security responsibility, it was clearly the lead from then on.
Following that excitement, the walk was relatively pedestrian enlivened at one point by a rather larger and noisier silhouette up among the red kites: a Biggles type looping the loop and enjoying himself in a biplane – possibly a Stampe.
As I’ve found to be the way, the tone of the river dwellers suddenly changed. Marlow and Henlely, having been predictably upmarket, here again were eccentric, down at heel and fascinating barges that looked like long-term homes. Perhaps it was something to do with the roaring regulations. Just before Sonning Lock, a careful contrivance had the desired effect on me. As I strode closer to what looked like an unmanned barge, a face in the contorted shape of Edvard Munch’s The Scream stared out at me from under a headdress and dark glasses. It took a double take to realise it was a polystyrene mannequin head artfully made up. Having jumped, I grinned ruefully at the figure beside it only to realise that it, too, was a bearded model clad in ancient barbour and cap as on-board scarecrows, and they certainly performed the function.
Another pleasant encounter with a couple walking the Thames in the other direction, before lunch from a BP station, eaten on a park bench–oh the glamour.
Given the excitement and alarms at the beginning of the day had meant losing nearly an hour and an extra 3 miles or so, we finished at the earlier of our projected destinations.
Very many thanks to Simon and Lorraine for once again retrieving Maisie who had certainly enjoyed the walk as attested by the photo I was later sent of her completely passed out back at home.
Without any great drama, we’ve made it over halfway. Once again, I’m glad I split the walk into three phases of five days. As I start the fourth of this lot of five I’m very aware of the buildup of stresses and strains. The break will be very welcome.
Onwards and upwards.
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