Day 9 – Malmesbury to Swindon
I had breakfast with my hosts Robert and Susan shortly after 7:00 with a view of the Somerset monument from their breakfast table to remind me of yesterday’s ascent of the Cotswold escarpment. When I was ready, Robert drove me back to Malmesbury to start the next leg of my journey. Marisa, my host for tonight, was waiting for us at the Market Cross in order to pick up the ‘baton’ of my luggage and placards. After taking some photos at the start, the battery of my phone died and I then found that my battery pack was also out charge; probably because I had left the two connected overnight. I must remember not to do this again and to double check the charge level on both my phones when I wake up in the mornings.
Today I was the only walker and started walking at 9:25. It was windy as I set out and there had been showers earlier, so I set off with my waterproofs on even though it was not actually raining as I departed from the Market Cross. I descended from the town centre to cross the River Avon (Tetbury branch) after which I climbed up a quiet country lane to cross the A419 to join long distance cycleway number 254 (I have finally discovered what the numbers in red boxes on the OS maps relate to). At this point, I went slightly off the planned track when I failed to recognise a track that I was supposed to follow; luckily this did not add too much to the journey.
Continuing east along a minor road I passed through fertile agricultural land which is mostly tillage, with little evidence of grazing livestock, apart from an occasional field of sheep and some inquisitive horses. This is still very much Cotswold country with all of the older buildings being constructed from the yellowish coloured Cotswold limestone. After passing through Garsden, the next village after Milbourne, I found I was walking east along a minor country road which was intriguingly labelled as “Park Lane” on the map. I hope that no one comes here by mistake on March 23rd! Shortly after 11:30, I stopped for a late morning break at Blagdon Wood, sitting on a convenient footstile, perched on the eastern edge of OS Sheet 170. At midday, I continued on my way, suitably refreshed after having some hot soup and a sandwich. The next stretch was along flat minor country roads, lined by neatly trimmed thorn hedges, with very little traffic. Passing a point where a Nature Reserve symbol was displayed on my map, I saw a parked mini-bus labelled ‘Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’ with a group of people on the opposite side of the hedge working towards it. It turned out that they were volunteers for the trust who had been doing work on a willow plantation during the morning and were now breaking for lunch. They inquired what I was doing and on finding out several of them took photographs of my flag. As it was a large group, on the opposite side of a thorn hedge, I decided not to try to commence a discussion on Brexit issues as it would be difficult to identify individual opinions on the issues.
Shortly after one o’clock, my wife Rhiannon phoned to say that she had arrived in Swindon. I suggested that we meet up in Purton, my planned lunch stop. By now the weather had improved and it was cloudy and sunny with only a light wind. The approach to Purton was along a long flat stretch before the climb up a gentle ridge into the village. I met up with Rhiannon in the middle of the village and, after making a call to Kevin (our press officer back in Swansea) I continued through to the east end of the village where I intended to stop in a pub for lunch. On getting there we found that the Angel pub was closed for refurbishment. Luckily, we found a nearby café, called Pips Community Café where we each had a welcome bowl of soup followed by a cup of coffee and piece of cake.
Whilst we were eating lunch, I tried to charge my phone in the car but unfortunately, this failed. Since Kevin had indicated that a journalist wanted to interview me over the phone later in the afternoon, we decided that it would be best if I took Rhiannon’s phone for the afternoon and she tried to get mine charged. Later, this led to some stressful times for Rhiannon as she was unable to phone me herself and was not certain as to where I was and where I was planning on meeting here.
After leaving Purton, I continued down a small lane, pausing a short while at a level crossing to wait for a train to pass, and then walking along a pleasant path skirting a small lake within the Mouldon Hill Country Park. Just before I left the park the journalist phoned me and delayed me a while from my onward journey. By the time I finished the phone call, it was almost five o’clock and I quickly found myself in the built-up area of northern Swindon with lots of rush hour traffic. I got a few appreciative hoots from people who noticed my flag. I then spent the best part of two hours traversing all the northern part of Swindon to get to my end destination for the day, namely the North Wiltshire Police HQ on the A420. I had selected this location as it was close to the Honda plant which has been in the news a lot recently due to Honda’s recent announcement that it intends to close the plant in 2021 with the loss of 3,500 jobs. Although it has been said that Brexit was not the main reason for the closure, Brexit and the government’s handling of the negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU cannot have helped. Rhiannon managed to get two calls through to me during this time, the second time from the Police HQ where they apparently thought initially that she was trying to get in contact with someone who had been arrested. I finally arrived there at ten to seven when by now it was quite dark. We then drove to Wroughton where we were to stay with our hosts Marisa and Steve for the night.
Interesting observation of the day:
In Milbourne village just outside Malmesbury, I saw an imaginative use for an old red phone box. When I first saw the phone box I saw that there were a lot of books inside it and thought that they must be phone directories. On closer inspection, I found that the phone box contained shelves full of books and it appeared that it is being used as a book exchange point. I thought this a quite imaginative use of the phone box, which the residents of Tytherington might consider copying.
Today was my longest day so far (both in terms of time and distance) mainly because I decided to cover more distance than I had planned in order to complete the traverse of the northern, built-up, part of Swindon whilst the weather was dry and I had established a good walking rhythm. I covered 20.1 miles (32.4 km), starting from the Market Cross in Malmesbury at 9:25 and ending at the North Wiltshire Police HQ in Swindon at 18:50.
The3million – EU citizens residents in the UK
During my walk on Wednesday, I focused on the topic of the3 million a group of people who, at the time of the 2016 referendum, were EU citizens taking advantage of freedom of movement in order to live and work in the UK. I consider myself to be one of the3million, having been an Irish passport holder only in June 2016. Shortly after the referendum result was announced, I commenced the process of obtaining a British passport and am now a dual Irish-British national. I was accompanied for the first half of Wednesday’s walk by Christian, originally from Paris, who came to the UK in 1973 before the UK joined the EEC. Like myself, he has become a dual national since the referendum. During the walk, we met with Ann Laure and Maike (two of the founding members of the3million) at Petty France, a small village on the western boundary of the Badminton Estate. From discussions with them and others during the day I identified several common points regarding the situation of the3million, as summarised below:
- A feeling of betrayal is common amongst many of the3million. This is in the sense that we were happily living in Britain for a long time, working, paying tax and contributing to society, when Brexit, a decision in which we had no say (apart from the Irish nationals amongst us) was imposed on us. Most of us are British taxpayers and feel that the old adage “no taxation without representation” has not been applied in our case.
- Many of us feel that we have been forced to change identity or leave the country. Those who have become dual nationals consider that they were forced into it in order to preserve their rights to social security entitlements, particularly pensions for those who have worked in the UK for a long time.
- Although many British commentators say that nothing has changed, the consensus amongst our limited group was that “it has changed a lot”. Many British people now have different attitudes towards continental and Irish citizens. Many of the3million feel that we have become “commodities” rather than being allowed to just be ourselves, continuing to work, pay tax and contribute to British society.
- In addition to betrayal, another common feeling is one of anger, most related to the fact that many of the3million consider that the result of the referendum was swayed by misleading information.
- Amongst many there is a feeling of lack of trust in the British government, with the choice between leaving the country, applying for settled status, or applying to become a British citizen (an expensive process involving a minimum cost of about £1,500) imposed on many of us after many years living and working in the country. One person noted that many of us feel that we are being treated as “commodities” or “bargaining chips” in the Brexit negotiations.
A sad result of the referendum and subsequent events is that it has broken many long-standing friendships between British citizens and EU citizens living in the UK. On a more positive note, one of those present said that some friends realise that “some friendships are more important than this shit!”