The cicadas are screeching like someone’s being murdered. The path between the trees that shield them from view is a rubbish dump of rocks, crumbled from these very hills. Our feet gnash at the earth, grinding countless years of nature’s work. Far off on the breeze, carried from another valley, comes the sound of cowbells, occasionally a lowing. The heat is everything. Clouds over the next hill erupt in slow motion, but offer no threat, nor any respite. The cicadas keep time on the heat like a timer on the oven. I swat away a solitary buzz with a trained hand. A lone blonde reed wobbles noiselessly. A tree moves in the breeze. The cicadas slow, then fall still. The murder is over, a body lies bleeding without a name. In years to come, explorers like us will find a jawbone, bleached white-hot.
Around Lewknor, finally, the thick trees parted and the green opened up ahead of us. Cows grazed the rapeseed fields beside the road.
Around Oxford, trees crowded the road again. A wild boar lay squashing the daisies. We pull off the A road and turn onto a cycle path. “Keep to the roads,” the sat nav reminds us. In the suburbs of Oxford I smell England again.
Nowhere in Oxford has money. When we finally got change, none of the meters worked. I sat on a bench and sipped black coffee.
Around Burford we saw what we’d come to see. Green stretching and punctuated by dots of villages. A single church stuck above the tree line. Entering the village we realised we were not alone. Cars stretched down the high street as flags fluttered from lamp posts.
Stow on the Wold. Passed through.
Approaching Chipping Campden I smell woodsmoke on pine breeze. The hills rolled up, broken by age-old dry walls. Sheep picked their way along grassy cliffs, their bleats echoing across the valley. Wool clung in smoky clumps to barbed wire. I watched Joost, tiny against the vast landscape. Chipping Campden was beige. The sandstone of Oxford had followed us here.
A dropped plate was the day’s biggest disturbance for a sleepy town. We stopped in a pub garden for lunch. I ate too much beef and too many potatoes. I washed it down with too much beer. Then I felt drowsy.
First drops of rain on the car.
Stroud is a forgotten suburb of inner London, sprawling grey and unlovely. We spend 10 minutes driving round, then looked for where to go next. Three inns were full. Each recommended two further fully booked.
We fell on our feet and found the Egypt Mill. It had roaring fires and lakes, good beer and hot food. So I sit, beer in hand, fire on my back, listening to the birds. We drank ale as ducks swam nonchalantly in the rain. The Cotswolds could be a different world. The rain that was forecast was droplets and had minimal effect on our plans.
I dreamed that night of an underground city, a blaze of life in disused sewers. I lay underneath the world and looked up at it through those little squares of glass in the pavements. A film played on a projector. I met Keith Richards and a face-shifting man.
A single bird on a telegraph wire waits for a message in nameless countryside. The distance is thick with drizzle. Fields extend to hills over the horizon.
The serenity of green squares. Along a damp path by the church. Clouds hang like sheep’s wool in the valley.
Road trip dip.