Today I again followed the River Severn for the whole day as it wound gently north from the picture-postcard beauty of Tewkesbury to the slightly more urban but no less rewarding city of Worcester. I crossed the border into Worcestershire almost as soon as the day started, and from that moment I realised that walking into the heart of the Midlands is going to be fun. The weather held out while, according to the weatherman, it poured in Cornwall and London, and as ever the path was easy to follow and sublimely relaxing as it snaked beside the river.
Nothing particularly notable happened today, which is sometimes the best way. After a few miles I passed through Upton-upon-Severn, an attractive place that boasts a whole row of riverside pubs that cropped up just slightly too early in the day to tempt me in. Annoyingly, Upton is also home to one of the worst modern bridges I've seen on this walk, and it blunders through the middle of town in a horribly insensitive way. The clash of boring, modern, puke-green steel offends not so much because of its ugliness, but because it doesn't have an ounce of flair in its entire structure; nearby, peeping through the trees, is the Pepperpot, an eccentrically English tower that is all that remains of a church that was destroyed in the Civil War, and it has more soul in a single brick than the bridge has in its entire collection of girders and rivets.
Upton's pubs might not have been able to pull me in – I walked past at 11.30am, which is a little too early for a pint if you want to achieve anything later in the day – but a few miles and a couple of hours down the line I decided to miss out a pointless switchback in the Severn Way's route, and instead took a shortcut through the tiny village of Severn Stoke. This turned out to be a good move, because the Rose and Crown has a huge beer garden, a nice line in Batemans beer, and the kind of wobbly roof and neighbouring church view that it would be rude to ignore. Indeed, I had been promising myself that I wouldn't have a beer until Worcester, because the skies were clouding over and it looked like rain might be on the cards, but I just couldn't help it. When this walk is over it's unlikely I'll remember showers by the Severn or arriving half an hour earlier in Worcester, but I'll sure remember some of the riverside pubs I've stumbled on. They're world class.
Of course, after my pint in the sun the route suddenly seemed to become a lot more complicated. Up to that point it had stuck to the river, detouring only to go round the obviously very wealthy estate of Severn Bank, but soon after Severn Stoke the Way decided to cut across a load of fields, and suddenly I found myself disorientated and unable to find any markers. I swear it had nothing to do with the pint at lunchtime, but I ended up stomping through an unexpected farm or two, just heading north and hoping for the best. A farm worker in a white van waved at me as I passed him, so I presume I wasn't trespassing into fields of genetically modified corn or a particularly hush-hush cash crop, but I still don't really know whether I eventually found the river or whether it found me. I have a sneaking suspicion it was the latter...
From there to Worcester the only interesting sights (and I use the word advisedly) were the caravan parks by the river in which whole families of static caravans have put down roots. I can just about understand the appeal of caravans, even though I've seen enough rusting caravan hulks in the last few counties to house half of Africa, and to me the appeal of a caravan is in the way it attaches to your car. This means you can drive to a pretty location, drop anchor, enjoy the sunset, sleep, and head off to pastures new in the morning. But what on earth are static caravans all about? What is the point?
Well, the point for me is that they're fascinating to look at. Static caravan parks are heavenly if you like the world of twitching net curtains, and I never get bored of turning the tables on them and gawping at them from the outside. I love watching suburbia and imagining what the stories are behind the houses, but a static caravan park is to suburbia what tomato purée is to tomatoes: it's concentrated, no-frills, suburban weirdness.
Some static caravans have beautifully tended gardens, complete with some kind of ineffective but legally binding boundary marker; some have grass growing wildly through the floor, hiding the accumulated mechanical detritus so beloved of the caravan posse. Some static caravans have wooden trellises around the underside, hiding the gas bottles and ablution pipes behind what can only be described as a caravan skirt; some celebrate their underbellies by leaving them not only for Mother Nature to reclaim, but for her to use as an experimental laboratory for creating new life forms. Some static caravans have china displays behind polished windows; some have mould sticking the curtains to the plastic. In short, some static caravans should be in Homes and Gardens, while some don't bother with the distinction.
What interests me is that the two types are often within a stone's throw of each other, just like different houses in the streets of suburbia. It must irritate the hell out of the lace-windowed statics to have the smelliest, dirtiest family living next door, and it must annoy the man who keeps every car spare he can ever find that the neighbours obviously disapprove of his hobby. And what can't these people do with their fancy caravans? They can't hook up the car and drive away from their neighbours, which to me is the biggest irony of all.
It kept me chuckling all the way to Worcester, there were that many caravan parks...