Our first attempt didn’t go well. Overtaking a cyclist on the narrow road required a bit of concentration and I lost my train of thought.
Take 2. I like cyclists, and I always want to give them lots of room. There was not lots of room. I swore.
Take 3. Abandoned immediately. This wasn’t just an unusual number of cyclists out for a Sunday ride. This was a local triathlon heading right into Stratford-upon-Avon. We weren’t going to get our jaunty introductory piece to camera on this stretch. Plus Zoë was being a bit noisy in the back.
As long as Nicky could get a nice shot of the reassuring brown sign to Hidcote Manor as we turned off the main road.
“It’s a bit blurry I think”. Oh.
Our first county top. Our first attempt at making a short film of our morning adventure – or #microadventure as I’d later hashtag it on Instagram in the hope of picking up some more followers – and it wasn’t going that well.
We parked at Hidcote, a National Trust property and the first one we’d visited as newly minted members. Middle-aged and middle class. We’d signed up for the lot. Turned out parking at Hidcote is free anyway. Smugness erased.
“Just use the gear you’ve got,” suggested a media-type friend. What we had was a compact digital camera, my phone with a generic headset & mic I’d found unopened in the ‘cable drawer’, and a mini tripod. A big tripod got stuffed in the baby carrier rucksack never to be used.
I neatly put the camera and mini tripod on a gate post for the opening shot of Nicky and Zoë walking up the footpath. Lovely, perfect, gorgeous darling… hang on… Zoë’s slowing… and turni.. “DAAAAAADDDDY”…ng and running back to me. Cute. Yes. Annoying? Teeny bit.
We always knew it would be slow going. Zoë is a brilliant walker for a two-year-old, but her priorities are different. Stones on the path always win out over the admittedly hazy views over the Vale of Evesham. Slow down and smell the roses when you’re with kids. No damn good if you’re trying to give it the ol’ John Ford sweeping vistas is it?
We inched our way up the footpath, past the sheep – one of which had escaped the fence and had a thorny branch stuck in its wool. How bucolic.
“To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first”
William Shakespeare, Henry VIII. Act I, scene i
The walk was suprisingly up for what was only a small hill – not one of the country’s great peaks, but simply the highest point in Warwickshire. I kept forgetting the cinematographers maxim of keeping still, instantly consigning minutes of footage to the bin. “Shoot B-roll” echoed in my ear – or it could have been the wind.
A few atmosphere shots. The sheep, the views, a bit of plastic ribbon caught in a hedge. I tried to do a tilt shot of a very large tree, which clearly wasn’t going to work. “It’s a bit, er, phallic,” said Nicky, as we craned our necks back to look up at the stout trunk while Zoë ran after what she thought was a rabbit but turned out to be a bird. This was hardly Tribes, Predators & Me.
Our path turned south and the views opened up to the hills of Gloucestershire, and across a brown field to some rather ugly telecommunications gear. I quite like manmade features in the landscape – windmills are rather amazing, and who doesn’t love a viaduct. This cluster of masts and outbuildings, however, had neither height nor shininess in their favour.
A few puddles and muddy boots later we reached the border of Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. We could just have parked here on the verge. But where’s the fun in that. There was a Jubilee Stone – I can’t find anything about it online, though to be honest I haven’t looked that hard. It said “Ebrington” on it, which was good enough. The telecoms infrastructure was a bit decrepit, though clearly in use and securely fenced. The satellite dishes had some mould on them. The life on Mars had clearly begun colonising.
The two Ordnance Survey maps (151 and 205 if you’re playing along at home) give slightly different spots for the actual highpoint. The pink one says it’s pretty much at the telecoms site, the orange one has it across the road in a field. The various websites that I had bothered to consult in advance generally preferred the field option. What they were all adamant about was that the highpoint was not the trig pillar just down the road. We would not be visiting that. No sir. (“Trig pillar” – just casually throwing in some geography jargon there to keep the enthusiasts happy)
Zoë ate a banana.
I crossed the road and went down the footpath. The field that everyone talked about had a large gate preventing entry and rather a lot of uninviting, densely packed taller-than-me foliage. It was almost as if the farmer didn’t really want county-top baggers (embrace it – that’s what we are now) traipsing over his field trying to find a spot that was just ever so marginally higher than all the other spots around.
In other words, our first county top was actually inaccessible. It’s an oddity of county tops that they are theoretically all accessible, with the exception of the one in Kent, which is in someone’s garden. This field clearly has been accessible in the past – that’s what people on the internet say anyway. But in September 2017, I was adding Warwickshire to that exclusive list.
Even if I had trespassed, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything and we’d probably have lost Zoë. Instead we shot the triumphant summit bit to camera by the Jubilee Stone, which is actually in Gloucestershire. “Nice views…” I said, but it was impossible to capture them in the light haze, so you’ll just have to trust me.
All in all it was a bit unprepossessing – i wouldn’t say anticlimax, as our climactic expectations were fairly low from the get-go – but we had walked up there, shot some footage and now it was time to return. Zoë decided the baby carrier was her best way off the hill, which gave me the chance to shoot a timeshift shot. I’m truly the Christopher Nolan of rambling.
Scone at Hidcote and a bit of a wince at National Trust café prices. Surely as members there was some sort of discount? Apparently not. And jam was 80p extra. And there was a chicken sitting on someone’s knee. I don’t think that was extra, though I imagine that had it laid an egg, a comely woman in a green bodywarmer would have dashed out from behind a wooden door with a chip & pin machine.
An impromptu shot of me taking my boots off ended up making a nice close for the final cut though it’s not in sequence. We filmed the jaunty introduction on the way home on a quiet bit of cyclist-free road with Zoë asleep in the back. The dark arts of the film editor.
Think we’ll do Gloucestershire next.
What we liked: Hidcote Manor ¦ Views ¦ Clear footpath
What we didn’t like: Inaccessible highpoint ¦ Price of a scone ¦ Local triathlons