About fifteen cold, wet and very-muddy miles along the Cotswold Way we reached the precise spot where in 2006 our hosts (so they were telling us) had encountered a naked hiker. The children looked around eagerly, hoping for a repeat sighting, as if the walker were a permanent feature of that section of the Cotswold escarpment but, like a badger, he was nowhere to be seen, and to be fair it was hard to imagine weather less conducive to nude rambling.
The rain hardened, I drew my hood in around my face. My boots were heavy with red earth and sheep-poo, I had long-since zipped up my ventilated arm-pit holes, so I closed my eyes and imagined hot, sun-baked earth.....while I listened to the children's questions.
"So he was just walking along, naked? Did he say 'hello'?"
Silly question: of course he said hello. I'm not sure if it's a countryside thing, or a rambling thing, but everyone on the Cotswold Way says 'hello'. The first day I had naturally assumed that our local hosts actually knew all these people, before Mrs Botogol put me right '"No, stupid, they are just being friendly". I liked the sound of that and the second days I was like Crocodile Dundee I was that friendly. In fact, I reckon I'm a chameleon, the way I fit in: last week throwing thundery glances at a chic gay theatre in London, this week throwing cheery 'Good Mornings' at ramblers on a national trail. Only my lack of poles betrayed me.
"No he didn't, he just walked by quickly" (Aha..not a real rambler after all!)
"Could you see everything?"
"No he held his hands in front of him as he walked past"
"Did he have a ruck-sack?"
"I couldn't see what type of sack he had, the way he was holding his hands in front..."
Altogether we walked 25 miles. It rained for the entire first day, and most of the second. I only fell over once but when I did it hurt a lot and because of the rain, the blood didn't really clot. On the way we did 4 geocaches, and we bought 43 doughnuts, muffins, buns and mars bars in Broadway; but we didn't go to any pubs because we were were too wet, too muddy and too numerous.
In Stanway we saw the largest gravity-fed fountain in Europe and high, high up on the hills, at Belas Knapp we ate ginger cake over a 4,500 year burial chamber where excavators have found 38 skeletons over the years; all of them, according to the audio-guide - all of them hikers who attempted the long climb from Winchcombe in inclement weather while wearing inappropriate footwear.
There were only 23 of us; a mixture of old friends and mutual strangers, but because it is a very small world one of the strangers turned out to have been to school with Mrs Botogol. Of the 15 adults four have indescribable jobs, four work for the government, six work for themselves and one is retired. Only one had a second pair of walking boots - dry you see - to wear the second day. Another carried an umbrella all the way - and had a spare brolly in his rucksack - which he didn't share with anyone, not even when we stopped for lunch.
"I guess you'll blog about all this when you get home", opined our host, later that evening, curry eaten, red wine finished, the barrel of beer considerably emptier than it had been when we all arrived.
"I'm not really sure", I reflected, "that you'd all want to read about yourselves",
"You could disguise our identities", he said, "and jazz us up a bit? Steal our best jokes? Put words into our mouths?"
"Yes", I said, "Well, yes, I suppose I could"