Five Hundred Miles or so!

Walks have always been an integral part of my life; since my youngest days I recall clambering over the rocks out on the islands in Sweden, scampering through the forests.

Moving to Yorkshire as a young girl the stunning beauty of the moors became the background to my days out. I revelled in trips out into the wilderness, losing myself in bracken taller than my young self, walking along the ridge of the moors where the heather meets the sky, gazing down upon the miniature stone buildings of the villages below. They seemed inconsequential compared to the might of nature.

A younger me out on the moors

This strangest of years has seen walks featuring more than ever in my life – this time though restricted to those from my doorstep. As soon as the stay-at-home order was issued in March, the U.K. experienced weeks of warm sunny weather and it was a blessing to head out for an hour a day then perfect to sit and enjoy the beauty of the garden.

In the last five months, I have covered (according to my phone app pedometer) over five hundred miles, discovering new routes, creating new ones. At times it felt like ground-hog day; wasn’t I only by this gate yesterday, this oak tree surely is wondering why it’s suddenly become so popular? Yet the walks and their vistas proved a tonic each and every time, always something refreshing to sparkle the heart and mind, particularly as the times of the outings varied from day to day.

A painted stones left along pathways

In March the days were chilly, a bite of winter in the wind, the fields barren and mud-ladened. I realised for the first time I would come to know in detail the surrounding landscape, the fields planted, harvested, the lakes full of clear water, then green with algae as summer arrived.

As August comes to an end a carpet of leaves forms a soft bed for my feet as I wander through the nature reserve; Autumn seems to have arrived earlier than ever. Already the fields are busy with their winter crop, the flowers almost all over and instead we spend the walks idling by the hedgerows, filling tubs with the juiciest of blackberries.

A spot of exotic blackberry picking!

When restrictions were slightly eased we headed out with excited anticipation to Marks Hall Arboretum and Gardens and as only members were allowed we relished having the place mostly to ourselves. (You may recall an earlier post about Marks Hall and its Sculpture Exhibition entitled Creative Energy )

I couldn’t stop smiling as we wandered through new landscape, new views, drinking up the sights with sheer joy. The lakes were lush with fish, geese gazed warily at us, standing like sentinels over their young.

Geese and their goslings at Marks Hall.

A Bug hotel caught my eye and I was only too happy and oblige by adding some leaves and sticks to the creation.

Bug Hotel at Marks Hall.

Peacocks never fail to enthral me and in spite of the lack of visitors over so many months, they were as still friendly and unbothered by us humans.

It was with childish joy I encountered ferns on a far-flung part of the estate. Reaching up I could barely touch the tops of them. Hooray! They were still taller than me!

Overjoyed at seeing ferns still taller than adult me!

Up ahead I glimpsed an ethereal sight, the wonder of the white trunks of eucalyptus trees beckoned me, like angel wings amongst the darkness of the other trees. Their bark was smooth and soft, I stroked it as if a pet, relishing in the unusual texture. I picked a leaf or two, inhaling the fresh exotic fragrance. I might not have physically travelled far but my imagination was halfway around the globe!

Eucalyptus trees in the distance

Bugs galore have graced us with their presence, and I’m sure they were always here. Was that a withered leaf on the bathroom floor? No, the most amazing of moths, which I think is called the Angle Shades. The shiniest of red in contrast to the black caught my attention with one bug, which I believe is the cinnabar moth. One lunchtime an admiral butterfly landed on my mother’s hat!

Our garden has been a solace and haven to me, more than ever! In the mornings I’ve had the time to greet the plants, stopped in my tracks in awe of the intricate details of the flowers and their petals.

Garden bluebells

I even say a quick shy hello to our resident troll tree … can you spot it in the acacia below.

Face of our Tree Troll!

It is invigorating to tend to the plants, bushes and trees, then afterwards enjoy relaxation and rest surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Finally, I often have a song ‘playing’ in a loop in my mind as I stride out across the countryside and since writing this review one particularly has stayed in my mind – it’s especially relevant as I worked out the miles walked these months. I first heard it as the soundtrack to one of my favourite films ‘Benny & Joon’. Enjoy the snippets of the film as you listen to ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers!

CHAOS AND SHIMMERING BEAUTY

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What is it about snow? Just as it has the power to cause chaos, this quality brings along unexpected peace and harmony. Waking to the promised sub-zero temperatures, the snow view from the bedroom window was stunning.

Heavy clouds shimmered in their purple hues, ladened with more snow. Through them pierced the morning sun, a thin spotlight of warmth, a glimmering sign of a new day. Ethereal colours danced all around.

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Outside the birds flocked thankfully to the full feeder, and with quiet gratitude I watched their morning repast whilst contentedly eating my own. A breakfast usually rushed for work and school took on a life of its own and was one that just did not want to end. Ninety minutes later my soul was satiated from the busy flutterings, my stomach was full with berries, yogurt, granola. The outside beckoned!

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With perfect timing the sun appeared as I strode around the nature reserve. Total and absolute silence, apart from the satisfying crunch of snow with every step. The crushed implosion seeming to reverberate across the landscape. Otherwise not a sound. No birdsong. No a single car engine noise. Just a few solitary walkers, some children on their sledges and snow scooters.

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Gently winding its way round the wood, I follow the path from memory, gazing across to the small lakes. Their frozen surface is not one I’d trust to walk out on, however tempting!

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Ahead, a welcoming bench is covered in white and the usual seat for contemplation is reluctantly passed by … until another warmer day!

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The church stands out gloriously in its winter setting, a perfect Dickensian feel and it’s timeless nature makes me stop in awe. A church on this site since Norman times, the additions are clearly visible. Recalling the stained glass windows from Ely I’ve always wondered what happened to the ones here. Later I learn they broke and were never replaced with such wonders, alas!

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As I turned to home, the walk suddenly became a trek across the arctic tundra, a howling bitter wind fought a battle across the landscape. With my head bowed and fingers riddled with frost bite (or so I imagine) I slip-slide my way through the soft depths of snow, gazing at the ripples of white powder, perfect peaks across the fields. I trudge on wearily, relentlessly, the thought of a welcoming hot chocolate whinching me home.

SOLVITUR AMBULANDO – IT IS SOLVED BY WALKING

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My brain is ensnared. My eyes dart to the bright sunlight and soon my toes tap the floor restlessly, itching to move. Now my body is begging for the the outside, the fresh air, the sun.

Inwardly I simultaneously groan and cheer. The battle is over – work can wait, it’s time for a walk!

Do you ever suffer from the same turmoil? Do you need a walking break now and then? If so, put down your pens, push your keyboards aside and join me as I stride out on a local walk – I’d love your company.

Luckily this is a walk from my doorstep and after a quick stroll past the pretty gardens of the neighbouring houses, I cross the main road. Soon the peace of the countryside surrounds me.

Deftly (I wish!) climbing over the wooden stile, I avoid a rotten board. My sudden squeal of pain surprises even myself as nettles spike my bare legs and I stamp about in a ridiculous fashion as if this would soothe the stinging.

Golden Shades of Wheat field
Golden Shades of Wheat field

(Please click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Ahead stretches a vast wheat field. A lush sea of colour, from burnished bronze to light yellow to green of fresh new growth languidly rustle in the breeze. The myriad of golden shades sway back and forth in great swathes, the soft shimmering ripples creating soft music as the full ears of corn move together.

Runway Streaks
Runway Streaks

In one place two light green parallel lines of wheat stretch far into the distance, as if lighting a runway for planes above. Where did they come from? The mystery buzzes around my mind as I try to spot the crop circles which usually appear as if by magic amongst the golden mass. No such wonder today. They’re always fascinating. Nature’s art. Or is it a small alien landing craft? I smile to myself at my mind’s musings.

In front of me looms my marker; a lone oak tree perfectly outlined against the golden field and the sheer blue sky. On a warm day as today the fully grown tree offers welcome cooling shade.

Lone Oak Tree
Lone Oak Tree

Years ago, when my son was young it was a fun obstacle as we chased each other round and round the thick trunk. At first, when I could easily have caught him, I’d ‘stumble’ and let his tiny hands grab my legs. Then when he was older I ran for all my worth until dizziness overtook me. I’d stumble and after letting me think I’m winning my son would catch me, save me. Life’s full circle.

Dry Earth Cracks
Dry Earth Cracks

A right turn in the path and as I traverse the bone dry ground, carefully stepping between the deep cracks I glimpse the church ahead. Standing alone in its dignity and history. The Medieval and later Tudor addition creating a beautiful serene building. I approach it through the lych gate, the church to my right, the cemetery to my left. Built in 1435, the church is much as it was, with the original Nave, East Window and main heavy wooden double doors all intact.

The lych gate was built in 1919 and was originally the place where corpses lay before being brought into the church, hence the engraving above of  ‘Mors Annua Vitae’ – ‘Death is the gateway to life’.

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(Please click on photos to enlarge and to see them in a slideshow.)

I wander around the cemetery, deep in thought, seeking solace for my own losses. Stopping I read an inscription or two. There lies William Beck ‘Gamekeeper to Basil Sparrow Esq’, the gravestone put up by the latter in January 1860 to his ‘courageous and faithful servant who died from wounds caused by the accidental discharge of his gun…’

As I stop at a grave here and there I’ll say out the name out aloud, hoping to honour the person, hoping to revive meaning behind the utterance.

Village cemetery
Village cemetery

Writing is never far from me and I scan the names for inspiration for stories or perhaps to find a name to fit in a piece of fiction writing. This was the case with my winning short story, where my main female character’s name was discovered at a cemetery. (By the way, that particular story will soon be featured on my blog.)

I pause at one particular grave. For a baby girl who fleetingly visited this earth for a day. She was born healthy and strong but died seventeen hours later from cot death. I knew her mother well as our sons were best friends and the tragedy shook us all.

So I continue my walk, thoughts drifting on life and death, as always the two intermingled, inevitable.

Walks and thoughts.  As I stride across another field I lose my conscious self as an internal discussion rages in my head, this is distilled into peaceful reflections and new ideas swirl into being. As if in a transcendental meditation I wander on and in a shock I discover myself far from my last conscious position. The inner concentration of brain storming so powerful the ‘real’ world takes second place to the inner world. With my brain cleansed, with ideas stored safely for my return, I continue feeling clearer, lighter, brighter. My feelings echo Bill Bryson’s words on walking ‘…you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below…’

To my left now is the regal Elizabethan hall with its stunning Georgian front. Now a country home hosting grand weddings it formerly saw Elizabeth I and her retinue as its regular visitors. Built in 1544 with major reconstructions in 1691 and 1715 its features include a spectacular central courtyard.

Georgian Front to the Hall
Georgian Front to the Hall

Tudor Back to Hall (formerly the front)
Tudor Back to Hall (formerly the front)

I remember the lovely afternoon one Sunday when it opened for visitors and it felt a wonder to be served scones and tea in such special surroundings. One Christmas the local primary school children walked up to the hall and enjoyed lunch in the ornate wooden banqueting hall. Overawed the pupils were silenced – for a moment. Imagine, eating in the former residence of King Louis VXII and his wife and their 350 courtiers!

Hall Courtyard
Hall Courtyard

By now sweltering from the heat I welcome the shade from the avenue of trees heading back to the village centre. The wind sweeps along the straight and gently caresses my tired legs. Treading on the road I am still astonished at its surface, the one originally laid by American troops during World War Two, as it led to the local airfield. It must have endured so much heavy traffic in those few years alone but is still going strong.

It was many years before the USA Airforce left the area I’m reminded as I halt by the memorial plaque of an American pilot killed as his plane crashed into the village playing field in 1963. As the F100 Super Saber jet developed an engine fault Col Wendell Kelly heroically chose to stay with the plane to ensure it avoided the local school. When certain the plane would crash away from civilians he did eject, but too late to save his own life. Recently a 50th commemoration service in his honour was held in the village and it was lovely that his daughter and other family members from America could attend.

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The very same playing field in use today by children and adults, for football matches, cricket matches, fetes. For years I watched my son and his friends charge across the sun-scorched grass, heading full pelt towards the playground. More sedately I walk towards the shop, the field quiet and empty as I recall the yelps of joy as the children were let out of class.

I’m here now. At the local shop, which is run by a team of dedicated volunteers. Time for a break. What will you have? Tea? Coffee? Ice-cream? Yes, I’ll take one of those thank you. Let’s sit out on the table. Yes, just that one there, the one with the red geranium precariously standing on it.

Village pavillion with local shop tucked next to it
Village pavillion with local shop tucked next to it

Now silence, peace. Time to be thankful. Time to reflect.  Tired my legs ache for a rest. Refreshed my fingers itch to write. Alert my brain is brimming with new ideas and plans. I’m off home and back to my writing.

The final stretch of the walk takes me through the dappled shade of the Nature Reserve. Once a gravel quarry it has been developed since the 1960s into a local area of beauty with three large lakes and rich woodland. A bench beckons by the  water’s edge but determined I go on my way, greeting the ducks who are paddling near by. I’ll be back later with some bread later, I promise them. At last I spy the house located only a few metres from the Nature Reserve and again marvel at the ideal location.

One of the lakes at the Nature Reserve
One of the lakes at the Nature Reserve

Felled tree in Nature Reserve
Felled tree in Nature Reserve

Well, the walk is over and I want to thank you for joining me. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

‘Solvitur and ambulando – it is solved by walking.’

By St. Augustine