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!

A Winter’s Walk

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 Picture perfect winter days have been few and far between this season and when they do deign to appear I’m like a child again, eager to step forth into the white hued countryside, to inhale the crisp icy air, to stomp on the frozen puddles and lakes sending ripples of cracks zigzagging along the ice.

On my quest one sunny Sunday I join my son on his regular long (ie. very long for me) walk through the local nature reserve, across the fields to the local town. A new route for me as I’ve only taken the road there but trusting his navigational skills, I duly follow!

The nature reserve is a lush wood with a few smaller lakes and a central flat grass area with picnic tables dotted around. It is a hidden gem and luckily only twenty metres or so from our house. It has not always been a protected area of natural beauty however and until the 1960s it was a sand and gravel quarry – not too successful by all accounts as the American airforce considered the quality of the product inferior and was unable to use the gravel and sand from here when building the runway at the local airfield. After its closure the quarry became unflatteringly known as the ‘Pits’, the holes filled with water and some fish were introduced for anglers. It remained bleak and barren until adopted by the village in the 1980s and today it is managed to a high standard.

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As  I cross the level plain I glance again – after all is this snow or white sand? It’s deceptive in this play between light and shadow, my eyes blinded by the sunlight.

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Again the mystery of light enhances my feelings of the mystical as I look into the woods, recalling the old-time sagas, remembering the Nordic myths…I almost expect to witness a troll staring back at me and after a pause, a shrug, continue on the walk, my disappointment palpable and real.

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What is it about paths that just beckon to be explored? Where could they lead? There are so many to choose from, I want to veer off, investigate further but my son leads the way and dutifully I follow, musing. Paths. Like the ones out here in the wilderness (of sorts!), life offers up many diverse paths, opportunities and various factors determine which ones we choose to follow, which ones we perhaps return to at a later date, which ones…I realise I’m dawdling and hurry to catch up, my reflections forgotten, as I carefully traverse the rough ground. 

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Frozen in time the leaves, solid in their white coats, catch my eye, their gold, amber and brown colours cloaked in frosty layers. Striking in their unusual state it will not be long before the warmer air frees them from their enhanced beauty and as the soil turns to mud they’ll gradually mulch into the field, another state, another time.

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The bridge, at times flooded from the troubled waters of the stream flowing beneath it, is a safe crossing for us this time and the tractor’s tracks of upturned mud are frozen into solid peaks and troughs. I step gingerly in between them.

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The pools of water are scattered across the plain, their surfaces covered with fragile thin layers of ice, like the veneer we often display to others, the false confidence, joy, certainty. Like the ice here, so easily shattered, transitory.

Good fun memories flow come to mind; of my toddler son jumping with glee on the ice, winter suit wet and muddied, of stick battles with the frozen puddles, swishing huge pieces of two inch thick slabs of ice across the slippery grass, an alternative version to ice-hockey. Memories so much a part of us, part of our past and our present and even our future. 

Content, exhausted, refreshed I return home…like the child of the early morning I long for a hot chocolate and biscuit break – the only difference is now I’ll be making them!

‘I was sorry to hear my name mentioned as one of the great authors because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I am not feeling very well myself.’  Mark Twain