On foot: the need to walk

There are days when I have to walk, like something has welled up from deep inside my subconscious and all I can do about it is to walk. I had a day like that today. I’ve been feeling it building, a foggy-headed lack of focus hanging over me in recent days, punctuated here and there by odd migraine-like headaches. And this morning, unable to settle I headed out. The air was cold but with a soft edge, and the sun brought with it a flicker of warmth. A good day to walk.

It’s not that far to reach the edge of town where I live, down alleyways, dodging pieces of stubborn ice hiding in the shadows, through a housing estate – I quite literally remember when it was all green fields – and over one of the main roads around the edge of town.

Looking across there’s a small gap in the hedge bounding road and field, with a metal gate between. Stepping across here changes my perspective on the world, a narrow line of mud showing me the path ahead, grass and the last remnants of melting snow either side, trapped in the tractor tracks. There’s always something distinctly satisfying about those initial steps from the solid regularity of a pavement or road onto the softer, less certain terrain of a muddy path. It was like that today, I could feel my pace slowing, my awareness of my surroundings sharpen. I was no longer rushing or bothering, just me out in the countryside.

It was only a short section of track across the fields, no more than ten minutes, and I was alone except for a man coming the other way, headphones on, in a world of his own. We smiled as we passed, and I carried on listening to the blackbirds in the trees.

The track comes out onto an old lane, one of few proper country lanes within easy walking distance. It curves gently away in each direction, hedges lining each side, with the occasional tree abutting the road on the field edges. Here the land opens up a little, the spire of a village church poking into the sky to the south and the Cotswolds, white today with Friday’s snow, rising above me to the east. There’s a view across to a lone hill, an outlier from the limestone escarpment, a few miles away across the fields, a church sat near the summit and its boundary clearly visible with a yellow drystone wall. I’ve looked at it for years and have cycled below it numerous times, and even though I’m drawn to it when I see it, I’ve never ventured up there. I really should.

As I walked along the lane the birdsong came from all around, the blackbirds joined by robins and others I didn’t recognise. I’ve often seen deer in the fields either side of the lane but not today, replaced instead by dog walkers and cyclists.

The end of the lane brought me back towards the outskirts of town. As I walked through these suburbs, mostly built in the last half century, I pondered on the old routes mixed up with the modern roads. I enjoy trying to unpick roads old and new, working out what was there before all of the development, these old ways of getting into the town. Coming along my country lane I carried on until it met another road. This also seems older, sweeping along with seemingly unnecessary curves and corners, perhaps following long-defunct field or farm boundaries.

As I headed home I came across my first daffodils of the year, a little early in February, but they seemed perfectly happy in the winter sunshine. I’m still a bit foggy-headed but it was a good day to walk nonetheless.

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