Back in France, we go out with our walking group most Sundays. ‘Most’, not ‘all’. Some are just too damn’ tough, but more often, it’s because the walk’s been cancelled. Rain stopped play. Unlike their English counterparts, no French hiker wants to hole up behind some convenient rock at midday to fuel up on a damp spam sandwich. No, lunchtime on a French walk is the opportunity for an extended picnic in some scenic spot, when someone will produce a pastis, someone else a home-made cake or chunks of chocolate, and the whole thing will be rounded off with sugar lumps soaked in some potent home made hooch. And you can’t do that when the weather’s poor.
We English are made of sterner stuff. As we discovered just after Christmas. Our Friends Hatti and Paul arrange a post-festivity walk for about 20 of their friends each year. It blows away the cobwebs and gets rid of some of those unwanted calories we all seem to absorb throughout December.
On the day, it was intermittently raining. The wind was gusting and the sky was solidly grey. Did anyone cancel? Certainly not! Instead we were all welcomed at our rendez-vous point with hot coffee or a warming nip of home made sloe gin, and route -maps to send us on our way.
The walk itself was under 5 miles long. But we got our work-out alright. Leg muscles strained to heave limbs out of gloopy mud, or to leap from stepping stone to stepping stone across overrflowing streams. Vocal chords often gave up the unequal struggle as wind whipped away shouted attempts at conversation. Our feet became heavier and heavier with the weight of solid clay sticking to our boots .
But it was fine, dear French reader. We had fun. Along the route, we spotted a rainbow which accompanied our path for much of the journey. Welcome pauses in the wind and rain gave us the chance to appreciate the scenery: the skeletal trees set against the grey-green hillsides: the stone farm cottages and the folly at Azerley and the rushing tumbling streams which punctuated our journey.
No soggy spam sandwiches for us. At journey’s end, we were snug and warm in the Queen’s Head at Kirby Malzeard. Paul and Hatti had organised sandwiches and chips to be be ready and waiting as we arrived. And that, surely, is the perfect walk. A good work-out in good company in lovely countryside, followed by the chance to relax and laugh with friends and food, knowing that nothing more taxing than a hot bath and cosy evening indoors remains to conclude a well-spent day.