A Wordless Square for Wednesday
I was up-beat, focused during Lockdown last year. Every day I went out walking – three, four, five, six, seven mile walks: day after day without fail. Now? Not so much. Wind. Rain. Damp. Mud, above all, mud.
Then I had an idea. Our lives have become virtual. Virtual hugs with family and friends, virtual committee meetings, virtual book groups. Though I have no desire to have a real one, I would get myself a Virtual Dog, who would need actual walks every day, come rain, come shine.
My friend Barbara won’t know this till she reads about it here, but I’ve chosen her dog, Dilys. Dilys is always up for a long walk, an explore, a refreshing swim. She’s the best trained dog I know, and is always, like Barbara, an uplifting companion.
And if Dilys is unavailable, I’ll borrow the dog-next-door, Poppy.
Weather forecast. Cold, but bright and sunny. That sounded perfect for a walk in Wharfedale. Starting and finishing at the forbiddingly-named Grimwith Reservoir, and taking a fine circular route to and from Burnsall would give us extensive panoramas over the hills of the Yorkshire Dales.
Except that on the way there, an impenetrable curtain of fog descended. To walk? Or not to walk? My friend and I had both made the effort to get there. So we’d walk.
And for nearly an hour, this was our landscape. No hills, no dales, but just the occasional gate, or tussocky grass, or – sometimes – sheep.
Then – suddenly it seemed – this.
The sky lightened and brightened, and the countryside we’d come to see developed before our eyes like those Polaroid photos that once seemed so exciting.
Soon we were at Burnsall, our half-way mark. A hearty yomp up hill brought us to a bench, where we saw in turn black skies, grey skies, blue skies: and views, always with the village below us.
After lunch, a further climb, and then level walking back to where we’d begun our day. But this time we had the views we’d come to see, and at the end, the quiet tints of the reservoir.
Lockdown again. Forensic exploration of our own neighbourhood again, as we set off for daily exercise. Yet one way or another, I’ve posted dozens of shots of the area I call home, and I can’t expect others to delight in it as I do. The other day though I noticed, as I hadn’t since the car-free spring lockdown when birds were vying for territory and nesting, distant birdsong.
It made me think about the creatures who share our daily round. Not the elusive ones – the stoats, weasels, foxes, deer who decline to stick around as you get your camera out. The types like Basil and Brenda, as our neighbours call the over-sexed pigeons who stomp across their roof, noisily indulging their passion at 6.00 a.m.
The horse who moved in with the Jacob sheep in the next field at the beginning of lockdown when her stables closed for business. She’s still here. The hens next door, who sometimes deliver eggs for our breakfast.
The large flocks of sheep who are part of every farmer’s daily round in these parts – no cattle for us..
The heron who nicks fish from our landlord’s pond.
The mallards on the village pond, and the crows on the rooftops. The squirrels dashing across our path and up the nearest tree. The pheasants who are even more abundant this year, as lockdown’s put a stop to the shooting parties they were specifically bred for. Rabbits too. So many rabbits. Why haven’t I got any photos of them?
The featured photos shows our much-frequented path through Sleningford Hall at Easter time, with all the new lambs.
… yesterday in fact, I woke up to this.
It’s the same window I showed you last Monday, but now November mist has descended. I went downstairs. This.
It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t particularly cold. What’s one of the Commandments of Lockdown? ‘Thou shalt exercise daily’. So I did. I took my camera, and explored the local lanes: familiar sights blotted out, as others loomed out from the general obscurity. At just 11 o’clock, I stopped, just for a while: it was Remembrance Day. I heard what a rarely notice as I walk – the constant undertow of birds murmuring and chittering on more distant shrubs and trees. It reminded me of John Lewis-Stempel’s book – Where Poppies Blow. This wonderful account examines the restorative role of nature to those soldiers confined to the trenches in the First World War. For just a fleeting instant, this was a moment I could share with them. Except I came home to a glowing wood-burning stove and a hot cup of coffee.
… when there’s one broken stile …
… several soggy pathways …
… and a very great deal of mud?
This is why.
It’s that time of the month again, when I re-publish a post from our years in France. This one made me sad. It reminded me of times when people could simply be together enjoying each other’s company; where kindness and friendship were easy to demonstrate; and when an affectionate hug was nothing to fear. Kindred spirits. Ah well…
Walking for the Masses
October 10th, 2010
The French love walking – as in hiking. The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre is an immensely popular organisation with all age groups, and with a somewhat younger image than the British Ramblers. The French walk alone, with friends, in groups such as ours, Les Rando del’Aubo, and …..on mega-rambles.
We first came upon the mega-ramble when our own group went along, a couple of years ago now, on a walk organised by the FF Randonnée Midi- Pyrénées group. We and about 800 others. It’s something of a military operation. Breakfast is offered, refreshments along the route, which has to be signposted beforehand and cleared afterwards. Photocopied maps are handed out, and when it’s all over, there are exhibits to mooch round, apéros to drink, trophies to award (the oldest walker, the person who’s travelled furthest to participate, that sort of thing). There’s often a sit down meal on offer too, though not that day.
Interesting, but walking with dozens – hundreds – of others isn’t really our thing. This means we quite often sit out the Sunday walk, because these occasions happen pretty often.
Today, I made an exception. In France, basic health care is free, but most people chose to top up by insuring themselves with a Mutuelle, which covers all the bits the system doesn’t pay for. To publicise themselves, and various health charities, the Mutuelles of the Ariège organised a walk near Mirepoix today, and they needed our help.
Early this morning, under the covered market hall in Mirepoix we set up tables, prepared healthy breakfasts (breads, cheese, fruit juices, dried prunes) and registered walkers. Some people waymarked the route, others acted as marshals, and lots of us got to walk as well. Only 171 walkers today. Why would we be so public-spirited? Perhaps this picture tells you why.
Something else though. Sitting down with everyone after it was all over, I reflected how far we’ve come. This week, Malcolm’s been in England, so apart from exchanging English/French conversation on Tuesday for an hour, and enjoying lunch with an English friend on Friday, I’ve spent the rest of my time walking or eating with friends, shopping, singing, going to the gym and all the rest, entirely in French (well, I’ve done some hard labour at home too. But I only had myself to talk to). Over two years ago, when we first sat down for a communal meal, we could see people’s eyes glaze with fear as they thought they were going to be stuck with that English couple. Could we speak French? Well, yes actually, but both easy chit-chat, and more serious discussion were difficult for us in a noisy group situation. Today I was happy to be the only foreigner in the group: instead of fearing me, it was ‘Is that chair next to you free? May I sit with you?’
A sortie to find some carved Pictish stones on what might once have been a royal fort, followed by a climb to visit a local landmark, the obelisk to the Reverend Samuel Rutherford seemed like a plan for a late afternoon last week. It was only a three and a half mile walk after all.
What I hadn’t taken into account was that this is rough, undulating landscape, and entirely beautiful. It demands we take the time to stand and stare. So I did.
Trusty’s Hill proved to be a chance for a first viewing of the Rutherford Monument, as well as an opportunity to peer at Pictish carvings. This site was the site of an ancient fire so fierce that the stone there vitrified. The hill might, round about 600 AD, have been a citadel. It was certainly a fine vantage point from which to view what could once have been the lost Scottish kingdom of Rheged.
Onwards to the Rutherford Monument, built by grateful parishioners to honour the memory of a priest who, though an academic, a thinker and a teacher, cared for his flock in practical as well as spiritual ways and who was constantly at odds with the establishment to the extent that he was awaiting being tried for treason at his death. These days, there’s a Millennium Cairn, detailing all the ministers of Anwoth and Girthon since 1560 , and a trig point on two adjacent hills. All three provide splendid views to the Fleet estuary far below and the hills beyond.
Then it was down, down through a wooded trail to reach Anwoth Church, now roofless and ruined, before coming back to Gatehouse of Fleet along a quiet county track.
In her Photo Challenge this week, Jude asks us to look upwards, and shoot our subject from below.
Somehow this instruction reminded me of the first period of lockdown, when staying isolated and close to home was fresh and new: when we country-dwellers had the small pleasures of watching the spring unfold. Each day’s main event was watching the subtle changes in the nearby verges and fields, and in the trees and clouds.
With no job-plus-childcare to juggle, no worries about actually losing an income, this simple period, when the spring weather was almost unfailingly sunny and warm, was a time of some happiness.
Since then, things have fallen apart somewhat. Compliance, and confidence in the government’s competence and probity plummets, and nobody regards the prospect of a long hard winter ahead with anything better than disaffected resignation if they’re lucky, real fear if they’re not.
For one day only then, let’s look upwards – and backwards – to the spring 0f 2020.