In ordinary times (remember those?), often with my partner, Sarah – and when a Notts County game wasn’t within easy reach – I would devote my Saturdays to walking with the North East London Ramblers. Most of their organised walks are between ten and twelve miles in length and begin and end within an hour or so of Central London by train: relatively easy access, therefore, to the Chilterns, the North and South Downs, the Kentish Weald, the chalk escarpments of Bedfordshire, the Thames Estuary and the windswept flatlands of Essex.
Earlier this year, the various effects of ageing suggested it was time for me to draw the line at a ten mile maximum – preferably, and possible in the shortened days of winter, a mere eight.
Already avoiding rambles involving several steep climbs, an embarrassing incident in which I found myself becalmed half-way over a stile and in need of someone to lift my trailing foot across and over, meant scanning the walk description carefully for mention of an over-generous number of stiles and similar obstacles en route.
The virus, of course, put a stop to all that midway through March, and it’s only recently that group rambles have resumed, albeit with reduced numbers.
A walk which Sarah and I have done several times on our own follows a stretch of the Chess Valley in Buckinghamshire. Seven or eight miles long and taking in a section of the Chiltern Way, it winds along river meadows, lightly folding fields to one side and above the escarpment on the other, a rich foray of trees. The midway point is conveniently marked by Holy Cross Church and the Cock Inn.
Here, the graveyard provides several comfortable benches on which to rest and eat our packed lunch – usually, cheddar cheese on wholemeal bread with sliced banana and mango chutney – after which we cross to the pub garden and relax with a half of bitter (Sarah’s) and a bottle of ginger beer (mine), before using the facilities and setting off on our return journey.
With our daughter, Molly Ernestine, for company, Sarah and I did this walk again yesterday as a way of marking our 24th anniversary. Despite the previous day’s rain, it proved to be mostly easy-going, the pleasant sunshine interrupted only by a blurring of distant cloud and the occasional sharp shower – a metaphor if ever I saw one!