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!
Walking on the Heath not long after sunrise yesterday morning and for once I’d remember to take my camera …
Lovely little walk this: Metropolitan line north to Chalfont & Latimer and the edge of the Chilterns, pass a few suburban rows of Tudorbethan houses and you’re out in open country, soon making a small detour to the village of Latimer, where we take advantage of the bench on the village green to sample the coffee from our Thermos and share a KitKat, then we’re back on track, following the river past the watercress beds until, with a short climb, we reach Holy Cross Church close to Sarratt, where the cemetery benches provide the perfect lunch spot [cheese, banana & mango chutney on wholemeal seeded, since you ask] after which we cross the road to the garden of the Cock Inn to quench our thirst and use the facilities. In the past, we’ve made a circular walk of it, past the village of Chenies and through woodland, but this time, on the principle that things look different when approached from another direction, we go back the way we came.
After a series of grim days, brightened only by the occasional striking sunset and the election news from Alabama, today was nicely crisp and cold and I was able to restore my regime of a post-coffee mid-morning walk around Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath. [And since you ask, 3.12 miles, 6615 steps.]
Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast of In Our Time, at others Private Passions or Desert Island Discs; or I’ll set my trusty little iPod on shuffle and see what comes. The sun had mostly cleared the paths of ice, save for one treacherous stretch beside the old boating pond, where the ice spread wide and long, invisible as glass. Up on the slopes, stumps of snow stood haphazardly amongst the grass like the stunted columns of some scattered Stonehenge. And this is what I heard …
- My Kind of Girls’ Night : Girlboy
- Useless Desires : Patty Griffin
- Hollywood Bass Player : Josh Rouse
- Hitting You : Loudon Wainwright III
- America : Paul Simon
- There’s a Light Beyond These Woods, Mary Margaret : Nanci Griffith
- I Saw Her Again Last Night : The Mamas & The Papas
- How Long Blues : Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
- Jack the Bear : Duke Ellington Orchestra
- I Can Hear Music : The Beach Boys
- Ko-Ko : Charlie Parker
- The Pretender : Jackson Browne
- Arcana (Varese) : Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
- Stabat Mater – Duetto: Grave, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” (Pergolesi) : Margaret Marshall & Lucia Terrani w. London Symphony Orchestra
- Things Ain’t What They Used To Be : Charlie Mingus
Just back from a few breezy days on the North Yorkshire coast; long enough, almost, to feel the metropolis blown out of one’s system and enjoy fish suppers, warm doughnuts on the harbour’s edge, and striding out into the wind. My only regret that Whitby Town were not at home.
For the present, in these memories only …
Ever since I learned to read, I’ve had a book on the go – one after another – an unbroken chain from Winnie-the-Poo to Salman Rushdie. There are so many left behind here in my grandmother’s bungalow; publication dates to span her entire life. Every evening after I’ve eaten, I make myself open one and read, for a while, and then lay the book down spine up on the sofa cushions at the page where I stopped.
The trick to keeping going is break going into bursts: to stop, and otherwise occupy my brain for a spell, and then start going again. Nowadays I apply this to my whole day long. Each is a succession of shallow occupations, enforced intervals. Even my sleep is only ankle deep, interrupted.
Sarah Baume : A Line Made by Walking, William Heinemann 2017
Richard Long : A Line Made By Walking, 1967