In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
~ John Muir
Another weekend without commitments could mean only one thing: time to pull on our boots (new ones in my case) and head out into the countryside, just the two of us. Bliss.
We delved once again into the book of 1001 British Walks that my parents bought Darren for Christmas, opting to combine two shorter walks in the neighbouring West Berkshire villages of Frilsham and Hermitage on Saturday and taking on a longer walk around Farnborough on Sunday.
Saturday treated us to some more glorious weather for mid-January (how lucky have we been?). Blue skies and plenty of sunshine to counteract the chilly air made it an ideal day for walking. Both of our chosen walks for Saturday were mainly through woodland on beautiful, if rather muddy, pathways. A lovely country pub offered a half hour rest and half pint at lunchtime, and photo opportunities were in good supply. A great day!
Sunday’s weather was not so kind. Grey skies and high winds greeted us as we set out up the road towards Farnborough with the Didcot powerstation in the distance in neighbouring South Oxfordshire. What should have been a fairly challenging first half of the walk (all uphill) was made so much harder by the constant battle with the strong wind. Each step was hard; pushing against the wind as if it were some invisible barrier. Exhausting, but fairly amusing all the same. Put it this way: we knew we’d done something by the end of it! The second half of the walk was easier, downhill and sheltered from some of the wind. The sun even peaked out to say hello! Another fabulous day.
My love of walking wasn’t always so clear cut, indeed it would be fair to say there was a time when I could think of nothing worse than tramping through muddy fields searching for that elusive footpath. This loathing was partly fueled by a few bad early experiences. Like many teenagers who came before me (and no doubt after), I took on the challenge of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards under the rather misleading promise that it would “look good on my CV”. As any former D0fE recruit knows, these awards are split into several sections or challenges, one of which is an “expedition”. Bronze – a 15 mile walk with an overnight camping adventure – came and went without a hitch (too easy and actually a good blast); Silver followed – 30 miles over three days – and whilst not exactly the blast of the Bronze was still fairly straightforward. But then it was the turn of Gold: 50 miles in four days.
Our little group – myself, my best friend Sarah and two others – opted for a trip to Luxenbourg on the grounds that we may as well turn it into a little holiday. Turned out there were (and probably still are) a lot of very big hills in Luxenbourg and it also turned out that not a single one of us was any good with a map when it really mattered. That four-day trek around Luxenbourg was one of the worst experiences of my life up until that point… We lost a rucksack complete with tent poles (and very nearly the member of our group attached to that rucksack) over the edge of a ravine… one of our merry band suffered with heatstroke and hypothermia in the same 24 hour period… and we got hideously lost in a dark pine forest at a rather late and spooky hour. I’m sure there was more, but in honesty I’ve blanked it from my mind!
Needless to say we failed the challenge and came home empty handed and miserable. And so it was that we found ourselves scrabbling about on chilly hillsides in North Wales just a few months later. I can credit that particular trip with sodding up my back for life, and by the time we returned home (finally having passed the award – which, by the way, never helped me land a single one of my jobs and has now disappeared from my CV) I was adamant that walking was not for me.
So how is it that 15 years later I find myself wishing the week days away and weekends closer so that I can hit the footpaths with my trusty rucksack and my lovely man? Well, if I’m honest, the lovely man helps… as does his superior map reading skills and handy GPS gadget… but also I think I’ve grown up. Shocking, but somehow true. Whereas once I dreaded the miles that lay in front me and the inevitable pain of walking up the steep hills; these days I relish the challenge. It really is a case of mind over matter. I enjoy the feeling of making it to the top of a particularly nasty hill or across a madly windy field, and the rush that comes with making it to the end of a long day’s walking. I like being in the open countryside, not another soul in sight and with only the sounds of nature (or at the very most a far away motorway) to be heard. I enjoy slip-sliding through the mud, laughing at our almost mishaps or picking our way along thin ledges of land knowing one false step will land us up to our knees in muddy water. I like keeping an eye out for interesting photo opportunities and snapping away madly….
But what I love most is sharing all that with someone who truly gets me. I’m never as relaxed and full of hope as I am stood in the middle of nowhere, holding the hand of the man I love and taking in the breathtaking views around me. I shall never grow bored of that feeling.