An Autumn Walk

October already! How did that happen?

The long, hot summer days have faded away and autumn has taken hold. Late afternoon yesterday, when I went out to shut my hens away for the night, the sun was shining and there was a pleasant breeze so I thought I’d make the most of it and take a quick walk.

Heading out through the back of the yard, I joined the public bridleway that runs through the farm but there was nobody else around. The blackberries are just about finished but scarlet rosehips still make a splash of colour in the hedges and I resolved to pick some soon to make a little rosehip syrup to mix with this year’s Hedgerow Gin for an autumnal cocktail. This year, I’ve been infusing a few seasonal ingredients like raspberries or blackcurrants or blackberries in a small amount of gin for a week or so. Unlike a traditional, sweetened fruit gin that’s drunk neat, I’ve left them unsweetened and added tonic water to make a colourful drink with a hint of fruit. The hedgerow gin with blackberries, rosehips, haws and sloes has been particularly delicious.

As I walked alongside the ditch where the track changes to a narrow footpath, the water had flooded the path making me glad that I was wearing wellies (even though I don’t like walking in them) as I sloshed through muddy ankle deep water. Further downstream the banks and bottom of the ditch are so overgrown that the water is obscured but I suspect, from the noisy rush of water, that the flooding was caused a fallen branch that has made a dam. That stretch of path is owned by the local council who don’t seem to care too much about maintenance or keeping footpaths passable but they probably have rather more important matters to deal with during this Covid crisis.

crab apples floating in water

On firmer ground, fallen crab apples littered the path making a circle under each tree or floated like the prelude to a giant apple bobbing game where the trees overhang the ditch in Lakes Field. This field has lots of wizened crab apple trees along its boundary with each producing its own shape and size of apple, all of which are disgustingly sour. I often wonder if the trees have sprung up from apple cores discarded by farm workers years ago or if there used to be some sort of dwelling here. A map from the eighteenth century shows small buildings dotted along the main track that runs through the farm, although they’re long gone and have left no trace.

Geese flying over a cultivated field

Walking southwards, the trees cast long shadows across the cultivated earth as geese flew noisily overhead and a hare sat motionless on the headland ahead and then quickly turned to dart through the hedge, across the ditch and over the open field. I lost sight of it as I walked behind a high section of hedge but then I thought I saw him waiting in the middle of the field. Or maybe it was a clod of earth. It’s difficult to tell at that distance, especially in the fading light.

Rain on an autumn day
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Suddenly, the sky darkened, the wind blew cold and large drops of rain fell in a torrent so that within a minute I was soaked to the skin. The folly of wearing a lightweight jacket in a showery week. Though this was considerably heavier than a shower implies. I thought about sheltering under a tree until the rain had passed but I was cold and didn’t think I could get any wetter, so ploughed on. I was wrong! By the time I reached home, my trousers were so wet that water trickled down the inside of my wellies and water streamed from my hair. Cursing that I walked before I did the hens, I tipped in their food as I did a quick head count and closed the gate.

Across the yard, the lights were on in the house, which is always a welcome sight. I peeled off my dripping clothes just inside the door and by the time I’d had a hot shower and put on dry clothes, there was a pot of tea waiting on the kitchen table. And a slice of millionaire’s shortbread. Perfect.


Walking Angst

Grass verge of field with primroses and violets

For years I’ve taken a daily walk through the fields with the dog, exchanging pleasantries or pausing for a brief conversation with other walkers on the footpaths. It would have seemed strange to avoid people (apart from the man with the two Staffordshire Bull Terriers that nearly all the dog walkers here avoid) or not smile and say hello.

In the space of a week, with the introduction of social distancing, it’s become normal to avoid all encounters we can. I scan the path ahead for approaching walkers. Some instantly turn around and retreat as soon as they see another person. Other people start walking in a wide arc so that we make a sort of choreographed pass and I supress the urge to do a little twirl.

I find it easiest to keep going and step aside into the field as the oncoming walker get closer. Time it wrong and we both step into the field necessitating a clumsy shuffle to pass while inwardly I calculate the distance between us and wonder how many steps to take before it’s safe to breathe in.

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Just lately several blogs have been brought out of hibernation with short posts about the inconsequential. It’s as if we need to share the ordinary to make sense of all that’s happening around us at the moment but can’t encapsulate it in a tweet or an IG photo caption (apparently only a third of people always read the captions in Instagram anyway).


It seems a good idea.


What To Pack In Your Rucksack For A Day Walk

 

It can be tricky knowing what to pack for a day walk if you’re new to walking or walking in unfamiliar territory. You don’t want to be weighed down with too much but if you pack too little or the wrong things, you may end up lost, hungry and wet.  If I’m only sauntering out for a couple of hours, I do nothing more than see if I need a coat, slip my phone in my pocket and set off. But, if you’re going out for longer, you need to be a little more prepared.

 

This is a list of what’s packed in my rucksack for a full day of walking on reasonably gentle terrain (rather than walking in mountains or in remote and wild places) in the British countryside; there’ll be things that I consider essential that you may think frivolous and vice versa, but I hope you’ll find it a good starting point.

DAYPACK ESSENTIALS

Rucksack essentials for a day walk
  • Contact Details
  • Mobile Phone
  • Map
  • Food & Water
  • First Aid Kit
  • Waterproof Clothing
  • Torch & Whistle
  • Spare Laces
  • Scarf
  • Light Shoes

CONTACT DETAILS

Write your phone number on a slip of paper and tuck it into your rucksack in case you lose it. It’s also useful to add the phone number of someone who should be contacted if there’s an emergency.

MOBILE PHONE

Who wouldn’t take a full charged phone, especially as it can also act as camera, torch, compass, map, timetable checker, note taker and much more?

MAP

I always take a paper map, usually an Ordnance Survey Explorer map but sometimes just a print out, because I’m nosy and want to know where I’m going and what’s on the horizon and be able to change my route. I use a highlighter to mark the route to make it easy to pick out. If you also take a compass, you can check your position.

I also have the OS app on my phone but tend to use that only when I’m hopelessly lost as I don’t want to drain my battery. If you’re planning to walk in remote places with indistinct landscape features like a moor, you might want to invest in a hand-held GPS device and conversely, if you’re on a well signposted trail, you can probably manage with a guide book that includes good maps.

FOOD & WATER

A stainless steel one litre water bottle is usually all I need unless it’s a hot day and if necessary, I refill it as I walk. Water points are often marked in guide books, ask at a pub or shop, look in the churchyard for a tap or use the Refill app.

FIRST AID KIT

The First Aid Kit is one of those things that I pack but hope never to use. My kit is very basic and contains only blister plasters, antiseptic wipes, wound dressing pads, micropore tape and a penknife.

WATERPROOF CLOTHING

I (nearly) always take a lightweight waterproof coat that folds down into a small pack even if a sunny day is forecast though I only pack my waterproof trousers when rain is possible.

TORCH & WHISTLE

I’ve only used the torch to get back to the B&B from the pub in the evening but, even if we are going straight home after the walk, it’s good to have a torch in case the walk takes longer than anticipated. I hope never to blow the whistle to attract attention, but it seems foolish to leave it behind as it takes up so little space.

SPARE BOOTLACES

It’s good sense to pack a spare pair of bootlaces when they have so many uses like tying walking poles to your rucksack, replacing broken straps and (probably) 101 other things.

SCARF/SARONG

I have a lightweight sarong for unexpectedly windy/cold/sunny days as extra protection. It’s also good to sit on while eating lunch, can be used as a towel and could be fashioned into a bag to carry things.

LIGHT SHOES

At the end of a long walk it’s good to take off my walking boots and wear a pair of flip flops, especially if we have a long journey home on the train. The downside is that my walking boots don’t fit into my small daypack, but I can tie them on or carry them in a bag.

Most of these things stay in my rucksack all the time, so I don’t have to hunt around for them whenever we decide to go walking. However, batteries run out, first aid supplies go out of date and handwipes dry out, so it’s a good idea to empty the rucksack and check the contents regularly. Not to mention delving to the bottom to retrieve empty sweet wrappers. Or worse, unwrapped sticky sweets.

If you’re all packed up but aren’t sure where to walk, try these inspirational long distance walks.

 

 


A Good Walk | Jurassic Way

It seems an age since we last walked along the Jurassic Way, but with May fast approaching (one of the best times of year for walking) we consulted the maps, packed our rucksacks and jumped on a train.

The problem with linear walks is getting to the start and returning home. My preferred option is use public transport, but this can be very difficult, especially in rural areas where buses and trains are infrequent or non-existent. Taking a taxi to the start or finish is an (expensive) alternative, but you can wait an age for a taxi to reach you and every local taxi seems to be booked out at school run times. Leaving a car at both ends is possible if the walk is local, though I hate seeing the end before I start. When it’s too awkward, as it has been since we walked to Sibertoft, we do circular walks. It can also be difficult to find accommodation on the route and believe me, the closer the better.

Consequently, we often veer away from the official route to fit in with transport and accommodation or just because there’s something interesting that we want to see. On this last part of the Jurassic Way, the nearest rail station is a few miles north at Market Harborough, so we began on an alternative path. On the second day, to fit in with accommodation we had the choice of nine miles (too short) or twenty-four miles (too long), so we diverted briefly to the Rutland Round to cut a few miles off the longer day. It’s not a problem for us to approximately walk a path, but I know some people get a bit het up about walking every step of a named route.

The Jurassic Way follows the band of Jurassic limestone from Banbury to Stamford, so the rolling countryside has been a beautiful backdrop to the honey coloured stone buildings in the villages that we’ve walked through or spied across the valleys.

If you’re thinking of walking this route (I’d highly recommend it) a word of warning that in the final section heading towards Easton on the Hill, the path runs uphill cutting across several large arable fields. It was easy in May, with the crops only knee high and the well walked path dry underfoot, but I suspect it’s a bit of a slog in a wet autumn.

So, another long distance walk completed. It’s always a bit of an anti-climax when we reach the end, especially on the Jurassic Way as there didn’t appear to be an official finish point. At least Stamford, frequently described as “the finest stone town in England” was an excellent place to end the walk.

Where to next, I wonder.


Walking Further Afield

Last month, we went walking a little further afield than normal and I fell just a little in love with Flinders Island where the sea is crystal clear, the powdered sand beaches stretch for miles and the emptiness is achingly beautiful.

 Discovering hidden beaches.


Where walking trails like the one above near Castle Rock are marked only by stone cairns and the occasional directional arrow as they cross boulders covered with orange lichen and weathered rocks.

 

Even ‘Private’ signs lack the imperiousness of some at home.

 

Castle Rock, Flinders Island


As we walked, dropping down to deserted beaches in secluded coves, it made me think that no matter how much I might extol the virtues of walking along the Essex coastline, it  doesn’t quite compare.