See the country – while the country lasts

Is there anything more depressing than sitting in a planning meeting, as I am now, thinking about a planned country walk, then seeing the schematics displayed for concreting over it?  Well, yes – doing the walk and watching the diggers doing their work. Yet it is coming, inevitably, and here I sit, helpless.

There are wild places aplenty still – go and see them, and quickly.

In Lancashire, one brave and hardy soul is preparing to walk around the whole county, seeing both the heavily industrialised lands, swallowed forever by the works of man, but also the wild fells where a man may stand and look for mile upon mile on anywhen moorland forgetting which century he is in.

Old Shire Lane, south of Chorleywood
Old Shire Lane, south of Chorleywood

I am preparing a new walk, ambitious in its way, to see the edges of Hertfordshire, familiar and unfamiliar. I will get out there to convince myself that this is still a pretty county, with its woods, its meadows and rivers and its broad fields, peeping through in places behind cruel concrete, alas.  Still, I have walked the suburban wild before, and there must be more that remains green than the urbanised creep, still?

I have just looked up to see a familiar path on my route dotted along the southern boundary of a development site. I sigh inwardly, powerless.

I must hurry, and see the county, while the county lasts.

Ulva – eilean na mo chridhe

It wasn’t the eccentricity of the place, or the light uncertainly playing on the water, the soft, jagged shorelines hiding distance and size, and the promise of wider lands beyond, but the emptiness so close but far away, and the eccentricity. Ulva. An island clasped close to the shore of Mull.

Mull is a huge island beside other in the Hebrides, its mountainous fingers reaching westwards into the sea, and Ulva, like a finger of Mull broken off, sheltered by the larger island and so close that I had to keep reminding myself that the ferry not just over a river but across the sea to a new island.

Ferry stage on Ulva

The ferry, between Mull and Ulva, is a wee boat with room just for a few travellers and the boatman’s dog.  It is summoned by efficient technology:  a wooden board at either staithe where you slide a panel to reveal a red rectangle, which is the sign for the ferryman to come over to you.  It works, and it is sustainable tech.

We stepped ashore on the island and at once were lost in the emptiness of it.  The undramatic crossing suggests a little place of little consequence, but Ulva is nearly 5,000 acres: land hidden behind the rise from the shore, and plenty of island to get lost in.  It reaches out into the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond it appear many more islands begging to be explored.

Once the island was the home of the MacQuarrie clan, all not gone from their home, which explains why the name is found more in the colonies than in Britain – it I a famous name in Australia.

Last week all this was called to mind when I read that the island is for sale.  I read that the inhabitants of this great island are hoping to buy it – all six of them. I hope they have deep pockets, from farming the gorse and the scrub. It’s beyond my touch by a few million pounds, but I still have memories.


Village Walks in Buckinghamshire

A long, thin county with wooded hills and broad valleys, Buckinghamshire has variety, which is reflected in the local walks available.  The best-known are in the Chilterns, but there is a great deal more to be seen in the county:  from the north bank of the Thames to the meadows by the Great Ouse by way of the Chiltern coombes.

It is hard to picture a county boundary walk as such, but please prove me wrong.  A ‘Buckinghamshire Way’, perhaps, from the Thames to Olney, or vice versa?  That could  be a gorgeous trail, and can be featured mapped here.

For a gentle walk, a good option it one of the many village-centred walks , exploring the nooks and crannies of a single village or a group of villages, or going all round the parish boundary.  Often just exploring your own town or village can be an eye-opener If the walk takes you to places not frequented in your day to day routine.  It will be a task for this year: building on WildþingUK a set of good walks across Buckinghamshire, as were in neighbouring Hertfordshire.

So far we have just the Chess Valley Walk (a 10 mile walk through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire), but there is room for many more, and suggestions are welcome.

What country, friend, is this?

Twelfth Night – the last of Christmas.

Now, if like Viola and Sebastian you happen to find yourself shipwrecked and cast onto the shore of Illyria, you might find that you are without you necessary walking kit.

And what should I do in Illyria?

In these circumstances, the first task is to find shelter, then sustenance.  Food can wait, but Not to be abed after midnight is to be up betimes.  Illyria is well provided with forests, but keep far enough up that Still you keep o’ the windy side o’ the law.

As to food, If music be the food of love, play on; but that will not fill a stomach.  You might find a tavern but That quaffing and drinking will undo you: I heard my lady talk of it yesterday.  Short of finding a lovelorn duke to employ you, your survival skills are needed from the moment you have crawled onto the shore But jealousy what might befall your travel, Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger, Unguided and unfriended, often prove Rough and unhospitable.

Have a fine and exciting 2018.

Greeting the New Year with new things

A bright, clear dawn greeted the new day and the new year – a good time to go out, see what the new year is like, and if we approve of it.  The New Year’s walk is a keen tradition and, if subdued this year as the ‘flu subsides, the fresh air does a world of good.  And yes, we approve of this new year.

At the same time, a new project is beginning, and I took tentative steps to start it:  a Hertfordshire Border Walk has been on the cards.  The start of the path will run from outside Chorleywood station, on the county boundary, and then out across Chorleywood Common, and on to the River Chess, so that is where we went (well, the Rickmansworth Aquadrome was stuffed to bursting with runners – good for them, but not so good for our having a quiet, solitary walk).  Scouting out routes takes only so much time, until I return in earnest; otherwise it is about letting the children go haring about in the woods and the meadows, breathing  in the joys of the new year. This is a promising start to a new year, and new endeavours to come.

A happy new year to all.