Spare time, a desire to be outdoors, bright sunshine, crisp skies; not often do these companions arrive at the same time. We’re nature-starved nowadays, and opportunity causes us to reach for the dramatic - the summit, the vista, the far horizon. But not always. On this day, I stepped from my front door and walked through the estate until the houses ran out and the fields began.
I found myself in a land of edges. Vast fields, lined by hedges, some deep and thick, crowded with dusty jacketed sloes and rosehips glinting like rubies against a backdrop of yellowed jade. Some thin and flayed, more scrub than hedge. Occasional large trees thrust forth; oak, field maple, ash, beech. Hawthorn and blackthorn scatter their orange and yellow berry-explosions amidst the autumn-tinged leaves. Small birds darting from the bounty as I approach, too fast to identify, a fleeting glance, as if they are sliding off my eyeballs.
Arrows on posts direct me onwards, passing over boundaries. I cross ditches by earth ramps, wooden bridges, concrete blocks. I pass through between trees, up banks and into tight berry-hemmed squeezes. The arrows vanish, but a faint track leads onwards. A narrow track, bound fast by trees and bushes. The summer’s dried grass still stands tall - clearly no-one has passed this way for some time. Small apples lie thick beneath a laden tree, covering the ground like a spilled box of tennis balls. Ahead, a sharp movement, something brown disappears in amongst the bushes. A pigeon bursts from hiding, the rapid clapping of its wings sounds loud and close. I round a corner, and the disappearing brown shape resolves itself into a small roe deer bounding away down the track, both graceful and comical. The trees lean tight to the path, and I have to bend myself to pass them. Before long, this precious, overgrown, life-rich track ends and I’m at the field-edge again. As I step from the trees, a pea-pheasant makes its startled escape, a whirr of wings and furious energy, a percussive conclusion to the quiet of the track.
More field edges, ploughed earth, the pervasive smell of young brassicas. A Christmas-sprouts smell, but green and fresh. The path leads under trees again, toward a gate. I’m on the wrong side of it - the far side features a sign rather passive-aggressively decrying “Private. This isn’t a public right of way, it never has been and we have no intent of it ever being so”. Just a little casual trespass, led astray by sparsely placed waymarking arrows. There’s a gentle irony in the suggestion that people walking along field boundaries is somehow more damaging than the industrial farming practices that dominate our rural landscapes.
Back on the actual track once again, the right of way leads me through someone’s garden and past their open back door, muffled voices heard within. At once public and private, an uncomfortable right to be there. Cultivation gives way to field margins once more. Paths cross ploughed fields, thoughtfully flattened by deep-treaded tires. Autumn clouds scud eastward, and the town draws into view once more - looking surprisingly green from this perspective. A lorry roars past the end of the hedgerow, a rude reminder that I’m back at the road and leaving the quiet behind. I glance backwards, across stubble-stippled fields, to the trees and sky beyond.