I was faced with a hat bobbing above a pair of dark brown trousered legs in a woodland glade. The hat’s owner was bent double, deep in a cluster of nettles and stood motionless. It was his stillness that had halted me and I waited, intrigued. Eventually, hat rising, the wearer straightened up, readjusting the binoculars around his neck.
“Were you successful?” I ventured.
He swung round, reverie broken.
“Yes, yes, indeed,” he replied. “A southern hawker”
I was none the wiser.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said, cleaning his spectacles, “it’s a type of dragonfly. There’s a red darter over there too.” He pointed at a bush standing to the right of the nettles.
I was on the final mile or so of my walk from Wolsingham to Bishop Auckland and had calculated that I had just enough time to catch the last train back. Hat man continued explaining, absent mindedly continuing to buff his spectacles. The train idea vaporized. Caught up in a fascinating monologue of darters, hawkers, blue hollys, speckled browns and global warming, I let the glade’s David Attenborough introduce me to another world of dragonflies and butterflies and decided to catch a bus later
For a 12 mile walk, he was only the second person I’d directly met on my route. The first was a chap a mile or so before who also had been buried in vegetation. I had been silently greeted by his two elderly collies, one of which was blind. They were the only evidence of his presence until he pulled himself out of a large hazel tree, holding a bulging carrier bag, as I passed by.
“Ooh, are you foraging? Hazelnuts?” I asked.
He grinned and opened his hand to reveal three plump cobnuts.
“Wow! Fantastic!” I exclaimed. “Are they complete though? I found some last weekend and they were just husks. It was very disappointing.”
“Aye, they’re proper nuts,” he responded in a lilting north eastern accent, showing me his haul.
“Lovely,” he mused, his eyes dancing, “can’t eat too many though.”
I looked at him quizzically.
“I ate a lot a few years ago. Made my nose bleed,” he explained
“Really?” I was surprised. “I’ve never heard of that before”
“It was a LOT of hazelnuts,” he said ruefully. “Haven’t done that again since.”
“I can imagine!” I replied, laughing gently at the thought. “Do you forage for anything else?
He went on to tell me about windfall apples that he collected for his Shetland pony and blackberries for pies. He appeared to know all the top spots along the riverbank. I patted the dogs who were sat at our feet and headed off along the final few miles.
Up until then my only walking companions had been my boots.
Which I was OK with.
Just occasionally I want a long walk that allows me to stride out without too much in the way of stops. I get into a steady rhythm as I find my feet and a pace that works for my mood. Once my cadence, emotions and heart rate are in agreement, the walk becomes meditative. Whether an angry stomp, a frustrating march, a reflective stroll or a problem solving ramble, these walks keep me sane.
Thoughts fly free, growing life and wings or litter dropped and forgotten on the path. I tether concept kites in my pending sky and sort them; the power ideas, the risky stunt notions, triple stackers and glorious artistic creations that challenge every aerodynamic law yet soar high in my mind. I am lost in an imaginative realm where fact, myth, fantasy, truth and fiction merge and blend and argue in glorious impossibility and kite strings never get knotted.
My own personal pop up nirvana.
Drumbeat boots anchor my airborne mind, my feet describing the path as my soul soars skyward.
The pad pad on firm mud, a pleasing staccato swish swish in soon to be mowed pastures and then the satisfying marching crunch crunch of gravelled forest tracks.
Trees crinoline rustle in the breeze, shot silk sighs beside me in woodland and a buzzard mews overhead.
Pink-blue Viper’s bugloss and toadflax’s scrambled eggs interrupt grey tracks and moss stands to attention in the late summer sunshine.
I walk with the river, without the river, in and out of woods, with cows and through Paradise. For miles.
To the bus station in Bishop Auckland, where I slump on the seat in the warm sunshine and realise how much I ache.
The 101 returns me to my car. The bus is busy with last minute shoppers.
Three smartly clad silver haloed ladies get off in a flurry of “ta ra”s.
One gentleman sits alone in the middle of the back seat and talks incessantly.
Happily enthroned, he holds court, a dead ringer for a Homer Simpson Geordie, in dialogue with no one, about Newcastle United, mining, ship building, Newcastle United, Maggie Thatcher, Brexit and Newcastle United.
So am I.