I know that the summer solstice, a week and a bit ago now, is old news; but I wanted to post this before it became entirely old hat: I decided to take advantage of the daylight, to walk my commute, from home to office.
By foot, the journey is some seven miles, much of it across country. So it was a stroke of luck that the weather was glorious. The morning changed over two and a half hours or so from a thin, bitter, lemony spring to a buzzing, drowsy summer. The most picturesque scenes were found around the end of the first hour: at that time, the mists had almost lifted and the world warmed up; but the sun had yet to start beating down.
I passed through and out of Witney mostly before seven; would have left even earlier if I could, to avoid the Wednesday ruination of calm by May Gurney’s army of wheelèd monkeys, overturning bins and screeching metal machinery against itself. But that was quickly left behind, and I moved from a cheery whacking of passing posts with my walking stick to a more resolute, heads-down march.
At one point, stopping to work out directions, I left my stick behind, and had to jog back for it. It came in handy later on, as one of the map’s bridleways had been turned – whether by the recent weather or by general farmer neglect – into a fast-flowing stream. The stick helped me balance perilously at the edge of the water, with a stick prompt against the opposite bank. Suddenly, the narrow world of a trench opened out into an idyllic garden pathway, with soft grass and gentle, tree-filtered light; it had been worth it, just about.
Time was pressing, so I took to the roads for a couple of miles before hitting woodland paths as shortcuts. You can’t demand moments of epiphany on such journeys, but a little one presented itself as I found myself in familiar territory seen from an unfamiliar angle. As I descended behind the village, coming out of the trees, the birds were going crazy with their song, while there wasn’t a car or plane engine, or another human being, to be seen. It might as well have been seven a.m. again, revisited six miles on.
There’s been a vogue at work for “night walks”, where people drive out to nearby countryside, wait for night to fall, and then trace a wide circular path by starlight. It’s fun although a little restricted – like so much in life – by the baggage of always having to think about that enemy of freedom, the concomitant vehicles that people arrange their lives around.
Yet that culture of walking had, I think, initially influenced me to attempt this walk last solstice in December. At that time though – deep in winter, rain and dismay – I was put off by trepidation at the unknown quality of some of the footpaths (thankfully so, following my experience of walking up a stream last week.) Hopefully, now I’ve traced much of my route in the daylight, a winter walk should be easier. I’ll report back again, then; in six months’ time; if I’m not lost in the woods.