Walking is not just a way of getting from A to B. It’s not even about what you see along the way, though that’s important. No, it’s a way of feeling, of understanding, of thinking.
All this week Radio 3’s excellent late night (well, late for me because I am a lark, not an owl) series The Essay is devoted to walking and those comments above were from Ross Raisin who on Tuesday night described a walk in the Yorkshire Wolds (recently coined David Hockney country). His talk included the niggles and hardships of walking as well as the delights. He described something that has happened to me and other improvident walkers – arriving hungry at a village, expecting to buy a sandwich for lunch and finding that everything selling food has closed down. He also talked about a persistent knee problem and the way he copes with it, not without humour.
Sunday saw me heading with the dog to the Caldbeck Fells. The days have passed the equinox and are gathering speed to make it to the solstice. The clocks have gone forward. The clear sunlight of early spring and the calm stillness lifts my mood. It is, as they say in Shetland, “a given day”.
The moorland grass looks dry and withered. I look along the streams on the lower slopes for marsh marigolds. It’s a bit early yet, but there are still bright flashes of colour which catch my eye –
Soon I pick up the song of a skylark. I look up but can’t see it. I am always amazed that such a small bird can voice a song which carries so far and so clearly. Nowadays it’s a relief to hear a skylark in spring – their numbers have fallen to red alert conservation status. So there’s at least one around here and hopefully more. I meet a small group of walkers and we chat about – of course - the weather. The song ceases. But after the group has gone further down the valley and I have gone further up the hill I hear the song again – the same bird or another?
It’s not surprising that the magical sound of the skylark has been the subject of several poems by poets past and present. I think of the ornate poem by George Meredith which inspired Vaughan Williams. Sometimes I hear “The Lark Ascending” on the car radio in larkly improbable places (a supermarket car park off the Wigton Road in Carlisle, for example) and my mind immediately pictures the distant moors.
On Sunday I wrote in my notebook –