Unerringly, this morning, I picked my way from the farm underpass to the Sir Walter Tyrrell and back, using a different route each time. Almost.
I was on a mission to measure the oak I had found recently. Berry had replied to my e-mail by asking me how many hugs it was. A hug is apparently a metre, give or take a bit of wingspan. So off I went and, in full view of anyone who happened to pass, ignoring the bramble growing up the trunk, tenderly grasped the bark. Untangling myself each time, I did this three and a bit times before reaching the point at which I had begun. Unfortunately this means I have not found my first ancient tree. An oak, to qualify, must be 4.5 metres in girth, and my arms are not long enough for three and a bit hugs to stretch to that. My one consolation is that there were no witnesses to my act of dendrolatry.
On my outward journey I was less confident than I expected to be on the way back, because I have not made the trip in that direction before, and even fallen trees and streams, which I am beginning to try to use as markers, look rather different the other way round. Actually, enough of one or two of the dead trees remain upright to serve as rather good milestones.
The day was changeable, the occasional sun brightening the view. The recent rain, however, has made everything soggy again. I set off on clay, which meant it was still hard underfoot, pitted with small round cups of water pressed into the surface by the feet of ponies. I could step on the rims. Where there was no clay, I was soon sinking halfway up my shins in shoe-snatching mud. Sometimes I could skirt round these patches, but that wasn’t always possible.
Every now and then I fancied I heard a chuckling in the woods. If I peered through the trees I would see shadowy light brown figures dart across the way, and on one occasion a still, erect, creature that gazed in my direction, then, with all the stateliness of the high-stepping horses of the guardsmen of two days ago, strode off with its entourage in tow. My mockers were an enormous mottled white stag and three dingy little does. Maybe they weren’t making fun of me. Maybe they were just rustling the leaves.
Taking a diversion around a fallen tree, an unmoving flash of colour caught my eye, and I went to investigate what turned out to be possible remnants of an orgy. Several sets of discarded clothing were arrayed on another prone trunk. Perhaps some optimists had hung them out to dry, and couldn’t get back through the surrounding quagmire tio retrieve them.
Now I have to explain the one word second sentence of this post, that flouts all the rules of grammar. I did not mean to indicate that I didn’t quite manage the walk. Far from it. It was extended a wee bit. This is because what I do mean is my return trip wasn’t exactly totally devoid of error.
Saufiene picked a rather less than convenient moment to telephone me from France. I have to answer my mobile within three rings. This was rather difficult when it was in my jacket pocket and I had one foot in the water and the other half way up the bank of the stream I was intent on crossing. I did manage to answer the call and fortunately the Frenchman didn’t ask me where I was. I mention this here because I would like to blame him for what happened next. Yes, he did distract me, but it wasn’t his fault that once across the stream I forgot I had forded it and followed it dutifully, according to my newly discovered rule of thumb. In the wrong direction. It wasn’t until I glimpsed through the trees the cottages on the outskirts of the village of Brook that I realised my slight mistake. So back I went along the brook, seeking the ford by Castle Malwood Farm. The truth is, I cannot pretend Sofiene put me off. I’d have gone the wrong way anyway.
Now it is all very well following a stream until you come to a fork in it that you don’t recall having seen before. It is especially inadvisable to take the wrong fork, which is of course what I did. I never did find the ford, but I found the roar of the A31 an increasingly friendly sound. I was soon walking under it and up the steep climb to home. Elizabeth chose to present me with the second inconveniently timed call of the morning as I was ascending the almost perpendicular stretch of this.
Lyndhurst’s Passage to India provided our evening meal with which Jackie and I both drank Kingfisher. We had to drive out there and sit down in the restaurant of course.