Like Alice’s Wonderland bottle labelled ‘Drink me’, this inviting style seems to say ‘Step over me and explore’. Beyond, off the beaten track, adventure beckons.
Where does this footpath lead ? Is it clear or overgrown? Will it be muddy and damp? Richard Jefferies urges us:
” ‘Always get over a style’, is the one rule that should ever be borne in mind by those who wish to see the land as it really is.”
Our minds are set on enjoying the walk in the spirit of the old Chinese saying that ‘The journey is the reward’. We’re expecting to experience to the full the pleasures of the pathway. There will always be something interesting to see.
Our 125,000 miles of UK footpaths are a special feature of our countryside, giving us all free access to most places. A glimpse at any Ordnance Survey maps shows an amazing network of paths. We’re indebted to the effort of groups like the Ramblers’ Association for fighting for the preservation of such places as ‘Rights of Way’
Off the beaten track
With the fair weather cumulus clouds floating dreamily across the sky, the weather seems set for a good day of walking.
To walk out across these fields you’ll become conscious of not being the first to come this way. This track must have been used by the Romans, for within 3/4 of a mile the path passes the site of a substantial Roman villa that was excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1937. Standing out in these open fields in this forgotten and deserted place, the sense of history is obvious. Now, all that’s to be seen are a few overgrown grassy mounds and a notice marking this as a protected ancient monument. But standing here, your thoughts go back to the comings and goings of the residents and the labourers who lived and worked in these fields around this once important Roman villa. Fascinating history follows us wherever we walk in this country.
The Pathway Pleasures -The Journey is the Reward
On a narrow path the walker is up close and personal with some of nature’s wayside treasures. Rustles in the grass will indicate that you’re not alone. Eyes have been watching. It’s not just we humans who use such paths, for this is a refuge for many wild plants and creatures for whom it’s home or a way through these rather barren fields of corn.
Taken at leisure, the best walks allow us to tread lightly and to pause often, really looking and listening. We pause to eat a few ripe blackberries and look at a special plant, or stand motionless to watch a butterfly resting on a clump of nettles. Some rabbits catch our attention in a nearby field and we notice the smell of a fox. All along the way are fine views of a landscape opening up and some beautiful cloud formations growing in the western sky. Just a trace or two of the hidden riches of a pathway like this.
Holidays provide many an opportunity for footpath exploration in new territory. From this coastal path on the Hampshire coast there is a different set of coastal wildflowers beside the path, and distant views across the Solent to the Needles off the Isle of Wight. With breathfulls of fresh sea air, and the calls of the Oystercatchers and Common Gulls, on a sunny day what could be better?
As the day draws on, thoughts of adventure give way to those of destination –home! At the end of the walk, this Sussex twitten beckons us back into the village. Here we may pass a dog-walker and pause to exchange greetings and later meet a friend on the way back from the village shops. The speed of life is slower here and people have time for each other—a welcome change from normal.
Finally, home at last with a sense of achievement. Yes, the journey has been the reward, though it’s always satisfying to reach journey’s end.
Walking is good for our health and for the environment. It costs nothing and we’re making a useful contribution to the countryside by keeping our footpaths open for others in the future. Long may these ‘rights of way’ be valued and used.
Always walking !
For some of us whose walking is now much more limited, these words of Beatrix Potter offer real encouragement:
‘Thank God I have the seeing eye, that is to say, as I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough land, seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton grass where my old legs will never take me again.’
Here’s wishing you happy walking, by whatever means! With maps and memories we can always be walking.