The walking week: J

Sunday 1st April 2012

J FOR… junctions and jungle.

The closer I get to becoming a part of history, the more persistent its pull: while memory is but a pot-holed lane, the past is an untrekked continent. To look back upon its sweep is to go forward anew.

Left at the junction, cross the road, then turn right on to the path beside the mill-stream. Within fifty yards you step back more than fifty years; to the lido, bridges of stone, wrought iron; to the overhang of branches; to occasional bicycles and gates in garden walls.

Stretches of the stream have dried up, turned to flat pats of mud, the squish squashed. White petals dot the brown. The ducks are gone. Still we await the rain.

At the end of the paddock, I pause, resting elbows on the five-barred gate. Here, in the stamp and gnarl of hoof-print and root, lie the secrets of a horse-drawn age, of baskets ripe with berries and parasol summers.

Round the corner, past the mill house and into the country estate, with the old stone granary, dove-cote and orchard. I see trundling wagons, pitch-forks, leather-aproned swains, bonnets and linnets. Rustic is the only word.

Behind Wilfred – named for the white W on the crust of his ancient bark – I now leave banana skins: no reason, other than to observe the ritual, to admire the absorption of blackening decay.

Few, as yet, are the winged insects, but once this week I struck deeper into the creeper-smothered undergrowth beyond the glade, stooping under centuries-old masts of broken bough and the wreckage of great storms. The jungle is a cold, forgotten place; as silent as a catacomb.

Three tracks meet at the brow of the slope: the meeting-point of three hundred years, where cart gives way to carriage and carriage yields the ride to the silver scooter of a three-year-old child, on a maiden voyage into the future.

The hill returns me to the present, with its manhole covers, parking bays, and passers-by on mobile phones.

I quicken my step, wanting to be back home before the kick-off at White Hart Lane.





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