Thrilling subtleties of familiar rural route

Curlews abound on Andrew's familiar walk and knowing the route you can watch them with head up.
Curlews abound on Andrew's familiar walk and knowing the route you can watch them with head up.
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THERE IS something really enjoyable about doing the same walk many times. When you are in new territory your eyes tend to focus on a landscape that you haven’t seen before and it isn’t so easy to notice details.

Walking a familiar route allows you to see what’s changing and to get a real feel for the seasons and how the countryside alters.

My own regular route starts from my front door and leaves the village on a gently sloping climb. Then the climb gets a bit sharper, continuing to rise up a long hill before everything changes. That’s where it gets really steep.

At first I wasn’t immediately appreciative of the attractions of a three-mile walk that went uphill for half of the circuit and downhill for the other half. It does, however, have many advantages. Steep hills make roads quiet and I can walk on tarmac and not have to worry about my feet. It becomes possible to look up and spot the different characteristics at different heights.

Down below the things growing in gardens are well protected from the wind by the surrounding hills. The manicured plants have an easy life but the price they pay for it is being constantly trimmed backed into controlled and pre-determined order. They look the way someone has decided that they should look rather than adapting to conditions in whatever way is necessary to survive and gaining a chaotic beauty all of their own.

Further up plants have it harder but the result are often amazing. Hawthorn growing along the edges of the moors takes on some magnificent shapes. Battered and desiccated by the wind, the trunks can be laid out almost flat with a weather-beaten look.

On the high moors above the summit of my circuit the grass is coarse, almost grey and full of clumps of different sizes and shapes interspersed with occasional patches of damp swamp. A little lower some of the farmers have spread enough fertilizer on the land to get the grass to grow rapidly. It produces quick verdant growth and high yields but not much to look for in the way of seasonal wildflowers.

Above both areas of grassland, curlews like to fly. One of the great pleasures of knowing a walk is that you can anticipate the arrival of species and get a thrill when you first hear them return.

On an unfamiliar walk over uneven ground you sometimes end up spending most of the day watching where you step. Walking this well-known route with my head up enables me to watch the curlews do their stuff against a changing sky.

On a good day it means that I can see layers of cloud moving at different rates and their shadows moving across the valley. On a bad day I get to see rain that I didn’t anticipate heading my way rather more quickly than I can get back home.

But what keeps me coming back to the same route is the way that it helps you to look out for the little stuff. After 20 years I’ve learned that in November I need to look out for Ink Cap mushrooms pushing their way up through the grass and leaves in a particular field, and then melting away back into the soil. I know that there will be a couple of days in the year when I can spot honeybees working furiously to collect as much ivy pollen as they can before it all goes. And I know that I can find a few nice wild raspberries if I look carefully in the right place at the right time.

To appreciate all these things in the countryside it helps to have a bit of silence so that you can hear the sounds. And that is the other thing that keeps bringing me back. With a climb this hard most folks can’t manage to walk and carry on a conversation.

You can go round with a friend and never have to worry about coming up with a good excuse for why you aren’t making polite small talk.

Most people who walk round with me seem to find that this suits them just fine.