As I walked out one midwinter morning
One January morning I stepped out of my front door and didn’t return until the sun was setting and I’d walked 30km.
My route – north to south and back along the Malvern Hills – had been on my mind for a couple of years but had remained untrodden until now. It felt good to finally tackle a walk I’d been mulling over since lockdown, a delayed final act from that strange time of enforced local exploration.
That time may be over but there will forever be something special about adventures from the front door. They’re a subversive act that sees you walking or cycling against the tide of the mundane and everyday. The dog walkers I passed as I set off would soon return home, as would the shoppers. The commuters were off to work.
I, though, was off to explore my wider home. Because home isn’t just four walls and a roof. Home is community and environment. Home is where your body can take you from your door, whether on foot or by bike. It’s the connection you make with your surroundings by immersing yourself in them.
I certainly felt immersed in my surroundings as I climbed to the ridge at the northern end of the hills. The low cloud enveloped me, deadening noise from the roads below and bringing a comforting isolation. I walked through it along the ridge, seeing just a handful of sheep and few other people until, after a couple of hours, heavy rain forced me to seek shelter.
Fortunately, I had reached Sally’s Place at British Camp. I don’t know who Sally is but her kiosk is always a welcome stopping place, stocked with a bewildering array of snacks and different flavours of ice cream. I sat under an umbrella, eating and reading a few pages of the book I’d brought with me, a collection of Laurie Lee’s writing.
“It is good to have been walking on such a day, feeling the stove of one's body alive, to be walking in winter on the ground of one’s birth, and good to be walking home.” Laurie Lee, Vintage Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year
I was still walking away from my house but I was, in a sense, walking home. Although I’d never done 'there and back' along the hills, I’d completed the journey one way many times. Joining up fragments of walks I’d done frequently before into a whole was adding to my sense of belonging in this place.
Each footprint held a memory: dim recollections of walking, aged five, the length of the hills with my parents and our family friends; after-school hikes to the cafe on the Worcestershire Beacon (and later seeing, from my parents' house, the spectacular fire that burnt it down); walking sitting with mates on the hills during Covid. It was all here.
Looking up from my book I saw that the cloud was lifting and the rain had stopped. It was time to go. I pressed on up British Camp and into the southern section of hills, calculations of time and distance whirring through my head. When you know a place well, it’s amazing how accurately you can predict the time it will take you to walk or cycle – and how you can easily adjust your calculations for your mood, your energy levels or the weather conditions.
Given the short winter day – and the fact that it must have been a decade since I last walked this far in one go – I reckoned I should turn around at the hamlet of Whiteleaved Oak. So that’s what I did.
I turned and walked back to my front door, that embodiment of home which really just marks the start of it.