Tag Archives: Westwick

walkout13

26th Feb 2010. A second walk to test my knees. Mid-afternoon. It’s cold and blowy, damp in the air. The wind roars like a river through the high bare tree-tops along the brook. I meet a woman walking her dog, ‘fenland born and bred’, as round and rosy as an apple, something of a botanist. Before they ripped up the disused and overgrown railway track to make the guided busway she walked it for months recording, collecting and pressing its flowers and plants. It was a rare wild corridor in these parts. We look at it now, a bare and sterile swathe through the land. The fields round about are empty too. Full of lapwing and golden plover before they installed the bird-scarers, she tells me, and last year there was a pair of sparrowhawks in the little wood behind Westwick House.

The sky is magnificent though, layer upon layer of pink and plum and dove-grey cloud reaching into the distant blue. And here come the gulls, group after group, flying low into the face of the cold north-west wind, frolicking and gamboling like lambs, heading home somewhere far away beyond my horizon.  In the arable a lone oddling (one of Clare’s words) rook, or what I take to be a rook, catches my eye because of its strange greyish-white secondaries that unfurl when it flies. An albino of sorts.

The old medieval trackway back from Histon is muddy and slippery. 500 pigeons sit at the lower end of a huge field, all facing the westering sun. The afternoon is bright now, shining, and the land is lit. I spook them and they rise and fill the air like blown confetti. 200 yards off the track there is an old orchard, unfenced, in the middle of stubble fields. The apple-trees are overgrown, unpruned for years, each pooled below with dull black fruit like spherical droppings. The place is a thicket of brambles, and rarely visited I reckon, the best habitat around for fox, muntjac, badger, and other wild things but today I put up only a hen pheasant. A last look at the sky – indescribable loveliness – I am lost for words. They have ravaged the land… but the heavens remain.

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winterrunning3

Jan 2, 2010. Up later today, the sun higher, and a brilliant bright morning it is, frost on the verges and the fields. A peerless sky. Wonderful. I head east again, into the promise of the day. I’ve wondered about this. If I ran in the evening would I head west, to catch the sun? I think so, probably. Annie Dillard has something to say about those who look upstream and those who look downstream…the difference between hope and regret perhaps. I must look it up. Anyway I’ve become more aware of direction these days, in relation to wind and sun and shelter. It seems natural, and therefore right and proper, to run into the day not away from it.

I go further today before heading south. Past the old railway-workers cottages at Westwick, and then it hits me like a wonderful surprise, that most evocative of English winter smells, as roses are to summer, woodsmoke drifting on the air. O perfect day! I let out a whoop, and startle blackbirds in the hedge. Am on the B-road now, without verge, footpath or pavement, running on the asphalt into oncoming steady traffic, and at Lamb’s Cross swing onto the old hedged track to Histon, not as straight as Watkins’, but old indeed for it has a name, Gun’s Lane, and goes on northwards to Rampton to become a two-mile causeway across what was the great fen of these parts. Probably as far as Ely. The track is cut up though by tractors and what looks like a cavalry of horse, the frozen mud like clinker underfoot. The water in the field ditch is frozen in layers like terraces along the contour of a hill. I come across the last melting snow bank, as forlorn as the last Antarctic ice-shelf. Blanketed horses in a paddock snuff warm breath at me.

The track is treed as I get towards the village but I dodge the edge estate and dive through an opening in the hedge through wasteland, along an unofficial path, more a parting of the grass, towards a remarkable for these parts circular and secret wood of large trees completely hidden from any road, but well-known it seems to local lads, for it opens out into a glade that they have fashioned into the craziest BMX and off-road biking place I’ve ever seen, littered with old crashed bikes and rusty off-roaders that have come a cropper on the sheer drop-offs and suicidal ramps. Deserted now of course, and I head back northwards, homeward, over open fields of beans just poking through and drooping under frost, gunshots banging at the sky in the distance. As I turn into Water Lane the day turns too, rapidly, dark and purple to the north and a sudden flood of sleet descends and turns into a shower of snow, with thick fat flakes falling straight down. Remarkable. And I’m just in time for breakfast. Ha.

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