This winter seems to be dragging on. I think it just feels that way because it has been absolutely featureless – no snow, only a couple of cold days, maybe three frosty mornings – just mild, wet, rubbish. It was on one of these mild, wet, rubbish days that we went walking on a pretty prominent hill near our new home. This hill, from a distance, would probably fall into the featureless category. It almost looks man made, like a hill out of a children’s fantasy novel. No dramatic summit, precipices, or ridgelines, just…a….hill.
It was a Saturday, grey, windy, and full of pub lunch we set off on a four mile round trip around a hill that I know little about. Having visited it only three times before (and having got lost up there once), it was going to be an interesting afternoon. Straight away, the path looked different. “Oh”, I said, “I think they’ve built that house there since I was last here”. It may have been so, but it made little difference – we were still on the wrong path. Being an aspiring mountain leader, on a mole hill in comparison, I set us off on the wrong path, and left my mobile phone in the car. But I DID have an OS map, and bloody well knew how to read it. Minor glitch over with, I planned us a new route from the map and a splendid, if not wet and windblown, day was had by all. As I am experienced in these matters, I timed it perfectly so as we made the last bit of our descent, it got dark. This of course is a lie. It was a sheer fluke. And before you wonder, I did have a torch.
Now I’ve successfully criticised my skills and abilities, the English weather (Note the use of “English” as I know my Welsh friends actually experience winter), and berated the poor hill itself, I feel some redemption is required. The hill somehow captured my imagination again. That tingle of excitement about somewhere new, especially given that it’s on my doorstep. I could, and have continued to, imagine all the adventures I could have up there – trail runs, mountain biking, wild camping, tabbing, walking. Also entwined within this is knowing I can become intimately involved with it, learning its every copse, wall, meadow. Maybe some of you get this with a place in your locality. It becomes yours. You give your own names to places. What you once thought of as featureless, becomes abundant in details of interest. Seeing the seasonal changes, being familiar with the wildlife. It’s the stuff to fill notebooks with, becoming the Gilbert White of your locality. These things, if done properly, and with love and care, become vital to both ourselves and our communities in the future.
A mere thought of all this is enough to chase the slightest pathetic glimpse of stress back to where it came from. I hope you find hope wherever you are and it gives you what it gives me.