Max the greyhound and I climb the steps onto the railway track. At the top an untouched silvery path beckons to us, frozen still, Narnia like. I take a breath, look left to right and smile, giddy with excitement as I realise I have the whole frosted track all to myself. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt much in winter, but when little things in nature begin to thrill me, I know I am finally kicking off the winter blues.
The bridge over the road I have left behind always marks the start of the walk. I think of the Victorians who built much of the suburb of red brick houses and chimney pots – prompted by my eldest who is studying them. I imagine tiny chimney sweeps paralysed by fear, their boss lighting a fire below to shock them into movement. I think too about how most of my life has been spent in Victorian homes, a love hate relationship with nook and crannies, draughts, cast iron fireplaces, cornices, picture rails and ominously high ceilings.
Across the bridge is spray painted ‘Shush’ which always makes me smile as the is the place I come to get some peace. I smell fox too as I cross the bridge, a scent my Mum was always able to recognise. For the first time, I notice the anarchy sign spray painted across the red bricks. It makes me think of a Levellers song from seeing them at Brixton Academy at the weekend. ‘The other day I saw a fox, he was running for his life.’ The gig took me back, to my 17 year old self, full of anarchy and ready to change the world.
Half the battle of the winter blues this year is taking stock, of the dreams I had when I was 17 I feel I have still to fulfil before I hit 40 next year. Numbers are silly of course, but taking stock is good too. Nature gives you headspace to work that all out.
The low slung sun casts its gentle glow on the bushes of red berries that line either side of the track. I should come back and pick some sprigs and make a Christmas wreath. The pangs of envy at perfect suburban Christmas wreaths has gone, for this wreath would be the real deal. A little bunch of festive sprigs tied with red ribbbon, just like my mum used to. Something to tie me back to the real world, to nature. Up here you can escape Christmas planning craziness too.
The railway line is perfect for my mood today. I’ve been reading Rob Cowen’s Common Ground, a fantastic book about the edge lands, the last remaining wild areas that would have been common ground, but are often forgotten these days. I recognise in it my own compulsion to push the boundaries of suburbia. The old railway line, the wood, the river bank. It’s here I feel close to nature, and happy.
Although, two weeks ago I walked down the old railway line miserable and unable to see the beauty, despite taking my mind back to summer, picking blackberries here and bottling the taste of summer in the jam we made. Sometimes I have a spoonful, just to feel the sun on my tongue again. Our trip to Orlando threw me into an extended summer and retuning to a cold, grey UK hit me harder this year. Big grins over red berries and frosty Narnia like paths are a measure of how far I have come.
A bird sits in a tree. The trees are bare now and the birds more visible to the untrained eye. It is so huge I think it must be a bird of prey, but on closer inspection it is just a very puffed up pigeon, feathers fluffed out like a duvet to trap pockets of warm air.
I’m thinking still, after our house move to the country was delayed, about whether I am still ready to embrace a life in the country. But now I see my roaming area is so small. I think I’m ready for the magpies, blackbirds, pigeons and squirrels who have accompanied me down the last 10 years of this suburban path to become owls, lapwings, pheasants and hares.
If you’re curious about the relationship between nature and the mind, these books have really inspired me recently:
H for Hawk – Helen McDonald
The Outrun – Amy Liptrot
Common Ground – Rob Cowen
Tell me, where do you go for some headspace?