Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking – September 2022
7th August: early doors, warm – the summer doldrums. By Maxim Griffin.
The swifts have packed up and are heading south – the sky is quiet – a herring gull stands on the roof of the bungalow – a flight from the far west turns towards Europe – how must the parched earth look from up there? One crow under an ice cream cloud.
It is Sunday morning – still and early – thistledown drifting along – a tunnel of brambles overwhelmed with fruit. No one comes this way much – red fingers and prickles – raspberries too – fresh and tart – a rucksack of suitable containers is quickly filled. This is the patch Kevin made his famous bramble wine from – utter rocket fuel – no one has been this way yet – the cobwebs are still fresh. Force progress through the deep tangle – something rips – I assume it’s the hole in my old army shorts expanding – there are some safety pins somewhere if it gets worse – out into the open – thick air, getting thicker.
From beyond the spoil heaps along the newbuilds, music – The Sweet? – sounds as though it could be ‘Tiger Feet’ – listen for the refrain but it never comes – someone turned the dial – a brief swell of something classical before settling on a voice – local radio. A breath across the mound shivers the nettles – two kids with bikes scramble down the far slopes, kicking up the dust – a ramp of cracked ply over a trap of thorns.
There is already a rippling haze over the east – a wobble through cut fields – we could crush the eastern miles and be in the sea by noon, or shift gear in another direction – straight south to greener places – we’re on the 1900 map, best the Survey made. All the fields are the same shape – in the winter it often floods out down here and is always claggy underfoot – it’s arid now and the grass is crisp – an apple tree that looks sick – overhead, a little plane – the path bends into the treeline.
A few paces into the shade of the woods takes degrees off the temperature – not nearly as thick – there’s shadow and sunbeam, glitter through the canopy – mixed woodland – ash and lime – the odd oak – probably former parkland. There was a big house around here somewhere – one those country houses that disappeared between the wars, hardly a photograph to prove it was ever here – the track splits – if we’re in the woods we’re good – take the least trampled route – nothing goes this way save the deer and the occasional wayfaring stranger.Something wet on my right arm – expecting a slug but it’s blood – got torn up somewhere through the tangle – looks as though I’ve been scratched up by an imp – a fox barks but the woods mess up the sound so it comes from every direction. There’s old brick in the skin of the path – old brick and cobbles, chalk and clay – a trickle ahead – a micro scaled chalk stream under the brambles and brackens – I’d get down there – a child could fit – a good place for lizards.
On – the woods are slow going – doubt this is an official path – there’s a clearing ahead – get my bearings, sink a bottle of water – the clearing is 50 metres square at most – vines and ivies – a heavy rutted track leading out the other side and – oh – a caravan – the kind you’d win on Bullseye – the kind that was at the top of your grandad’s garden – the cream exterior long turned green – door slightly ajar. Pause – nothing – pause – no one – pause – ROOKS – a burst of avian commotion loud enough to wake the dead. No one about – gingerly aim through nettles to the caravan – the door swings gently with all the come hither of a siren – the old green caravan sits like a treasure chest – heartbeat.
I’m not sure what hit me first – the door or the muntjac – either way he couldn’t have got out of there fast enough – I landed in the nettles hard – I curse the deer but it is gone – the caravan door swings back – best leave it, eh? The rooks swirl, laughing – fair enough. I need to retrace my steps as this is not a place I should be – of course, the 1900 map is useless in guiding the avant rambler on current rights of way – double back to the hidden stream where the hidden and legitimate fork points due west.
One of the children has spotted me standing in the middle of the woods on a brick pillar – I am bleeding from the arm and covered in nettle stings. The dad calls all hushed and urgent – something else – “Poppy, Poppy look” – Poppy turns to her father and follows his arm which points away from me – two deer, still as pictures, eyeballing the family – statue still – a standoff of sorts – who breaks first?
The deer shoot first – vanishing fast to the exclamation of the family – there are explanatory notes from the father as they walk on – he’s armed with deer facts. The children linger behind and glance back – eyeball to eyeball – heartbeat – the rooks cut the sunbeams in half – the second kid gestures with an index finger – shhhh – I nod back – and jump off the brick pillar into another tangle.