Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking

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February 2020

5th January 2020 – grey/blowy, brighter later, by Maxim Griffin
We nearly hit a muntjac, but it cleared the wall in one miraculous leap. There was some cursing and exclamation – “Yeah! I know! Like a massive springy badger!”

Christmas at the dog end now – most of the trees are down, the lights away, gifts losing their lustre – the eastern scarp of the Wolds crumples towards the sea – old brown trousers ready for the wash.

I wave my ride off. Yes, I’ll be fine.

There’s a wind up from the west blowing a wild track around the ears. I don’t wear a hat, I like to listen – carefully – tarmac hum from away – engines looping, Cadwell Park probably – jackdaws – two bicycles – I can hear tyres and spokes, muffled voices all quite distant.

Such a hushed morning. Everything very still, despite the wind. An occasional shotgun pop from purple woods beyond the Kelstern plateau.

RAF Kelstern is perhaps the greatest ruin in Lincolnshire. It’s subtle. Zoom out – unfold a map – the triangle of runways is obvious enough – if you look on the satellite maps you’ll see more – parch marks and land stains connecting Kelstern to Binbrook to Waithe to North Coates and so on – the infrastructure of war now turfing over, hidden as farm tracks. Look for bricks in the till, lumps of pale concrete at the field’s corner, twists of re-enforcement in the bramble. I know a place, now a rescue centre for dogs, that housed 3,000 Afrika Korps after El Alamein. More of that in the summer…

Across the low roll of the fields, a burial mound – new stone age – good.

I keep my walking straight to the edge – as is my custom now, I tend to look down – keeping an eye for flints and hagstones, sometimes fossils. It’s a good practice. A good exercise in paying attention. I sling a node of black flint in my rucksack – it looks like a fat bull seal. Nine fine hagstones too. I see them in the clay and pull them out, poke the mud clear with whatever stick or stubble is to hand and blow the excess out as though it were a trumpet. Lo – I am the Miles Davis of holey flint.

There’s a brittleness to the day – dry, boney, still. Tracks in the mud but no traces. A device to scare crows spins orange in the west wind.

The path crosses the end of a garden with excellent outbuildings. A blue cyclist and a yellow cyclist zoom west before I cross the road.

I cross the road. Down. Another east Wold glacial valley to tumble down – light pours clear over Spurn and Bull and Haile – the tide must be moving because the big ships are coming in – a busy night in Goole then. I can see the shadow of clouds go from Great Grimsby and the cranes of Immingham beyond to Yorkshire, there Withernsea and beyond the turbines of Doggerbank. Light changes – gunmetal gunstone pewter – a single patch of blue reflecting off Covenham Reservoir.

That wind curls down the hill around me, shakes the skeletons of Queen Anne’s lace and rattles the dead nettles in the footwell of hedge.

I try to walk unseen, quietly – discreet walking – slow, careful like. There’s that horrible word – mindful – I walk observant, hushed – the walking is best when it hushes me. Look – the puddles and footprints are as Escher draws them. A horse came this way two days ago. No-one tends the woods often. Read the mud. A slender boot with little tread, A badger, loads of muntjac leaving imprint in just slick clay. I keep slipping slightly.

I slip more as the path turns from east to south and uphill – I continue my slow walking – funny, the debris is different, like a different grain – less flint, more chalk – those seams of geology that well to the surface. At the hilltop there’s a handy post to point a way and a grassy patch with a single spindling birch. On a hot day it would make for a splendid picnic spot. Dig your heel in a brief way – concrete and brick – nuts and bolts – turns out this way a gun emplacement and searchlight point covering the nearby bases. I’ve been reading up on it – single Nazi fighter bombers coming in low under the radar to hit and run. I’ve found a crash site that needs looking at – a whole crew, on the run.

Walking on – green stubble, ochre below – edges of woods too small to have names – a pace sets in and I find myself singing Solsbury Hill as the spire of St James comes into view – a flutter distracts me – I stick my hand in the hedge and pull the tattered papers out. The front page of the Newark Advertiser 5/12/19, a Thursday – generally good news. Look it up if you like. This piece of paper travelled 40-odd miles on the wind, over a month. I imagine the wind-borne progress, gust to gust – hedge to hedge.

Deep rolling fields now – fallow spots and cross-hatched furrows – green, red and ochre – on the map it says Glastonbury Wood. A grey flock of gulls above it in the light. Muddy path turns to chalked farm track over a valley animated with the shadows of tatty grey clouds through a blue sky.

There’s a beacon at an angle. The sort of thing used to warn against armadas, to call Gondor. Homemade. A tractor wheel welded with fence bits atop an old telegraph pole. Cars pull up here – tell-tale debris. Cups from the Scottish restaurant, big cigarette papers and other dumped objects – the signs a main road is near.

Over several greasy fields of slick clay and footprints – dog, man, badger, muntjac – maybe it came this way? Following power lines that echo what was a Roman road between what was a Saxon cemetery, an industrial estate, a hospice on a roundabout. Onward.

I stride on – mud flicking off my wellies along pavements. In the window of a red house a Christmas tree is being taken down by a large man in a nurse’s uniform.

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