Not go­ing the ex­tra mile

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

ISHOULD take Fletcher for a walk as he’s been ly­ing on our bed all day. I was asked re­cently if he had any re­deem­ing fea­tures (by some­one who’d just met him), but I couldn’t think of one. I should have re­mem­bered that he turns oblig­ingly cat-like when the leaves fall off the trees and al­though I’ve loved this mag­nif­i­cent au­tumn and I also like it be­com­ing prop­erly, ap­pro­pri­ately cold (un­like last year, which felt all wrong), Fletcher and I feel kin­ship with Zam’s great un­cle who, when in­vited out for fresh air un­der win­ter skies, used to say: ‘I think I’ll stay in and mind the fire.’

A lot of friends have gone the other way. They can’t stop walk­ing, what­ever the weather. Group walks, soli­tary walks, of­ten two walks a day. Clad in stout boots, clever light­weight lay­ers and good hats, they stride more than walk. One of them comes to stay, an­nounc­ing he’d like a ‘proper’ walk first thing the fol­low­ing morn­ing. He doesn’t mean an hour-long me­an­der on a flat path. Zam has to be else­where, but sug­gests a ren­dezvous that would be rea­son­able if I knew how to walk there. ‘The thing to re­mem­ber,’ I say as I search for a dog lead, ‘is that I have no sense of direc­tion.’

The friend sug­gests we look at a map, which we spread out on the kitchen table. I can’t find where we live. I cir­cle my fin­ger un­cer­tainly around our near­est town. ‘I’m not sure how this is go­ing to work if you can’t even find your own vil­lage,’ he says, amazed.

It’s a fine morn­ing and the foot­path is busy with friendly walk­ers and their friendly dogs, so I keep Fletcher on a lead be­cause he hates friendly dogs. We chat, we fol­low the path, we reach a fork.

‘Let’s see the map,’ says the friend, hand out­stretched. I pat my pock­ets weakly, then try to cheer him up by sug­gest­ing the build­ings through those trees must be… I name a vil­lage with con­fi­dence.

Some time later, I recog­nise the road we have emerged on and sug­gest that we stick to it for the rest of the jour­ney. It’s nar­row, so we have to press our­selves into the hedgerow with ev­ery pass­ing car (of which there are a sur­pris­ing num­ber) and we can no longer chat be­cause we’re in sin­gle file.

We ring our des­ti­na­tion to check they’re ex­pect­ing us, but there’s no re­ply. ‘We may have to walk back,’ says the friend cheer­fully. We will do that, I think—we’ll sit in their gar­den and wait to be res­cued. I stop him from veer­ing down at­trac­tive-look­ing bri­dle­ways and keep him on the tar­mac.

Af­ter nearly three hours, we ar­rive at the house, where Zam is wait­ing. ‘We walked,’ I say proudly, tiredly. ‘Such a good walk,’ says the owner. ‘An hour not and a half and you never have to see a road.’

A cou­ple of days later, I meet more keen walk­ers and show off about the three-hour walk. They ask where we live and I say ‘near Stone­henge’ be­cause that seems eas­i­est. It turns out they know the area well and ask whether cer­tain foot­paths have been un­blocked and if roads have re­opened and, as I have no idea, I nearly say: Well, not that Stone­henge.’

By the time we leave, I’ve agreed to walk there the fol­low­ing day. I Google it at mid­night. Four hours, 39 min­utes. I show Zam the map with the blue line on my lap­top. ‘But that’s if you walk up the A303,’ he says. Ex­actly. You know where you are with the A303.

I wake and look at the cold grey sky out­side. Alf ap­pears and lifts his py­ja­mas ask­ing: ‘What’s this?’ ‘Oh, we should time-lapse those on my cam­era,’ says a sib­ling. I email the walk­ers im­me­di­ately, ex­press­ing my re­grets. He’s got chick­en­pox. Bless him.

‘The thing to re­mem­ber is that I have no sense of direc­tion

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