Not going the extra mile
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