Just what the doc­tor or­dered

A stroll along the River Cam and a Christ­mas walk in Glouces­ter­shire

Country Life Every Week - - A Walking Life - Fiona Reynolds

FOR ev­ery hour you’ve spent hud­dled round the fire this Christ­mas, I’d be will­ing to bet that, like me, you spent at least some time out­side, rev­el­ling in cold, fresh air, be­cause walk­ing is what we do.

Every­one does it: Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May loves the Alps, In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Rory Ste­wart trekked around his Cum­bria con­stituency, through the Welsh Bor­ders with his fa­ther and across Afghanistan and many of us, like Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, use dogs as a rea­son (or ex­cuse) to go out­side.

‘I feel en­folded in the his­tory of these land­scapes and I revel in new dis­cov­er­ies’

We’re fol­low­ing a long tra­di­tion. Charles Dick­ens walked from Kent into cen­tral Lon­don to give him­self time to think and avoid the crowded rail­ways; Wordsworth tramped the Lake District hills for days on end, draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion for his writ­ing; Paddy Leigh Fer­mor walked across Europe in the 1930s sim­ply be­cause it was there.

The his­to­rian G. M. Trevelyan wrote: ‘I have two doc­tors; my left leg and my right.’ He was right. We’re told that as lit­tle as 20 min­utes’ gen­tle ex­er­cise each day is enough to keep us in good health and what bet­ter way to take gen­tle ex­er­cise than walk? In Wil­liam Mor­ris’s words, it’s both use­ful, in that it gets us some­where, and beau­ti­ful, in the en­chant­ment we can find off the beaten track.

I walk ev­ery day, with­out fail. I do it partly be­cause my life­style would be ter­ri­ble with­out it—lots of de­li­cious food and good wine and lit­er­ally no commute from my bed to my desk in the Master’s Lodge of my Cam­bridge col­lege—but also be­cause a day with­out it seems empty and for­lorn.

I get up at 5.30am, rain or shine, dark or light, and walk up the River Cam to Fen Dit­ton and back. It takes me an hour and a half and I earn 12,000 steps. Al­though I al­ways take the same route, it never looks the same. I walk in pitch dark, sum­mer light or see the dawn break and I spy newly hatched goslings, div­ing cor­morants and beady-eyed herons and terns.

I watch the stu­dents (mine, some of them) progress from flail­ing about with un­wieldy oars to be­come smooth, strong row­ers. I see fish leap in the gloam­ing, I jos­tle with lum­ber­ing cat­tle graz­ing on Mid­sum­mer Com­mon and, once, I sur­prised a spar­rowhawk as it took a young dove. I’m look­ing for­ward to an­other year un­fold­ing be­fore me.

At home in Glouces­ter­shire this Christ­mas, I re-trod my favourite route, through the woods from my vil­lage near Cirences­ter in the sparkling frost of an early De­cem­ber morn­ing. The Star in the mid­dle of Hai­ley Wood is like a mag­net, al­ways at the heart of my walks, from which I can progress in any di­rec­tion.

The walk I love best takes in al­most ev­ery as­pect of this land­scape’s his­tory: from the Star through Tarl­ton Down to Rod­mar­ton along the old Ro­man road (now a tun­nel-like green lane), re­turn­ing home via the de­serted medieval vil­lage of Hul­lasey, the source of the Thames, the tree-clad Iron Age hill fort at Trews­bury and, fi­nally, along the mys­te­ri­ous, at­mo­spheric (be­cause it’s now de­funct), 18th­cen­tury Thames and Sev­ern Canal.

I feel en­folded in the his­tory of these land­scapes and I revel, each time, in new dis­cov­er­ies. I’ll be shar­ing my walks in COUN­TRY LIFE over the com­ing months. Join me! Fiona Reynolds, a for­mer Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Na­tional Trust, is Master of Em­manuel Col­lege, Cam­bridge. She will be writ­ing about her favourite walks ev­ery month

Fol­low @fionacreynolds on Twit­ter

River Cam, Cam­bridge by Rhoda Pepys (1914–2005)

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