Last month I walked from Bucks Mill to Peppercombe, picking my way slowly along the steep muddy track through the woods above the cliffs. A recently fractured hand in a splint made me more than usually conscious of not losing my balance or doing any more damage.
Looking at my photos a couple of days ago, I was surprised to see that they were nearly all of trees and foliage – which was strange because as far as I remembered, my focus had been fixed unswervingly on the ground underfoot.
Then I remembered I had paused a couple of times to make a sort of rapid inventory:
Eyes focus mud wetness
Unpredictable sideways slope of path
Boot prints, lots of skid marks
It is slippery
Extent of woodland
Overhanging branches, brambles
Awareness of ocean beyond the shelter of the trees
Expanse of surrounding countryside
Unusual movement, falling…
Ears – alert for cracking noises
Joints, bones, muscles, injuries, breathing, balancing
Feel texture of ground, rough or slippery
The angle of slope
Holes, roots, dips, stones, bumps and hollows
Sensation of the tiniest movement of muscles and foot bones
Every move made with caution
arms moving, socks wet, clothes rubbing against my body
mud water leaves
I sit, relax and eat my lunch under an oak tree, surrounded by ferns and greenery. My Morrison’s sandwich and aging flask of tea taste surprisingly delicious. Every so often the sun shines through the stillness. There is no wind. An elderly walker passes by wearing what I shall always think of as Bryson shorts. (In “Notes From a Small Island”, Bill Bryson wonders why the English, when out walking, always tuck their trousers into their socks – and when they get really serious about it, like climbing up mountains in howling gales, they take to wearing shorts).
Mud and acorns
The day grows warmer as it moved into afternoon
Gentle sound of ocean
No bird sound
The path is steep and stony in parts
Tangled roots underfoot
Occasional rusting in the canopy
And as I descend into Peppercombe the rhythm of the ocean, and the cries of gulls through the trees gradually grow louder.
I realise I have not been paying attention to anything that is unrelated to my negotiation along this path through the trees – yet I am aware of infinitely more.
Some steep steps down, pools of water, and the smell of manure mingles with my body heat as I climb down on to a tarmac road and lean heavily against a soft moss-covered tree trunk .