Google “The Best Walks in Britain.”
Maybe you have, perhaps it was how you ended up here.
You’ll find planty of suggestions; there are edges to stride along, vallies to descend into and woods to explore. There are circuits, trails, ways and tracks – mile after mile of ramble-worthy loveliness to raise the spirits..
Chances are, you wont stumble across this one. It is just 1 1/2 miles long. It starts at the end of my parents’ garden, follows a ditch for a bit, joins a footpath near a stream, crosses 3 arable fields, crests a small hill and ends in the next village.
I see other people on it regularly. But for them it’s not one of the best walks in Britain, to them, I suspect, it’s just a pretty enough path over some fields.
To me, though, it’s a friend that I’ve cherished for nearly thirty years.
I have walked the route hundreds, if not thousands of times. Cumulatively, I must have spent days and days on it or by it.
I walked it as a child with my 8 year old tom-boy sister, Elizabeth, searching out copses to make hawthorn dens in.
I walked it as a youth, once, drunkenly, through the dead of a warm September harvest night with my first love.
I walked it as a man with my brother in law as he explained his worries about leaving that same tom-boy sister, now a thirty year old woman and new mother, whilst he served a tour of Afghanistan.
For me, the path passes memories as well as landmarks, my personal and family’s history have outposts along the route.
Some of these moments are captured for all time. There is a photo of Elizabeth and I just off the path – at the top of a hollow tree that we’d climbed up through, kings of the castle with 80‘s regulation romper suits and terrible hair cuts.
Some moments less clear, faded by time – who was there when the goats from the farm escaped and we chased around after them? Mum? Dad? All of us?
The walk has offered the comfort of the familiar in troubled times.
There have been some changes, such as the new wood at the top of the hill, but the route has remained the same. And much of the wildlife found along it are long term residents. For as long as I can remember there have been skylarks along the way, trilling high up in the blue on summer days. The red legged partridges, too, have always been there, hiding in the crops, ready to be flushed out – then flying away, flapping hard, keeping low. And the views over the fields from the top, though greener in summer and browner in winter are reliable. Not awesome. Not mind blowing. But pretty and reassuring.
At other times it has offered the joy of the new.
Gone for decades, the buzzards moved back into the area a little while ago. Before or after the hares decided they liked the place and settled, I can’t remember. But the fields and sky are fuller and the walk richer for the new arrivals.
Some days it’s just a quick jaunt to get the blood moving or do a spot of easy birding. A little fix of Yellowhammer, hedge and stream on a lunch time flying visit.
On others it’s a longer walk in which to think and watch the sun set over the Rhee valley, a sky not as big as those of the fens but big enough to let yout thoughts climb into.
That’s the beauty of this walk – I can extract from it what I need at any one time, (though, whatever my mood, it always makes me feel both “at home” and part of the wider natural world in a way that find immensely gratifiying.)
You probably know one of the “Best Walks in Britain” too, everyone with a favourite route does. As Robert Macfarlane makes clear in his beautiful book, “The Old Ways,” the country is criss-crossed with paths linking our todays, yesterdays and tomorrows; our loves, losses and friendships; us and nature. They may be long or short, easy or difficult, spectacular or mundane, it doesn’t really matter. The best ones are often simply those we know most intimately and to which we return again and again, paths that are “in” us and which make our lives better.
Route: Part private, then onto the footpath between Fowlmere and Foxton in Cambridgeshire via West Hill.
Notable species: Common Blue Butterfly (see photo) Barn Owl, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard, Yellowhammer, Skylark, Fieldfare, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Green Woodpecker, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch. Hare, Deer (Muntjac, Roe, Fallow,) Badger, Fox.