The Coronavirus Diaries, 13th March 2022, Time Out

Not so long ago, the pandemic I knew most about was the one in which my grandfather’s first wife died in 1918. Similarly, world war was something my parents spoke of as a lived experience. I learned about both in school history lessons. I didn’t really expect to live either. But we have been living with the pandemic for two years now, and global war is a definite possibility.

I feel I need to watch the news, despite the feelings of helplessness and grief it engenders. It’s something about bearing witness to the horrors being unleashed on the Ukrainian population. Emotionally, it’s draining. I have sent money, signed petitions, tweeted and retweeted. Yesterday, I took the day off from war. A luxury those in Ukraine do not have.

Celia and I set out for Coulsdon, and a walk we had found that was described as a surprising gem to find in the outskirts of London. It’s a peaceful, undulating, country route across flower strewn downland (in season), woods and fields and as a bonus, a church decorated with the earliest known English wall painting. What’s more all travel was within Zone 6. Neither of us knew Coulsdon. It would be a stretch to say we do now, as apart from the café (great) in the Memorial gardens and the toilets (vile) close by, we didn’t see much of it. We headed up hill to Farthing Down and Happy Valley, past some very attractive houses. About 400 yards into our walk we were lost. Not completely lost, but the instructions we were following did not match the terrain. We worked it out, but it was a good start in a way, as we increasingly found that the landmarks, fingerposts, numbered gates which were to guide us no longer existed. Compasses came into play.

Happy Valley is gorgeous. It is part of the Green Belt that surrounds London, a boon for those who live by it, and a barrier to further urban development. A barrier some want removed. A bit like the way climate crisis deniers and those who have long supported fracking say that with the current fuel crisis we should resume coal mining, drilling for oil and fracking. Heaven help us, for most of our politicians won’t.

Being out of the city was wonderful. The greenery, the dogs, the silence. We ambled, enjoying it all. Well, most of it. Not the mud. There was quite a lot of mud. Away from the Down some landowners make sure public access is restricted to a narrow strip between wire fences. We squelched, we slithered. The mud sucked at our boots and made our leg muscles tired. Thank goodness for the catkins, the twin lambs, for the primroses, and the buds. It was all very Robert Browning, though a month early.


We emerged from mud and woodland to a space, an enclave of neat houses and a quiet road. Children played on their bikes. Some of the houses had been done up with massive fences to stop anyone being able to see over them, security cameras and lights. Russian oligarchs perhaps. Certainly not neighbours where you’d go to ask if they had a screwdriver you could borrow.

We stopped for lunch at a dog friendly, walker friendly pub where they let us eat our packed lunches outside, and then we headed into the warm interior to finish our glasses of cider. The wind was cold, and the sections of the walk where we were in woodland provided us with welcome shelter.

A sign to the church which we wanted to see pointed back where we had come, but it turned out we were to achieve a loop. There were wonderful views across the downs, more sheep, cows, quite a few horses and a truly beautiful old house whose sign claimed it was the Manor House dating back to the fourteenth century. We passed a garden with German Shepherd dogs who watched us but did not bark; chickens, scratching in the earth; met dogs who wanted to say hello and dogs who looked at us nervously. Eventually we found the church. Unfortunately it closed so we didn’t see the wall painting, but we mooched in the graveyard reading the notices, admiring the cairn, enjoying the evidence of a lively, engaged community, and thought we’d come back one day.

We caught a slow train back to London, and reached our respective homes later than we’d planned. But it was a great day out, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


15 thoughts on “The Coronavirus Diaries, 13th March 2022, Time Out

  1. Hear, hear, me too. I’ve driven very close for years on the A23 to and from Brighton, and had no idea that lovely countryside was just off the main road. Great as always to have your photos – Charlie has enjoyed seeing what I’ve been talking about.

    • Thanks Celia, for the walk and the comment. I had a few issues loading photos on this post, so I’m glad they helped you show Charlie where we had been.

  2. Thank you for taking me along on your wonderful escape walk. The news has been very exhausting and troubling. I feel torn between wanting to know what is going on in the world and wanting to put my head in the sand.

    • There are moments when it feels entirely unreal. How can I be warm and cosy in my home, or out doing the food shopping as usual when not so very far away people are being bombed, their whole lives turned upside down? And other times it feels terrifyingly close and I wonder where I could run to, carrying MasterB in his basket, his food, and probably not much else.

      • I have felt terrible for people in Europe because the chance of bombs going astray, Putin’s finger slipping on the nuclear button, or him wanting to test the bounds of his invasions are very real. Besides, the emotional memory of WW2 is still alive through stories of grandparents and parents.

        • There was a lot of concern when Trump had the nuclear codes. Journalists seemed to believe that the Pentagon had discussed ways of thwarting any attempts he might try. I don’t think about him much any more (except when he does something so stupid that our press has to cover him – like say Putin was brilliant in how he invaded) but boy that was a scary four years. Our democracy came very close to collapsing.

  3. In these uncertain times, I take solace in you and Celia out walking in the countryside and getting lost 400 yards down the lane.

  4. Sorry to miss you on my short visit to Celia and Charlie. I had a very busy trip to England with my daughter Anna’s lovely wedding in Brighton, a trip on the excellent Oxford Tube bus to visit my brother in Witney, a beautiful walk in the woods of High Elms near Bromley and a visit to the cinema to watch ‘Belfast’ which was recommended by Celia. All excellent breaks from the bad news of the day.

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