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.Continue reading