I am irritable after a poor night’s sleep and my ebb is low, quite apart from an ache that will not be assuaged by armchair based ruminations; clearly it’s time for a walk. With the cathedral behind me, I head south along the main drag, leaving town through a quiet estate, passing Gas Lane before walking out onto some waste land with its brambles, broken chain link fence and the ubiquitous shopping trolley; then it’s a march across the private school’s immaculate playing fields, over the bypass and out into the countryside.
It’s bitter cold – a vicious wind is whipping in with sharp, biting gusts, but mitigated by the bright sun and blue sky. The combination of sensations works its magic, and I am soon cheered – the more so as I begin to spot green leaves pushing their way up towards the light. Spring is on its way. The walk follows an old bridleway, lined with ancient trees – the path is clearly shown on the 1901 OS map, but is presumably much older than that. It was almost impassable a few weeks ago – after days of rain the mud was deep. Not so today; the cold spell has frozen the ground and, despite the sunshine, the temperature is still hovering around the zero mark. Every step on the icy mud is accompanied by a pleasing gravel crunch.
I emerge from the trees into open fields, flooded and now frozen over, and I soon discover how much the path had been sheltering me; I am immediately assailed by the cold noisy wind. It’s not just me struggling; a buzzard, instead of performing its usual graceful turns, zips across the sky in front of me, borne by the wind, while a kestrel has given up on hovering altogether. It sweeps up and down, quartering the fields, allowing itself to be carried one way before flying back the other. I pause to watch, but I am soon distracted by half a dozen lapwings, relishing the conditions and playing in the gale, for that is surely what they are doing. It is a day for the birds. Gangs of finches, green and gold, charge around like excited schoolchildren, a wren, puffed up against the cold, moves through the undergrowth, shivering and lethargic and, best of all, a pair of Jack snipe that explode out of the grass, wings whirring, as I walk past.
I come back a new way, along the Grunty Fen Catchwater Drain – a pretty diversion, belying its prosaic name, which takes me back through fields and quiet woodland, past three roe deer, quite unconcerned at my presence, before I come out on to the riverbank for the final leg of the journey. The wind suddenly drops, and I am left with the sibilant siren song of the reeds, whispering, calling me to them: I turn, complicit in their intrigue, and watch them dance in the breeze as the river slides by inexorably, like time itself.