There is an old lane nearby. Halfway along, next to a lay-by, stands a middle-aged oak, probably only about 80-100 years old. When I first passed this tree, many years ago, I could feel the sense of times passed along the route. Who else had walked, driven, cycled along it over the past years? Today I had those feelings and drifting daydreams again.
It's amazing how, in these strange Covid-19 locked down times, the simpler things are those that I truly value. I've always loved walking, but now, having to cram all I can into one daily act of exercise, often with dogs or children, I cherish it even more.
I took my walk today solo, with just my faithful hound. Because of this I had the luxury of a faster pace and more distance.
As soon as I had gotten into a steady, natural stride, my mind began to process all of the thoughts about things I often took for granted, but now saw in a kinder, more grateful light. Things that sparked tiny memories from years ago, now sent my thoughts down soft reminiscing.
Whippet and me passed alongside the playground, now locked shut with stern Coronavirus warnings. The playground where as a tiny tot, I first sat you in the baby swing and pushed you to the sky, as you shouted "Again! Again!" The climbing wall, just 4 foot high, studded with fruit hand and foot holds. I held you as you learned to pull and push your way to the summit. Smiling, then disappearing into the metal tube tunnel, only to emerge the other side and then tentatively skid down the slide into my wide waiting arms.
The path looped to the right and opened up. We came to the meadows. At the fork I took the d-shaped right meander, past clumps of buttermilk yellow primroses. Beyond the fence to your school. An empty playground. More sad still, the silence. No gentle shrieks and screams and laughter, bubbling through the warm air as as hundreds of small souls run and play and make sense of the world and each other. How often I've walked past and wondered if I'd see your smiling face or just your small body tearing around full of life and youthful energy.
Dropping down the gravel path we head left and skirt the reedy pond, where a muddy bank leaves dark socks on the whippet as he reaches to take a long drink.
We come to the bunny field. How often have I slowly walked along the shady hedge in the shorter grass, kept that way by other walkers. The whippet, or even Porcha, the older hound, walking, crackling with potential, waiting to hear me spot a distant rabbit and whisper "Get it", to then bolt, ears down, back flexing, legs and muscle strained to fly across the space, pulled by generations of breeding to chase. And then the slow, tongue lolling, happy trot back to me after sending the animals back to their burrows. There will always be next time, the dogs seem to say.
The gravel path ends and we are into the old lane, turning right to pass by the oak tree. We walk steadily now, the whippet by my side. No cars pass us, this lockdown is having an effect.
Past the row of cottages, with Landrover Man's steeds parked up outside. Further on comes Phil's sheep shed and paddock. I remember first meeting Phil, an elderly lady with a small paddock of black sheep. I shared my past love of working with sheep, we talked of dogs and she saw you grow from an infant on a sling through a determined toddler and into a cheeky, smiling, walking boy. At the corner of her fields, I picked elderflowers to make champagne and cordial.
Here is the scout hut. Before you were born, I remember hoping that you could become a part of its story. The building feels old. It has aged well as it sinks into it's environment. It seems ages ago that you were running around inside, a blue jumpered Beaver with your creased yellow necker. You've learnt a lot there in dark winter evenings and warm summer nights. You've camped, painted, made snowmen snow globes from old jam jars, baked and generally had a boys-own adventure. I love stepping into the building to collect you. The very fabric of it, age polished floorboards, thick walls, the Queen's portrait hanging above the fireplace - all radiate the essence of good people teaching small people over generations.
Now we leave the road and cut through past the village hall. Your pre-school. Where as a tiny little child we first left you many years ago, hoping you'd be ok. We watched you play on the mini sized toys. You ran around outside and shared your space with adventurous rust coloured chickens who had escaped their neighbouring fields. Your friends had parties in the hall, bouncy castles and ice cream. Even today, I pause to look at the noticeboard that should list what 'we' had learned today. The play area is silent though.
I'm heading home now. To my left, the Red Lion. Silent. The heart of the village barely beating. I think back to days sat outside, pint in hand watching children sit on the backs of horses tied up outside. Of the old gent, whose steed will slowly carry him home after he's had a good few. Rider and mount, both old, wise and steady walking off along the quiet lane.
Our old house, the one we lived in when you were born is now to my right. New families have rented it. I hope they enjoy it like we did, despite strange electrics and an egotistical landlord.
And now we stay on the path. The main road, empty of traffic. Old houses to our right, open fields to the left. I look to the cottage, tiny, well kept but snuggled behind a beautiful shrub garden. Who lives here? I've always wondered. I imagine an elderly couple, quietly devoted to each other.
The oak trees start to arch overhead now. The last gasp of green and dappled shadow before we come back to modern houses. I take one more deep breath and feel thankful for the journey. My mind has wandered as well as my legs.
Time to be home now. The whippet is panting, but content in his tiredness. The sun is shining. I have many things to be grateful for.