“I might have to get a hamster,” says Lou. “It’s not the same,” I warn her.
We just got back to her flat, empty of a slow and twitchy hairball cat for the first time since May.
We woke up in Benson, picked an arbitrary route vaguely towards Brighton, and struck out through the Chilterns, on the lookout for interesting things. After a little stop at the lovely Norman St Helen’s Church in Benson, we stopped in the Saxon town of Wallington. “The Castle Grounds are Closed for Health and Safety,” barked the sign after we had already paid for two hours parking. Thankfully a local in his active wear clocked us. “It’s ridiculous. Just go up the road, round the corner and hop over the fence.” We do. Thank you to that man.
The castle was vast and important once, so Cromwell tore it down in The Civil War. This is why we were able to get in. You can bet that the whole place would have been Windsored if it was still an important dwelling. We’d have been shot for even trying to get in. We leapt over a fence and stood at the top of a vista of green. The earthworks were, of course, still there. The stoneworks were tumbled.
Most of the stone is long gone. Occasional corners are still defiantly standing. The centuries have brought it back to nature, and recent excellent trends “rewilding anyone?” have helped nature return. We walk through a huge sweeping green area with lush grass, and a wealth of trees and birds. Cows graze the earthworks, mushrooms pop up, red kites swoop. Even though we climbed a fence to get in, we are very much not alone in these castle grounds. Nobody runs at us waving their arms and panting. It turns out that most of the ways in to this gorgeous vast space are still open. We’d have been fine if we’d come from the riverside path.
We spend some time among the trees and then it’s off back into the car to drive and be distracted by signs. The Maharajah’s Well was a quick stop – donated from Varanasi to a village in the Chilterns. Practical for two hundred years, and glaringly out of place in a little sleepy English village. This was our Thursday, while the world was working. We puddled through pretty villages saying “ooh” at pretty things.
Just as sun was setting we arrived at Halnaker Tunnel, which is an old Roman path up a hill, with the tops of the trees bent across. “It’s not ready yet,” a photographer tells us. He’s come with his big camera hoping to find that the leaves were turning, but they are still too green tonight. We are still glad to schlep up the hill and catch the sunset at the windmill.
There won’t be many moments like this where Lou and I are both simultaneously free and mobile over the next few months. There won’t be many days like today, when it really is a spring light in autumn despite the cold wind. An opportunity taken to catch more tiny snatches of how the ancient character of this land sews itself through all the nonsense we’ve stuck on top of it. I feel both tired and well rested. And happy.