Just past Pitton Lodge, beyond the tumulus on the boundary of the estate, the private track becomes a public road and picks up the name Slate Lane on the map. On the right hand side a finger sign marks where a byway heads off towards Farley.
Looking up the byway you have a tightly sheep grazed field on the left and the wooded estate boundary to your right. Ahead of you the rough track snakes and then disappears around a right hand bend, climbing steeply as the track sinks deep into the chalk hillside. Hundreds of years of cart and foot traffic having indelibly scarred its surface into the fabric of the world.
Above you the branches of ancient beech and yew intertwine into a dark arboreal ceiling and the daylight of a bright April morning fades to dusk.
The tracks surface has been scoured by last night’s rain and the soil, sticks and leaf litter have all been washed away, leaving a bright white channel which stands out, naked and exposed against the darkness.
Out into the sunshine once more the track joins another drove at a T junction and heads off downhill, again following the wooded estate boundary on your right whilst on the left the hedge layed so beautifully last year is beginning to fill in nicely.
Underfoot the soil has loosened up after the rain. The noisy walks of the last month, all scraping flint and hard echoing footfalls on the concrete-like earth, are gone. It is a pleasure to walk on this new soft surface; just enough give to feel spongy and comfortable beneath the soles of my boots without being muddy and loose.
There’s something strange going on, which I assume is linked with this newly soft surface. Sounds seem deadened, like they do on a foggy or snowy day.
I can hear the words of the trees and sky well enough. The blackbird and song thrush, the buzzard out above the field. The bees up in the ivy, the gentle breeze chatting in a library whisper with the canopy. These are clear as day, yet the more earthbound sounds of my boots, the dog panting and the insects on the ramsons and bluebells are muffled.
The drove snakes around a bend and the ruts of cavorting four wheel drives have sunk deep into the soil, perhaps this is the creation of future holloways. A female blackbird is busy having a noisy bath in the water pooled in the rut.
Walking from shadow to light to shadow, through the dark fingers cast by the tree belt to the left, the temperature shifts. I stop in a light patch for a moment and feel the warmth on my face. Something instinctive kicks in, like catching a snowflake on your tongue, and I close my eyes and breathe deep lungfuls of moist woodland air.
The heady scent of Bluebells overlays the smells of leafmould and damp soil and I stick my head up over the earth bank. There between the old coppiced hazel and ash I catch glimpses of blue.
There’s something magical about a great big swathe of bluebells carpeting a woodland floor, but there’s an equal magic to the stolen glimpses of blue through trees from a distance. Like a gap in the clouds letting blue sky though, these glimpses lift spirits in a way that no entirely clear sky can.
I’ve dreamt for years about having time off work to write. Now I have time, plemty of time, yet I can’t go off and write the things I’ve had in my head. I can’t set out on big adventures and write that book. I’ll have to save that for a later date.
For now, like those glimpses of blue I’ll have to settle for that ordinary magic that exists at home, take inspiration from my (admittedly fairly large) doorstep.