With much of the world’s population confined to their homes, or at least only able to be outside if isolated from other people, my wife and I decided to take one of our regular walks in the forest to celebrate the day.
Our daughter is currently living about as far from home as it’s possible to get, in Darwin, Australia, where she works as a Teaching Assistant and is making plans to marry her Aussie fiancé who’s in the military. We started the day with a pleasant facetime connection from them, to wish Valerie ‘Happy Mother’s Day’.
Here, in the Forest of Dean, we’re able to step about two hundred yard down the road and up a steep path into the trees. It’s easy to avoid others here, and we frequently pass a whole walk without seeing another soul. That’s important, as I’m over 70, have a history of chest infections, and suffer from an auto-immune condition.
Of course, today’s Sunday, and the kids are no longer required back at school on Monday due to the Corona virus outbreak now ruling our lives. So we expected to meet a few more groups and individuals today and set off earlier than usual, hoping to miss as many others as possible.
The sun was out, a cool breeze from the northeast teasing the treetops, and the ground underfoot mostly drying out following the wettest February on record and a pretty wet March so far. We still came across odd patches of wet mud and puddles across our path, but much of it was pleasant walking.
On the outward leg, climbing much of the way, we saw no other walkers. Until we were almost at the top of our route, where we encountered another mature couple. We each kept our distance and exchanged pleasantries before continuing on our way. Where possible, we walk off track, following boar trails and the lesser-used paths often favoured by mountain bikers.
From the top of our route, we were on level ground through groves of oak and beech until we reached the first of the steep valleys that would take us back down. At the foot of this first vale, we came across a string of ten cyclists on their way up the path we’d just descended. We joked about the climb ahead of them and crossed the wider path to descend the valley they’d just climbed.
At the bottom, we came to a surfaced ‘road’ – a track covered in grit to allow Forestry Commission vehicles to fell and cart away trees deemed ready for cropping. It is, after all, a working forest. One side of this track is fenced to enclose beavers that have been introduced in an attempt to prevent the brook flooding the village again. So far, their work seems to have achieved this aim.
We’ve never seen the beavers; they’re usually out at dawn and dusk, and we’d need torches to reach the area in time to see them. We were delighted to see a pair of mallard ducks on the stream this morning. The first time we’ve seen ducks there at all, and a good sign the changes to the ecology are working as predicted. Some day soon, we hope to find kingfishers darting their bright way through the branches down there.
We walked the flat track for a short distance and then climbed a narrow track where we’d once encountered an entire family of wild boar. They’d congregated on the brow of the hill, looking down at us as we stood at the foot of the hill, looking up at them. But no such sighting today, although there’s plenty of evidence of their searches for food with the disturbed ground here. A few years ago, the trees were thinned and the heavy vehicles caused a large dip in the pathway. That now fills with rainwater and forms a semi-permanent puddle used by newts as a seasonal breeding spot.
From this track, we were able to reconnect with the narrow trail we’d used early in our climb, and return to level ground at the end of this twisting, turning, steep track. There, we met a local man and his two rough collies. There’s enough room for us to stand the advised distance apart and we chatted about buzzards flying overhead and a red kite he’d seen yesterday.
Back on the public footpath that let’s us enter the forest, we ended our walk with a brief chat with a neighbour splitting logs in the garden.
Simple pleasures and exercise outdoors: not to be taken for granted, but a welcome break from the negative news filling the broadcasts at the moment. How long this will continue is unknown, but we will, hopefully, always be able to escape into the forest and lift our spirits there. Today’s walk took us a little over 5 kilometres and involved a total climb of 230 feet. I had only my phone with me, so the pics are a little basic.
Many reading this won’t have this sort of escape available, so I share it in the hope it brings some vicarious relief for those trapped inside in cities and towns. Take care and stay well, folks.