Sunday 23 June 2019

On an Overgrown Path

Yesterday I had the agreeable task of taking a sunny walk in the Surrey countryside, under the Hog's Back, to check whether a route I had planned for next month's outing with my walking friends was feasible.
  It all started so well. Things were going according to plan and the timings and distances were working out just fine – until I strayed into the grounds of a certain Elizabethan stately home. I knew the house was closed for a wedding, but I had cheerfully assumed I could skirt its immediate purlieus and unobtrusively make my way out of the grounds by a reasonable route. Alas, I had reckoned without the stringent demands of the modern country house wedding, which apparently involve banning even innocent solitary walkers of blameless character from every part of the grounds. A woman who looked (a) official and (b) like trouble strode purposefully up to me and told me in no uncertain terms that I must return immediately to the public footpath and vacate the estate. This I duly did, feeling a little sore, but confident that the walk would continue as smoothly as it had begun.
  My mistake was, a little later, to take to a public footpath elsewhere on the estate, some way distant from the house. This, according to the map, skirted a couple of fields before joining another footpath that led to the road I was aiming for – simples. The path began as something well maintained and walkable, but I was not very far advanced into the first field when things changed, and very much for the worse. These fields were planted with oilseed rape, an odious crop which, once it has formed its pods, tends to fall over in heaps, creating dense mats of vegetation several feet deep. When it has been planted to the edge of the field, where it joins equally matted growths of bramble, goosegrass and nettles, the result is terrain that is effectively unwalkable. The only way to get through, I found, was to disentangle the rape plants to the point where they could be pushed down low enough – just –to be stamped down, and so proceed one painful and exhausting step at a time, with the goosegrass and brambles forming lassos around my feet and trying to pull off my boots at every opportunity, and the nettles stinging every exposed part of me. It took me an hour to fight my way along two sides of the first field and to enter the second, hoping against hope for better going.
  It was not to be. After a precious few yards of maintained path, I was once again wading painfully slowly through the familiar jungle growth of oilseed rape, bramble and goosegrass. To make matters worse, I could see a clear and walkable field just the other side of the spinney that skirted the field I was in. Unfortunately a deep ditch lay between that field and my personal hell. At one point I became so desperate that I bashed my way through the spinney and swung myself down on a tree branch into the ditch, which had only a little water in it. My plan was to climb up the opposite bank and into the clear – but alas, the other side was completely overgrown with stinging nettles as far as the eye could see. I hauled myself back onto the ill-fated route and waded on, breast-high amid the alien rape, fighting the temptation to sit down with my head in my hands and just give up. After another ten minutes or so of ever more laboured progress (I was becoming worn out by now, as well as having grave doubts about whether I was anywhere near my intended route), an amazing sight appeared to my left – a perfectly maintained stile leading, like the gateway to paradise, onto a clear, wide footpath that led to the road I wanted to be on. I gave thanks to the Lord God of Walkers for this deliverance, and happily the rest of the walk went as smoothly as the early stages.
  Needless to say, I shall be modifying the route when we walk it next month. When it comes to footpaths, you just can't rely on the map, even in the relatively domesticated countryside of Surrey.


  1. Ah! Think I picked up the reference there!

    '...the self-same song that found a path
    Through the sad heart of Nige, when, sick for home,
    He stood in tears amid the alien rape....'

    I like that.

  2. Spot on, Guy – tho I managed to hold back the tears...
    Hope you get the reference in the title too?

  3. Janacek? Can't say I knew that one. My experience of him is limited to a WNO production of Kata Kabanova in Southampton a couple of years back.

  4. Yes, Janacek's piano suite of that name – Book I has some of the most beautiful piano music of the 20th century, IMHO. And if you don't know the string quartets – well, you're in for a treat...

  5. Thanks. I shall look forward to listening to them on my French classical streaming service, Qobuz.

  6. Yes Nige, surely one of the great masterpieces of 20th Century piano music, seemingly simple, often folk-like, but shot through with pathos, regret, and a deep, burning sadness. Once heard, never forgotten.

  7. Thanks, Mm – and in my experience it only gets better with repeated listening. Same goes for the quartets too...