Walking in the footsteps of others
|Walton Downs - possibly an old sheep drove.|
We walk on hallowed ground. Crossing downland, farmland or woodland by foot we are largely following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. Worn paths in the chalk, muddy strips along field edges, canopied byways through strips of copse that all tell of the gentle human history that has created them. In my part of northern Surrey, particularly along the North Downs ridge, we walk along in the ghostly footsteps of pilgrims, we shadow the movements of shepherds, farmhands and others just like us, those who wanted to commune with nature. We largely see what they saw, even in this crowded part of Britain. Some of the trees that look down on us looked down on them. Old collapsed flint walls and abandoned foundations tell of past rural lives, lives now gone, maybe of simpler times. Did they stand in these doorways looking out on Partridges, Barn Owls and Red-backed Shrikes? Did they sharpen their scythes while dreaming of a foaming ale at the inn later in the day? Or was life hard, a tired slog of scant rewards?
No, I cannot walk along a footpath without these thoughts crowding my mind. And that's before all of the natural history crowds it even further...