Winter Path

I never understood why he took the picture, it was so familiar; where a gate once stood, a chalk path leading across an open field. It was where the walking started.

‘Due north, isn’t that curious. Took a compass with me one day, wanted to know what direction I was heading in, and it was due north, but only for a little way. Then I turned east, picked up another path and off away over the Downs, but just for a little while I’d be heading north.’
He never did go back, even though I knew he wanted too, or at least part of him did. He’d talk about a wilder coast, remembered hills more remote than these I’m standing on.

It’s wintertime in the picture, withered vegetation, chalky fields stretching away into the distance; bleak, quite remote.
‘No. Not at all, not too far from our old house. Keep on for about a quarter of a mile or so, until you come to the road, cross that and you’re off for a good days walking, once you get the traffic out of your head. You’ll be up on the Downs soon enough, with just the wind and maybe another walker. And if there’s nobody else up there, then that’s fine. All right by me’.

I read somewhere that walking suits bodily rhythms, we think at walking pace. Whatever, I walk for different reasons now. Then, it was to be with him. We’d walk for miles. Find a dew pond, or maybe settle on a hilltop, sit and eat, drink tea. I’d search for things to show him, want to know what’s this, what’s that? Then we’d be off, picking up a track, dropping into the folds between hills, into shadow, out into sunlight, along muddy tracks with him saying, ‘Come on out of that. Your mam’ll be giving me grief.’

One winter afternoon, a skin tingling day. We were above Bible Bottom, with the valley in shadow. I saw a kestrel circling overhead, hovering, then dropping.
‘Look. It’s holding onto the sky.’
We counted six kestrels. Watched them drop into the shadows, rise again, hover, then fall. It was mesmerising. I didn’t want to leave. Wanted to stay there forever, until I started to shiver and he said, ‘Come on lad, home now, don’t want you catching a chill.’

The Instamatic lived in the rucksack, even if he didn’t always feel the need to use it. Sometimes I’m present in the pictures he did take, but mostly what’s left are from his solitary walks.