Walking is man’s best medicine.


What an incredible change. One day I was sitting outside with a coffee, wearing a t-shirt and lifting my face to the sun, the next I was piling on layers of warm clothes and hugging the stove. We literally went from summer to winter overnight which has come as something of a shock after such a mild, sun-drenched autumn. It is, of course, far more seasonal despite the field behind the house having been cut for silage this week and the hollies in the garden covered in tiny white blossoms rather then berries. As the temperature plummeted, we had several days under leaden skies with a biting north-easterly wind which is fairly dismal and more typical of March here . . . but there has been sunshine, too, lighting the frozen garden and landscape both of which are still so full of colour, while overnight fog has dusted everything in a sparkling, crystalline hoar frost. Cold but magical.

Our mature oaks are still hanging on to their leaves and have looked quite spectacular against the blue sky on bright days; the time of bare branches and skeletal silhouettes will come but there is certainly no rush this year. Where Roger has finished laying the laneside hedge, sunlight has been flooding in and this bodes well for our ‘woodland edge’ planting plans as well as the poor pear trees that have been struggling to thrive in deep shade. The hedge will green up and thicken next year but we will be able to keep it down to a more sensible height in the future.

As we head towards the winter solstice, the low sun throws dappled light and shadow across the garden and the frost lingers in north-facing shade all day long. The difference in temperature between those bright and shady spots is palpable!

The garden has been full of growth and energy for so long that I have been dreading the inevitable arrival of a cold snap; certainly, it’s done for tender annuals such as nasturtiums which was to be expected and I think we can finally say goodbye to a tunnel full of peppers, too. In the perennial lasagne bed, the thugs are all now looking sad and flattened in the cold; the rhubarb and comfrey will tough it out but the globe artichokes have been tucked round with hay to protect their roots and crowns ~ they have put on far too much growth this autumn. As for the asparagus ferns, surely now they will yellow and die so that we can chop them and drop them as a mulch around the crowns?

Elsewhere, crops like kale and chard are looking a bit surprised but they are hardy little troopers and should continue to provide us with fresh pickings well into spring. Roots and tubers have come into their own in the kitchen this week, and we have been enjoying (amongst other things) grated celeriac, golden beetroot and black radish in a piquant rémoulade sauce and parsnips puréed with fresh horseradish and cream: seasonal comfort food at its best.

Young red kale, chard and beetroot flopped in the frost.

Who cares about grey skies when there is still colour like this in the garden?

One of the noticeable things about the weather over the last few months is the distinct lack of wind and in particular, the absence of strong gales sweeping in from the west and wreaking havoc in the potager. The young hedging plants we put in the first spring after we moved here are growing well but it will be another couple of seasons at least before they have any impact in terms of breaking up the wind flow and helping to protect the winter garden. The most likely victims of wind damage are the purple sprouting broccoli plants which are currently looking magnificent, so Roger has built them a temporary windbreak using some of the hazel branches left over from hedge laying; we did a similar thing last year and it worked a treat so hopefully we will enjoy another bumper harvest next spring.

It’s pure coincidence, but with the change in weather I felt like I had turned a huge corner where my back problem is concerned; there’s still a long way to go and much I can’t do yet (I am so desperate to be back on my bike!) but in terms of discomfort and mobility, great progress is being made at long, long last. I’ve also experienced a huge surge in enthusiasm and energy as if all those months of supressed motivation and activity have come bubbling to the surface and suddenly I want to be properly busy again ~ not to mention useful. I can’t do much outside but I’ve been extending the bird feeding station and what a full-time job it is in this weather keeping the feathered ones fed and watered! I’ve enjoyed being busy in the kitchen, too, baking batches of mince pies and making the Christmas pudding; we celebrate the solstice and midwinter rather than Christmas as such but that pudding is always an important part of our special feast. I’ve been able to wander about with the camera to try and capture the beauty of the season in small details; I’m so grateful to be able to bend down again, something I won’t be taking for granted in a hurry.

Perhaps the craziest thing I’ve done in the name of feeling better is to sign up for Country Walking magazine’s #Walk1000miles challenge. It’s not the first time I’ve participated in this event; six years ago, I decided to do the #Walk500miles option but came upon it two months late so I ended up having to walk 500 miles in four months. It wasn’t particularly easy going in the Asturian mountains and I just remember the huge sense of relief as I literally squeaked in with the last few miles on New Year’s Eve! In comparison, 1000 miles in a year doesn’t seem so daunting, especially as the registration system has changed which means walkers can choose to start at any point during the year rather than having to wait until 1st January. That suits me very well as there is no time for procrastination or talking myself out of it and I’ve always found New Year’s resolutions dismal, soul-destroying things anyway, so as my fit of madness flash of inspiration came on 1st December, it seemed like a decent time to start. Except of course it wasn’t really, given the list of negative factors involved:

  • It’s the darkest time of year with months of winter weather ahead ~ not always conducive to getting out and walking, even when wrapped up in suitable clothing.
  • I still can’t walk properly. I have a shortened stride, a slight hobbling limp and I am painfully slow. Hills are a nightmare and it takes me forever to get anywhere.
  • That week was the first when I was been able to walk for more than two consecutive days without needing at least one day’s break.
  • On my first day, I only managed to walk 1.86 miles, woefully short of the 2.74 miles daily average I need.
  • There is no chance of throwing in a ten-miler to catch up any time soon!

Well, I’m starting on the back foot literally and metaphorically and maybe it isn’t the most sensible of ideas but I do enjoy a challenge.😆 Can I walk 1000 miles in a year? Under normal circumstances I would say yes, no problem; earlier this year, I established a good walking habit, going out every morning when Roger was running and building the distance to a point I could almost justify carrying a flask of coffee. I’d like to think I can get back to that again, although whether it will be in enough time to catch up on all the miles I’m missing only time will tell. For me, the most important thing is that it’s an incentive to get out there and walk, to help my body continue to heal itself, to regain the fitness and strength I’ve lost during five months of reduced mobility, to have a daily dose of fresh air and daylight, to watch the seasons unfold, and to connect with nature and the local landscape on foot once again.

When walking was easy . . .

As I’m not a herd animal by nature, I’m planning to tiptoe quietly around the edges of this challenge: I’m happy to promote it on my blog and encourage others to explore it but I don’t intend joining a forum or finding a walking buddy, and I certainly don’t feel the need for a badge, medal or progress tracker chart. I don’t have a smartphone, Garmin, Fitbit or any other technological gubbins so it’s all going to be very low-tech. I’m using the excellent website which allows me to map my miles and save route information, and I’m logging my distance ~ and nothing else ~ for each outing in a basic spreadsheet. I have no interest in recording the time taken for my walk, the elevation climbed, calories burned, the weather conditions, my mood . . . each to their own, but for me it’s simply about the miles. I’m not beating myself up about being behind target, either; as a realist (rather than defeatist) I know the chances of cracking this one are stacked against me but I’m determined to give it my best shot, head up, eyes open and one step at a time. Let’s see where it takes me . . . Sarah pointed out that 1000 miles would get me to all sorts of interesting places which reminded me of a wonderful line from Ellen DeGeneres: ‘My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.’ Ha, find me if you can! 😁

It’s been wonderful to finally find some motivation in getting back to my French studies, too; for months, it’s felt hard enough to function cognitively in English yet alone concentrate on the complexities of a second language so I’m delighted to be back on track. I plan to repeat the excellent course I followed earlier this year but in the meantime, I’m taking Hugo’s advice to expose myself to as many different ‘points de contact‘ as I can. It doesn’t matter whether I’m reading, writing, watching, listening or chatting in French as long as I’m doing some every day so I’ve had a lot of fun organising access to a range of resources I can tap into over the coming weeks. Daily immersion makes such a difference and I was happy to be able to hold an informal chatty conversation with other customers in the boucherie at the weekend as well as a detailed and somewhat technical discussion with the butcher as to which of her cuts of local beef was best suited to my needs; I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we rosbifs have a reputation to uphold. 😉 Actually, we hardly ever eat beef but I was hankering after the full monty roast for my birthday meal. On which subject, I’m really not precious about my birthday ~ a good meal cooked together with lots of music and laughter is all I ask for. What I didn’t particularly need was snow; I know it snowed the day I was born in Shropshire but honestly, that’s a tradition I’m happy to pass on. I often think it would be fun to have a ‘half’ birthday in June with maximum daylight, sunshine, warmth and roses but I suppose it’s all part of life’s lottery. In truth, I’m just happy to be here and celebrating another wonderful year of life, even though it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster at times.

Beech leaves in the sunshine this week: well worth the walk to see.

I’ve also started learning Norwegian and there is no sane explanation for that. 😂 We hope to visit Sam and Adrienne again but there is absolutely no reason to try and get my head (and tongue) around norsk as English is so widely and fluently spoken in Norway. That said, I always feel it’s interesting and polite to learn a few words and phrases when visiting a foreign country but given that I know the dialect spoken in the Stavanger region bears little resemblance to the standard written Bokmål Norwegian I’m learning, it’s a pretty pointless task. Well, what the heck? Languages fascinate me, especially where they collide; I’ve never learned another Germanic language before so my first thought was how logical it seems, there are so many similarities to English. As many words entered English via Old Norse I’m having no problems with nouns such as mann, katt, bok, hus, egg and melk . . . if only it were all that easy. I’ve learned that barn, for instance is not a useful rural outbuilding but ‘child’ and bra means ‘alright’ rather than a female undergarment! On a less flippant note, learning a new language is often cited as an excellent way to improve brain function and I’ve seen research that suggests learning two languages at once enhances the ability to absorb and retain both of them, so I’m curious to see how French and Norwegian rub along together. Apart from anything else, it’s simply a whole lot of fun.

Fjord spotting with Adrienne and Sam in June.

When I was studying French A-level, my teacher often told the class that the best way to improve our understanding was to think in French as much as possible. That’s something I’m trying on my walks and if nothing else, it gives me a list of new vocabulary to check and learn as I try to put names to the things I see on my wanderings; for instance, this week I’ve learned that a kestrel is une crécerelle, coming from a Middle French word meaning ‘rattle’. I’ve also found myself repeating simple Norwegian phrases as I go along, although I’m not sure det er en glad and (it’s a happy duck) is ever going to be of much use in conversation and having cracked jeg snakker ikke norsk (I don’t speak Norwegian) is there any need to go further? Well, sometimes we just have to do mad things for the sake of it, don’t we?

Hei hei, Norge!

On the subject of Norway, this week has also seen me getting back to knitting and finishing a pair of socks which, if everything had gone to plan, should have winged their way north with us in June. Sam and Adrienne love knitted socks and giving them as gifts has become something of a tradition so naturally I decided to make a couple of pairs to take with me when we went to visit. I hadn’t left myself a lot of time to make them so I was hopping mad when halfway down Adrienne’s second sock, I realised something was very wrong: the two balls of wool I had bought were supposed to be identical but very obviously weren’t as no green and gold bands had appeared on the cuff of the second sock. Now, I don’t mind wearing mismatched socks myself but there is no question of giving them as a gift so I abandoned the project and knitted up a different (matching) pair literally just in the nick of time. I could of course complain to the supplier and manufacturer but really, life is too short and these things happen . . . and as I now find myself with a bonus pair of snuggly woolly socks just perfect for the chilly weather, I’m not grumbling. Actually, two of my favourite pairs of socks are ones I knitted from scraps left over from other sock projects, stripes of different self-patterning yarns in similar colours that made quirky, loveable socks which I have worn and worn. Thinking I probably had enough scraps to knit another pair, I was delighted to find the leftovers will stretch to two pairs; I’m not a fan of the cold and I’m looking forward to the return of milder weather later in the month, but at least in the meantime I’m sorted for a bit of happy wool messing these cold evenings. 😊

Spot the difference.