Christmas walking seems to be what an American friend of mine would call a “thing”, nowadays: an increasingly habitual, or even traditional, way of burning off some of those excess seasonal calories; or just escaping from the usual rituals and infinite complexities. I even noticed that the wonderful Stratford Town Walk – a very useful and entertaining introduction to “Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon” – organizes a “Christmas Day festive guided walking tour”.
However, realizing I had not attained its lofty 184 metre summit even once, this year, I decided, bright and early, to ascend the north face of Windmill Hill. So I dug out a pair of fleece-lined walking trousers; clad myself in many, many layers; pulled on a fresh pair of woollen socks, and my still-Buttermere-soiled leather boots; donned my habitual hat; and set off – fortified by a hearty breakfast – companion staff in hand.
Forth I went, through the rude wind’s wild lament, treading boldly, etc.… – and, my goodness, it was bracing! (Once I reached the top, I measured the temperature at just over 2°C; and later learned that there was a windchill factor of at least 4°C!) But I am a hardy northerner: so was not deterred – not in the slightest… – especially as the sky was a beautiful rich blue gradation, and there was hardly a cloud (nor other foolhardy soul) in sight; and it felt that you could see forever. However, the large amounts of sticky Warwickshire tilth clinging to my soles must have increased my burden (and height) quite significantly!
Looking back from the achievement of the Windmill – being moithered by a pair of squeaking blue tits (the only wildlife I saw…) – it was so easy to be proud of our three little hamlets of brick and stone, slate and clay, peeking out between the many trees below, and guarded by the Edge Hills: a sight which should make the heart of any resident beat faster (although, if I am to be totally honest, this symptom may have been fuelled a little by the climb…), and care deeply about their future. I therefore lingered a while, until my face began to freeze; and headed back – albeit a little reluctantly – for home, and a well-deserved large mug of hot coffee.
Then, last night, as the Feast of Stephen faded, typically not being able to sleep, I went on one of my regular dark patrols of Upper and Middle Tysoe – suitably attired again. No snow lay round about, as in other areas of the country: but, as the church clock chimed half-past two, it did begin to sleet from the north-west. Luckily, I had then turned my back on the prevailing weather. The night was dark as Erebus, though, and the wind blew even stronger; but, having supped a preparatory dram or two of ‘Leapfrog’, I certainly found the winter’s rage froze my blood less coldly. Still, I was immensely grateful for the oak-logs flaming in the hearth, when I returned.