Yesterday I decide to go for a gentle wander, being still convalescent after two colds. So I start off at Epping, and allow myself to get the bus up to the main road because the walk up the hill from the station is steep and tedious and my lungs are bothering me a bit, only the bus doesn't come so I have to walk anyway.
At this point sensible people would already be giving up and going home, but I am made of stupider - I mean sterner - stuff.
I get to the start of the walk, which is on common land, and it's so muddy I decide to walk up the road for this bit. Then I get to the turn-off across the fields. The last time I came this way I put my foot on a bit of uneven tarmac and sprained my ankle, falling flat on my face so amusingly that a car stopped and the couple in it drove me back into the town.
This time, I manage not to do this. Turn up the path, manoeuvre my way through a frankly surreal stile and I'm off! Slowly. There is mud. Much, much mud. If I were elegantly built and had good balance I could sort of mudskate. As it is there is much slithering and cursing.
There are also views like this.
A lot of the time, I have to keep an eye on the mud.
I slide along, hoping for dryer conditions and come to a nice little path across a field. A nice empty field with no cows or horses in. Best kind.
There's a lovely tree in it. I like trees. They rarely chase you for sugar lumps, for example, and do not kick.
The sky's enormous here.
And the mud is very wet. I'm glad of waterproof boots, and also glad that I will shortly come out on a nice dry track.
First, I have to slither along the path that goes round the edge of the field. There are different types of mud, I note. There is clay, and loam, and grassy mud but I am very pleased so say there is no the-cows-have-been-here-first -and-that's-what-you're-treadi
ng-in mud. Get to the stile which is, of course, in the middle of mud. Deep mud, with water.
Out on to the track, and up the track and looking at this. Sorry if all these photos of views look the same, but I think they're fab.
Stomp along a nice gravelly farmtrack. It's interesting, this road, because it is private, across a country estate. There are a few houses and they all have signs saying 'private - keep out' or 'rabid dog and he's hungry' or whatever. In fact the track I'm on is a metalled road and at one point I get to a sign saying 'no through road - turn back now please' which is interesting because I - and clearly many others, judging by the number of cars that pass me - know perfectly well that there IS a through road, it's just that the owners prefer you not to know about it. Anyway, it's also an official walking route so they can't stop me.
Come at length to some snowdrops in a wood.
Then I'm out on to the main road, across it and on to the track that leads to Epping Forest. I stop and have some lunch, and sit down for the first time in a couple of hours and within minutes, I'm freezing. The sky has gone grey and the wind is blowing straight into my hood. So off I go again, into the forest. I haven't been in the forest for months, but since it's been there since prehistoric times, I'm assuming it hasn't gone, and I'm right. Still there.
In all its wintry glory.
By now I'm tired, footsore, chilled and hungry but never fear! The Tea 'Ut is near!
I earned that Battenberg cake. I really, really did. So I'm sitting with well-earned empty calories at one of six tables, no other people around, and a couple with two dogs come and sit at the same table as me. Clearly my magnetic personality obliged them to bring their dogs and sit next to me, instead of choosing one of the five empty tables. They are dead keen to have a chat, too. But not with me. Oh no. They instantly get out their phones and start two separate conversations with whoever. One of the dogs takes the opportunity to forage under my chair.
I protest, politely.
Then I finish my tea and get out my map. I am looking for a suspected short cut.
But first, I stomp off to the loo.
Ah, the loo. In France this would be a hole in the ground-type loo. In England, there are actual seats, but believe me you wouldn't. Ever. However, as my mother puts it, 'any port in a storm, dear' and there is hot water and coconut-scented soap.
Back into the forest. Stomp stomp stomp and I'm really tired now. Done about 8 miles and I've had enough, the sun's gone in and I'm feeling cold. Stomp stomp. Find the shortcut. Stomp.
Ah. Oh. It's downhill. Slither stomp. There's a pond at the bottom and four people with a dog and they amusingly throw a stick for the dog, missing me by about a metre. I turn round and fix them with a Basilisk stare. Stomp stomp. Really tired now, and it's getting oddly dark for 4pm. Stomp.
Ah. Ahaha. the path is now going UP the other side of the hill, and it's very very very muddy. Clay, pock-marked with footprints, 20cm deep mini-oases of dirty water.
Stomp splosh sploosh.
Suddenly, there's a rattling sound on the back of my hood and bits of polystyrene start pinging on the bath in front of me.
Oh, joy. Make my day, weather, why don't you? Hail.
Lots and lots and lots of hail. So there I am, worn out, struggling up the hill in what rapidly becomes a blizzard. Like this:
Very soon it's looking like this:
Just when I'm about to throw my toys out of the pram and refuse to play any more, I see a house. Then I come to a road. Then a bus stop and there's a bus due. A nice warm, dry bus with well-sprung seats. I am tempted to snog the driver but I'm old enough to be his mother.
All's well that ends well, they say.
Nine miles, 23,000 steps. And when I get home and take my boots off, it turns out one of them is leaking. Ho-hum.