January 01, 2015

New Year's Day

I've missed the first day of the year for at least the last decade, probably more. I've always gone out for New Year's Eve and had so much fun that I was either still up, partying, with the curtains firmly closed, or in bed all day, sleeping it off. But this year we were home by a civilised 1.30am and today we drove to Coulsdon for a proper walk.

There's a big escarpment there, a ridge of high ground with prehistoric earthworks called Farthing Downs that in summer has skylarks singing over it. The road rises up from the surrounding suburbs and travels its spine, rattling over the cattle grids that mark each end; descending the ridge's chalk and flint flank on foot you find tangled ancient woodland full of big roman snails and the broad sweep of pasture called Happy Valley studded, at the right time of year, with orchids and yellow rattle.

Today the air was damp, the clouds low, but the rain held off; it was muddy underfoot, though, the kind of sticky, 'loving' mud you get from chalk soil. I slipped twice as we took the path down into the valley. Gulls wheeled and called overhead.

Here and there in the dark winter woods scatters of tiny yellow apples glinted in the shadows, fallen from fruit trees I'd never otherwise have known were there. The yews of Devilsden Wood were green, and the ivy that plaited many of the trunks, but otherwise the trees were bare.

There were quite a few people out; dog-walkers, mostly; a couple of runners and a mountain biker. Yet in the moments between seeing or hearing people, it seemed strangely quiet. There were a few birds – great tits, a wren – and Scout flushed a fat rabbit from a dogwood thicket. But not much moved.

Except the wind. It rushed and roared through the trees above us, though for the most part we couldn't feel it at ground level. It gave a shape to the landscape around us: slamming into the ridge and rushing down through the woods, showing us, in sound, the shape of the place. It's something I miss in the city: you get wind, of course, but not the crashing boom of it at distance, not that sense of space. It was that, more than anything else, that made today's walk feel so refreshing, such a good start to 2015. The wind blew last year's cobwebs away.