Over the past few months The Significant Other and I have started walking. Please don’t take from this that previously we crawled or bottom-shuffled our way around town and county: rather, we have adopted walking as a pastime in order to explore some of the Oxfordshire’s lesser-spotted Nooks and Crannies. Before you start reaching for the birder’s book – no, these aren’t types of local wildlife – although we have seen red-headed woodpeckers knocking out a rhythm in Faringdon’s Folly Park and kingfishers flashing teal and orange through the sky over the Thames, like real-world stripes of celestial magic.
Venturing both locally and further afield, we think walking is a time-honoured and sophisticated way to pass an hour or two whilst maintaining youthful vim and vigour. The Teens however think differently, insisting it shows the beginnings of an inevitable decline into decrepitude.
They have also taken to calling our evening strolls ‘a constitutional’ as if we were Victorian parents, all side-whiskers and bustle. Actually, our forebears would have been appalled by our casual apparel which often includes jaunty polka-dot rucksack and sparkly flip-flops (that’s my look – The Significant Other is generally less glitzy).
And over the weekends this sequin-rich footwear has been chasing white horses into Wiltshire. While I’d love you to picture me as Oxfordshire’s own cowboy-styled rancher galloping through dusty outback under the beating sun, the truth is more sedate. Inspired by views of Oxfordshire’s prehistoric White Horse in Uffington, which we could see from the bedroom window if only the house was rotated on its axis or we had very long necks, The Significant Other and I have followed ancient hooves into chalky downlands where galloping silhouettes have been carved into the hillside, and visitors stand and stare.
It’s a safe way to chase wild horses, but even so, we very nearly never made it back, and it was nothing to do with unsuitable footwear. Just beyond Oxfordshire’s western border there’s a forest of ancient oaks – the oldest in Europe where Henry VIII once hunted. Legend has it that if you dance twelve times anti-clockwise around the oldest tree, which dates back to the days when King Alfred stretched his legs in this neck of the wood, you can summon the devil. We didn’t, but soaked in bewitching bluebells at this time of year, I can confirm that Savernake Forest has stepped straight out of a fantasy film: whichever way you turn, your way back is always behind you. And lost deep in the woods, we might have stumbled across Red Riding Hood or her wolf at any moment. Thank goodness for my rucksack ‘hamper’ of picnic – Hansel and Gretel’s crust really wouldn’t have cut the mustard – and The Significant Other’s GPS watch which, I think on balance, would win the Victorians round.