A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Perfect Day

Today started out such a perfect day. As Lou Reed once sang. A perfect day for a walk. The Peak District is my nearest area of top-quality walking territory. I decided in haste on a classic White Peak circular I'd done twice before but never in summer: Monyash - Lathkill Dale - Alport - Bradford Dale - Calling Low - One Ash Grange - Monyash. Lathkilldale is for me Derbyshire's loveliest dale, especially the upper and middle sections. A killer dale, one might say. At midday I set off down it. Yes - perfect. Knee seemed OK. Body and mind in smooth coordination. Feet hitting the right spots on the stony path. Focused, yet pleasantly vague at the same time - you know, that easy, familiar walking feeling. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, sunshine, dappled shade. Languidly registering wild flowers - lots here on the limestone: St John's Wort, Herb-Robert, Lady's Bedstraw, Aaron's Rod. A little late in the year so only a few blooms of the rare Jacob's Ladder left - blue, bell-shaped flowers with yellow stamens. Wrens whirring across the path. Insects humming in the shade. Limestone outcrops flashing in the sunlight. Everything crisp and fresh and scented after an earlier rain shower. Pure, clear, crystal water gushing from Lathkill Head Cave. Never seen this before - often it's dry. I scoop mouthfuls with my hands. It's cold and delicious. I move on through the gorge, then into the wooded part. River weed streams in the current like Ophelia's hair. I think: Walking doesn't get much better than this. This is why I do it. Then, further downstream, things begin to fall apart. Sunday strollers, and families with barbecues, dogs and cigarettes coming up from Conksbury Bridge. At Alport there's a big walking-group-fest - a shock of clattering poles and ice-cream vans. I escape into Bradford Dale, but the clouds scud in, and my mood, already punctured, deflates. Soon there's torrential rain. A wintery, chill wind. Thunder. I plod on. Knee hurting again. Before One Ash Grange I change plan and retreat down Cales Dale, which soon joins Lathkilldale at a bridge over the swollen river. Limping back upstream to the car the weather miraculously clears, and all is calm and bright. A happy weariness in the late afternoon. Everything seems fine once more. And I think: Let me die in my footsteps. As Bob Dylan once sang.

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