Sometimes you begin a walk and you're ready to rock; other times you just feel lethargic. Today I felt lethargic. My legs were stiff and unresponsive, and my feet twinged. However, the day was another fine and sunny one — though clouds were gathering — and eight miles along an easy-going path did not sound too strenuous. Also, it was the penultimate stage of the Viking Way, so a cause for celebration. But the first person I met on leaving Caistor did not seem in celebratory mood. He looked up suspiciously from hacking at his overgrown garden as I went by.
'Where are you heading?'
'Barnetby? That's miles away!'
'I should be there in three or four hours.'
'But are you walking all the way? Don't you jog or run?'
'I'm walking. I'm a walker. That's what I do."
'Are you doing it for charity?'
'Nope. I'm doing it for myself.'
His expression was a mixture of puzzlement and disdain. Then he sighed and turned back to his garden. I pushed on, but he called after me.
'Is this a weed?' he asked, pointing with his spade at a monstrously tall and ugly plant. 'The wife will kill me if I dig up her garden flowers.'
'It's a weed,' I assured him. He turned his back on me and continued chopping away.
The path contoured round the north-west escarpment of the Wolds, stitching together the spring-line settlements of Clixby, Grasby, Owmby, Searby, Somerby and Bigby ('by' is a Viking suffix which originally meant 'farmstead'). I passed church after church — All Hallows' at Clixby had been completely abandoned — and farm after farm. From half-way up the hill the open views of the flatlands to the west were impressive, but less so as I descended to Barnetby.
The melancholy, mildewy smell of autumn was in the air: hawthorn berries were now blood red in the hedgerows, swallows crowded the telephone wires, a murder of crows stalked the stubble fields, and corn was either cut or being cut.
I ate my packed lunch of pitta bread filled with salad and cheese on a bench in Searby, then hastened to Barnetby railway station to catch a train back to Lincoln. I had to run the last part of the way, and I thought back to the day's earlier encounter. 'Don't you run?'