I’m out of the house around 0800, straight away the birdsong strikes me, a Blackbird on the crest of a roof proclaims its presence to the world. I cross the road and walk down to meet the high street, here the buildings are tall, old and in some cases oak beamed, Needham Market is a lovely little town. Just round the corner is a zebra crossing, here I cross and carry on past the bus stop with sparrows bringing the bushes to life then I turn right at the Rampant Horse (the Swan is behind me, we’re spoilt for pubs here, not that I use them) and through Station yard towards the railway. At the far end the original red brick Victorian station building dominates the yard but it hasn’t been used for this purpose for many years. To the left is a tunnel beneath the tracks, (a throwback to a bygone age when it was used for moving cattle) this takes me out of the town and into the countryside, of sorts. ‘Needham Lake’ is basically a park with the aforementioned lake (really an old landscaped gravel pit) as the centrepiece. We’re lucky to have this in the town, not just the lake but acres of meadow and woodland, an oasis in this semi urban setting. The air feels fresh on my face and I can almost taste the morning chill.
I turn right alongside the railway line and walk through a gap in the hedge towards the tree lined lake. It’s a sunny morning and the air is filled with birdsong; The Collard Doves and Wood Pigeons are unmistakable, I recognise the songs of Blackbirds and Robins but there is an orchestra of squeaks and whistles from species unseen and therefore unknown. I walk on across a little meadow and up a slight slope then I can see the lake; the trees, reeds and foliage is turning green, leaves breaking from their buds, regenerating after the bleakness of winter. There’s another walker going the other way and he nods a greeting but the regular old boy doing laps always looks straight ahead. The sun is low in the eastern sky so I have to shade my eyes, the lake is mostly calm and the ripples of small fish can be seen breaking the surface every now and then. More obvious is the aquatic birdlife cruising through the water surface; Mallards, Moorhens, Canada and Grey lag Geese. I carry on along the tarmacked path, my attention now more drawn to the water than the flora, it’s the angler in me, I can’t help it.
At the far end is a paved carpark and brick toilet block, all nicely tree shaded. There are platforms here for fishing, duck feeding and one used by a model boat club. At this end I usually find feeding Carp and yes they are here again, mopping up the leftovers from the duck feeders. There are at least two fish here, muddying the water and sending clouds of bubbles to the surface. They would be easy to catch but I’m not allowed in these surreal times.
After watching the Carp for a few minutes I carry on, curving back on myself and turning back towards home. There are more geese here, paired up as its breeding time now, they sit warily on the bank but they’re not afraid, humans here are usually a source of food but I will leave them disappointed. To my right the river Gipping trickles slowly seaward, it’s just a weed choked stream come summer, a poor shadow of the waterway I knew as a child but if I could be bothered I’d be sure to see Chub in the pool above the mill, grouping together ahead of spawning in a few weeks time. I’m approaching the end of the lake again now, here there are many tree lined islands set aside as a nature reserve. This end of the lake is all trees, a little wood if seen from above and once again I’m surrounded by twittering birds. I notice tits, both blue and great varieties. To my right now is open meadow and across the other side another wood butts onto the river. Here I often see rabbits but today just Magpies, Rooks and Jackdaw. I cross the meadow, through another gap in another hedge and onto what is known as the ‘Camping ground’. In a normal summer we sometimes use this as a cricket pitch and the site of picnics for friends and our families.
I enter the tunnel again and leave the green hues and woodland settings behind. I re-emerge into the urban setting again, houses, restaurants and small businesses, all concrete and brick. Back through station yard again, back onto the high street for a short stretch then turn right into Barking road and a couple of hundred yards later I’m back home.
At the moment this is more than just a walk in the park, it’s more than just my daily exercise. It’s an hour out of my comfortable cell; it’s my fix of fresh air and countryside, it stops my body from seizing up and maybe my mind too? At times it’s almost an injection of sanity, or is it? As I am not able to fish at the moment I’ve had to indulge myself in another form of collecting animals. So far since the lockdown (God that sounds melodramatic) I’ve identified thirty four different species of bird either in/from my garden or on my daily walks. The best specimen is probably the Little Egret I saw fishing in the river last week but today I saw a Buzzard from my garden soaring high over the Town, heading west towards miles and miles of open farmland.
But these walks are almost a source of contention or controversy, I actually feel kind of guilty when I leave my home and garden. If I pass other people I give them a wide berth, as they do me. Most people smile and acknowledge each other; this virus has actually made our town an even friendlier place. Should I be confined within the Beech edged perimeter? I know I’m entitled to that ‘hour’ out every day but you know what? Some days I go out twice, there I said it, I confessed, I’m breaking the rules, I will be vilified by the moralistic Thursday hand slappers.
It’s not like I’m mingling with people, I’m not risking spreading or picking anything up, I simply would not do that. But I have been sneaking an extra hour walking through woods and fields where I rarely if ever see another soul. Except my son who comes with me, but this is something we have done for the last year or so. I’m assured that’s allowed, even though he is temporarily living at his mother’s house. We don’t get too close; I’m not allowed to hug my son at the moment.
There are rules and there are rules. If we are talking a game or sport then I will uphold the rules strictly and rigorously even when it’s to my own detriment (maybe why I’ve fallen out of love with football?) and I’ll be pissed right off if someone cheats. But when it’s rules that a government has handed down then that’s a whole different issue, life has taught me that their rules just aren’t fair. Government rules are like those of a casino, the house always wins. And our government isn’t too keen on rules either, especially if they’ve been advised by the World Health Organisation. I better stop now.
On the subject of walking it is not possible to be unmoved by the WW2 veteran captain Tom Moore who is walking laps of his garden to mark his one hundredth birthday and raise money for the NHS. Last I heard he’d raised over £20 million which is fantastic. But what nobody seems to question is why he or anyone else has to raise money for the NHS in the first place.