Just a walk up a hill

One of the reasons I started this blog was to chart my progress taking photographs, while also trying to get into the habit of writing regularly for pleasure. I hoped I’d develop my own style of writing along the way.

As it’s turned out I haven’t done much blogging about photography, though I have usually managed to squeeze in a picture or two. This one won’t be any different!

Usually I don’t know what I’m going to write about. Sometimes, as a result, I end up confessing some deeply held opinion or thought, and can end up exposing myself more than I intended to.

Today I’m going to write about going for a walk. Can’t possibly be anything confessional about that, surely?

Can I warn you at this stage that this was not a special walk. I’ll go further – it was quite an uneventful walk. In the grand scheme of things, it probably wouldn’t even make it into my top 1,000 walks ever.

I did not go to the North Pole, or Everest. I didn’t walk a marathon (that’s in May). I didn’t walk on a tightrope or while balanced on an elephant’s trunk. It was just an ordinary walk up a hill and back down again.

I didn’t bump into Robert Plant again, or share a beer with Johnny Depp (again?). I didn’t fall over, or happen across a family of leopards drinking milk out of urns of gold, or anything that I’d tell you about if we met up for a drink.

But sitting here and reflecting on my little ramble – on the things I saw, the people I met – I realised how blurry brilliant it had actually been.

I like facts and bullet points, so here’s that walk in bullet points.

  • I exchanged greetings with 10 people, including six dog walkers.
  • I had conversations ranging in length from 30 seconds to five minutes with a total of eight more people, all of them strangers. They included a widow, a former steeplejack, a historian and a former Scout leader. I learned these things in the course of our brief chats.
  • I discovered that a beautiful stone tower that could be just seen through the trees was a folly in the grounds of Hagley Hall that had just been repaired. It could be visited when the hall was open.
  • A woman, I think called Elly, had been found hanged in a tree near the folly in the 18th century, and graffiti nearby referred to her as a witch. The graffiti keeps being redone, no matter how often the authorities scrub it off. Spooky.
  • Apparently a shop in Selly Oak would do me a great deal if I wanted a new settee. I can’t remember its name.
  • I saw a bird of prey scouting for food. It was gliding on the thermals nearby, the only thing visible in the sky. Apparently it was a buzzard.
  • I walked 4.5 miles in just under two hours. Obviously this would have been more if I hadn’t stopped to talk so often. Or take photographs. Or just have a rest.
  • I stroked four dogs, including a dalmatian and a westie. One of them was particularly excited to see me and left a big paw mark on my nice skirt.
  • I saw a tractor, two pushbikes, a plane and a helicopter.
  • I had one wee. In a bush. Nobody saw me (that I know of).
  • I carried a camera bag with some lenses, a bottle of water and a banana, my phone and some cash. I drank half the water. I ate all  the banana.

So, an ordinary little walk? Mmmm – maybe not.

I happen to think that, on reflection, all that interaction – with other humans, with nature, with animals – is pretty amazing and wonderful and good.

I used to take human interaction for granted. As a journalist all I ever did was meet and talk to and write about people all day, so the only people I wanted to spend time with outside of work were my nearest and dearest. My outlook has definitely changed now I mostly work and play at home. I’ll happily talk to anyone!

I’m one of those people who always chat to everyone who crosses my path. I know my milkman, which pub he goes to and the state of his marriage. I know that my postie was an ex footballer forced to give up his beloved career because of a knee injury which still grieves him. I have a cup of tea with the window cleaner when he calls round. (No, I’m not a desperate housewife and no, I’m not having affairs with any of them…I just have the time to share a few words these days!) It’s nice. People are nice.

So, back to that walk. I’m pretty sure that if I was working again in a busy office, and had snuck off for a walk up Clent Hills for some peace and quiet, I would have found the people who initiated these brief conversations intrusive and annoying. Instead they touched my life, however briefly, and I probably did the same to theirs.

Clent Hills, where I took my walk, is just a little mole’s bum of a mount, jutting up about 300 metres over the West Midlands conurbation. It’s hardly Ben Nevis or Mont Blanc.

If you look eastwards from the top, it is said you could (if the earth wasn’t so curvy) see all the way to the Urals in Russia, as there is nothing bigger in the way. I’m not sure I believe this, and can’t be bothered to google it to find out.

It’s a really easy place to get to on foot, with car parks on two sides which leave you just a 15 minute walk from the top. As a result there is always a slow but steady stream of dog walkers, families with little kids and people who might struggle to climb anything bigger.

To the north and east, the city of Birmingham and the Black Country towns around it are spread out. To the west, the Malverns and the rest of Worcestershire are hazy shadows. The Wrekin and the Long Mynd hills of Shropshire are clearly visible from here too.

There are high rises, factories, smoke-gushing chimneys, street upon street of terraced homes, grand country estates, retail parks and four lane highways.

There are also miles of countryside; of trees of every hue and shade; fields of crops; historical buildings and ancient rocks.

There’s a wooden seat I like to sit on, just below the standing stones that guard the view.

Whenever I sit here and look out over the homes and workplaces below, I like to think of all the thousands – no, probably millions – of people, beavering away at their computers or stuck in traffic, watching their telly or doing the hoovering. This usually makes me smile to realise I am up here and not down there, among them.

I also think about the babies breathing their first breath, and the poor souls gasping their last. There are at least six hospitals down there, so there will be lots of both.

I also usually take out my camera about here. On this little sojourn I managed somehow to take about 100 pictures. None were of the people I met (I’m not that brave yet).

Some were of the views, some of the standing stones, some of the toposcope. I played around for about 20 minutes trying my damnedest to get a picture of the standing stones reflected in a little pool of water on the toposcope, 20 metres away. I don’t think I quite succeeded – longer legs or a step ladder might have made it possible; more technical skill would have certainly done the trick.

I’ve attached a few of my favourite images of the day. Just like my walk, on first inspection none of the images are all that special. They won’t grace the cover of a calendar or the walls of Ikea. But they make me smile. They capture a moment. They’re just part of everyday life. Like all those strangers I met.

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