The Little Things

I am not going to lie, I am feeling pretty depressed at the moment. It’s the relentless nature of the cycle we are in and the lack of uncertainty in going forward. It has been a year since we were last able to work as Come walk with me UK and the little things that were minor niggles when the lockdown cycle started have gradually become major irritations. Recently I have found myself irritable and occasionally even tearful and it’s been hard to lift myself. We love doing what we do at Come walk with me and whilst I am very fortunate to have managed to maintain some kind of employment throughout the pandemic, frying chips is not quite the same as striding across the hills. So, in order to try and counteract this gloomy cloud I have started trying to focus on the little things that make life bearable and that have lifted my mood on the local, lockdown approved walks we have managed to get out on in between stints at the fryer!

Watching wild birds really can lift the spirits. During this latest lockdown I have been staying at my girlfriend’s and we have started to feed the birds that visit her small back garden. Over a coffee and a bowl of porridge it’s become an early morning mood lifter to sit and watch the activity that comes after we have put out the food. There are Dunnocks who tend to skulk around the shady margins nervously, a splendidly aggressive and easily agitated Robin who considers the garden his territory and a pair of laidback Blackbirds who tolerate the smaller birds benignly. We have an occasional Wren, a rarer but always welcome Grey Wagtail and a big fat Wood Pigeon who I reluctantly chase away before he gobbles everything up. When I am on a walk the hedgerows are alive with birdsong and activity as Spring draws near. In Westhoughton we have robust, colourful Bullfinches, gregarious and elegant Long Tailed Tits and noisy, garrulous House Sparrows to name but a few. They really are little things but are wonderful at lifting the mood.

In the village I was bought up in and which will always be “home” to me there is a Yew Tree that was reckoned to be alive when William the Conqueror invaded England. It’s a gnarled and ancient looking entity and was one of the first trees I fell in love with but wherever you are whether rural or urban there are always trees that can help to inspire. Silver Birches are beautiful all year long, even in the dark days of Winter when their branches are bare, there is an almost luminescent quality to their silvery, paper thin bark. Oaks and Beech trees are two of our most iconic Woodland trees and we have noticed this year a few still stubbornly clinging onto their coppery, dead leaves all through the Winter. Holly, Yew and even the dreaded Leylandii in your garden all bring welcome bursts of green to a grey February landscape that can sometimes feel as if all the colour has been washed out of it. Lastly, in the Autumn we collected some acorns and planted them as an experiment, we have had two healthy seedlings germinating in the kitchen and they have helped bring a real feeling of hope and an investment in the future as we have watched them slowly develop.

When we have been out and about on our lockdown walks one of the things that has consistently lifted my spirits has been coming across unknown ponds, streams or stretches of canal. I have felt envious of the puffs of woodsmoke coming from beautifully painted canal boats, revelled in watching Dippers bob and weave in and out of tiny cresting waves and admired Goosanders and Tufted Ducks bobbing on the choppy surface of Pennington Flash. I have even enjoyed walking in the rain, there is something cleansing about coming back form a stroll wet haired and soggy before re-heating with a coffee and a slice of cake or a scalding bath enhanced by a cold beer and an audio book.

I have become a bit obsessed with these plants over the course of lockdown and particularly during the Winter. Lichens can bring colour to the greyest of washed out days and the lush green patches of moss can create mini worlds on wall tops, trunks or dislodged stones. There are Silky mosses providing rich, cushions of green, vast, frilly lungworts that look like miniature cabbages and huge patches of Yellow Scales and Map Lichens. They are the epitome of small is beautiful and the kind of thing we far too often overlook as we seek high peaks or spectacular vistas, but they are everywhere and they are beautiful.

Not being able to venture as far afield as normal and not being able to reach the more remote and adventurous areas that we normally explore has allowed me to focus more on the human history of the countryside around me. On my local wanders I have found abandoned, haunted looking farmhouses, memorials to colliery disasters, rusted, ghostly wind turbines, memorial plaques hidden beneath rocks and even vast industrial sites where nature has slowly began to take over and reclaim the land from humans. It’s a reminder that there are almost no areas of Great Britain where there has not been a human imprint but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the landscape is the worse for that.

We are coming out of the Winter and despite the gross incompetence of our government it does seem that we may be coming out of lockdown soon, so as with the new buds on the Ash and Hawthorn, there is hope out there. There are Snowdrops blooming on the verges, shoots of Wild Garlic are starting to be seen along the watercourses, the Robins and Finches are singing loudly from the branches as they look for a mate and mark out their territory and there are early Lambs in the fields. The skies are starting to get that little bit bluer and all these things when put together are making me feel that we have a way out of this nightmare that 2020/21 has been.

So, there you have it folks. Even writing this has lifted my mood. It has reminded me of the restorative power of the outdoors for both my physical and mental health. It has reminded me that Come walk with me UK is still alive and kicking and we are still planning for an adventurous future. it has reminded me that to be happy and fulfilled you don’t have to climb the highest mountain or complete the longest trail you just have to get out there, follow your nose and take value from the little things you see.