It’s amazing how little I knew the great expanse of fields, trails and waterways that begin right outside my house and go for miles. Even though I run, walk and cycle it all the time and have done for two years, it turns out I didn’t know jack.
Now, everything has changed. I can’t just stick to the main paths and trails, avoiding others by eye line alone. Now I must avoid them like, oh god, the plague (what a phrase).
And so we’ve been exploring those overlooked trails, the ones where you’re not sure if they’re footpaths or rabbit paths, the ones where you have no idea where they’ll take you and if you’ll end up turning back or not.
The doorstep adventure
Before this lockdown, I would’ve said with a reasonable amount of confidence that I knew this area well. Given that I have discovered four new trails and an entire nature reserve, all technically visible from my previous running paths, I can now confidently tell you that I did not know my area well.
Funnily enough, my new favourite trail is around 20 metres from my old favourite trail. Those 20 metres are water, a canal that I’ve been running along. There’s a narrow strip of land between the canal and the river, overgrown, bushy and I’ve never seen a single person on it. Because of that, I’d assumed there wasn’t a path there at all.
Of course, I could’ve looked at a map but I didn’t because…well…I thought I knew the area well.
Oh, the things we tell ourselves.
Then, a few weekends ago, we spotted a dog walker on the other side. Hmpf, must be a path. Perhaps it didn’t go very far but nevertheless, it’d be worth exploring given its oddly ignored nature.
I suppose my assumption had been this: If no one else was ever there, there couldn’t be a path because everyone would know about it.
This is obviously flawed thinking. The trail we usually run is clear, obvious – a main bridleway. Perhaps everyone thought there was no path because they couldn’t see anyone over there either.
I feel like I’m fairly adventurous so I’m embarrassed by never having attempted that side of the canal before. But hey, the lockdown has to come with some silver linings.
So we gave it a go.
The path less travelled (eye roll?)
We found a thicketed footpath sign and followed it. We ran along a bumpy, grassy trail then on past the aforementioned nature reserve — a wetlands with an interesting scent — then on as the path narrowed and spat us out onto a marshland causeway.
Suddenly we could look up and down the canal and up and down the river, all at the same time. The morning sunshine spun gold through the reeds and herons hung out on the banks, statuesque with a single, raised eyebrow.
We ran as the trail became more and more overgrown, nettles sending their tiny aggressions up our ankles. We hopped over holes and rocks, both admiring the scenery and watching our step. We marvelled at the runners and cyclists on our old path, just across the canal but a thousand miles away. It felt as though we were somewhere truly new.
We crossed at a lock gate to return on our usual side and realised we’d run that far without even thinking of the effort. The pure joy of the sun, the trail, the view and the novelty had buoyed us up when normally we’d be flagging.
As we ran back, we noticed more and more paths that snuck away from the main trail, trails that promised future intrigue.
All we have right now is the adventure under our noses. Adventures that may have never happened if we weren’t forced to focus on our immediate area. I’m incredibly lucky to have chosen this place to live and if there’s one silver lining for me, it’s that I’m now giving it the attention it deserves.
The grass turns out to be pretty green right here.