16 November, 2005
I live in a small and very rural village in the centre of England. I have recently started working from home, partly to be there for my children whilst my wife works full-time, and partly to escape the insanities of office life which I suffered for too many years.
About a quarter of a mile from my house is a disused railway line. I am told that until the 1960s it was fully-functioning and that a small station once stood just where the track crossed the main road through. The route of the railway is still there, a grassy path lined with brambles, burdocks and hawthorn and populated by a selection of small birds and mammals.
The old railway line was, until quite recently, a regular route for dog-walkers and Sunday afternoon strollers. In February 2001, Foot and Mouth disease struck this country and suddenly country walks were forbidden. The ban lasted through the summer of that year and gave nature just enough time to reclaim the railway sufficiently to discourage all but the most intrepid. Brambles crept across the path and hung loosely from overhanging blackthorn. Fewer now braved these prickly assaults and parts of the route became impassable surprisingly quickly.
Today was a perfect autumn day. The air was still and cold, the sunlight bright and clear. I decided to use an hour to walk up the railway path as far as I could. I spent much of my childhood with my nose in undergrowth, looking for bugs, and an appreciation of nature is cut deep into my soul. Modern, grown-up life seems to conspire against me satisfying that need as often as I should. So, as I stride out in the autumn sunshine, my eyes blinking against the low sun, I feel my heart open and peacefulness suffuse my mind.
At the entrance to the path is a large old oak tree, maybe two or three hundred years old. To the left, a derelict old red brick railway warehouse. I start up the grassy track. Steely sloes still cling to the dark blackthorn bushes and are in stark contrast to the vivid red fruit of the hawthorns. The blackbirds, woodpigeons crashed noisily through the hedges, wrens and finches skittered along more secretively.
The walk was therapy, it took about forty-five minutes punctuated by several long pauses, leaning over gates, breathing in the day. As I walked back to the warmth of my house, I committed myself to chronicle one year in the life of the disused railway, record what I see and how life changes week-by-week. It will do me good and I hope that someone else will appreciate it too. Watch this space.