Let’s go for a walk

It’s lockdown 3 in the UK and we can exercise only in areas close to home. Let’s see what we can find nearby! 🏘🗺

My starting point is a path leading out of a housing estate six miles from the city centre. Birmingham is one of the UN’s recognised ‘Tree Cities of the World’ and there are many green spaces to enjoy despite the area being densely populated. It’s 2.45pm and the sun is already low. The light hasn’t reached the path all day and a beautiful carpet of frosted leaves crunches beneath my feet as I approach the park gate. The 50 acre park was once the grounds of a Manor House, which in the 19th century became owned by chocolate company founder George Cadbury. He developed the factory nearby and the area we are heading towards is a model village built to improve the quality of living for his workforce. I pass through the gate towards a small lake. In the late summer we pick blackberries from the nearby bushes, but today’s scene is much starker as the trees are all bare and ice covers the water. I am ready to switch off from my working day and stop to take a deep breath of cold air.
The sun is setting straight ahead of me as I walk up to the lake. A couple of others are trying to capture pictures as well, but apart from them there are very few people around. I rummage in my bag to get my cameras out again. I’m carrying a DSLR which I haven’t used in a long time, as well as an old Lomo film camera that I bought for £8 off eBay a few years ago. There is a path around the lake through the field, but I prefer to take the muddy route through a little woodland where the brook flows. Even just this little area of trees can make me feel for a short while like I don’t live in a city. A new housing estate encroaches onto the land, but it is peaceful and I often imagine living in one of the houses and listening to the water flow in the brook. The nearby roads fell silent in the first lockdown and since then I’m much more aware of traffic noise all around me. I don’t think we’ll experience the same tranquility again.
I could be in a different world at this spot. This is the kind of scene I associate with countryside walks, but here it is virtually on my doorstep. It’s offered many a moment of sanity in the whirlwind of the last few months, though without the pandemic I probably wouldn’t have even made time to stroll this way and discover it! There aren’t many birds fluttering around today. In fact I don’t see any. There is usually a robin jumping from branch to branch at least, but maybe it’s just too late in the day. The sun is shortly going to disappear for the day. The lake is to the right of me, perhaps about 50 metres away, and I can hear the faint squabbling of some ducks. There is no one else on this path, and I take a moment to enjoy the solitude before I emerge out of the trees and into the fields again.
The park opens out into a play area and footpaths across frosty fields. I walk and cycle along the main path quite often these days and there is usually nothing too remarkable about it. But today I notice that a tiny wilderness at one side hasn’t seen light at all and it’s turned into a treasure trove of beautiful, wintery detail. These are the simple things I love to capture with my camera. We don’t get much snow in this part of the UK, usually just a few days each year, and even frosty mornings have been rare recently.
I start to follow the path towards the park exit. I can’t get enough of the frost around the edges of the leaves. I search for an unbroken leaf. The only one I can find that isn’t frozen to the ground is a little muddy, but the silver lining is still beautiful. I climb the hill past the play area and walk towards the main road. The last remnants of light are bright and intensified. The other path would have taken me to a meadow which was a place of escape for me in the spring. I would cycle there often after work when the field was a mass of yellow buttercups and butterflies. But today I’m in need of a place where I can at least see and hear other people going about their day. I am so grateful to be working from home, but I miss the social interaction of the office. Walking past the shops at least gives some normality to the day, and I’m cheered by the fairy lights on these dark evenings.
How lovely are these long shadows! I leave the park and cross the road to follow the route of the brook. The road is unusually quiet, but I’m suddenly reminded of the dire situation we’re in as ambulances rush by. I cross the road and escape to another little area of woodland. I stray off the path to get a little closer to the brook and am startled when a little egret suddenly flaps it’s wings and flies away from me. I watch it follow the path of the water but lose sight of it through the trees.
I stroll past some cottages. I once picked up a puncture here on my bike and an elderly lady came out of her house to try and help me. I always look out for her when I pass by. The path behind the cottages takes me into another small patch of woodland which in the spring is full of wild garlic. In the first lockdown I would walk here to listen to the birdsong in the late afternoon; it was deafening. I hadn’t ever noticed it before as the low hum of city noise would drown it out. As I leave the path I walk to the local parkway where the pond is usually used by the local model boat club. The pond is being drained and dredged at the moment and the workmen are supervised by the heron’s beady eyes!
I arrive at Bournville Green. The Rest House has been a wonderful spot to meet a friend when restrictions have allowed as it offers some shelter from the rain. Behind the row of shops is the Cadbury chocolate factory and on cold days the smell of dairy milk fills the air. It’s divine! George Cadbury acquired the land here in the late 19th century and believed that the chocolate factory workers should have a good quality of living away from the pollution and poor conditions that workers usually experienced. Families living here had distinctly designed houses with gardens, and access to recreational facilities which are still used today. Due to the Cadbury family’s Quaker beliefs, the area was also built without any public houses. This afternoon there are a few people using the shops, and the coffee shop is doing a roaring trade of take away coffees. I sit on the bench and watch the world go by for a little while.
The Rest House, Bournville Green
The Carillon bells have just chimed 4pm. While everything else has been so strange over the last few months, some things remain reassuringly familiar. The Carillon is a musical instrument played by a trained specialist, Trevor, who hammers the keys with his fists to ring the 48 bells in the tower. On Saturday afternoons he will hold recitals and quite often you can hear songs by The Beatles ringing out across the area. Each Christmas Eve thousands carrying lanterns gather on the green below for a Carol service and the Carillon accompanies the singing - it’s so magical. I missed it so much this year, but how much more will we appreciate these things when they return! ✨
The Rest House, Bournville Green
And now it’s time to head home. I pass the 72 year-old Cedar tree, still adorned with fairy lights. The lights are being left on the tree throughout January this year as a symbol of hope. I put my camera away in my bag, plug my earphones into my phone and tune in to a podcast as I walk back past the duckpond in the twilight. I love listening to the conversation because it’s like sitting chatting with friends. The temperature drop is noticeable and I speed up a little; just five more minutes before I’m back home. The walk has given me the headspace I needed and the time to switch off from the world for a little while. I feel refreshed from feeling the cold on my face and cheered from the winter scenes. Let’s hope for a few more snow days before this season is out!