Unprepared or under-prepared, either way, the mud and the generally saturated air meant that my first walking challenge was just that. A tester. An are-you-sure-about-this moment. Can’t fall at the first hurdle, though, especially when it’s not actually a physical hurdle, but just me clambering outside wearing the wrong gear.
It’s the first rule, the most authentic truism, the biggest cliché and we may as well get it posted and dealt with early on. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. Note to self, schoolboy error, all that.
Toft, 6 miles WSW of Cambridge, is an ancient village whose name is Viking, essentially, for ‘homestead’. There are others, unsurprisingly, in areas where the Danes settled. My mate Nick (he’s blond, maybe there’s a connection, I should ask) has just moved there, and has been taking to the hedgerows and footpaths for a few weeks now, so he knows a few routes.
We set out on the road to Bourn, but almost immediately turn off through a field and over a stile and the mud begins to stick to my boots, which are only those pretend sort of boots you can wear smartly at work and not walking boots, and the damp grass is soaking and encroaching up my jeans as if they’re welcoming and embracing it. The only thing that’s going to perform here is my jacket, which is proper outdoor gear. Oh.
That main road crosses Bourn Brook, which is the lowest part of the common ground here and from that point we’re climbing through the fields, only to about 30 or 40 metres, mostly along the old tracks that linked the villages. This takes us to Kingston, and above the fields we should have a pleasant view of the gentle valley, but it’s misty and cloying, not raining exactly, but visibility is low. Not that it matters, because before we reach Kingston there is that thing that only happens on a country walk, when you find yourself in an area that – OK, it may be small and modest in its own way, but that’s not the point – is a separate reality, something that is simple in and of itself, but you just forget places like it exist. A track, hidden from view, a broad tunnel, a thoroughfare within a hedgerow, no road to see or to be seen from (we left that behind at the bottom of the rise, remember); an ancient path, still used. Not Narnia, not magic, not really secret to be honest, but just ‘away’. You don’t pass it in the normal business of the day, but it’s there.
There’s holly and ash here, nothing too woody or substantial, it’s well-managed as ancient as it is. Hawthorn and blackthorn. Hazel echoes back to just what a useful resource this has been. It’s full of chaffinches, and probably more besides, but waves of chaffinches mostly, wafting up and telling each other we’re disturbing their peace before settling back down once we’ve passed.
We skirt the village and for a while it’s a metalled road until hitting the edge of the Wimpole estate, criss-crossed by desire lines, the social tracks of dog walkers and National Trust members taking constitutionals up to the folly designed by Sanderson Miller.
Nick tells me you used to be able to go in, but it’s barred now, designed as a ruin, ironically it is now deemed unsafe.
Wimpole is quiet, though open, but we’re only skimming the edge of it, just getting a taster of the statuary before heading North East, across the highest part of the walk, and then to Great Eversden and back to Toft over the Meridian Golf Course. The weather comes in close at 70 metres, but it never amounts to rain, although it is a shame we don’t get the view across to Cambridge.
There’s no-one out on the greens. Perhaps they have more sense.