The second in an occasional series

By Adam Russell

For me, a walk is a lesson in humility, a reminder that I can never finish it. Not the one I intend anyway, the one in my head, which is always reassuringly long and with a fixed destination. Instead, something else happens. I’m waylaid, arrested by some fixation – a bird, a bee, a bridge – and the walk imperceptibly turns into an exercise in delay; at once both a lot less and a lot more of a journey than the one I’d planned.

If there’s mud (in the Weald there always is) I get stuck in it, and go to ground with a field of thoughts that seem to grow out the soil. As Heidegger writes: “We never come to thoughts. They come to us.”

There’s a story about Proust, which often comes to mind: one day, walking with a friend through Paris gardens and so taken by the beauty of a particular rosebush he stopped, transfixed, studying its form for an hour or more. In a moment of such diversion, so oblivious, who would want to be the friend? At its best, pure observation is a beautiful paralysis, a depth of silence, which doesn’t share.

So, the best walks are never finished and always taken alone. The other day I intended to walk from Westfield to Battle. Of course, stopping everywhere I only got a few fields in, pausing to watch a ewe through binoculars, shorn from its flock and shaking with vacancy. At the top of one field, I lingered by golden, ragged carcasses of corn – falling to rot, shivering in sunlight, ghosting the grass – nothing is said in the bend of their sound.

Sometime in the long nineteenth century, a man was slogging along a winter lane, wet and with a thick spread of ‘honey’ (the old slang name for the Wealden mud). Seeing a hat left in the road, he went to pick it up. But it wasn’t just a hat – the hat had a head, and the head had a body submerged in fathoms of mud. The poor man, still alive, was pulled out to general amazement. I am something like him: stuck in the mud, sunk in the moment, wallowing in the mire of impassable byways. And at this rate, I’ll never make it to Battle.

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