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Monday, 24 October 2011

My cold is on its way out, I think. It will of course leave me with a nasty wheezing cough; they all do these days. But at least I should be fit to travel to London tomorrow to see my younger daughter. It’ll be a flying visit, just a chance to catch up: it must be seven months now since I’ve seen her.

I must have mentioned several times, in past postings, the fact that I generally walk into Durham when I have errands to run. It’s a little over two miles. There is a bus that runs past the door, one every twenty minutes; and because I’m over sixty I get a free ride, but I really do prefer the walk. It’s not spectacular country around here, but it’s pleasantly attractive - and I get a chance to fill my lungs with fresh air, blow away the cobwebs that gather when you’re at a desk most of the day, and keep an eye on the changing seasons. Things are still unusually green here; we’ve yet to have a frost, and today looks like another mild one: yesterday was in the upper fifties, I would guess.

My chosen route into town is along one of several disused railway lines that criss-cross this part of the county and used to link the many, many pit villages that grew up in the 19t century and died in the late 20th. We live in one - although you have to look hard to see any obvious signs of the old workings. Here’s a stretch of the line that used to run behind our place and which takes me some of the way into town:

These paths are used by joggers, dog-walkers, horse-back riders, hikers, cyclists and the occasional rabbiter. There’s one guy who comes by most days carrying a plastic bag and collecting the horse-shit; he may have competition in the near future: our allotment needs as much organic matter as we can get if this year’s potato crop is anything to go by.

An alternative route to town, and a quicker one, is down the main road for half a mile and across this ploughed field.

Americans tend to be puzzled by our system of ‘rights of way’. I remember being in a bar in eastern Montana and getting a warning about the dangers of trespassing. ‘You step onto private land here, my friend, and the first sound you hear will be the warning shot.’ But theirs is a new country. It’s different here, where we have the right to go where we please, more or less. Our ancient tracks, trails and footpaths date back many centuries, in some cases to Roman times, even earlier. There’s a path I have taken across the North York Moors which was always billed as a Roman road until recent research that suggested it was made by Ancient Britons in, I think, the Iron Age. I don’t know how old path in the photograph above is, nor who the farmer is who ploughs it twice a year, but every time he does the locals just re-make it. I have occasionally been among the first few to cross after he’s harvested or sown seeds, and, much as I hate to tread on a growing crop, I equally hate to see my ancient rights ignored. So you arrive home with muddy shoes. Someone has to.

I was disappointed, when I took this picture, that the sun slipped behind a cloud, because the quality of the green was still fairly startling to my eyes after six months in Nebraska. You rarely see grass that colour in the Sandhills; maybe in a sub-irrigated valley. But this hillside - it’s a field that was fallow for some years but has been ploughed up and sown with rye - will most likely retain that emerald colour right through to the spring.

Here’s a second view, from the top of that particular hill, just before my route to town re-joins the main road briefly. On the horizon, in the centre, you can just see the outline of a neighbouring village. We sometimes walk across the fields to a pub there, which has a name but which we know as the Domino Place - simply because of the time we arrived on a Sunday lunchtime and were confronted by an irate local who insisted that A was in ‘his’ chair, where he always sits to play dominoes. Good old locals: one way or another they can be guaranteed to give you a story.

Well, it’s eight thirty and time I got to work. I have to produce another thousand words today for book 5 of the Mike Pannett series and then read the rest of a 300-word manuscript I started on last week. I earn a few extra pounds through the year assessing manuscripts for a literary consultancy and writing comprehensive reports on their good qualities, their failings, how I think they might be improved and whether they are fit for publication. I only read non-fiction, and get to see some fascinating material: the current one, for example, records the attempts of a boat-owner to trace the history of her 90-year-old steel hulled yacht. Somewhere in the bowels of University of Nebraska Press, I guess, someone is taking a similar analytical look at my proposal for a book about my time in the red house. They’ve had it almost seven weeks now, so I ought to hear something soon.

I’ll close with a picture of the small herd of cattle that’s currently grazing in the field behind our house. Looks kind of quaint after what I got used to in the Sandhills.

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