Icknield Way, day three

Day 3. 8th December 2017, Ivinghoe Beacon to lost.

I walk on the Thursday after Christmas. Up at dawn, the sky charged blue. I am buoyed up, riding high, triumphant before I reach the station.

The train to Tring, the station closest to Ivinghoe Beacon, the beginning of the Icknield Way.

What a day to begin! On this clear ringing day! A light covering of snow, blenk, frosted and crisped overnight, fired by the sun to blinter.

Sun winter sun intense and low catching my eyes In fast blinking blinding flashes through the branches.

So bright the rest is dark and I see only the flare and flicker

until the bramble leaf nothing special, except that it is illuminated for a moment in a shaft of sunlight and its beauty and humble splendour stop me, shatter me with awe.

I am dazzled, blinded by glory and must have missed my turn I realise, when I reach the lane where a lane shouldn’t have been.

I look at the map, ask a dog walker to be sure, locate self, here, attempt to put myself right.

But I can’t hold to it. For there are leaves in their tender autumn colours, jellied under a layer of ice Trees painted in snow, drip dripping in the sun, like the wax from the candles in the Christmas service.

Let the way pay out as it will I I am at worship.

Paused puddles in curves and careful curls thick lips of ice lovingly lapping the ground meeting, precisely, each leaf and blade of grass.

Some are feathered white ice birds sleeping there, I think, or perhaps just resting for a while.

Imagining their flight, I look up and see the Red Kites, warm and alive blood red brilliant in the sun.

I scramble after them across one field, then another. Above, their adagio of considered grace. Below, my gritty stumbling pursuit, breathless from excitement and running, managing nothing.

Eventually I stop and raised my arms to them. It is the only thing I can do

Then they are gone and where am I?

It seems very likely that the big houses and gardens are those of Covetous Corner. Also that I might be walking through a story. I am certainly walking off my map, a small tumble off a straight hard edge into nowhere. I could, of course, concentrate. Backtrack. Find my route. I just don’t want it enough. What I want to do is walk, wherever my eyes and feet take me, to step only by instinct and desire.

So I dawdle out the remains of the day, head back with the Red Kites looking at tree shadows on a golf course,

at footprints in the snow – of birds and beasts, and wellies, which can have their beauty, it seems

Eating a solid damp hunk of Christmas cake in a churchyard with nips of brandy, waiting for a Dickensian funeral procession to approach.

Those who place signposts in Bedfordshire start their task with enthusiasm, but are easily distracted. Many paths start me off with confidence, then abandon me which means that I see a fox, bright against the snow, leaping through a fence and hear the grass, breathing wetly in and out, sucking away at the snow.

But I am tired, and a neatly hedged lost.

I want a station and a warm train home, not a dying sun and a field with no way out. But there, glory be, is a road, just a few fields away. And a farm. I approach with proper caution, nervous of angry shouts and woofs. A farm under renovation. Relief. Tarmac under foot, then a joyful sight: A garden centre. Tea and bakewell tart, and a taxi to a station.

Considered as a leg of the Icknield Way, a complete failure.

As a walk, as a day of the life? Incredible

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