Walking back to Happiness

I am about to head home again for a week of British autumn and, as I pack my suitcase full of thermal undies and attempt to zip it closed (having first removed the dozing cat from within), I am reminded of the last time I packed my bags for a flight – back home in Canterbury after a long, glorious summer in England.

The summer of 2013 was filled with family, friends, sunshine, good food and, perhaps most memorably, some really fabulous walks. There was the wonderful Kent coastal walk I went on with my friend, Jeannine, from Reculver castle to Whitstable, on the hottest day of the year. We had a picnic on a remote bit of beach beneath a strange rocky outcrop and felt like Enid Blyton characters. We flagged down a passing ice-cream vendor on a tricycle to buy bottles of cold water, and ended the day with a blissfully cool sunset paddle and a well-earned pint of locally brewed beer at the Whitstable brewery.

I walked with my brother from Wye to Chilham through the beautiful Kent countryside, along the Stour Valley and up and down the Downs, on another day of booming blue skies and summer sun. The fields were golden with ripe wheat and barley, rippling slightly with the barely-breathing breeze. There were butterflies everywhere – Peacocks, Painted Ladies, Marbled Whites, Chalkhill Blues and many I didn’t recognise from my garden childhood of Red Admirals and Cabbage Whites: I’m told this summer was a particularly good one for the butterflies. There were dazzling patches of wild flowers at the edges and corners of fields – nature at its most free and colourful at the height of the summer – an impressionist blur of purples, reds and yellows. The walk took us through cool, shaded, badgery woodland and along the green banks of the river Stour, on its way to Canterbury.

Grove Ferry and Stodmarsh near Canterbury are favourite haunts of my family, largely for the birdlife, the fresh air and the tranquillity of the reed-beds. I walked here many times this year – more than I ever did when actually I lived in the UK I expect – with my parents and my brothers. Water rails screech from the reeds, ducks do crazy flapping take-offs from the water, flocks of geese honk by and a lone marsh harrier drifts high above, watching and waiting.

I wandered around the grounds of Sissinghurst Castle with my parents and my aunt, admiring the magical Rapunzel towers and the lovely, endless gardens arranged in different coloured ‘rooms’. I explored Batsford Arboretum with my dear friend Kate and her two tiny tots. I roamed the beautiful rolling hills of the Cotswolds with my friends Jo and Simon and their gorgeous little Pappy-Jack pups, ending our walk with chips and a pint of beer in a pub garden with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

I scaled the rugged heights of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du in the Brecon Beacons with my brother, on a perfect day of fleeting fluffy-white clouds, taking great cleansing lungfuls of the cool, clear air as we climbed. We discovered the highest wheelbarrow in Wales, posed for pictures on cliff edges (well, he did – I was a bit scared) and ate our sandwiches at the summit, looking out towards the dramatically named Black Mountains.

I pottered through the cobbled streets of Canterbury: through the pretty Westgate Gardens with my friend Lou and her baby, Tom; over the bridge, past the wild flower meadow, to the Greyfriars chapel with my friend Stacy and her son, Milo; to the secret riverside butterfly garden with my mum and Aunty Ange; up St Margaret’s Street in the summer rain to meet my friend Kate for afternoon tea at Tiny Tim’s Tearoom.

I walked along the stripy-deck-chaired beachfront at Westgate with my friend Nicki and her two tiny girls; along the Thames and through Greenwich Park with my sister-in-law, Caroline; down a steep, narrow lane to paddle on a perfect Devon beach with my friends Kate and Jonney and their little boy, Finbar. I walked around a Kentish vineyard in the bright morning sunshine before sampling a dangerously diverse selection of their fine wines (I’m ashamed to say the sun was absolutely nowhere near the yard arm). I wandered around Brighton with my mum and my godmother, popping into jewellery shops and stopping at the Lanes for tea and cake.

Many people enjoy walking alone, but for me a pleasant walk is as much about good company as it is about beautiful surroundings. There’s something about talking whilst walking which is uniquely therapeutic. I think it’s to do with the healthy physical activity, the proximity to nature, the fresh air and the ever-changing landscape which stimulates and enriches the conversation. Even if there are other walkers around, a conversation while walking always feel private, and the necessary lack of eye-contact (in order to avoid rabbit holes, puddles or cow pats) somehow allows delicate subjects to be addressed or confidences to be shared in an easy, gentle way. On returning home as an expat, there are so many lovely people I am desperate to see. Going for walks with them is, in my mind, the best possible way to catch up whilst recharging with the healing essence of home.

I’ll be going for another walk tomorrow – along several miles of airport travelators: just a tad less picturesque than the Cotswolds or the Brecon Beacons perhaps, but it’s the way home.

33 Comments

  1. Kaye McIntyre

    That was a wonderful read! We had a caravan in Reculver for many years and it’s a wonderful part of the world to be. Brought back memories. Thank you.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, Kaye! What a lovely sunny, breezy place Reculver is! Can’t wait to head home :-)

  2. Rick

    A beautifully evocative piece about an English summer. As always, written with humour and in wonderfully structured prose. With the way you write, your readers are almost as much a part of the experience as you were.

  3. Rick

    ……….by the way its been far too long since your last blog. We were all beginning to get withdrawal symptoms………

  4. Ah, to be out walking . . . I cannot think about anything more pleasurable! Have a lovely “walk” home.

    • I will! – Thank you! And thanks for visiting. Hope your adventures are going well :-)

  5. You took me along with you on those walks…absolutely lovely.
    And how right you are about the ability to talk without inhibition when walking…

    • Thanks, Helen. Walking in the countryside is probably one of the things I miss most about home. Hope all is well with you.

  6. Your words and photos are a joy to the senses!

  7. You’re back :)
    Aw, that made me miss England. The countryside sure is beautiful on a warm summer’s day.

    • Absolutely. It’s even beautiful on a grey and drizzly day in my opinion. Thanks for popping by :-)

  8. Lovely to hear from you after so long. I am disabled and sadly unable to do long walks any more – you took me along with you in countryside I used to call home too, having lived both in Brighton and Canterbury. It reminded me of companionable walks from my past, healthy life. Thank you! :)

    • So glad you liked it Liz – thank you for reading :-) Love that you can picture some of these places from your own experiences!

  9. I’m jealous – I’d like a nice walk that ended in me having ruddy cheeks and a pint of something or other! x

  10. Where have you been???? I have missed your posts. Holidaying in the UK is no excuse…. :)

    • Hi PN! Nice to see you! You’re right – no excuses – less holidaying, more blogging :-D

  11. There is something about returning home that makes you appreciate the landscape, the people and even the weather! Lovely, well written post. And now I know why you liked my Sandwich post!

  12. What glorious photographs. My parents live near Sissinghurst – it is one of my very favourite places to visit.

    • Hi Joanna – welcome to H&H! I’d never been to Sissinghurst before – it’s such a special place. I’d love to go back and see it in different seasons…

  13. Sounds like you’ve had a healing mind body and spirit experience Lucy. Do you miss the heat and sand of Dubai though? all the best Diana

    • Oh I love being home, Diana. And no… I didn’t miss the heat and sand too much :-)

  14. Beautifully written. I was there with you, an the photos are fabulous. Now I feel homesick: can I come too? I’m glad you’re back, I was starting to wonder where you’d gone :-)

  15. glad to see you back!! I kept popping round the door to see if anybody was in, but nobody was home for a while…. quite an evocative piece of writing you’ve got here, and beautiful images. Are you now sitting in the sun?

    • Helloo! Yes, back in the sunshine – and this is the time of year it all gets quite pleasant – because you actually can sit in the sun without melting. Any plans for some winter sunshine in Croatia?

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