Christmas is just around the corner.
In Ashtead Woods, near the famous Epsom Wells, my footsteps fall silent among the leaves. The track is lined here with silver birch trees, stripped bare to show glimpses of greyed out sky behind. A still and unforgiving air is rushing past my face. I hear the rhythm of my breathing, and nothing more.
I let my mind fall empty. And dream of a frozen hillside, in another season.
* * * * *
The frost is on the ground – shining sheaves of white splashed on the grass beside the road. It’s late October, dawn. With chilly hands stuffed inside my sleeves, I’m fighting up a steeply rising lane.
At this early hour, my stiff legs are unexcited about the slope. My heavy stomach and a thickened head recall a feast of French food and wine consumed in happier hours just a thirsty, restless sleep behind me.
Twenty, thirty – forty – my feet keep turning, and at last I crest the ridge to greet an unexpected dazzling sunlight where yellow leaves are exploding from the vines.
The road falls away, and the green and silver fields of Burgundy stretch far beyond. The sun is stronger here, warming cold skin in seconds. The first breathless kilometre is behind me, and I’ll find my rhythm now.
My music falls silent for a moment, shuffling, and then it starts. Gradually at first, then rising slowly, building to a rich and familiar crescendo. I rarely listen to opera, but here is, Pavarotti, opening up the day with ‘Nessun Dorma’.
And this is it – that unexpected moment, in the unfamiliar place. The raw and cleansing emotion of realising that you are free and alive, out in the open air and standing on the Earth. The sensation of embedding yourself in endless time and energy and landscape, and of truly witnessing a season.
An autumn waving back to me across a mile of winter.
* * * * *
The street lights are stuttering into evening life as my run brings me past the ancient church and slowly back from France to Epsom.
Until then, I wish you a perfect run through Christmas, and an exuberant stride to take you right through your New Year.
151. Our secret space – Epsom and Ashtead Common
167. Paris – Ville de lumière
138. A winter Sunday on the North Downs
56. Paris – a view from the Champs de Mars
112. Forests of fire and iron – Surrey Hills 1
141. A winter sky and green and blue – Hyde Park, London