But it’s not the weather really. It’s my lack of patience for this place, which palls now with every passing week.
The soulless office above the shopping mall entombs me on shivering days like these. Days when inertia sucks the lifeblood of enthusiasm out from in me. Hours spent waiting for the gloom to lift and fall. Days when I don’t feel like running, and I wonder how I ever did.
The crocuses in Epsom Park smile indulgently as I pass on my winter’s route towards the dry Chalk hills above the town. They remind me.
Three seasons have come and almost gone since first I explored these streets – and the year may turn full circle before I leave. It’s a depressing thought, and so I turn around to escape the town a different way.
Ashtead Common is where I’m going. Looking for some hope, some relief, some inspiration, some… well, something uncertain amongst the mud. And a few minutes later, I’m running beside the railway, past the homely cottages and into open space beyond.
The woods ahead appear brown and lifeless across the Common, static against a waft of clouds drifting in the breeze. The sky seems bigger here already – there’s brightness, and that’s a start.
I trudge. For a minute or two, the trail rises, and then unwinds, and gradually, finally, my mind begins to open.
These ancient Ashtead trees are old friends of mine, first seen in summer and in a different light. I realise, slowly, reluctantly, that I’m glad to be here, happy to witness this place again, in another season.
Last December, I danced beside the Oxshott Road in swirls of rising fog, trying to catch the last oak leaves as they fell. I caught three, and wished on each. In January, I plodded beside Epsom Racecourse through a soaking rainstorm into a mid-afternoon’s dusk of bone-cold hands and soggy shoes.
And here, in February, these massive boughs and trunks reach upwards bare and stark and empty, the fallen leaves all pale and brittle now as they blot the mud beneath my feet. Time passing as this winter’s course is run.
So many weeks of churning breathlessly up the Downs have fair reward, and I climb more easily than I did last summer.
This pimple of a hill is now just five minutes of faster breathing and sharpened thought, until suddenly the path falls again. Around a corner, my eyes fall downwards as I skirt more mud, dodging thorns beside the path. And before I realise it, the woodland has cut itself apart.
Between the trees and beneath the sunlight lies farmland up ahead. Sometimes a wide horizon is all it takes to free the spirit, and here it is, a mile or so of open countryside stretching out in front of me.
Empty space, quiet and thoughtful, rolling forwards and shimmering softly. I stop to breathe – and it rises, the hope that’s hidden in the view.
For months, I’ve been gazing moodily at the winter darkness, breathing stifling air inside a lifeless office. Trudging through grey lunchtimes and evening mist.
All that time, the winter wheat has been growing grimly. Through cold weeks of rain and fog and wind and mud that have come and gone.
And finally, in February, we’re here together. The sky is blue above the fields. The air isn’t warm today, not yet, but one day soon I know it will be. This winter will reach its end.
I’ll say goodbye to this place, eventually. Time has taught me whilst I was here, though, toiling on my winter hills and tracking round these massive trees.
171. A splash of Burgundy in winter
151. Our secret space – Epsom and Ashtead Common
141. A winter sky and green and blue – Hyde Park, London
112. Forests of fire and iron – Surrey Hills 1
138. A winter Sunday on the North Downs