For Saif’s birthday, we went for a walk. Now, I should be clear, Saif isn’t a dog. But with the world the way it is, a party didn’t seem like the most sensible thing to do, so instead we settled on a stroll through the Somerset countryside.
But this was a birthday stroll, which meant that we had to go places we had never been before.
He spent the week beforehand studying an OS map, poring over the twenty or so nearest grid squares, and plotting our route. The destination was RAF Charmy Down, an old airfield a little way outside Bath, which we had been meaning to visit for the last couple of years but never had.
The rules to our expedition were simple: walk, and walk, and walk, and don’t head back until our feet have whittled down to red raw stumps.
On that last point, we were quite successful.
Now, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be a particularly eventful day. We were just going on a walk, after all, which we’d done a hundred times before. But over and over again we saw small, strange, and wonderful things.
Which got me thinking that, if your feet hurt and your belly grumbles and the skies are blue, a simple walk can quite easily become an adventure to remember.
So, here’s a kind of gallery. Think of it like google street view, but without all the boring bits, and entirely concerned with one particular journey on one particular day. Take a look, and along the way we’ll tell you about just a few of the extraordinary things that happened on that very ordinary walk.
Our first stop was Beckford Tower and cemetery. We’d been here dozens of times before, but had rarely spent time exploring the graveyard. Twisting roots and mossy mounds dislodged the headstones, and looming trees stretched their branches lazily. Many of the dates and names upon the graves have faded with time, but we could make out a scattered few. Both young and old have been buried here, as the many shades of nature grow around them.
The skies were absolutely and completely clear all day. Not a cloud in sight. It was strange, and quite unsettling, as if something had gone wrong in the code of the universe and deleted the concept of weather. It’s rare to see blue skies in the UK, and almost impossible to see skies as blue as this. Was it good luck for the day ahead? Or a bad omen?
I’ll take any chance I can to get a selfie with an animal, and this guy was happy to oblige. Once mama horse caught wind of what we we were doing, however, we were startled by a rousing neigh. I’m not particularly fluent in horse speak, but I’m confident I understood that: “time’s up, buddy. Get out of my field, yeah?”
As we made our way out of the hills and into a quaint little village – all yellowed stone houses and colourful gardens – we were suddenly accosted by a farmer. Before we knew what was happening, we had inadvertently agreed to keep his horses inside their field whilst he opened the gate and drove a tractor through.
How would we go about this? By, it turns out, waving our arms up and down and saying “stay, stay, stay,” in increasingly panicked tones.
The horses were big. Huge, I’d say. Wouldn’t have had any trouble kicking our faces off, if things went sour, and I dearly wanted to keep hold of my face.
The tractor rumbled through, and we shut the gate without any injuries. At this point, we looked at one another. “Did you see his… Bum?”
The farmer, you see, had been wearing tight fitting denim short shorts, which perfectly hugged the curve of his buttocks. It was an interesting fashion choice, to be sure, and I suppose a practical one.
There were dug out bunkers scattered around Charmy Down airfield, which were easy enough to get inside (so long as we didn’t mind cobwebs in our hair). After taking some photos, I crawled out from the bunker and into the sunlight, at which point I noticed a kid, frozen, staring at me. He was absolutely terrified – which was understandable, considering the fact that I hadn’t had a haircut in months and must have looked like an unkempt gorilla, escaped from the zoo.
Along the way, I was struck by how alive everything was. Squirrels and rabbits and farm animals, watching gormlessly as we passed.
After exploring Charmy Down, we noticed that the sun was still high in the sky. We might as well keep going, we thought. There was a forest nearby, with a wonderfully pretty name, and so we charged on, doing our very best to navigate only using the paper map.
This was a mistake. Three hours later, and we had arrived at the forest, as darkness began to settle. The looming trees creaked and groaned as we walked among them.
Eventually, we saw a car up ahead. It was parked by the side of the road, out here in the middle of nowhere, blank headlights watching us with a sinister glare. Perhaps it was the approaching shadows, playing on our minds. Or perhaps there really was something terrible waiting for us up ahead… The closer we got, the more I braced myself to throw Saif into the path of danger and run.
But there was nothing. No crazed serial killer, chasing us through the trees. No wild animals, sharp toothed and snarling. Just two grown men, jumping at every hoot of an owl, every rustle of the leaves.
Once we had escaped the forest, we emerged into a vast, freshly farmed field. The landscape seemed as dry and lifeless as a desert, and the earth crunched like gravel beneath our feet. Sunset had eased the sky into a peculiar shade of violet, which seemed as flat and endless as the blue before. We couldn’t believe how unreal it all felt – which wasn’t helped by the discovery of several milky white bones, as clean and sterile as movie props.
We took one of these bones home, I’m afraid to say, as a grim souvenir. It reminds us of the stories of the day – and I have only mentioned a few. There were, of course, the teenagers racing down the road on mini motorbikes, hollering as they went. The fragile old couple, desperate to help us with directions despite never having heard of our destination. And, of course, the journey home; getting lost in the pitch black of the countryside, worried for just a moment that we might never make it back to civilisation.
By the end of it all, going for a walk on Saif’s birthday seemed like the best thing we could have done. Until we struggled out of our shoes and saw the blisters, that is. Nothing was worth that – and I won’t disturb you with the photos.