Tuesday 1 October 2002

Late summer evening

Logistics dictated that I walk the four miles over the fields between my parent's house and the comforting Victorian architecture of Princes Risborough station. It was a pleasant time to be out, the sun had started its slow arc to the horizon over my shoulder, a translucent veil of high cloud wallpapered the sky. The gaudy inverted tear-drops of distant hot air balloons hung on invisible pegs in the still warm air of the Vale.

The footpath soon strayed off the quiet country road and cut a sharp line through straw-stubbled fields. Its passage across a village cricket pitch did not disturb the match in progress - white-clad fielders still lazed in the field, the batsmen scored good, quick runs.

The path rolled past The Lions, quintessential country pub. An ancient low-eaved building, small stone steps carved into gentle curves by centuries of feet led up to a stooping front door. The spacious front garden home to rough wooden benches sprawled beneath an enormous tree.

The leaves were losing their spring freshness, the fierce summer rays of July and August had laid dusty reds and oranges over the original vibrant green. Each tree was quietly preparing for the oncoming winter, shedding leaves and dropping newly minted conkers to gleam like brown pearls in the dust of the track.

The path lost its clear trace in the pale, dry clods of a newly ploughed field, but its invisible edge notched dark cuts into the far-off hedgerows. My shadow flowed from furrow to furrow as horses hooves rattled on a distant road.

As I move around the country I'm frequently embarrassed and depressed at the tedium of the new retail and business world progress has brought. As planner's pens scrape new roads of featureless tarmac across once quiet vales and as retail parks, housing estates, and office blocks slop over the rims of small market towns it's good to know that a slice of picture perfect England can still spring to warm, engaging life for those in the right place at the right time.

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