When the alarm went off at 6.30 this morning, all I wanted to do was to snuggle more deeply into the duvet and travel deeper into my dreams. But I knew I would regret a missed opportunity for an early morning walk so I swung my legs out of bed and stumbled downstairs.
At this time of year, it is dark before 7am and so early morning walks must start under pitch black skies. “Walking in darkness” tends to have negative connotations: on the one hand, there is the threat of injury or attack from speeding cars, muggers, thieves, wild animals and ghostly creatures; on the other, the phrase conjures a metaphorical picture of walking blindly and miserably, without direction. (We’re often reminded of this at Christmas time as many carol services refer to Isaiah 9 v 2:”The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”). Clearly, walking in darkness is not generally regarded as a good thing.
Yet there is something I quite like about walking in darkness, especially if I know that the light is on its way. I like the little frisson of danger, I like the fact that the streets are usually empty and I like sneaking out of the house unseen. This enjoyment of being hidden goes back a long way. My favourite childhood game was hide and seek in the dark: it was fun, trying to make myself as small and invisible as possible, slowing my breathing and escaping detection by the seeker. It was also fun to climb trees, a book wedged under my arm, so I could sit and read, uninterrupted and unobserved by people passing below. So this morning, it was with a sense of anticipation that I crept out of the house into the darkness and made my way through silent streets, up to the edge of town. Once I had reached open countryside, I turned back to look at the path I’d just travelled, lit by the breaking dawn.
The last time I’d walked here, the sunrise had been full of violent shades of orange and crimson but today’s was more gentle. The sky before me was a deep indigo, gradually melting into shades of lavender, pale blue and pink. As the skies lightened, I followed the road to Potten End and then on towards Frithsden, where the fields were swathed in early morning mist.
As I walked on through the forest at Ashridge, I saw many deer, including the snowy white one I’ve seen a number of times before. The deer’s shyness, combined with the poor light, made it hard to get good pictures but these will give you a sense of what I saw.
By the time I reached the golf course outside Berkhamsted, the sun was rising higher in the sky. I trotted down the steep hill towards the canal, where I joined a very muddy towpath.
Slipping, and sliding, I headed towards home. The watercolour tints of the sky and canal were occasionally shattered by bursts of brighter colours: those of the boats moored at the water’s edge and two brilliantly turquoise kingfishers who sped across my path (too fast to be captured by my camera).
By this point I was no longer alone or invisible. All darkness had gone, the morning was well underway and I had to share the towpath with joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists. I resolved to get up earlier next time!