I woke up in one of the White Hart’s comfortable rooms, early brightness offering some hope that this would be a good walking day. Chalfont St Giles being the home of John Milton, I read some Paradise Lost while I waited for breakfast time. I hadn’t looked at this poem for years – not since ‘Rusty’ Reynolds taught it at A-level, at least when we weren’t able to distract him into talking about cricket, jazz or Bob Dylan. (A happy memory – VIth form huts at the back of Hove Grammar School as lost paradise…) I became steadily more wide-eyed as I read through Books 1 and 2 – soaking in the language of a potent supermyth; I often read comics, pulp and fantasy, to the point where I’m jaded from a surfeit of marvels, but this stuff… has me babbling with inarticulate enthusiasm.
The pub breakfast was suitably hearty, though for some reason the three overnight guests were squashed into one corner of the restaurant. My fellow breakfasters were on some kind of public- or third-sector job-related trip, their language similar to my own work-speak but with different words – so much so that I couldn’t understand what they were saying. We all spoke ‘corporate’, but in different dialects.
I paid up and left. At the end of the bar, pink balloons, slightly deflated, were a residue of last night’s breast cancer fundraising dinner (£25 with a complimentary half-bottle of wine, £5 to the charity) – worthy resistance to the bodily effects of ‘Chaos…And Tumult and Confusion all imbroild’. Flashback to encountering the language of cancer – suddenly learning unwanted words like ‘metastasized’, treading uncertain territory of ‘percentages’ and ‘remission’.
A few hundred yards down the hill I passed Milton’s Cottage. I believe he wrote Paradise Lost here. I wondered if Edge Hill, a key battle of the English Civil War (the site of which I visited a few months ago) featured in his mental landscape. Opposite the cottage is ‘Milton’s Indian Restaurant’, where I checked out the menu – disappointed not to find dishes with Miltonian themes, a vindaloo maybe described as ‘a fiery Deluge, fed With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d (very spicy)’.
In Chalfont itself I overshot the path and wandered into the churchyard, walking out through the lich gate (better than being carried in) and picking up the South Bucks Way.
On a gloomy day in the rain I was braced for walking through a ‘dismal Situation waste and wilde’. It was somewhat grim with the strangled sounds of cattle and barking dogs blowing across the wet heath, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Another tract of country, no beauty spot and no reason to come here except for the journey itself…
It was raining harder as I walked through Chalfont St Peter, and over a hill via long streets lined with big houses to Gerrards Cross. A Costa Coffee gave a brief respite, the warm tones of its corporate decor familiar from just about everywhere I’ve been. From there, really wet now, I walked across some parkland and out past the last houses, too busy plunging through the rain to wonder why the woods here are called ‘The Rancho’, a soggy echo of Spain or California.
In Fulmer I stopped for a pint in the Black Horse – Greene King ‘Fireside’ Bitter, a cheerful picture of a blazing hearth on the pump clip contrasting with the unlit fires in the pub itself. It was nice enough though for some reason I felt glad I hadn’t stayed there, as I had considered doing. From the pub I doubled back past the church, sounds of hymn singing emerging, today being the Festival of Christ the King, for many the last Sunday of the liturgical year – the expectant penitent waiting of Advent soon to start. I yearn for such spiritual structure but here I am out walking, again.
I joined the Beeches Way and soon crossed the M40, almost at its southernmost tip. I suppose I could have called this year ‘Walking the M40’ as I have more or less completed its length and recrossed it several times. I now feel that I ‘own’ it in a different way from the drivers and passengers.
Shortly afterwards I entered Black Park Country Park. This seems a clumsy title as its name is ‘Black Park’, and it’s a ‘Country Park’. Google simply conflate this into ‘Black Country Park’, implying that this stretch of wood and heath could really belong back in an earlier part of the walk, near Dudley, Stourbridge and Wolverhampton. A low sun appeared, gleaming through the dripping trees.
On the other side of Black Park, I found myself at the southern tip of Pinewood Studios. Rather than walk on, I decided to take a detour, making a complete circuit which will comprise a post of its own.
Another mile of wood and wintry sunshine, some muddy paths to the station, and the day’s walk was finished. Elsewhere, the rain I had enjoyed was washing bridges away, flooding homes. There were autumn leaves still unfallen on the branches, and also some spring green come unnaturally early; in a couple of weeks I would be 48, a year-and-a-day left to reach the 50th year where the endpoint of this journey should lie; a bit more time ‘treading the crude consistence’ of ill-defined territory, ‘bog or steep…strait, rough, dense, or rare’; pointing lenses into the sun, metastasizing words and pixels and unfolding fresh maps.