A Harlington Walk: a story from hope to gratitude (and a dog called Donny!)

NEW:  “Bloom Where you are Planted” – an Index of Posts of walks in and around the village of Harlington has now been added.  Please click here. 


A Story from Hope to Gratitude (and a dog called Donny!)

Several years ago when I was ill the one thing I tried to do every day whatever the weather was to take a walk in the Harlington locality. For me at that time to do a short two and a quarter mile circuit from my house round to the Bottoms and back home felt like an interminable trek that took every ounce of willpower.    And in fact, I know that when I do my 150 miles “Gratitude Walk” this September, (and indeed nor when I walked the Ridgeway National Trail – detailed here – last year)  the challenge will be nowhere near as hard for me as those days when it seemed just too hard to fight.    Yet somewhere a very faint, timid voice of hope inside me told me that it was not my time to die and that enabled me to walk on.   Today I retraced the same steps.

I took the well-hidden footpath from Sundon Road and after walking behind the houses, emerged into the field with a view of Sharpenhoe Clappers.  There is a wonderful photographer in Dorset, Doug Chalk who takes a photograph of Colmer’s Hill near Bridport every single day, and I am starting to think that all my local blog posts  are including  Sharpenhoe Clappers in the same way!


When I used to trudge across the fields, head down, despairingly  putting one foot in front of the other, clinging on by the merest whit of faith that one day I would feel well, I would always find or hear something life affirming.  Sometimes it was the healing feeling of the sun on my skin.  Occasionally the distant sound of a child laughing, reminding me of care-free times.  More usually it was birdsong and nearly always as today I found a feather.  For me this always symbolised the freedom of birds and reminded me how God protects even the humblest of living things.  I studied “As you Like It” in 6th form and I remember learning the quote:  “the adversities of life on this planet often teach one to find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”  This holds true for me if I stay connected when out walking in nature.


After half a mile or so crossing the fields with Sundon Hills ahead, one passes an apple tree on the right. I am guessing self-set from a seed dropped by a bird.  This quite often has a surprisingly good crop in early Autumn of fine tasting, if small apples.  The “Apple” has many symbolic meanings in art and religion and I was reminded of the story of American pioneer Jonny Appleseed, who spent nearly 50 years traversing the wilderness planting apple trees.  He dreamed of a landscape beautified by apple blossoms and a country where no one would go hungry.  Just what so many of us still dream of today.


I love how the changes in the seasons are reflected in this short Harlington walk. The long sometimes seemingly never-ending field after the apple tree towards the Bottoms is full of bone dry trenches surrounded by shoulder high (but I am quite short!) crops in mid summer ;  it is difficult to identify when newly ploughed and difficult to traverse after heavy rains.  Today as I trudged along a buzzard was hovering overhead in the clear blue sky.   The roadway known as The Bottoms is reached after a mile or so of walking.


Several years ago traipsing along this lane my mind ruminated on old hurts, resentments, regrets and fears. Today I noticed so much beauty.  I was able to appreciate the sight of the oil seed rape coming into bloom, to hear the song of the blackbird and to feel a gentle breeze touch my face.


This was always a short stroll in distance , although often a very long one in terms of mental courage. Today I again walked slowly, but this time to appreciate the beauty.   I turned left a short way along the Bottoms where the footpaths cross left to right taking in the views of Harlington village and Harlington Spinney.  I followed the footpath around the edge of the field and turned left again.


This shady footpath here alongside the hedge always seems one of the last areas locally to dry out. It can be hard work traipsing through it.   However today whilst trying to avoid the muddiest bits.  I turned my thoughts around to the tasty  blackberries which will grow along the hedgerow in the Autumn.  Everything has its cycle. Things change, grow and develop.    Everything passes.


And, yes, before you wonder about my heading, I met a dog called Donny. A rescue dog with a wonderful bow tie.  Such a friendly dog and so lovely to be reminded of an example of how man can be good-hearted towards animals and the love we receive from our pets.


Where the twelve steps down my garden path begin I have placed a plaque with a saying by  the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  That is so true and I write now in gratitude.  Just a short local walk but each step I have taken has helped me heal and each step takes me further on my journey.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.


Full route directions for this walk are given here:     The Bottoms 

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