After we moved into our new house in a village in south Cambridgeshire we noticed a call to action – Walkers needed to mark the boundaries of the village parish. It is an age old tradition in which the villagers walk around the parish ensuring that the bounds have not been encroached upon by the neighbours and also initiating the younger generation to the limit of their influence. It is a ten mile walk the leaflet informed. That is hardly any distance at all – we said. And if Fluffy, our neighbours cat, can mark her boundaries twice a day then it is our solemn duty to do so once a year. Count us in – we enlisted our selves through the ether, secretly hoping the call would never come.
The summon arrived a week before the day. It came with vivid descriptions of the challenges we are likely to face in action – tall grass, stinging nettles, deep ditches, fallen trees, barbed wires. And the end of it all the much feared disclaimer – I agree to put life and limb in harms way of my own volition. Hmm, now we were forced to do a MOT of our vintage vehicles and the more we looked the more cracks and creaks did we find. In the end we deployed a Dad’s army approach and sacrificed such minor details for the greater good of village and community.
Choosing the right luggage was the next challenge. In days gone by, when our limbs were stronger and the world was open for travel, A had spent hours on the ether looking for the hiking gear that matched our prowess. Good money had been paid, goods of promised quality delivered and then safely packed away for future adventurers. Now at the time of need they were no where to be seen. We had flashbacks of where we had seen it last but they all turned out to be mirages. I coyly mentioned the G word. ‘I am very sure it is not there’ A declared and refused to go there until every nook and corner of the house has been combed. And so we did but nope, nothing. I went about the house carrying a sad face lamenting the loss of a good ally who had the power to transform this trip. A submitted. There it is I said as soon as we walked into the garage. I brought it in, tried it on, declared it unfit for duty and neatly tucked it away for another day. I was at a loss but sensed a hint relief in A’s demeanour, not dissimilar to one expressed by a airport staff on handing over lost luggage to a bewildered customer.
On the morning of the event we reported to duty with hope and trepidation in equal measure. And as the other villagers came in twos and threes the nonchalant demeanour of some them – as if merely popping out for bread and newspaper – was a tad worrying. Our leader soon put us to attention and reminded us of the possible mires we might find ourselves in. He ended by saying “And if you drop out remember to inform him so that he can cover your bodies” and pointed us to a tall man in white hat who cheerfully acknowledged his duty. And off we went about thirty adults, few children and two dogs.
Pace yourself , this is a marathon not a sprint – I told myself as the younger children run past me through a sea of golden wheat “dancing and fluttering in the breeze”. “This is ready for harvest” said a lady behind me and I slowed down to discuss the challenges of modern day farming with her. She is a farmer’s daughter and I listen to enough Archers and Farming Today on Radio 4 to make some, what I can only imagine as annoyingly ignorant, remarks. And as we stomped through more fields, nettles, dark woods, hard tarmac, long grass we changed walking partners and discussed book clubs, cafes or the lack of it in the village, colonialism, claustrophobia,, cycle paths, hybrid working styles, the great wars, urban sprawl and even Brexit. The physical challenges were not great but as we crawled under trees, climbed ditches, jumped styles we helped each other and strangers became friends. At midday we sat down down by a road and ate our sandwiches before starting the last leg of the journey – the final sprint.
And sprint we did. No more time for casual chit chat or hand holding as we all put on our personal best. The village pub closes at three was the rumour someone had spread, it seems rather successfully.