Okay, the southwest of England is driving me to distraction, what with its salty fishing villages, sweeping expanses of surf-hit sand, babbling rivers trundling though woodland, and rolling, empty moors. There is also only so much Cornationendersfarm City that one can take, so, come the end of October, a change of scenery proved timely.
To Basingstoke and a stopover en route to London. A stopover providing what must be the culmination of the autumn season, full of colour despite a grey day. Virginia Water conjures up Peter Alliss blather, Major Stockington-Breeches-Follybottom, faux-Greco-Roman palatial commuter estates and an endless array of Lycra and leggings jogging with pricey strollers in hand. It is Surrey leafiness typified, fringing the regal Great Windsor Park. A place that remains welcomingly open to all, Range Rover, Lycra, knighthood or no.
On what must have been one of our more sedate walks, Dad and I set off to circumnavigate the water in a higgledy-piggledy fashion thanks to the allure of various trees and shrubs and leafy avenues peppered with colour. I don’t know if it’s the extra pollution, the degree or two increased warmth, the absence of ocean or – simply – the exotic plantings pillaged from the colonies, but everything was a lot more colourful than back in the southwest. And just as distracting.
Eventually, we reached the end of the water, crossing the bridge and turning back for home, still some several kilometres though further leafiness, lakeside reflection, and ornamental falls. Despite the gentle pace, the walk became a little weary and there was a palpable sense of the faded glory that comes with descent into autumn and, then, the foreboding of winter. Jets occasionally screeching overhead from Heathrow, dankness in the air, it was evocative of an imminent departure back to Australia. But not this year, for I will taste (hopefully) just a touch of winter.
An extra hour in bed. That is the pitiful recompense so heartily proclaimed in an attempt to offset the despair of the sun setting at half four. For me though, this meant an extra hour to spend in Norfolk, which – given I had never set foot in the county before – seemed only fair to do it justice.
It could have been Australia – there was the company of Jill and Caroline, a very good coffee, some sunshine, sandy beaches, wildlife and lots of boatpeople. But it also obviously wasn’t. Drizzle, roast dinners, M&S and numerous buildings in Norwich dating back at least more than a hundred years signified what end of the world this particular Old at Heart tour was cosily embedded within.
Sunday morning in the village of Acle was just a tad brighter than usual, thanks to that shift in space and time that may or may not signal the start of winter. Watery sunshine evolved over the day, illuminating the Norfolk Broads into a swathe of silvery reflections and golden reeds. The closest resemblance I could (laughably) make was to the Florida Everglades, though with fewer alligators and slightly more bumpkins pushing wheelbarrows to the village shop to buy fork handles.
A delicious Sunday roast beside the water drifted into the dramatically shortened afternoon, leaving just an hour or so of soft, gorgeous light to explore the coast. Horsey Beach provided a remote seascape of gently rising dunes, collapsing into fine sand running like a protective ribbon along the perimeter of eastern England. A procession of groynes held it all together, occasional slippages and collapsed dunes testament to its precarious instability.
Upon this spacious sanctuary, clusters of people stood in small arcs, as if participating in some kind of Sunday service towards the gods of the sea. Closer up and cameras and selfies and standing about in wellies talking about mating was more the order of the day. Seals – and a good many of them – were the attraction. Lounging about, agitated with the waves, occasional grumpiness spilling over into aggression, they were quite mesmerising to watch. Something pure and pristine in this regularly despoiled of isles. Carrying on doing their thing, as they fade into the shade of the towering dunes, lapped by a frigid sea as the sun flames red and darkness begins to fall. And all before five o’clock.