Changing your form of transport now and again is a good idea because if gives you a different perspective on the world around you. I’m always pleasantly surprised when transferring from my Ford Ka to our camper van: it’s like becoming a giant for a day. I can then look down upon walls that towered above my car and discover the secrets usually concealed behind high fences, their owners fondly believing they have private gardens. Pony-trekking has the same effect: I felt like queen of the hedgerows.
Trading four wheels for two is equally refreshing because until you acclimatise to the slower speed of a bicycle, it’s like travelling in slow motion. There’s more time to digest the view on your journey and the fresh air and sensaround smells on a bike ride are much more pleasant than the microclimate of a sealed glass and metal box.
But my favourite way to absorb the local landscape is when I’m running. Invariably I run alone and the solitude means I’m not distracted by passengers’ banter or irritated by their choice of music. Jogging down the familiar country lanes that surround my house, I often notice features that I’d never spot if travelling by other means. Last week, I saw a tiny wren on a branch and a smattering of bluebells breaking through a grassy bank, the earthy smell of new damp grass rising up from beneath my feet.
Once, plodding silently along Sandpits Lane, I caught a flash of taupe out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see what it was and discovered a mountjack deer gazing at me from a field a few metres away. The encounter stopped us both in our tracks and for a moment we breathlessly appraised each other. I felt like Alice in Through the Looking Glass when she meets the Fawn in the wood where things have no names. The Fawn therefore doesn’t know Alice is a girl and so is not afraid of her.
So they walked on together through the wood, Alice with her arms clasped lovingly round the soft neck of the Fawn, till they came out into another open field, and here the Fawn gave a sudden bound into the air, and shook itself free from Alice’s arm. “I’m a Fawn!” it cried out in a voice of delight. “And, dear me! you’re a human child!” A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes, and in another moment it had darted away at full speed.
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
The mountjack deer was first to crack in our staring competition and ran off rather faster than I did. Though this chance meeting lasted only seconds, the magic of the moment has stayed with me ever since.
So I was not surprised to experience another David Attenborough moment on Sunday as I notched up a few miles’ running training before lunch. I’d crossed the Bath road to extend my usual route. As I entered new, unfamiliar running territory, a splash of silver and white caught my eye and I looked towards it. There, in the corner of a field, lay a gentle, peaceful unicorn. I gasped. And there was me thinking my deer encounter couldn’t be bettered!
I stood stock still, not wishing to break the spell. I was breathing hard. (Well, I had just run three miles.) Then the oxygen started to return from my leg muscles to my brain and my eyes came into focus. And I realised that of course this wasn’t a unicorn at all, only a pale grey horse having a rest on the ground. It had settled down, legs tucked beneath it, in front of a white picket fence. A stake in the fence had come loose and was hanging free at an angle behind the horse’s head, looking for all the world like a unicorn’s horn. Turning round, I smiled at my own foolishness and resumed my weary trot in the direction of home. Whatever would I come across next? I wondered. I just hoped it wouldn’t be a lion.
(All the illustrations above by John Tenniel, from my favourite book of all time, Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass And What Alice Found There.)
If you liked this post and enjoy running (and this post), you might like some of my other posts about running:
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