Natural Living - A Walk For All Seasons

Natural Living – A Walk For All Seasons

by Ruth Lawrence

Ruth Lawrence decides to undertake the mighty 100 mile South Downs Way, one step and one season at a time.

Full of good intentions in the long dark evenings around New Year, I decided to begin walking the South Downs Way a quarter section in each season and I plan to take a year to complete the 100 mile path.

Not only does this make the walk less daunting and more manageable, it also ensures I get to see the downs in all weathers and stages of the year’s cycle. Setting off in early January, I completed the Seven Sisters in horizontal rain and a strong south westerly wind. This made progress decidedly difficult as I was walking into the wind, unlike most of the more sensible hikers I met coming from the opposite direction!

The second leg saw a slightly warmer February day, heading into Alfriston from Exceat; though it wasn’t until the third leg to Southease that I heard my first Skylarks of the year, fluttering high and throwing their song into the air. It was a beautiful moment and one unlikely to be forgotten. Views were  spectacular both from the cliffs to the 360 degree vista on high ground before the descent into Southease.

The idea of spreading a long walk into seasonal sections could be adapted to any path that crosses a variety of terrains and habitats. Woodland changes completely through the year, as does the wildlife you might encounter. I passed wind shaped hawthorn trees, skeletal in the cold of winter yet in a few months they will be full under leaf and later bright with berries. Downland turf now devoid of insects will in summer buzz with bees and butterflies but birds are easier to spot on bare winter branches.

Making a commitment to walk any well loved path over the course of a year will show you the many aspects of the natural calendar and allow you to recognize subtle changes. I was reminded of this walking into Alfriston from Friston Forest; a field of sunflowers that I’d seen in full bloom last summer now stood as brown silhouettes against a clear sky.

Fields were under water after winter floods, turning grass into reflections of sky and sunlight while temporary streams flowed where cattle graze in the dry months. A tiny stream I’d canoed across in autumn had transformed into a 40ft wide river; the landscape can look utterly different from month to month, which changes the way its wild inhabitants live and behave.

A walk across seasons would make a wonderful way to introduce children into the natural cycles of our locale. They can learn to recognise the creatures and plants that emerge as the year continues and doing so will subtly connect them to the land.