… is what this place can feel like in the winter months

Peaceful is not the right word. It is too rough, too elemental for that. There was a vaguely electric hum on the platform, and a scattering of voices, and then – well, not very much at all. I felt the air, saw the sharpened edges that meant the sun had risen, heard wind and water again …

I remember, remembered, the way light enters and leaves the earth, and the shades of the land. The dreaminess of kilometres knocked back in the rain, and the sense of a rhythm developing on the steeper bits. The lifting cloud, sun, and that sensation of a sudden drop in air temperature before a snow flurry came scuttling in from the west. There is a freedom to recognizing these patterns in the world, to being immersed sensually in one’s surroundings …

Being free was also, on this occasion, a tiny bit frightening. The mind and senses simply did not know what to do with all this space, all this time. They should have known, for it is an environment familiar and dear – but rather than slipping back into it, I could not comprehend the abruptness of being back. Perhaps it was arriving late the night before after a fog-ridden journey through Heathrow, or the sheer contrast with the sickly cosiness of the HCA quarter. Perhaps a deeper weariness: I realized how unfit the body had grown, how stunted the senses must have become for returning to shock them like this.

Small wonder, then, that the full round seemed improbable up at the trig point. But the going should ease off heading east, and the way off would go by torchlight, right … ? The familiar mental process of rationalization gave way, after an embarassing half hour in haste and tiredness, to an equally familiar mix of common sense and the instinct of self-preservation — and off it was into the shadows.

When the shadows had risen, I discovered that the headtorch had conked out. My guide became the feel of the ground, the difference between surface and grass, and the sound of the river closer or further off. At some stage I looked up and saw stars. I remember, remembered, the astonishing clarity and the misty ribbon.

Eventually, lights on estate houses appeared. I staggered in true darkness, clownlike. I looked up. I could not make out much. Blinded? Or just some cloud blowing across?