The coronavirus lockdown has prevented many from being with families and friends, says retired NHS worker Jane Barlett, who is exploring, and rediscovering, the countryside within walking distance of her Petersfield home.
But the glorious weather recently has made our daily hour of exercise – in my case, walks close to home that I haven’t done before, or for a year or two – more enjoyable.
And seeing the spring hopefulness of nature is an uplifting antidote to self-isolation, and it seems to me birdsong is more tuneful and louder than usual – maybe because of less traffic noise – and the green leaf buds on trees more plentiful.
The there-and-back walk from Petersfield to Weston is pleasant with only one small hill, and the warm weather means the footpaths are dry and relatively smooth.
Trainers are ideal footwear, which is a lovely change from wellies – it seems we had to endure them for far too long over the wet winter.
Walking up The Causeway towards the A3, I said hello to a woman whose car had broken down. She was on her phone and reassured me help was on its way.
There was a tractor ploughing the field on the left, and I watched it turning over the soil for a couple of furrows.
Passing Buriton Business Park, something caught my eye – there was a large dog fox casually strolling across the deserted car park, seemingly without a care in the world.
Crossing the railway bridge over the unusually-empty tracks, it seemed right in these troubled times the world has become restfully quiet for a while.
Up above, a pair of kites were gliding in the cloudless blue sky – and not a plane in sight.
At the roundabout the pavement goes under the A3 bridge, then I turned right down the lane to Weston.
Up a slight hill, and on the left were pretty cottages with flowing deep violet rockcress cascading over their garden walls.
On the right was Wylds Lane, and a lovely old red phone box with books inside for borrowing.
What an unusual library and a brilliant idea!
Opposite was the footpath sign and a picturesque stile, with flowers including daffodils and primroses growing around it. Once over it, the path crossed a small field with a wall to the right and then another stile.
The path skirted the left-hand edge of a ploughed field, before turning right where there was a row of trees providing a welcome shady canopy as it was a very hot sunny day with no breeze – but no complaints from me !
Butser Hill, the highest hill in the South Downs National Park, was to the left and the hush was very restful – I remembered that usually on this part of the walk, the distant buzz of traffic on the A3 can be heard.
Turning right there was a footpath and primroses were thick along the field banks and bluebells, white celandine and one or two cowslips were all around, and the path was overhung with trees including beautiful cherry blossom.
Although the ground was becoming stonier underfoot, it wasn’t difficult walking.
At the end of the footpath was an opening on to the lane and a right turn that took me back past the familiar landmarks of the phone box and cottages.
This time of the year, the countryside is beautiful with, among other wild flowers, pink campion in bloom, ash trees in flower and the blackthorn bushes are a wonderful sight, their masses of snowy blossom a striking contrast with the greens all around.
Walking down The Causeway towards home, a roadside recovery man was working on the lady’s broken down car. In answer to my social distance greeting and query about fixing the car, he cheerfully replied it was all good, and that although work had decreased, he was still busy every day.
On my walk I saw a woman out walking her little dog; it reminded me of my dearest deceased Jack Russell dog Norbert.
He was a typical Jack Russell – stubborn, full of feist and with plenty of ‘small dog syndrome’ – but on the upside he was loyal, protective and very friendly with those he liked.
He was much loved – especially by my teenage daughter, of whom he was very defensive.
More than one prospective boyfriend was put off when, after getting to close to her, he found Norbert attached by his teeth to his trouser leg!
But in all honesty, other family members when they visited often made it clear they weren’t so keen on him.
It also has to be said he was disliked by most of my neighbours when we lived in Hawkley. And quite a few people and dogs we met on our walks in and around the village weren’t keen either.
One man, who had many run-ins with my small dog, said the police should have issued Norbert with an ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order.
And in all fairness I couldn’t justifiably defend my lovely dog. Taking him out for his daily exercise was usually a stressful affair.
Walking him was almost a military operation, and you had to have your wits about you at all times – leaving very little opportunity to enjoy the countryside or relax.
You had to check around every corner to see if the coast was clear of what he would perceive as the enemy – ie, other dog walkers.
One particular occasion he craftily slipped his head out of his collar and took off after another dog at lightning speed.
After apologising profusely to its owner, a lady I knew was a regular at St Peter and St Paul Church in the village, I caught a snarling Norbert and quickly made off in the opposite direction.
Finding myself seated next to her at the Christmas carol service, I said again how sorry I was for Norbert’s behaviour.
With a smile at me, and a glance at the alter, she replied he was ‘indeed a holy terror.’ I could only agree.
Taking Norbert out at night was always a safer bet, especially as he got older and his eyesight deteriorated.