On top of the world
I am completely humbled by Alan Phillips and his wife's ascent of Mount Everest via their staircase. I calculate that it took them 46 days, whereas it has taken me nearly half as long again. There have been moments as I trudged up Pudlicote Lane when I wondered whether they had the assistance of a stair lift!
It hasn't only been me going up and down Pudlicote Lane; I take my hat off to those who have been running up the hill (Tim) and those cycling (Mike - or so I have been told). I have also seen many non-Chilsonians running and cycling up Pudlicote Lane (why do all the cyclists look the same?), as well as many more walkers making their way to or from Ascott and Chadlington, crossing Pudlicote Lane near the river. It seems that there is nothing like confining people to their homes to make them come out...
Jo has also been quietly climbing Mount Everest and is probably half way down.
But now I'm in Scotland!
Much to my amazement, I now find myself in Scotland. My daily round trip from home to the Scots pines and back is 5.54 km, or 3.44 miles. I have completed 73 walks making a total of 251 miles. According to Google Maps, the distance from home to Gretna Green is 250 miles.
In anticipation of this I rewarded myself with a custom Ordnace Survey custom map, centred on Chilson. (A tip for anyone else thinking of doing something similar - don't centre the map on your place of interest, it ends up on a fold on the map!)
Rules of Engagement
When 'lockdown' was introduced to control of the spread of coronavirus, the 'rules' were that one was only permitted one exercise session per day, of no longer than one hour. Until lockdown my normal routine was to go for a couple of shorter walks most days, but this change meant that I had to combine my walks into just one hour's walk.
It wasn't until I read Alan Phillips letter in The Times that the thought occurred to me that I might set myself a similar target of climbing Mount Everest. It also hadn't occurred to me until some time into my walks that a photographic record might be interesting, and later still that I should put the photographs on a website. All this was really for my own amusement.
So my 'rules of engagement' developed as time went on.
- I should walk to the Scots Pine trees at the top of Pudlicote Lane once a day, every day. Fortunately this takes me almost exactly an hour.
- All the photographs must be taken on the walk. (i.e. no returning in the car to re-take a dodgy photo!)
- When lockdown was eased to permit more than one walk a day, I stuck to just one walk a day.
All the photographs, with the exception of my excursion into the bluebell woods on 26 April, my circular walk via Chadlington on 6 May, and the photographs taken on 21 May were taken with my iPhone 7. The exceptions were taken with a Sony NEX 5. Although it has its limitations, I was astonished by the quality of the photos taken by the iPhone, so much so that for the latter part of my walks I didn't bother taking the Sony. The iPhone has a relatively wide angle lens, and it's one downfall is that although it has a 'zoom' facility the quality of photos taken with it zoomed are pretty bad. I therefore restricted myself to the wide angle views that the iPhone takes as a default. This isn't what I would have normally chosen, but has been a bit of a revelation. Wide angle shots for landscape work better than I ever thought.
One other shortcoming of the iPhone is the inability to control the focus (or maybe it was my inability!). Either way, there were some close-up shots where I just couldn't get the subject in focus. And others where the subject would not stay still enough. In mid to late April there were lots of Orange Tip butterflies, but try as I might I didn't manage to photograph a single one. Birds were equally allusive, although I might have included the odd buzzard in one or two photographs.
Both the iPhone and Sony suffer from only having an LCD screen to preview and frame photos. On bright days this makes framing a shot more luck than judgement - which brings me to the next point.
Once back home, I copied the photos from iCloud Photos (or the Sony) to my PC. I then opened the photos using Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 and as a routine used the 'Auto Smart Fix', which didn't seem to do much, followed by the 'Auto Haze Removal'. I have to admit that the 'Auto Haze Removal' had quite a significant affect on the blueness of the skies and clarity of the photos in general, particularly those blue skies with white clouds. For a few photos I also lightened the shadows. I cropped most photos to improve the composition and remove the odd thumb that had strayed into view! However, not a lot of skill or time was put into this 'post-production' processing.
Wild flowers - I am not a great naturalist, but possibly the time of year has made me observe the hedgerows and verges in a light I haven't done until now. It has made me realise how little I know about wild flowers. I have had to rely on my resident botanist to identify the wild flowers I've photographed; if any are mis-labelled it's not my fault!
Smells - there must have been a rotting carcass in the undergrowth just the other side of the railway bridge that gave the air a really putrid smell for a week or two. Some farmyard 'muck' was spread over a strip of field used for bird cover in mid May - it smelt wonderful. (Does anyone else love the smell of cattle??) Not to mention the smell of new-mown hay. I specifically went a short way along the path to Chadlington just so that I could enjoy this nostalgic smell.
Sounds - with traffic and aircraft noise much reduced, the sounds of birds came to the fore. I recognised wood pigeons, blackbirds, sparrows, chiff-chaffs, the chattering of swallows, skylarks, buzzards, cuckoos on two occasions, and crows. Do the crows around Pudlicote Farm ever stop? I have also seen red kites, kestrels, sparrowhawks, woodpeckers, starlings plus lots of others I couldn't put a name to.
Litter - the lockdown doesn't seemed to have curbed the tradition of people throwing litter out of car and van windows! (It could be walkers or cyclists, but I doubt it.) What fascinates me is why these car and van drivers need to consume so many 'energy' drinks.
Weather - for a fair-weather walker I have been extraordinarily lucky with the weather. It hasn't been so good for the farmers and gardeners, but this is a period that I shall surely remember as being dawn to dusk blue skies for weeks on end.
Favourite View Points - The trouble with a walk of just a couple of miles is that there is bound to be repetition of points of view to take photographs; and so it was. I was drawn to a couple of favourite spots: the view towards Charlbury from the Scots pines: the view towards Pudlicote from the railway bridge: the view towards Ascott Under Wychwood from the gate opposite the entrance to Pudlicote Farm, and from slightly higher up the lane from 'middle gate'. Most of my walks were early morning, so the sun was to the south-east making views to the west more appealing. Had I taken my walks in the late afternoon I might have taken photographs in the direction of Shorthampton.
I have been fortunate in that I have largely been unaffected by coronavirus. It's been a bit inconvenient; shopping has been tricky and the restriction on visiting friends and relatives a bore, but very luckily, nothing more than that.
We who live in Chilson are extraordinarily privileged. This is a beautiful area of the country and for the most part I tend to take it for granted. I have undertaken these walks largely alone, and by being alone I have taken far more notice of the flowers, wildlife and landscape than I normally do. I have witnessed at close quarters the evolution of spring, from the first spring flowers to the fading cow parsley of early summer. It has been something of a revelation.
This has certainly been a spring I will never forget.