Up betimes, as Samuel Pepys would put it, and out for a morning near Henley-in-Arden. Frost glinted off the moonlight at the bus stop (-4°C), and I descended the station stairs with a view of London’s sunrise-to-come. A total of one hour waiting at stations in the 2.5-hour span, and I emerged at Warwick Parkway, after a journey in pale winter sunlight (except for the fog which shrouded Bicester and its environs) to a white frosted land. My lift took me to the start (and back from the finish) of the circular walk.
After consuming mince pies, we set off across the crunchy white field, and descended to the towpath of the frozen Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. The temperature was still below zero, but we were warming up inside our layers, and even gloves were now optional. The last of the leaves were falling onto the ice on the canal, and there was a massive windfall from a crab-apple tree. At the end of our canal section, we had a short refuelling break.
Onwards and upwards (ever so gradually) across fields to round a farm onto a lane. A short step along the lane, and a longer step on a hardened bridleway, passing farm buildings (one of them with a model railway layout in the loft). Up a steeper slope, then a descent through woodland. The temperature was now nudging zero from below.
This is what winter walking is all about — wine-fresh air, the body warm against the cold, good visibility, and a solid footing on the frosted ground. Then, the final field. 800m of path, the frost now thawed on the south-facing slope. Ten slithery paces in, boots were coated in wet Warwickshire soil. All the other paces were moonwalked — this was more tiring than the hill from the railway shed. The tufts of grass in the frost-pocket by the roadside hedge became impromptu boot-brushes, with most of the remaining mud detached by clumping up the driveway to the car park.
After a restorative lunch (including some product from St James Gate in Dublin), back to the station at Leamington Spa for another three hours’ stop-start travel home. That final mud excepted, a first-class day out in good weather with good company.