You don’t have to go far to step outside of the circle but you do have to take that step. It’s not about the gear and the amount you spend on it. Kit for me is a pair of strong shorts with good pockets, a couple of layers of t-shirts and a decent pair of boots with proper socks. Don’t underestimate the importance of the socks; they’re a game-changer.
That’s it: that’s your escape kit. You’ve probably got it all already so there’s no need to spend your time or money on anything new. Many people make the mistake of thinking that the pain of investing a lot of money on kit is the same as making the effort to use it. It’s not. There’s no substitute for getting out there and like all things that are worth doing – it requires effort.
So let’s step out of those circuits a little. Let’s dodge the dog walkers in their expensive hiking gear and their precious pets in matching outfits. Let’s smile politely and pretend to care about their dog as we squeeze past at a social distance down the alley, but instead of looping back round and staying safely within the loop, let’s push to the edge. This is where we take a deep breath and step into the unknown…
We hear tell of the Salinas Valley; Windermere, Tintern Abbey and Ben Bulben. These places inspired the writers that wandered in them every day and it’s tempting to think that you can’t possibly compare where you live to these places. Remember that these places are just someone else’s side-street. A bit like the kit thing: don’t mistake the effort taken to get to some spectacular spot for the actual effort to get out into it. When you’re in the car, on the train, in the carpark or the café – you’re still in the bubble.
You know you’re still in the bubble if it feels safe; if it’s dry on a rainy day or warm in the winter; if the seat you’re sitting on is comfortable.
As much as possible, walk from the front door. Walk from your house and you will be amazed how easy it is to get out of the circle – you will undoubtedly find holes if you look: little forgotten alleyways readopted by nature; parks left alone; canals and bridges and, one of my favourites: cemeteries. If you can check the conditions from the list above then you’re in. Or out.
My town is like this. It’s in the English midlands so there’s no coast for many miles; there are no mountains in my county and the main river is twenty-five miles away. It sounds dull. It sounds like there’s nothing whatever to do here, and that’s perfect because people sail on by. They move from circle to circle on the arteries that criss-cross the country and they never stop here. It’s an old town but has fallen for the old circle trick of plastic shop fronts and shiny floors; of huge supermarkets and paved high-streets; the roads thunder with traffic, when it’s not too much to clog up the town entirely, and little pockets of new housing estates grow like mould around the edges.
The circles keep growing but circles don’t tesselate and it’s the gaps in between that you want…
At the back of my house is a fairly busy A-road. It’s one of those arteries that feeds the bubble. Most people merely skirt it with their dogs, but the braver ones suck in a deep breath and dodge the traffic to the other side. There’s a tunnel a little further up that was built when the road was put in so that the cows could get to the fields on the other side. That was when my house was part of the dairy farm. See what I mean?
But once you’re over, that’s it. You’re out of the bubble; you’re on the edge of the circle and there’s whole lot of exploring to do up that lane. It’s always been there and thousands upon thousands of people see it, without seeing it, if you get me. It’s just there.
But you know what, it’s not just that. You step out of the loop and you get across the road; you ignore the funny looks that you’re getting and you pull back the shoulders and it’s a whole other world. I can still see my house and the cars and trucks throw up an unnatural wind as they batter past. There’s still a perfect wifi signal if you need it. But you’re out. That’s the main thing.
Gently, gently. Tomorrow let’s get up that lane. It might open up to a field on the left and maybe a little wood we never knew was there. As we rise, a new view might open up and then, for the first time, we’ll wonder why it took so long…