After two days of early spring sunshine, the morning of the first WWW network synchronised walk breaks in East Kent with crashing rain. And more rain. Relentless rain.
Wellies and waterproofs on, I venture out. An unpremeditated derive. Left or right outside the door? It feels right to turn right. So I do.
The derive, for me at least, is about attentive walking. Look in the right way and you can tune in to the story of your surroundings. Every walk is different, because each day is different. The weather, found text, dropped detritus – it’s changing all the time. Even a short stroll from your front door can take you somewhere new.
It doesn’t take long for the messages to appear.
A couple of minutes further down the road and into headlong rain, I wonder about my own sanity. So does the number plate of a solitary parked car. But as the residential street morph into disused road, then bridleway, then orchard, the field notes take over.
There is fresh horse dung on the road to step around. Down the centre of the road, a line of old cat’s eyes. Together, they make a trail. I am tracking something that has left these marks. Some iron-shod satyr. I follow it into scrubland before the main road, past a bridleway sign for bipedal and quadrupedal traffic (it could have been a centaur practising dressage).
There are other tracks, of course. Wheels, boots, paws, hooves. And there are dwellings. Raised platforms. A wrym hole in the bushes. An abandoned treehouse. Joining the bridleway again, I’m in the orchard. Passing lorries raise clouds of steam, hot breath hissing through hedgerow. I follow the sound.
Peering through thorns I can make out distant huts behind a high fence. They belong to the rare animal sanctuary, but they feel more remote, more sinister. They are viewing platforms, spectator’s spaces overlooking a ritual arena.
I make off rapidly before the creature appears, only to find myself in its feeding ground. On mud and grass, between fence and orchard, are great squares of apples. Blankets of autumnal red, neatly folded. They are not piled in heaps or drifting like windfalls. They are arranged in patches across the field.
It must work, because there is already blossom opening on a low branch beside me.
The rain makes it hard to hold pencil or camera.
I squelch back to the road, my boots unauthorised machinery on a fallen warning sign, my inner mechanism creaking for want of coffee. On the way home I spot the satyr’s shelter, the woodpile he has been gathering, chopping, stacking. At the end of my road I can smell the woodsmoke of his fire. He is already home by the hearth. I’m ready to do the same.
However hard I try to remove myself from everyday concerns on a derive, the stuff of recent preoccupation is bound to leak through. I’m reading Kingsnorth’s The Wake, set in the ham and holt of the 11th century, where folk walk the thin places. My son is wrapped up in Greek myth and the world of Harry Potter. Perhaps it’s no wonder I see what I do.
But what if I had turned left this morning, instead of right?