I went to pick up a parcel this morning from the parcel depot, and then walked on to Sainsbury’s which is nearby to top up on cough mixture (oh, the glamorous life of the writer!). There is a choice of routes between the Post Office and the supermarket: you can sweep round on the pavement by the road, or you can walk over a rather muddy grassy hill. Today it was not muddy, because it was frozen, and when I can I prefer to take this little shortcut.
It is an ordinary path, or not even a path but a desire line, trodden by many feet – hence the mud. To your left is the sweep of the busy road, to your right is an old wall – not older than Victorian, I suspect, and possibly a good deal younger – with, beyond, some trees and a few blocks of low-level private flats, probably built around the 1980s. Ahead there is a bus shelter, and a pedestrian crossing, and further ahead a roundabout. Raise your eyes and you can see a couple of Victorian factories, a few church spires, the creamy grey dawn of a frosty morning in north east Scotland, splashed with yellow sunlight. It’s nothing special. I think a hundred years ago it was part of a large cattle market, and a hundred years before that it was farmland on the edge of pleasure grounds for a private estate.
Yet there is something about that track that calls to me, pulls my feet towards it. When I walk up that gentle rise, it feels more momentous than it looks. I navigate by the top of the traffic lights and I feel I’m noting waymarkers that have been there for generations. I follow the steady curve of the granite wall, under the branches of trees probably younger than me, and sense there has been shelter there under those branches for centuries. I stride out and I’m in the tracks of thousands before me, before the road, before the traffic lights, before the cattle market and the pleasure grounds, walking into other grey and yellow dawns, crunching the crystals of other frosts, the sea before them and the country behind, going who knows where?