English Ramblers, People of "The Book"
I think some of them were runners up for the Olympic country walking team. Of course, not having “the book” with directions on how to get out of the forest, I was panicked at the idea I might lose them.
I should have realized what was in store by their gear. Some of the men had these things strapped around their legs that I assume keeps the mud from splashing on them as they all wore shorts. I also noticed that most people seemed to have unusually large backpacks compared to my fanny pack with train pass and wallet.
I leaned over and confided my fears to one woman that they were all probably carrying tents and planning to spend the night in the forest and there I would be with a roll of mints to serve as a pillow for my head, as well as dinner.
Luckily, there appeared to be a few more sane people at my pace level, one of whom decided to keep me company.
As I concentrated on trying to breathe, this lumberjack kept picking leaves off trees and challenging me to name what kind of tree they were from. Henceforth, he shall be referred as “Treeman” for anonymity.
I could not name any of the leaves except for oak and wondered if “the book” contained some botany review for the walks. I tried to steer “Treeman” away from my ignorance of the local flora and fauna by asking him what he did for a living.
He said that he ran a lot of charities including one where they have natural burials for people who want to be buried in the woods. It was when he mentioned this conversational gem that I noticed how isolated we were on this path in the woods.
Fortunately, a few people came around the curve just as I was deciding whether I had the breath left to make a run for it.
“Treeman” asked me how I was enjoying the walk. I replied that it seemed more like a jog to me. I told him that I really wasn't getting much pleasure out of it and that if I had known better I wouldn't have come.
This is when he chose to tell me that he is the author of “the book.”
I couldn't decide whether to be embarrassed or relieved that at least we were past talking about natural burials.
When I was thinking about which emotion was winning, I stepped full on into a huge mud path. Slurp, squelch and the slimy greenness closed over my boots. At this point, I was hoping maybe there might be some grouse shooters in the woods who might mistake me for their quarry.
Under my breathe, I starting singing Zsa Zsa Gabor's lines from the opening credits of Green Acres.
"New York is where I'd rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay. I just adore a penthouse view. Darling-I-love-you-but-give-me-Park-Avenue” Once free from the ooze, I sought out some others in the group.
I felt a little better when someone mentioned that the walk we were on was considered a vigorous walk. I would have know this obviously if I had “the book.” Although from what I heard about it, you had to complete mathematical story problems to figure out which walks were which.
Take the year of the walk and the month and divide by two and add three to get the grade of the walk, and if “Treeman” is leaving London on a train traveling at 65 miles per hour, how many tree names will you learn on the journey?
We finally stopped at a pub. There, over a drink, I could almost be convinced that this was an enjoyable outing.
Despite that, my secret plan was to get up and hide in the corner when the others were ready to continue on. However, I found out from the barman that I had just missed the only bus for some time, so I had little choice but to continue.
“Treeman” and his wife must have been conspiring during the pub break because they suddenly announced that were no longer going to follow “the book,” but were going to cut through the woods on a little used path.
Oh goodie! I would now be at their complete mercy as not even “the book” would be any good for leading us out.
I wished I had saved part of my pub sandwich so I could have left a crumb trail à la Hansel and Gretel. We walked out of the pub and I looked around hoping that someone in the room would recognize “Treeman’s” face in the papers if I went missing.
However, I made it through the woods and back to the train station in one piece. People—faces shining with enthusiasm, fresh air, and fanaticism, were naive enough to ask me which country walk I would be doing next.
I started to mumble something about calculating the grade of the walk and the dates and slipped away to the next car on the train where I could hide out.
After seven hours of communing with nature, I couldn't wait to get back and pick the nettles out of my skin. All my future walks in England consisted of vigorous walks to the pubs and shops.
Kendra Redman is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Her biggest travel accomplishment is that she once managed to get two end tables and two lamps onto a plane as her carry-on luggage.
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These rambles are also mentioned in the local newspapers.
Many books are available on location as well as on the Internet. The Ramblers’s Association website recommends the "Rambler's Yearbook and Accommodation Guide 2004." They warn “you'll be lost without it.”
"Navigation and Leadership: A Manual for Walkers," by the Ramblers' Association.