A piece of paper with a red heart drawn in pastel. Behind the paper there is a box of pastels waiting to be used.

From London with Love: Walking Through Winter

By Julia Williams

It’s been over a year since we all started working at home. In those first few weird months, I found myself unable to sleep and rising early. I took to walking before work, partly for exercise, partly to clear my head. We were blessed with a gorgeous spring in the UK last year, and I am fortunate enough to live within easy reach of Epsom Downs. So I would happily trot up and down them every day, and it helped save my sanity, a lot.

Julia with her husband, Dave

Fast forward to the summer, though, and everything changed. We had gained a little more freedom, so I didn’t feel locked in my house anymore.  But, as the weeks ran into months, I found myself adapting to my new rhythm and sleeping later, so not having enough time to walk before work. Work itself was very busy and before I knew it whole weeks had gone by with my barely leaving the house.

As winter approached and there were no signs of a return to normality, I decided something had to change. While in the summer, I could at least sit in the garden after a long day at the keyboard, that wasn’t going to be an option in winter. So I set myself a challenge. I set up a Facebook page and tried to walk every day, posting pictures of where I’d been, while raising money for charity.

Since October, I have lost count of the miles I’ve walked, in all kinds of weather. I subscribe by my Norwegian brother-in-law’s mantra: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes”. I bought myself some waterproof trousers, and wrapped myself up in fleeces and rainproofs, and I was away. One of my happiest moments was sharing a very rainy walk with Megan Haslam, my lovely friend in the London office. We both got soaked, but were so excited to see one another, we didn’t care!

It has been a very muddy winter here in the UK – so the new walking boots I got at Christmas have been truly christened. But it has been a totally joyous experience. I have explored parts of my local area that I never knew existed and experienced the change of the seasons in an entirely new way.  With my husband we discovered a trail that took us to Nonsuch Park in Cheam (For historical buffs, in Tudor times the park used to house a palace called Nonsuch, as there was “none such beautiful place”).

On another occasion we decided to trace the Hogsmill River which arises from a spring in Ewell near where we live. Famous as a stopping off place from London since Roman times (the name arises from Etwell – as in I ate well at Ewell!) you can walk along the Hogsmill to the town of Kingston nine miles away. It’s a beautiful walk, along a stony ivy-clad riverbank. In the past there were a series of powder mills along its banks – which used to explode periodically, so eventually they fell out of use. It is also famous for the nineteenth century painters who flocked to its sides for inspiration: Millais’ picture of Ophelia and Holman Hunt’s the Light of the World were painted there, and when you walk along the river you can totally see why.

More recently we decided to walk across from Epsom Common to Ashtead. Over the years we have walked many times on Epsom Common (frequently getting lost!), but we had no idea how far you can stroll from one to another and found ourselves hiking a stonking nine miles! The first time we did it, we had had a snowfall, so the paths were icy and hazardous in places. As the snow melted it became muddy and slippery. Quite how we have both managed not to end up in the mud I don’t know! What I do know is it has been an absolute privilege to discover these gorgeous walks and inspiring to know how much beauty is on our doorstep.

Now winter is receding, I don’t plan to stop… So instead of #walkingthroughwinter, I’m going to #marchintospring. I think for all of us, particularly after this last year, it can’t come a day too soon!