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Autumn walk

England is made for the intense dullnesses of November. Perhaps that, subliminally, is the reason for our obsession with the weather. Because we know are rare secret: that some places are at the finest when rain is coming soon, when layers of damp air occlude and reveal, when the clouds shift quickly enough to hold our collective breaths for the next instalment, but slowly enough to drink in the qualities they, and the light that falls througb by their favour, bestow.

I went the other way this morning, and found – as I should always have realised – that the Down dominates more than half the circuit, no longer behind and to the side but straight ahead. And I was treated to just such an occasion: a sudden, not-quite-complete opening of the clouds, wide enough only to side-light a small stretch of the hill, behind which the sun was low enough to throw every sheep-track and gorse-cover into incisive relief.

It seemed for a moment that the light-patch would head this way, and back light the row of small low oaks among which I stood, and throw even my face into its critical focus; but I had not reckoned the wind right: it was pushing the cloud cover, and the ever-shrinking gap, north and away, and instead I witnessed a staged layering of the land between the hill and me, and like flats beneath some mighty cloud-proscenium. It almost vanished in a dry valley, then suddenly threw itself along a great crack of beech and oak, then was lost again, then for a moment picked up chimney, gable and rookery at the village-edge, and then was gone.

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