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The great circuit

The chalk is split by our valley, and the great circuit takes me up both sides, wheels crunching the powdery snow as I climb. At Smeathe’s Ridge the sun comes out, giving a curve to the scarp, a curve softened by the hazy near-thaw light; and the bowl of land beyond is backlit. The ruts of the Old Coach Road are a skating rink, a suicide note to my wheels, the ground as hard as lead: through Four Mile Clump, and down past drifts bisected by four-wheel drives to the old barn, and then down again, across a field easier to traverse than any right of way, wheels sinking deep until they turn no more.

The church in the valley is open for a change. Hatchments, soft light, yellow stone, the great barrow in the churchyard.

Then up the other side, along thorny ways, shocking birds from their desperate feeding places, shadowed by a kestrel, alarmed by my breaching of his hunting ground. This side of the valley is different: wooded, not open; settled and timbered in a scattered way, a nest of forgotten footpaths and byways. Flints embedded in clay. Ice so deep in ruts the wheel skate over them; and I head for home, down the old Roman road, following the 6 inch trail of shattered ice revealing tarmac, balancing speed and control until I reach home in the valley bottom.

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