Alex James: And with one bound I was free

Rural Notebook: Nothing so beautiful as English meadows in the first throes of Spring
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The Independent Online

I got a pair of spikes, for running, completely different from clunky trainers. More like ballet shoes, they are supple and slender. They’d make quite nice slippers if you took the spikes out, and they come with a little key so that you can do just that. I’m not given to getting over excited about footwear normally but these clogs are a source of delight of similar proportions to my first pair of football boots or first aeroplane: things of beauty, totems of freedom.

I’m surprised you don’t often see spikes in the shops. I suppose we must all subconsciously cling to pavement, to tarmac. There’s evidently not much demand for cross-country running shoes as mine were quite hard to come by. In fact it took me so long to land a pair that when they finally arrived in the post I was quite happy to just look at them and showthem to people for a week or two, so colourful and glamorous they were. I knew as soon as I took them for a spin in the mud they would never be quite the same.

My goodness. When at last I did, I reckon I ran about 15 to 20 per cent faster. I flew right through puddles I’d normally tiptoe around, went bounding up hillsides feeling completely weightless. In a way it was better than flying an aeroplane. I felt I could go anywhere. I raced on and on. Normally a part of my rounds take me along a stretch of road that links two hamlets along the prow of a hill but running on tarmac in spikes is like trying to run in flippers. They forced me off the beaten track through dreamlike successions of silent unknown fields and pathways.

Warm sunshine on my face, ice still lingering in shady corners, along streams and over ancient ridges and furrows, I ran. Fleeting English meadows in the first throes of Spring. There is nothing so beautiful.

The ultimate haircut

When I saw what a good job the man with the digger had done clearing the overgrown morass down by the railway I asked him to stay on and do a bit more tidying up. It’s the only way to clear up, really, with an excavator – it all happens so quickly. No one has had a good go at the yard for decades and after just one day the place is hardly recognisable. It’s like the ultimate haircut: endless piles of junk, bulldozed and buried under a pristine blank canvas.

No climbing frame like a tree

Last week’s clearances revealed an ancient fallen oak by the railway line. It’s so massive it would take three people holding hands to ring the trunk. It would have beenworth a fortune as timber and I’m amazed the previous owner didn’t chop it all up for cash. But I’m glad they didn’t: best climbing frame on the market, a fallen tree. The kids absolutely love it.