Alex James: Fox chase leads to a wild swim adventure

Rural Notebook

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Sunshine flooded the valley at last, drawing everything outside. No one – nothing – could resist its pull. Rabbits scattered in all directions as I ran up the track to the top of the hill and, as we crossed a vast carpet of bright green wheat shoots, the dog spotted a fox and was after it like a gun going off. They both disappeared over the prow, the dog gaining rapidly, a whirring engine, making the fox look like boxy, sensible sedan.

There were lambs on the hillsides. There were tiny, tiny calves in the meadows. In the kind cool of the woods I came across an old-money billionaire ambling well beyond the confines of his walled dominions. He was trying to negotiate a narrow section of muddy path, very gingerly. I tiptoed around him, wished him a fine morning, then left him for standing as I tore off again, right through the streams and puddles on the bound, mud splattering up my thighs.

Further up the smart side of the valley was an old lady, as fragile as a dandelion clock with her dog. She admired the whippet as we bowled past. "Like a silver wraith!" she said, referring to the whippet with great pleasure and satisfaction. I was so hot as I beat back up the home straight along the gushing river. Ah, the swollen river. Ah, the hot sun. The river. The sun. The river.

Two minutes later, I had stripped to my pants and was waist-deep in a careering, bubbling reach of the perfect Evenlode. A lady who was born in my bedroom told me they used to swim in there, but I had never done it before. One more step and I was in the channel. It was as deep as I was tall. My legs kicked but I was borne downstream just as fast as I had run up it. It was shockingly, shudderingly, screamingly cold; beautiful beyond words. I breast-stroked towards the home bank, where the current was more manageable. Better than any swimming pool I have ever been in.

Hunting high and low

A muntjac, a small and incredibly tasty species of imported deer, scuttled out of the bushes as I headed for home. I ran after it, chasing hard, but it just had the legs of me. I reckon if I hadn't been so tired from swimming I would have been able to catch it. I'll be ready next time. Might get a spear. And a loincloth.

The lie of the lawn

A small patch of lawn got mowed before the lawnmower conked out permanently. It had taken ages to get started in the first place. Ages. I was about to scream when the sight of that little bit of freshly-mown English lawn in springtime hit me full in the face. I lay down on it and cast my gaze toward the blue infinity above. Ah, lawn, the quiet country gentleman's ultimate bliss.

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