Just past the bend in the road I climb up a bank and through a small gap in the hedge. Normally when we take this route, it’s a short cut to the Rising Sun pub, but today I head straight on into the field, walking in the footprints of others. I’m struck by the bright greenness and realise that the long thin leaves of the plants in this field are the same as those on the windowsill at home. There, I have just sixteen small sweetcorn, in orange plastic pots waiting to be planted out at the allotment; here there are hundreds and hundreds stretching out to the distance.
The distant drone of the motorway reminds me of people and work, but there’s nobody around me as I turn along the path and soon the sound of the cars is covered by birdsong. A blue tit rises up from the hawthorn hedge and ahead of me a black-tailed sheep moves slowly away, swinging its wide woollen hips, almost sauntering.
I stop and stand for a while, not thinking, not even really looking until I see three small lambs running towards me; perhaps they’re curious about the still, silent, woman. They have nothing to fear, but as I turn to look at them and try to call them closer, their courage fails and they run, jump and trip away.
I wish I didn’t know so well that moment when confidence turns to doubt, when the urge to be part of something is obliterated by a stronger urge to turn and run.
The last few days have been filled with so much; time spent with friends, exploring new sights, revisiting old haunts. We’ve walked for miles, talked for hours, shared experiences and stories, and built memories to savour. After almost a week together, there’s a shared language; the jokes don’t need explaining and they get funnier with every repetition.
Last night, as we leaned forward to share our food in a small Soho restaurant, it felt like the sort of wedding reception where one table has all the fun while the other guests look on enviously. As the laughter and the chatter got louder and louder, it felt, just for once, that I’d been chosen to sit at that table. But then, as I sat there, watching my friends, I was suddenly worried that they’d realise I was an imposter, that they’d guess I’d managed to gate-crash the party by pretending to be someone else. I didn’t want the evening to end, and I didn’t want to be the one who ended it, but for a short while, the harder I tried to join in and the more they welcomed my every contribution, the more separate I felt.
And then this morning, when I should have joined them again for another day in London, I let the aches and pains of yesterday’s walking become an excuse for staying at home. I let my courage fail me.
I carry on walking, trying not to slip on the mud, past the rough grassy patch where there’s a group of brown rabbits. They don’t seem bothered by my unexpected appearance, they don’t turn and run, they barely glance my way.
Passing the back of Frog Farm, I think of the story Philip always tells our visitors; of the few days each year when the young frogs swarm here. I’ve seen them in their hundreds, pushing forward to cross the road. I know that however quick and brave they are, many of them will end up crushed under cars and feet. Perhaps they know that too. I wonder what it is that keeps them moving on, however high the chances that they won't arrive.
I’m almost home when I come to the kissing gate. On my own today, there’s no reason to stop, as I usually do, to demand a kiss from Philip. So I pass through quickly, but as I do, my telephone rings and he’s there. And when I ask him how his day is going, I hear our friends in the background, shouting hello.
As I walk the last few yards, I begin to think about our plans for tomorrow. I'm sure it will be a very fine day; I just need to work out how to be more of a frog than a lamb.