Once a London city-slicker, writer Yang-May Ooi revels in the glories offered by mud, mud and more mud in the local environs of Oxford.

Mud, Mud Everywhere ¦ Oxford Moments

One of the attractions for me of moving out of London to a smaller city like Oxford is the ease with which you can get into the countryside and commune with nature.

I loved my old London stomping ground of Dulwich with its gorgeous park, leafy streets, nearby woods and other green parklands within walking distance. But to reach proper countryside – you know, fields and woods and streams and all that stuff – it would take over an hour in the car or even longer on public transport.

Country Roads, Take Me Home – Or Not

To get home to South London at the end of an otherwise idyllic day immersed in nature, I would have to endure the same tiresome journey I had taken outward bound but in reverse, struggling through tangled traffic or trying to make multiple connections just to make it home again – by which time all the relaxing, nurturing good of having been out for a country walk would have been completely undone.

So I’ve been utterly blissed out here in Oxford being able to nip out regularly for local country walks with minimum of hassle and mostly within 20 minutes of home. Especially given the various Tiers and lockdown restrictions, I have been very grateful for the local-ness of so many walks on my doorstep that have allowed my partner and me to take our daily exercise in vast landscapes without coming anywhere near anyone else – and on many occasions without ever coming across another person at all, even on the far horizon.

Escape to the Country

I hesitate to write all this because I don’t want to contribute to the rising prices of properties outside London! From what I’ve seen in the news, more and more people are making their bid to escape from the Big Smoke. Lockdown has got everyone longing for a house with a garden – which is of course more affordable outside London. Working from home has proved viable so those who can justify not commuting are also looking to greener pastures. When I was house-hunting last summer, immediately after the first lockdown, the estate agents all said most of the enquiries they were getting were from Londoners.

So perhaps I should try mentioning some downsides of country walking during the pandemic…

  1. No Toilets

Many public toilets are closed. Many pubs and cafes in quaint little villages or by charming crossroads  which we might otherwise rely on for a pee stop along with a drink and hot chips or tea and cake are also closed.

2. No Tea and Cake

As above.

3. Mud, mud and more mud

Well, to be fair, mud isn’t the fault of the pandemic. It’s the fault of the usual English winter. The same rain that makes this country a “green and pleasant land” also turns the earth to mud. The recent torrential downpours have been particularly bad, especially those offered by the ironically named post-Brexit Storm Christoph (Christopher, surely! Or Chris, if you must…)

Mud-ling Along

In a break in the weather, we headed out for a stomp in what we hoped would be glorious sunshine as promised by the weather app on our phones. The sun did emerge but only after a burst of recalcitrant rain which clearly hadn’t checked the app.

We strode along a tarmac road which soon turned into a metalled road and then a sandy track filled with puddles. Before long, the sand ran out and we were on an earthern track, dual-rutted from tractor treads. This was the public right of way. On either side was private land. We followed it into the edge of a field where its line became only discernable because of the muddied grass. The puddles gave way to pools of water.

Soon we were in the woods, squelching along the right of way as best we could. It was now pure mud, a number of rivulets streaming down the course way. The thick goo sucked at our boots, threatening to pull them off as we lifted our feet. Our pace had now slowed to a heavy wade. We criss-crossed the path trying to find dry or firm ground but often slipping ankle dip into the dark gunge. Sometimes, it was easier to walk boot-deep along the a rivulet bed where the water had cleared the mud away to reveal stone and rock.

Our slow progress finally got us to the lake we’d been aiming for. It had over-flowed its banks and the car park alongside it was under water.

Yay for Mud

Actually, scratch No. 3. It’s not really a downside. The mud was a good thing.

We had not met a single other soul on that sludgy walk. No-one else had been as foolish as us in taking their exercise through the mud.

Sorry – try as I might I can’t really offer you any real downsides to moving out of London. I will just have to ask for your mercy as the bunfight for properties in smaller towns and cities continues …

I was splattered in mud up to my waist. My trousers were caked, as were my boots. My legs, glutes and core muscles were aching and stiff, thanks to the intensive workout offered by keeping balance and poise while wading through the mud at the best pace we could muster.

But gunky clothes and boots and aching muscles didn’t matter – we were home in a jiffy, the afterglow of the country air staying with us long afterwards.

Oxford Moments is a multimedia blog by author Yang-May Ooi, exploring the city of Oxford, its people and places. “Oxford inspired me as a student and infused much of my life over the last few decades. I have now moved back here and this project is my multi-faceted rediscovery of a city that I have always loved.”  Follow Oxford Moments at bit.ly/OxfordMoments

Author: Yang-May Ooi

Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre & family memoir), The Anxiety Advantage and Creative Conversations (podcasts). ¦ www.TigerSpirit.co.uk

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