Walking

He walked, he hiked, he rambled. He trod the streets of a divided Berlin before the wall, he climbed mountains in Poland and Hungary under communism, he learnt to use crampons in the mountains of Austria. High hill and lonely dale, riverside and cliff top he trudged alone or with others. He trod the corridors and spaces of museums and galleries, high forts and grand chateaux, lonely monasteries and wide gardens.
He walked to work, to clubs and societies, to committee meetings, to the bus stop, to the station.
He needed to walk, a day wasn’t any good unless he’d put one foot in front of the other, stretched his legs, walked around the block. Walking was a drug to him, a habit he cultivated, an addiction he stoked with long hours pouring over ordnance survey maps plotting his next move. He slept with his maps on one side and his wife on the other, wedged between domesticity and escape.
He always knew where he was, perfectly positioned in the points of a compass, sure of his next step but always interested in the next meandering path. No walk was quite far enough, another mile, another footpath necessary to get the fix. He took glee in pushing boundaries whether those of landowners or of countries, high mountain passes are rarely marked by security points. He walked the paths of his homeland whether bleak moors, forbidding peaks, rolling down land or the woodland country of the High Weald. He drifted in bliss through bluebell woods in the spring.
He was never in a hurry, though he maintained a respectable pace. Later, he started to wind down like a piece of clockwork with worn springs. At first, a little slower, an imperceptible easing then slower still. He missed busses and trains because familiar walks took longer, he called taxis to take him home whose drivers grumbled about dirty boots on clean carpets. He returned with muddy trousers after falling in the middle of a field. His wife worried, but he still needed his hit. He walked more often on suburban streets but couldn’t give up the fields and woodland.
He slowed still more, he took twice the time to walk than he used to. He walked earlier to gain the daylight, by now he was no longer confident walking at dusk. He lumbered, a shuffling difficult gait, though in his mind he still strode out as he used to, just slower somehow, age and disease greater obstacles than stiles and barbed wire.
Eventually in the evenings he would spread his maps like tablecloths and studying them would pass gently into sleep, nodding over hill and dale, travelling the contour lines of his dreams.

In my heart he walks on, treading woodland paths forever.

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