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Dog Walkers, by Carol Rowlands





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Buttercups, yellow vetch and dandelions


I’ve lost my footing. Slithering down a six foot bank.

Oh, oh… oh dear!

There. I’m at the bottom. It’s all right, no injuries.

“OK?” enquires my friend.

“Umm, yes, err… just checking. Ha-ha! Erm ….”

“Don’t want to put you out of action so near the start!” she chuckles.

“Lord, no. Ha-ha!” I am a mite frazzled.

No matter. It’s a good day. A long-promised walk with an old acquaintance, Joan. At last I’m in her area of Cheshire for a couple of days.

She has two strapping whippets, brother and sister, who are very similar in size and overall gracefulness to my lurcher, Rosie. Much younger and stronger, though.

But Rosie’s doing her best to keep up.

As am I.

We’ve been walking for ten minutes and already I’m getting the gist of Joan’s style and pace. And duly revising my mental picture of our forthcoming afternoon.

Put it this way, “a gentle meander in the country” isn’t a concept she would be too familiar with.

We’re striding along the edge of a fallow field, and that field is beginning to slope upwards at a gradient of about one-in-three, or that’s how it feels to my thighs.

And we’re going at a cracking lick.

When in Rome…

There’s a stile at the top. Over goes Joan. The whippets take it at a leap and Rosie squirms through the dog aperture at the base. I think I’ll just…

Ah. Balanced precariously on top of the style I glimpse Joan and company disappearing down a side path. Perhaps I should have gone over first. I have a sinking feeling that it’s going to be a case of me perpetually scurrying to catch up.

“I love all the spring yellows,” Joan remarks, as I draw level. Indeed, the ground is awash with buttercups, yellow vetch, dandelions. Very cheery.

“Mm, gorgeous,” I puff.

We’ve dismissed that field in short order. Is this what army drill feels like? Now we’re in a wood, and manoeuvring down a steep path. In a jogging-cum-sliding style.

“Beautiful sunlight through the leaves,” Joan comments amiably.

“Glorious.” I can’t raise my eyes from the ground: it’s slippery underfoot from an earlier downpour. Don’t want to embarrass myself again.

Minutes later we’re charging along the side of a road. Woods either side. Dogs on leads. The whippets jostle, but it’s an orderly jostle.

Oh. What comes down must go up. Again. Having wrestled open a metal farm gate, we’re now facing another steep incline. I’ve (foolishly) volunteered to deal with the gate, and, while I laboriously heave it, hoik it, shove it and finally secure it, Joan belts on upwards. Humming a merry ditty, if my ears don’t deceive me.

It’s fascinating how Joan’s pace is exactly the same whether ascending or descending.

Forty minutes, one thumping chest, one niggling lower back, and a clout from a low-hanging branch later, I hear a shout from in front.

“Great view coming up,” Joan enthuses, “old church, nestling in amongst the trees, across the valley. Just like an oil painting… couple of miles.”

Ten minutes, then, max.


Rosie’s limping. Oh no – wrong moment, Rosie. I examine the relevant paw. It’s just a prickle on her pad, thank heavens. I easily remove it.

Must catch up.

“The church…” Joan’s pointing.

She pauses for a micro-second to drink in the awesome splendour of the view.

No such luxury for me.

“Super!” I call, feverishly swiping my path through a sudden thick cloud of midges. My hand accidentally catches my own head in the process and I notice that my right temple is bleeding. The wallop from the low branch, I suppose.

Another hour of pounding along. I mean walking. Fields, hills, woods. Woods, hills, fields.

There’s oodles of cow parsley everywhere. And elder flowers. “Let’s linger awhile to inhale the sweet, musty aroma… almost heady in its intensity,” I long to murmur, lyrically.

No time, no time.

“Look, there’s a bird of prey – buzzard, I think,” she calls with excited urgency. “Did you see?”

“Wow!” I respond.

Missed it.

I love the countryside.

Joan loves the countryside.

But in these two hours we’ve covered what I would normally take a week to walk.

I’m in a muck-sweat. My knees feel akin to rhubarb jelly. Ankles faintly aching. Head grazed – swollen perhaps? Back dodgy. Chest in need of repose.

Rosie’s coped heroically, despite her bouncy little trot gradually dwindling to a somewhat laboured plod.

Suddenly we’re home: Joan’s house. Nose down, I hadn’t seen it coming.

She slumps down in an old arm-chair. “God, you’re a fast walker!” she says seriously. Eyes staring, tone exhausted.

“What?” I’m aghast.

She allows herself a sly smile.

“So,” she fixes me with an innocent gaze, “where shall we go tomorrow?”


© Carol Rowlands 2009





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