It's nearly night but the wind has lulled to a dusky stillness and I say to Tom, let's take a walk. Just a little one as we spent the day in the wind walking the Cotswold Way up to Broadway Tower and down through woods and meadows but our rain gear has satisfactorily dried by the cottage fire and the air smells lovely.
We agree we'll just mosey down the lane a bit past the pub which is not yet open but Tom brings map and torch anyway because we have now agreed that map and torch go together like boots and coat-we shouldn't leave home without them.
My boots (high top cozy green hunter wellies same as the queen--so they say-- wears to walk the corgis) are good. My rain coat is a foil to the fleece that is my must layer in an English January and I throw on a waterproof cap with visor--just in case.
The lane leads to a gate. The gate leads to a trail. We look at each other,shrug and go through over the bridge down the path. Tom stops to look at his map. There is a circular walk we might just squeeze in before real night, the air is still soft and the brook lined path ahead inviting. Why not?
Soon we meet mud. The cow trodden farm hillside we are climbing is so slick that I telemark vertically up the slippery slope. The farm itself sits comfortably mid hill surrounded by ancient outbuildings, fragrant smoke issuing from its several chimneys, lights softly glowing from its low windows. The trail circles above the farm's yard on a single track lane as we cross the top of the hill in what the Scots call the gloaming--a blue twilight whose rich deepness yields an equally deep pleasure at our being here in this place at this time. We see the lights of the village we've walked from blink on across the hills. They seem surprisingly far away.
Does the circular track start here? Or over there? Tom gets out the map and the torch, carefully studies it and leads us down a fenced perimeter--into the deep--dark--woods. Like a shade pulled against the sun, the thick trees, even in leafless winter, eclipse the light and we are blinded by the dark. My eyes have trouble making the transition and the trail having turned again to that slick muddy slide, I do the sensible thing and grab Tom's arm for balance. Okay, okay I admit I also grab it because the trees are really enormous and it is really dark and there are some odd little crunchy noises coming from that shadowy patch below us.
Tom balances me, the map, the torch and himself as we negotiate the hairpin turns pocked with tricky holes that make our boots squelch and slide. The teeny torch does nothing more than show us feet and as it is in Tom's hand it is his feet we are staring at. The crunching noises have ominously stilled when suddenly a violent gust blows in rain and all of the tree tops above us become huge winged creatures who rise up angry, flapping and screeching and way too close. My feet shoot out from under me, I grab Tom harder--AND HE LETS GO. I shoot down the slope sure that I'm about to be monster dinner and stop only when the mud grabs hold and leaves me sitting in its slimy tentacles.
"YOU dropped me!" I yell at Tom even though he helps me up and does the best he can to not laugh and says that he didn't mean to drop me but the good news is that he saved his map and glasses and they are not muddy at all.
I am so mad that I stalk off dripping mud and leaves and tears and even though the rain increases with my foul mood it does little to hose me off. I slog up the long hill until finally reaching the village road, tramp down it in what is now a full tempest arriving at the cottage well ahead of Tom but have to wait to get in because he has the key. We do not talk for the whole hour it takes me to try to wash mud from my hair, my face, my boots, my trousers and my jacket. Realizing that this is the best I can do in this trying situation I allow Tom to join me at the pub's fire where he placates me with scampi, a hot baked potato and a large Chardonnay.
It isn't until we are ready to leave for the airport two days later and I catch site of the back of my jacket that I come to a fuller comprehension of the tenacity of Cotswoldian elements. I will fly back across the Atlantic Ocean branded by streaks of what I can only hope my fellow passengers know is just mud.