Brisk walks are the best way to burn off all those festive calories, especially during lockdown when keep fit options are limited. Timing is everything at this time of year. The distant sun is low on the horizon and, at its height, peeps only briefly above the tree line. A midday stroll is best, crunching through the frost, bubble-wrapped against the winds that blow across the East Anglian flatlands. Then it’s back to the cottage to put all those calories back on again.
The wettest October since the Great Flood finally gave way to crisp brightness, and so to prevent the second lockdown becoming more of a lock-in, Liam pushed me out of the front door for a Sunday morning constitutional. We ventured along the Wherryman’s Way to the River Chet, past booted dog-walkers, a catch of socially distanced anglers waving their tackle about and one or two boaters disturbing the still waters.
Under the current lockdown restrictions recreational fishing is okay as it’s reckoned to be good for mental health – though the hapless fish might not agree – but taking a boat out for a spin is a bit of a grey area. It could be classed as non-essential travel but the guidance is none too clear.
We made it as far as Hardley Flood (which hardly floods, as a bit of a wit wrote on Faceache), a tidal lagoon and nature reserve which, on the day, was home to a regatta of swans. By then, though, our passage was thwarted by ever-deepening muddy puddles and we could go no further. In more normal times, we might then have headed to the local for a few sherries and a Sunday roast. Sadly, that honourable tradition has been postponed until our next independence day.
We awake each morning to a cacophony of birdsong and days have merged into one. Life in lockdown passes at a snail’s pace with tasks expanded to fill the time available. Paid work has more or less dried up so domestic chores and essential errands dominate our days. Liam’s very handy with the hoover while I over-dust the knick-knacks. The house has never been so clean. Cabin fever and wall climbing is relieved by long walks along the river Chet and the queue outside our local Co-op store – keeping our distance from others, of course.
As we’re the only gays in the village, Liam, in his infinite wisdom, thought it would be fun to get better acquainted with our new parish. I thought pub crawl. He thought picnic and a gentle stroll along the river Chet. Now, anyone who knows me, even ever so slightly, knows I don’t hike, roam, ramble, trek or yomp. Still, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen?
Having hunted and gathered our provisions – a meal deal at the Co-op – we ambled across the pretty graveyard of Loddon’s fifteenth century Holy Trinity Church in search of the leafy gate to one of the many Broads walks which make up the Wherryman’s Way. As we passed the rows of lopsided headstones, we were serenaded by squawking rooks. It was an ominous sign.
The trail guided us through a tunnel of wild foliage, across babbling brooks and along country lanes to a riverside clearing called Pyes Mill. The mill’s long gone but it’s a pleasant spot with picnic tables, a barbecue grill and a place to shelter from the rain. We munched on our lunch watching the holiday boats slowly chug along the still waters of the river.
Fully replenished, we embarked on stage two of our great expedition – across a marshy field populated by bugs and a small herd of black cows grazing on the lush grass, tails flapping about to shoo away the flies. We’re both city boys and the only cows we normally see are sliced up at the Tesco’s meat counter so we kept well clear as we tip-toed around the puddles and shit.
Suddenly, a white-faced beast with pendulous udders and a mad cow look in her eyes emerged from the brush heading towards us, mooing in earnest. We stopped. She stopped. We stared her out. She stared us out. Guess who blinked first? Knowing the game was up, we turned round and started slowly retracing our steps. She followed. We quickened our pace. She quickened hers. Then she charged, picking up quite a speed, udders sloshing from side to side. We ran. Yes, we ran. It wasn’t our finest hour and thank the Lord there was no one around to video the pathetic sight of two old poofs fleeing from one ton of angry beef hell-bent on making mincemeat of us. It could have gone viral. Liam even considered chucking himself in the Chet to escape. Having seen us off, she trundled back into the bush.
Returning to Pyes Mill, we glanced back at our nemesis. She was being closely followed by a cute little brown calf. That was why the old cow was so pissed off. She was protecting the veal. Pity they didn’t mention that in the guidebook. I knew we should have gone to the pub.
By chance, Liam spotted a renovated 1850s cottage for sale in a small village called Chedgrave, ten miles southeast of Norwich. We went to see it. We liked it. We put in an offer. It was accepted. We put the micro-loft on the market. Our first viewer put in an offer. We accepted it. So we moved. Just like that.
We’d been thinking alot about our almost-final destination – the one before we get dragged kicking and screaming into a care home for the bed-wetting bewildered. For an age, tatty and batty Knaresborough in North Yorkshire was the odds-on favourite but after leading by a mile, it fell at the last fence. Why? Well, the town is so wonderful, nothing comes up. It seems no one leaves. And I can’t blame them.
Chedgrave is a small hamlet on the Chet, a river that forms part of the Norfolk Broads National Park. There isn’t much in Chedgrave – a church, a pub, a few shops. Fortunately, it’s twinned with Loddon, a pretty village with a lot more to offer. Both villages are on a fast bus route to Norwich so our regular city fix of stage and screen is assured.
We may be the only gays in the village. Will the village suit us? Will we suit the village? Will we get run out of town by an angry mob of red-faced, thick-set farm hands brandishing pitch forks? Will Liam join the WI and make strawberry jam? I’ll keep you posted.