Christmas and new year’s day suddenly appear to be a distant memory – and I found myself this week exiting the bubble-like time capsule of the festive season in a slightly sub-par frame of mind.
When January the 3rd hit (the first day back to work for most of the UK) even though I don’t (yet) have a job I was suddenly reminded of the need to make progress in life.
This in my case isn’t just limited to employment. All of a sudden I feel slightly overwhelmed with the stress of needing to demonstrate to the world and myself that my time off for the last five months has not been wasted and that each day represents some form of incremental progress.
It’s probably not going to come as a surprise to anyone that in this respect I can probably be too hard on myself – but I feel the need to rekindle a sense of purpose that maybe began to relax a little bit in December. I’m beating myself up a bit about that.
I doubt I’m alone in this though as both the parks and countryside where I’ve been walking over the last few days have routinely been crammed with joggers and runners – all of whom appear to be wearing suspiciously pristine clothes and trainers.
I guess I’m witnessing the annual January miracle, where those previously unable to leave the sofa or put down their bags of Doritos are suddenly propelled into the outside world by new years resolutions clothed in nothing but spandex and propelled by dreams of smaller waistlines.
For my own part I’m not yet in lycra (the thought of it chills my blood) and my start isn’t new – but I feel like I’m still at something of a crossroads.
I wrote recently about the fear of a plateau and it’s still dogging me. I feel continually like I’m not doing what’s required of me and I’m beginning to let it get me down. I’ve genuinely struggled with food this week and I need to re-focus somehow – to zero in on the positives of life.
Today the outside world looked wonderful, and thankfully I’d pre-arranged a walk along the Stratford Greenway (link) with a friend.
The last time I walked this was in 2008 when I first lost a lot of weight. Back then myself and two friends made the slight tactical error of walking the entire five mile length into Stratford from the start and then back again to my car – which resulted in some rather unpleasant blisters.
I remember that my companions at the time felt exactly the same as me and by the time we’d finished the day none of us seemed enthusiastic about repeating the experience in the near future. This time however (with the benefit of advanced age and wisdom) we decided to take two cars, leaving one in Stratford to begin with and then once we’d finished going back to the start (where we’d also parked a car) to pick up the other.
I think it’s highly unlikely that we could have randomly chosen a better day for our walk, and as we exited the car at the start there was almost complete silence. The air was crisp and fresh and the world was totally still. Although the temperatures were well below freezing at the start of the day (and for most of the morning) the sun was out and the sky was a pure, cloudless blue.
Constant warm rays slowly thawed the world around us as we walked and talked.
Neither of us were planning on setting any speed records today so we ambled along at a relatively sedate pace (Apple Watch tells me on average that was about 24 mins per mile).
The walk isn’t a complicated affair – and it’s one where it’s pretty much impossible to get lost. The Greenway is a completely straight and level track thats ideal for prams, cyclists, dog walkers, runners, the disabled and ramblers. Although I no longer need them these days there are also plenty of spots (every mile or so) where you can sit down on a bench and sip tea if you’ve brought a flask with you.
The route follows the path of a disused railway, built in 1859 by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway companies – and later absorbed by the Great Western Railway. It originally linked Stratford and the Midlands to Cheltenham and the South West of England -and for a time (whilst owned by British Railways) carried ‘The Cornishman Express’ to and from the West Country until the line’s eventual closure in 1976.
After a time falling into disrepair it was reclaimed by the local authority and remodelled as a recreational walk. It still has some of the old railway features along the way such as cafes in old railway cars, (in Milcote and at Stratford – open only at the weekends after 10am it seems and currently not very photogenic) the remnants of the old Milcote platform and a delightfully rusty railway bridge.
Shortly after this there are also some pretty nice views of Stratford race course.
Mostly the walk is through open farmland – and because of this there’s a lot of incidental wildlife. There were tons of birds flying overhead (noisy geese seemed to be a feature of the day) and there was seemingly always a squirrel making a hasty getaway out of the corner of my eye from whatever crime scene it had recently visited.
Walking in the frost also has an added element of child-like joy and wonder attached to it, thanks to icy puddles – otherwise known by me as nature’s bubble wrap.
It’s next to impossible to stop yourself stepping on these virgin patches of ice when you find them – purely to hear the fracturing and cracking beneath your feet when the surface gives way and splinters. It’s a wonderfully addictive sound and sensation – and I couldn’t help but notice other walkers doing this as well as we passed them.
All in all the walk (thanks to the scenery and spirited twalking) absolutely flew by. Two hours after starting we were standing at the end of the path in Stratford next to the Holy Trinity Church.
Despite Stratford only being several miles around the corner from where I live it’s somewhere that I almost NEVER visit, so this was quite a treat.
I do rather like the place!
For Christmas it seemed like various groups in the community had been knitting decorations for the trees that were still in situ. Pretty much all one the ones in the nearby graveyard had winter coats on them and further into town many also had knitted baubles for the branches as well – giving the whole place a rather twee ‘little town’ feeling (even though it’s a busy tourism hotspot)
As we sat by the (mostly frozen) river and dock watching the seagulls perched on the surface and drinking a well earned McDonald’s coffee (black with sweetener of course) I felt like the weight of the worries I’d started the walk with had (at least temporarily) dissolved in the sunshine and melted along with the frost.
Both my friend and I agreed that soon (now that I’m not so terrified of fitting into ‘normal sized’ seats) we would have to come to Stratford again and visit the theatre for something high brow and Shakespearean with famous thespians in it.
I haven’t been to a play since I was at university internet – and I think it’s high time I re-introduced some culture into my life. Getting fit is great – but I am beginning to realise that I need to start feeding my mind with new thoughts as well as repairing my body.
Maybe that (and a job) will take my mind off over analysing my ‘successes’ or ‘failures’….