I couldn't blame her; I'd not even considered taking Thunderfeet MegaBeagle (Mrs) out for any kind of walk at all but Biggle is a hunt beagle and she will usually go out in all weathers. I did mutter a bit about having to get out of all my waterproofs and boots especially as just the few yards to the gate meant they all had to be dried over the Rayburn.
But an hour later, as the gloaming settled over the hills and crept its mystery between the hedges, the rain stopped. Perhaps only for a short while but it was a window of opportunity and Biggle and I, kitted up in our reflector coats, set forth into the night.
There are very few walks that can be taken without wellington boots right now, as Britain sloshes its way through January and the Golden Triangle as it's known - two miles of lanes beginning at our house - is a Godsend. The gales lash their way up from Dartmoor along the road from East Week but the seven-foot hedges temper them to manageable speeds.
Tonight, the wind wuthered in the hedges, wuthered through the wires of the telegraph pole that keeps our home connected to the world and wuthered around the brim of my hat. Three separate sounds, distinct and eerie but indescribable. I love listening to the lanes; to the rain in the hedges and on my hat and on the tarmac; to the birdsong (in the daytime) and the owls and creatures at night.
Biggle and I are used to walking in the dark; I take her out most nights, either after supper or at 10pm before bed. For only a couple of months of the year, do we go out and return in daylight but the rest of the year, we get to know the stars, the night-creatures and the phases of the moon. We see the International Space Station and comets and hide in the hedges, torch put out, like children playing spies when we hear the army helicopters come over.
Tonight, as we walked down to East Week the sky bathed us in pastel blue and grey. Amazingly there was some pale blue sky (briefly) and white tufts of cumulus amid the darkening layers of threatening cloud. Every day as I walk I can watch the sky change in minutes, from laughter to tears, from rage to triumph; every single incarnation is beautiful and tonight it was a magical blend of blues and greys.
And then the rain fell. I had seen it coming; the black sky ahead over the moor, flowing swiftly towards us and hoped it would not be the slashing rain of most of the day. It began with great droplets of rain that splashed on the already flooded road and then fell faster — slashes of water that hit my anorak noisily and tinkled through the winter twigs of the hedges on each side.
I sighed and decided to 'do wet.' When you 'do wet' you don't resist the water but become a part of it. You are the wet; it doesn't matter where it gets or how soggy your feet become. And tonight there was no chance of unsoggy feet despite my wonderful walking boots. The lane was flooded in five places, two of them up to my ankles. Biggle paddled her way through happily; once she is out, she is out; there was no desire to turn back.
We sloshed down to East Week and turned left, wincing occasionally at the arc of light from a car on another road. Strangely, while nature feels safe, the sight of a car's lights on the night walks always slightly un-nerves me; we are both visible and I carry a torch but they seem alien and slightly threatening. Of course when one comes up the lane before us or down the lane behind us, we move to the side and let them pass; Biggle is totally car-safe. Once, at Christmas time, I felt the desire, suddenly, to burst into song and both this and the light of the torch as we turned a corner, nearly gave a courting couple in a steamed-up car a panic attack.
Tonight, walking towards Gooseford, the rain turned colder and fell harder. The left side of my face, un-sheltered by my hat or collar, felt icy and it was time to turn on the torch as the night fell in earnest and I needed to watch my feet as the stream gurgled up over the road.
At night, my bishop once told me, the dryads and naiads come out of their trees and once you walk with them nightly and start to sense the magic of the night, you can know for sure that it's true; you can feel their presence, their cold curiosity; their desire to be acknowledged and even named. Each tree, each plant, each creature, each spirit desires to experience something of individuality if only through the identification of a passing human. I can't explain it better than that.
I bless as many of them as I can, each and every night when they ask me to; some nights I begin to bless but they inform me in their detached way 'we remain blessed' and I pass on. That will be after I've done some other ritual at home which carries a deeper form of blessing. There is no doubt that the land experiences what we exude. Tonight they were silent; huddled in with their creatures but I blessed them all the same.
As we sloshed past Gooseford farm and turned left to walk back up the hill to home the road became a river of grey-brown and Biggle stopped even attempting to get under gates or through fences to follow a particular sniff. This was the long haul home with wet feet and legs where my waterproof trousers had given in but ahead, the sky was brightening slightly and to the left I could just discern the light of a new moon through some slightly whisping cloud cover. I knew that my left bootlace had come undone but laughed at the very thought of taking off my soggy gloves and re-tying them as the water flowed over my toes.
Past Three Fields Corner, the lane became a lane again; the rain receded and ahead the sky began to clear. Two stars from Lyra were visible and my face began to warm up just a little again.
And then we were home to warmth and hot towels. Biggle squeaking with delight as she was dried by her Dad and me slowly peeling off layer after layer and dripping in the kitchen.
I love this land; it is a privilege to 'do wet' here.