Sometimes my walks are planned in detail: distances are measured, times are estimated, places are researched, weather forecasts are consulted. Other times I throw the map and a few bits and pieces in the rucksack and just go.
I went first of all to the village of Lilley, which sits at the edge of the Chiltern Hills. It's a pretty and a prosperous place, a desirable place to dwell and one that could easily feature in one of those coffee-table books on "Beautiful Britain".
The meadows around the village are threaded by well-marked footpaths and seem to be largely given over to pasturing horses from the riding stables. I remember reading long ago that this kind of closely grazed land with scattered trees has always appealed to people. The writer went on to postulate that this preference derives from our distant ancestors coming from the savannahs of Africa, where vaguely similar landscapes exist to this day.
Whether there could be any truth in that suggestion I leave you to decide for yourself, but I know I'm always happy to wander in this area. It also seems to be what those with sufficient means aim for when they go about creating their ideal landscape, be they seventeenth-century aristocrats designing parkland around their country mansions or modern town-planners drawing up a scheme for an urban green space.
I also recall another theory concerning landscape painting and photography. This insightful daydreamer reckoned that all our favourite pictures represented either look-outs or sanctuaries. Again the ancient basis of these preferences was our prehistoric selves; look-outs would be high places commanding views across the countryside, enabling us to see possible game to hunt, or enemies approaching....
….sanctuaries, on the other hand, were places that offered us seclusion from our enemies or the wild animals. A place to hide away.
A distant view framed by trees would then be the ideal; a safe place with a view of any approaching dangers!
I suppose one could also take these idle thoughts a stage further. As these early men and women wandered in search of food they would have to learn the lie of the land and construct mental maps of the possible routes through their world. I certainly find myself attracted to pictures showing pathways I might follow on foot and I sometimes get comments that others share my enthusiasm.
While I follow some paths, others remain "the road untaken", there to be sauntered down another day.
It would also have been vital to pay close attention to the flowers and plants, some of which were potential food-sources, while others might have medicinal uses. I still find myself drawn to these details, even though the need is no longer there - I wouldn't know how to get medicines from a plant unless I looked it up online, a resource our foraging forebears managed without! On the other hand I do know all the best blackberry bushes and mushrooming spots in the vicinity!
So I wander on, going this way and that, exploring hollows then climbing crests, watching the fall of sunlight and the contours of the hillsides, with random thoughts running through my mind. In the course of all this I probably cover as many miles as I would if I were on a more thoroughly thought-out walk; it certainly feels like it.
And every so often it's a good idea to sit down in the sunshine and just chew the cud for a while!