September. New term, new routines, 5 billion name labels finally sewn into new uniforms, and an unspeakably quiet house, as everyone but me ventures out of the front door and back to school.
I love the autumn. I love the colours, and the smells, and the freshness, and all of the sense of possibility it brings. But it’s been a long, hot summer, and I’m not quite ready yet to let it go. So before the hazy sunshine has completely cooled, let’s have one more paean to July and August days of freedom, heat, flip flops and dry grass…
This year we got intensely in tents. Pretty much everything about camping is enjoyable for me*: I like the weatherbeaten old men wearing socks and sandals, studying OS maps outside their tents at 6am in the morning. I like the absence of makeup and presence of Crocs – on women who would normally appear far more carefully groomed – schlepping past to the wash block at random times of day in crazily mismatched outfits. I like the way we simply have to be outside almost all the time, because it’s either too hot under canvas, or it’s cold either way, so we get out the hot water bottles and sit in our folding chairs, squinting into the sun. I like the way all of my clothes smell of wood smoke all of the time.
So, we camped more than ever this summer. In Dorset, Shropshire and Kent: big hills, big skies, and new roads to run. I’ve written before about how much I enjoy vacation running, and this time I tried a bit harder to figure out just what it is that appeals to me so much about running in a different place.
Of course, it simply beats the routine of doing one of several super-familiar routes near your own home every day. And it’s good to have a few minutes of peace and quiet, amidst the constant closeness of six of us under one tent roof.
But more than that, I feel like I know a place so much more intimately, like somehow I own it, when I’ve run there. A drive past a recognisable runner landmark (road sign, gate to trail, high hedge betokening scary patch of road where I hoped I wouldn’t get mown down by a Landrover…) gives me a thrill of knowledge. I can cover so much ground, and recognise so much more of the world on a run, rather than on a family walk or just driving around the area. My last run in Sandwich took me past a fruit tree, branches leaning over the fence, and a harvest of freshly fallen plums on the ground by my feet. I saw incredible sunsets on my runs, heard birdsong, crickets chirruping, smelled horses, and the sea.
It’s a closeness to the earth which I don’t think many people find in any other way now, in a world where even our conversation with one another tends to happen via a screen, rather than face to face. So to feel, smell, breathe in the landscape on a run is so proximate.
Autumn will bring many good things, and I’m glad to be back at my desk. But Summer Was Beautiful.
“Hay fields as high as the house… and fire green as grass.” Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas
- Except zips. Man, I can’t wait to not hear continual zips. But pretty much everything else? Love it.