The tiny sweet taste of the wild strawberries was more refreshing than their size suggested, but this is only the most immediate memory of the journey – not the most distinct. After the run, up the small, steep valley just as the day was beginning I stopped behind the waterfall. This was easier than it sounds: the stream flowed in a sharp needle over the edge of the overhanging cliff and down past the front of the wide, shallow cave carved behind it. The main footpath used by day trippers and bird watchers tracked through and beyond the cave, taking the route to the other side of the stream and off to the moors at the top of the hill. It was easy to stand behind this waterfall and easy to step into my risky-play self and under its brain-freezing flow! It was high summer, the end of July, and soon the sun would warm wherever it touched, yet in the early morning air I could almost see my breath and shrieked to myself in the cold.
I’d run far enough and didn’t fancy the same route down, beautiful as it was with its sedge, rush and clusters of bilberry bushes and wild strawberries. I looked down the steep valley watching the stream work around the rocks and winding out of sight. I had nothing with me to impede my journey; no phone or camera to keep dry; not even shoes to worry about. I stepped in to the stream to join it on its descent down the hillside.
Within five steps I’d entered another world; the footpath disappeared quickly above me and as I stayed with the stream and moved away from the path I became nature. Straightaway, I felt more in common with the mice, and voles and weasels that lived in the valley and used the stream daily. Straightaway, I dipped away, out of my own time and back to an age when there was no footpath and my route down the valley was the only route. Straightaway, I sunk into my body and the brain of my muscles and sinews took over as I clambered and climbed over the rocks and down through the stream bed. As I became nature the wrens pipping through the rushes were less afraid and my nature-body took hold and led me down. I was confident and connected to my world: I felt more keenly, saw the shapes and colours of the dawning day and each tiny strawberry – visible and accessible only to me – burst with flavour for me. Cold (the morning sun had not yet touched the steep valley) but surefooted, I wound myself with the stream; stretching to reach past the bigger boulders that had fallen from higher up the valley on stormy nights in the past; reaching to hang for a moment from the grasses growing strongly on the steep banks. More than once I dropped down a distance more than my own height – turning to slide on my belly and feeling the graze of the rocks on my knees, then my thighs, then my ribs. Then I could look up and see the steep valley rising above me and watch the water find its easy level, running without effort.
Periodically, like the slow pulse of the earth, I met with the path as it snaked its way more shallowly than the stream and crossed several times high above me, by way of wooden bridges. Further down it crossed at my level, when a series of stones split the flow and encouraged all comers to splash through. After this the journey changed as the banks widened and the stones became broader and flatter. Below the line of the planted spruce my way darkened: the sharp drops between the stones were less forgiving and not so much lived here, although dippers, keeping their distance, were around for company. The route felt more arduous and my conscience gave its first nag; ‘What if you fall? No-one knows you’re here’. I ignored it, pushing myself back into my nature-body, using the feel of the rocks and stones to once more connect me to the earth and to the flow of the water. After a time, I was rewarded by a pool almost deep enough to swim through, a waterfall drop to climb down and a cluster of rocks to hide behind whilst another early morning runner jogged past. The stream, joined on either side by other trickles that swelled it to the status of River grew in its own importance and above me a sequence of fallen pines that had slid down the slopes of the valley into their place above me, made thin, slow-rotting bridges high over my head.
A while more and my River reached a wider one, just by a bridge, and a road that took me back to the camp. I left the water to make its own way to the sea as I heaved myself up the bank and dripped to my tent; then joining the group of gentle singers who were walking and waking the rest of the camp with their harmonies; I let my nature-fed soul spill its joy into the song of the day.