Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Life in the UK: Walking the Dog

Long-time readers will know that the Asia Vus are a very doggy family.  (MrL and I, in fact, co-owned a dog before we got married - true story.)  Over the years, we've always had at least one dog, and often had two.  It stands to reason, then, that we have spent countless hours on that quintessential pastime familiar to dog lovers the world over:  walking the dog.  Here in England, it's no different, except for one thing:  you can go almost anywhere.  

No more boring walks around the block or a loop around the park before heading home.  Here, we walk through woods and fields, across meadows, through blackberry brambles, and past the occasional grazing horse.  We stroll through playing fields, down ancient lanes and up slippery stone steps built into the hillside hundreds of years before we were born.

The brutally steep set of stairs known locally as 'Jacob's Ladder' which leads up from the City Centre to our neighborhood.  Fortunately, there are other - less extreme - alternatives for getting home.
One of the things I like best about living in England is the idea of public access to the countryside.  Coming from a country which is is rife with signs that say things like, 'Private Property' ' No Trespassing!' and "This Property Protected by Smith and Wesson,"  you can understand that, upon moving here, I stuck to sidewalks and parks as a rule of thumb - not a problem, since there seem to be parks everywhere around here.  I saw fields all around me, but it never occurred to me to try to walk through them.

After a few weeks, though, I kept noticing these signs:

They are everywhere, and designate public footpaths - that is, paths or sidewalks that are open to the public.  And I also started noticing these gates, which seemed to show up quite frequently near woods and fields:

This is either a 'slip gate' or a 'kissing gate' depending on who's speaking.

Of course, not knowing where they led - and not knowing whose property they led to - I never entered them, no matter how gorgeous the landscape on the other side might look.

It wasn't until I was chatting with some other dog owners one day when one of them invited me to join a group of them who met in the afternoons in a field which, she explained, was accessible through 'yon slip gate' (that's 'the slip gate over there' for us North Americans) at the rear of some school playing fields ("We have right-of-way through them, you know" Actually, I didn't.  ) 

Well, as they say, that changed everything.

Once I started looking for them, I noticed them everywhere, often in combination with the 'public footpath' signs as shown above.  Often, there is a sign asking you to keep your dogs on a lead and to clean up after them.  Occasionally, there will be a notice warning you that livestock may be present, and once, I saw a reminder not to 'come between a mother and her offspring.' (Duh)

Most of the time, though, it's just you, the dog, and nature, and, since I know I won't be living here forever, I try to really be mindful about how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  It's always a little amazing to me the way people here seem to be able to go about their business so calmly.  I feel like I spend about 50% of my time (or more) either taking pictures, and the other 50% thinking, "I can't believe I'm just walking around in all of this.  It's like a movie." How my neighbors every accomplish anything is sort of a mystery to me, although I suppose if I'd lived here my whole life, I might be equally sanguine about all this gorgeousness, too.

Anyway, for those of you who might have been wondering what things look like in this neck of the woods, I thought I'd share a few photos of one of our favorite walks, which starts with a stroll through the park before you enter a brambly sort of field via the slip gate above:

Following the path, you come out into a little open area, overlooking  southeast Bath and its surroundings:

Past the blackberry brambles:

Into another little patch of woods:

And out on the other side into a surprising little meadow overlooking more houses and more fields.

Apple tree in full blossom

Follow the path uphill through the meadow:

And come to another slip gate:

These gates still freak me out, but I am slowly getting used to them and no longer bark at them.

Which leads into another field at the bottom of the school cricket grounds:

Before we know it, we're leaving the field at the next gate:

Notice that it's a private field with public access.  Love it!
And walking down the street toward home:

MrL joins in on all of our evening walks

One of the houses on the way home

I love houses with names

This stairway leads down to another footpath.  We haven't been here yet, but it looks promising