From the crest of the hill, I can see the floor of the valley laid below, hedged and parcelled, neat as a quilter's dream. A cold spell has settled on the area, and the fields and hedges are tipped with frost, white in the low sun, as though lightly dusted with sugar. Wooded hills are islanded by the mist, remote and aloof. I am standing above a hillside which has been in sun for the morning. The frost has thawed to a damp coating of the lank grass, robbed of its crystal sheen, as though a spell has been broken. There is no wind, no sound.
Below me, the smoke from winter fires spools aimlessly into the still air. Above the height of the tree tops, it disperses sideways, unable to rise through the dense air, stalled by the high pressure which stills all movement. On windless days such as this, it is almost possible to see the cold air thickening in the valley, sinking into the darkening spaces behind hedges and copses, crystallising to frost where no sun spills.
Down there, my path leads; a gentle descent through gorse-tangled hillsides, crossing stone walls and stiles, towards the sound of the hushing stream at the bottom of the valley. I am coming to the end of a blissful walk across hilltops empty of people, into sunshine only faintly warm in the low light of winter, and what remains is downwards.
I pause on the lip of the hilltop, reluctant to take the path down. It saddens me, this descent into the clamouring world, leaving behind the thinner air of altitude, the clarity of view across pale hills and ridges to where the sea is draped in a bank of mist. At times like this, I feel that the valley below has nothing to offer; no quality that can be finer than this remote hilltop with its iced pools amongst the sedge, its thick pelt of woodrush and moss. I feel an ache of sadness for the place left behind, the silent space which will be left by my passing, the way that the hills exist outside of my presence.
As I turn downwards from the ridge, I notice the narrow trod of a path which curves gently between knolls and crags, luring the eye over the lip of this hill and on to the next, and the next; undulating waves of grassy fells. It tugs at me as I descend, this path, like a thought I hoped to speak but then forgot. I imagine walking its weaving route, on and on over the receding ridges of grassy hills, drawn onwards by the sensual curve of the land until evening gathers in the valley below, and only the tips of the hills are touched with the last, fierce orange light of the setting sun.