After moving to our current house just under 2 years ago, I fairly quickly discovered there was a lake essentially behind the estate that we live on at the top end of our village. The lake separates our village from the next settlement, a new housing development on the edge of Peterborough.
When I first found it in 2018, most of the houses now on one ‘corner’ (the best description I can give, I’m afraid) weren’t yet built and the path that goes all the way round wasn’t even complete. The first time I started walking round, I’ll admit I was a little worried I might be shouted out for technically being on the building site as there was no real barriers! I didn’t get too close and actually cut back out to the main road to avoid the main building works on the other side. I’m not sure exactly how long the lake itself has been there, but it was incorporated as part of the housing development which is on old brick pits and my guess is, if the lake didn’t naturally occur when the pits shut, it’s probably less than 5 years since it was established, and certainly the landscaping work around it is less than 5 years old.
Anyway, last Summer the paths were complete and I started walking around it regularly, a few mornings a week as the walk takes about an hour and I could just about squeeze it in before work. I absolutely love it, the route is easy enough for my not very fit body, but it’s long enough with a few changes in elevation to make the exercise worthwhile. I loved watching the seasons change and spotting the bird life on the lake. I even persuaded my husband and at one point when my parents were visiting, my Dad to walk with me around my lovely lake. I’ve always been a big fan of birds and with a love of the Environment (my degree is in Countryside Management), it felt like I had finally found ‘my patch’, although not exclusive to me, this was an area I could visit regularly and watch the seasons change, see it develop etc. The lake isn’t in the middle of unbroken countryside. The housing development comes pretty close to it at the aforementioned ‘corner’, beyond the hedge on one of the sides is the A15 and only a narrow farmer’s field separates the hedge on the adjacent side from the estate that I live on, but it is still a place of solace and nature in suburbia and I love it.
As time got tighter and the mornings darker, I stopped walking round the lake in the mornings and failed to make time at any other point in the day. I missed it, but it didn’t feel like it could be a bigger priority in my life than other things. When I was made redundant at the start of the pandemic, one of the benefits I focused on was having the opportunity for morning walks around the lake again, the mornings were lighter again and I didn’t have to rush. I went on the following Monday and was so happy to be back out there! A few hours later, I had a letter telling me I needed to shield for at least 12 weeks and my opportunities for lake walks were completely thwarted this time. It was quite honestly one of the most upsetting parts of being inside. For a while, they thought my job was going to be saved, so I was hoping once shielding was over I would be able to walk around the lake again in the mornings, at least in the Spring, Summer and early Autumn, but I was already aware that I wouldn’t be able to in the winter. Yes, I can walk in the dark, but the path to/from the lake through our estate is long corridor, with high hedges and ditches on either side, it’s not the most appealing place to walk in the dark and quite frankly, I’m a wuss.
But, life has a way of bringing small bits of positivity in the strangest of times and this week, having ventured out a few times with my Husband last week, I was finally able to go for a walk around the lake again, knowing I have the opportunity this time to make this a regular thing. I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous to venture out on my own again, which is a bit odd since I never used to be afraid to venture out alone. Although I’ve never been a huge fan of my own company, I never hesitated about going out to places on my own and have always been pretty independent. I guess it’s a product of being an only child and then spending however long with my Husband working all sorts of weird and wonderful shifts, I have to do things on my own or else they never get done! I’ve never been nervous of tackling things alone, had spent 12 weeks becoming a lot more comfortable in my own company but although it wasn’t enough to stop me going, I was a little nervous. I guess I was out of practise, but once out there it was ok. I was glad of the fact there were a few other people out and about and although we kept to social distancing as best we could with the width of the paths, it was nice to see other faces again and exchange a cheery ‘Good Morning’ (which I still find lovely but odd after spending 4 years in London).
The lake for me isn’t just a place of nature and exercise, its also a place of reflection. Especially before when I wasn’t terribly good at spending time on my own and would look for a distraction anywhere and everywhere, this was always an hour where I was in my own company and not distracted by another activity. I have a chance to reflect on anything and everything which is good for me in so many ways mentally. Today was no different. As I was taking in the beauty of the lake, I was thinking about how I wanted to make it’s semi-constant presence in my life a constant. I realised that the only reason I walked in the mornings before, was because I only ever had time in the mornings, but that isn’t going to be the case anymore. One of the reasons I have decided to set up as self-employed, working from home, is to ensure I can maintain a better work-life balance and work more flexibly, in a way that suits me to maintain better mental and physical health. Although I enjoy getting up and out first thing, when the mornings get darker, there will be no requirement for me to give up the walks completely, I can just adjust my day. There will be very little, if anything stopping me from getting up and working for a couple of hours and then heading out mid-morning once it’s light. Knowing that I will be able to maintain this as the seasons change is inspiring me to keep making the effort.
The other realisation I had towards my walks was borne out of lockdown and some of the other opportunities I’ve had to reflect and reassess how I would like my lifestyle to be going forwards; I had absolutely no need to rush around the lake today or any day. I had no intention of pushing myself today, I am aware my fitness levels will have dropped considerably over the past few months. Until last week the furthest I had gone in 11 weeks was next door’s front step! Last Friday my Husband and I walked about a mile an a half, and although my GPS wasn’t calibrated properly this time (turns out power saving mode compromises it, note to self for Wednesday!), I know from previous times I’ve tracked my walk, the distance of this walk is just over 2.5 miles. Granted, that’s no 20 mile hike, but taking into consideration my health conditions and my lack of any exercise in the past few months, it’s not an insignificant distance.
I knew I needed to be kind to my body today, but I also was thinking to myself about how I need to be kinder to my body long term too. This exercise will do me the world of good physically and mentally, but when I was doing this last Summer, I was always striving to shave a few seconds off my time, to up my pace a little. I was always pushing myself to be that little bit more productive or efficient or better. I think it stemmed form a mix of feeling that if I started being quicker around the lake, the mornings before work wouldn’t be so rushed and I would find it more achievable to keep walking round the lake long term. But I think with everything in life pre the forced Covid-19 induced slow-down, it was just another area of my life to make more efficient, productive and streamlined. But if lockdown has taught me anything, it’s a lesson in not living every aspect of my life like this anymore. I don’t need to cram everything in anymore, it’s not sustainable and healthy and a sustainable and healthy lifestyle is all I really want going forwards. I don’t have to get better every day, I don’t have to rush, I’m not proving anything to myself that way. I think I was also under the belief that if I was quicker or had better pace, it was making me fitter and that’s not necessarily true. A matter of a few seconds won’t change how fit I am, but ensuring I keep this up long term will. Now, my focus will solely be on enjoying my surroundings, my time for reflection and my opportunity to exercise my mind and body. I will still track my walks on my Fitbit but I won’t be pushing myself for improvements every day. I will look for the longer term changes as naturally, if I keep this up, my pace will increase again as my fitness levels increase. But, there will be good days and bad days, there will be quick days and slow days, and that’s ok, there doesn’t need to be improvement every day for there to be improvement long term.
And as I said, I will be looking to take in more and enjoy more of my surroundings. I said earlier that this lake isn’t in the middle of nowhere, but is by no means devoid of life and that’s what’ struck me today. Even compared to last summer, the lake seemed more established this year. It’s hard to really describe but it felt that bit more natural and less human-developed, there were more waterfowl on the lake and today, flying across the meadow areas were both house martens and swallows. I don’t think it was a complete lack of observance on my part last year, but I don’t remember seeing either on any of my walks and this year, there were quite a few of each. The whole place just seemed greener too, it was really lovely to see. I was so happy to be back out there, I feel really inspired to make this a constant in my life. I always envied people I saw on programmes like Springwatch who talked about their local patches, the ones they’d been observing and exploring for years, where they could watch the seasons change and the changes over the years. I never really felt like I had that before, but I’m determined to make that the case with the lake.
Often last Summer, I would listen to music whilst going around the lake and I probably still will in the future, but today, I kept the headphones at home to truly drink in my surroundings. The soundtrack this time was so much birdsong (which seems louder since we’ve been in lockdown), the occasional dog barking and car passing through the estate, the ‘hellos’ of other walkers and the satisfying, repetitive thud and crunch of trainers on tarmac and gravel.