This cloudless January sky, the pale blue of a Starling egg, and as fragile, lacked the confidence of summer. The sun, brighter than molten steel, punched a hole through the thin veneer, its unbearable corona bleaching colour where it emerged. This sunlight lacked warmth. Any heat was ripped away on the hawkwind whose talons blasted and chilled the land. They tore at my face, freezing and burning simultaneously.
I walked the fracture line that was the lane. The landscape changed abruptly, as if tectonic plates met here. In the middle, somewhat elevated, here began the upthrust, short-lived but significant in this flat land.
To my right was a vast sheet of water, the drowned wound of gravel extraction, its ugly scar now thankfully concealed. A raft of Tufted Duck were mirrored in the middle distance of the becalmed water, the males all shadows and light, right and wrong with no grey areas. A bare boned, barkless tree was decorated with at least a dozen White Egrets, the recent Come Heres in this ancient Been Heres countryside. They saw me and as one they flew across the water, like ghosts of white horses that ride on breaking waves.
Beyond the flooded pit, the flatland of Outney Common, two-dimensional, defined by a huge meander of the River Waveney and bounded by the curving Neanderthal brow of Bath Hills. In the opposite direction was the gnomon of Bungay church, where Black Shuck, a hellhound seven feet tall with glowing coals for eyes, attacked during a storm in 1577.
This is land formed by glaciation, where the melt water of the retreating ice, which carved the wide flood plain, and buttered the land with the sand and gravels it carried. The frozen wave of the Boulder Clay scarp which forms Bath hills is the ghost of the glacier’s journey across the country.
The path vectored gently upwards and the pocket sized meadows, scabbed with early Snowdrops, gave way to towering woods, all Hazel coppice and Hornbeam with its Tiger striped bark. The lazy, nagging wind that had dogged my steps like Black Shuck’s breath evaporated as the curve of the path allowed the higher ground to act as a baffle and cosset me like the turned up collar of an overcoat. These favoured slopes had coveted vineyards in Roman times.
The air was thick with bird song and the constant flicker of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins and Wrens as they crossed between the opposite hedges, their flight so fast that they had disappeared almost before they appeared. Ahead, the grey hull of a Sparrowhawk parted the sea of birdlife with its bow wave.
A small building came into view, all brick, tile and wood, organic. Draped in moss and vegetation, it appeared to have grown from the hillside. Yet its fancy gable and doors showed care and purpose in its construction. This may or may not be the cold bath that gave these hills their name and made Bungay a spa town in times gone by.
I descended somewhat and looked for the Black Poplar, leaning then like a firework rocket in a bottle, that I had seen here a decade ago, but it proved elusive. Perhaps its lean had succumbed to gravity and become too much for its weakened anchor.
I dropped to Cold Bath House on the valley floor and opposite it a scar in the embanked ground revealed the flesh beneath the skin.
The path became a road and ramped up steeply. The bank was peppered with the early colour of Stinking Hellebore, all pastel green flowers and dark green pointed leaves, like Nosferatu’s hands. It is a poisonous plant and Pliny advised the need to draw a circle round the plant, face East and offer a prayer before digging it up. I walked on swiftly.
At the summit the scarp to my left levelled, as if someone had taken a plane to it, as the path bent sharply to the right. It became an equation that was unbalanced, the scarp on my left had been moved to the other side of the path’s equal sign and the drop to my right became ever more precipitous.
The trees teetered, their trunks straining to remain vertical as the x/y axes grew closer. 100 feet below I glimpsed Ditchingham Lodge, an 18th century house that had belonged to the Rider Haggard family.
Fallen, rotting trunks bore witness to long forgotten gales which had smashed them down with impunity. Tripe fungus, Auricularia mesenterica, grew on the decaying wood of a stump, its excresence like a wart on the slimy, damp surface.
I continued along the narrow defile and as it changed direction again it tilted downward, my aching knees a measure of the angle of descent.
I reached an iron gate and the claustrophobia of the narrow path opened out as it flowed into the delta of grass of the valley floor. I crossed two narrow bridges over the Waveney, and reached the wide open spaces of Outney Common, grazing marsh, in part inundated by the recent rains.
To my right a falcon Kestrel, hunched over her prey, flashed me a look of disdain. I had dared to disturb her meal. She flew off, skimming the grazing marsh in the direction of the hills, now foreshortened and low, the small rodent dangling limp and swaying in the grip of her talon.
I splashed my way forward and the sun bejewelled waters beneath my feet dulled as a meniscus of cloud shut down the sky like a closing eyelid.