What’s better than going for a jog after a week of traveling, hopping from foot to train to car, and covering thousands of miles? Going for a jog in fields of lush green grass and livestock, of course. While the cows looked at me disdainfully, barely batting even one of their moist, dark eyes, the sheep and the horses seemed quite intrigued to see a woman on foot trotting through their sacred meadows. But that’s one of the beauties of the English countryside…loads and loads of gorgeous meadows and fields, separated mainly by miles of hedgerow, and dotted here and there with herds of sheep, cows and occasionally horses.
After a quick trip to Venice and a crazy train ride to Zürich (note to self: do not venture on the Milan to Zürich route unless holding a first class Eurostar ticket), after trekking all over Paris in 48 hours, fending off would-be pickpockets in the underground, and then taking in the sights of London for two days before diving under the English Channel on the miraculous Chunnel, I found myself in a quant little town called Bolton, about twenty minutes from Manchester.
Our motel, am unassuming little spot called The Mercury sits on the side of a two-lane road just off the motorway. It didn’t look like much upon arrival. In fact, it looked a little dodgy, but it was convenient and proved to be the perfect place to stay for a few days as the proprietors were friendly and the breakfast wasn’t totally English. A karaoke and cabaret pub by night, a modest family run hotel by day, our little motel packed in the locals who queued to grab a pint or microphone and share their voices with the crowd.
Since I was eager to get out and stretch my legs after so much travel, I wanted a place to run and the owner was kind enough to point to the fields across the road from his motel. Beautiful England! Even when property is owned and farmed, the Brits still insist on public walkways and even post small green sign to alert a savvy hiker or visiting jogger, such as myself, as to where the public paths cross private property. Tucked behind bushes and nailed to faded wooden posts, a small sign with an arrow pointed me in the right direction and lead me from road to field. I hopped small beams and snaked through zigzag bars constructed to keep the animals in and followed these helpful little breadcrumbs as my tennis shoes bounced rhythmically off the spongy earth. Sometimes the path was simply a faint line of tamped down grass that looked as if someone else may have ventured on it before me. The grass was an unreal color of green, damp and vagrant from the heavy dew, and so long and lustrous it appeared to be waving in the breeze.
The cows chewed contentedly on it, jaws moving side to side, and they barely gave me notice as I trotted past them. I waved but got no reply. Further along the path, after crossing at least two more properties, I came to a small open field, about the size of a high school track course. I decided to make it my natural track and to do four laps around it before tackling the hill that would lead me back to my starting place. I stretched; I checked my laces; I found an upbeat song on my IPOD, and I introduced myself to the sheep who were grazing in my new running circle. Far more interested in their new guest than the cows, the sheep eyed me curiously. They skirted me and ran in small packs to ensure they kept a safe distance from the mad woman running in their field. I watched them scurry to a fro, nuzzle their dark muzzles to the earth in search of the next sweet morsel of grass and then run in a panic as I neared a cluster. Their skinny black-stocking legs looked so comical sticking out from their dirty woolen bodies, with coats a foot thick and densely curled. Their bleats and baaaas rang out over the peaceful hillside. I had to step high from the grass and keep a careful eye out for divets and cow-patties but it was a perfect run, made even more perfect by my furry companions.
In the pasture to the right of my sheep field, a half-dozen horses grazed, shifting their weight from foot to foot and swatting flies with their shaggy tails. Two young colts appeared to be quite interested in me, in the human who was running circles in a field of sheep and not there to cut grass or wrangle livestock. The colts lurched toward me then bucked away. Interested but not stupid. No amount of my coaxing could get them to come to the fenceline where I might scratch their noses. I jogged on and watched the young ones frolic, kicking and dancing with each other in the English countryside.
Around me a thousand shades of green greeted my eyes and a sky, soft blue with cotton-ball clouds, hung overhead. After ten days in major cities, walking crowded city streets and riding on public transport, I could feel myself begin to relax, my senses to slow down to the pace of the country, where there is little that needs to be done except chew thoughtfully on a morsel of food, appreciate the beauty of verdant fields and listen to the songs of cows and sheep. I did my four laps, thanked my running companions, and began the long jog back up the hills from which I had come, feeling healthy and thankful and curious to see the karaoke act advertised in the motel pub.
Bolton, England, may not be a sensational tourist attraction but it turned out to be a peaceful place to rest for a few days and to get a taste of rural England.