Both restless and looking for somewhere to be still, I’m drawn to an old favourite. Through the gate into the woods, I turn south along the old track bed towards the tunnel. The mouth is muzzled with metal gates, once an incongruous grey, then lovingly painted with bats whose furry faces are now beginning to lose out to rainbows slashed with zombie grins.
In the tree-walled cutting, the bench is submerged under sodden hornbeam fruits. So instead I stand there in shadow, soft breathing until my inner chatter ebbs.
A murmur of autumn wind whips up to a roar in the beech and ash boughs overhead. With a final decisive gust, fat gobbets of water are hurled down.
Up through the ash canopy, there’s a glimpse of blue and late afternoon sunlight. Gilded wood pigeons deftly thread their way through the branches and a magpie chunters at me angrily from a hazel sapling.
From the tunnel, the faint echo of a steam train emerges, bringing a weary cargo of families back to London. They are all in their Sunday clothes, after a one shilling day out at the Crystal Palace. Children press faces against the carriage windows, eyes still wide perhaps from tight-rope walking feats, treasures from Egypt or the prehistoric monsters in the park.
An outburst of parakeets sees off my ghost train. Two walkers approach along the track, and I become self-conscious. We pass, exchange a smile and then another gust and soaking drives me back to the gate.