"It hasn't rained much so we should be OK."
The Webmaster is suggesting our traditional route down through the woods and round the lake. I put my walking boots on.
We set off. It is warm, cloudy and dull, slightly damp but not raining. At the bottom of the lane the dogs turn into the farm yard. They always want to go this way and today they're in luck.
"That's just over 500 metres." We have decided to track our walking routes with our GPS watch and attempt to overlay them onto the map with the GIS system we recently acquired. "I haven't charged this since the last time I went for a run and it has less then half its battery power left."
"Should be long enough." In front of us, across the valley, and off to our left we overlook the leaf canopy of the woods, possibly at its most colourful: yellow, gold, orange, brown and various shades of green. A true Autumnal scene.
"Watch out on this path. The leaves are very slippery and covering the stones." The Webmaster shouts back his warning as he stumbles. The path is almost obsured by the fallen leaves. There has been a significant leaf fall since we were here last week. The trees on the right are almost bare but those on left, lower and more sheltered, are still clinging on to many of their dry, coloured leaves. It will be a few more weeks before the scene turns from Autumn to Winter.
To the left of the path is a steep gorge through which the newly risen Trent runs. Undergrowth and leaf cover obscure it from late Spring and through the Summer months, but now we can see down to the river making the path seem very exposed.
The Young Dog charges ahead, over the bridge and up the far side, pulling the Webmaster behind him, helping him up the slope. The Old Dog dawdles along behind, sniffing, stopping, sniffing. She is not inclined to rush. She wants to enjoy every inch of the path.
A couple and their dog are coming down towards us. They warn us the path ahead is muddy and slippery. We in turn warn them of the wet leaves and the hidden stones.
"Do you think the Student is OK?" askes the Webmaster. He is referring to the long conversation we had with her earlier.
"She is just homesick. It was inevitable when the excitement and novely wore off, but she seems to be having a rough time with someone she thought was her friend."
"I don't think she should worry about that. It sounded like manipulation to me. Not worth being friends with someone who doesn't like you associating with other people. Is this other person in one of those sororities? I've heard they sometimes have initiation rights to prove themselves."
"I don't know. But how would that work? The Student and her flat mate aren't members."
"Could be part of a task she was set."
"I looked it up this morning. I don't think it works like that. But some of these fraternities and sororities do have dubious initiation rituals. Some apparently illegal. But generally it sounded as though some are a cross between the worst apects of the Masons, the Bullingdon Club and that dining club that David Cameron belonged to, you know the one with the pig."
"Yeah. And expensive."
"American version of maintaining a them and us. Furthering social and career success of the members, who can afford to join, at the expense of the rest. Secret handshakes and all. Mutual control in exchange for favours. Didn't work with Cameron and the pig though did it? Seemed like someone was demanding preferential treatment from him and when he didn't give it they spilled the beans about the initiation ritual that was so supposed to be so embarrasing, fear of it becoming public would keep him in line, a sort of blackmail. If that's true, good for him."
"The dog nearly pulled my hand across the barbed wire. It's snagged the lead."
The Young Dog is on the other side of the fence, its lead caught on the barb of the wire besided the stile. The Webmaster is attempting to unhook him but the dog is pulling more and making it worse. I climb the stile, the Old Dog slithers under, and I grab the Young Dog and pull him towards the fence to release the tension on the lead. Fortunately the lead doesn't tear.
"The bracket fungus is still there."
"They last longer than mushrooms."
"It's still growing. The mushrooms you get have been picked, packed and sold in a supermarket, so how do you know?"
"No. Mushroom rings come up quickly and then seem to disappear just as quickly."
We reach the top of the path and turn along the track, past the pool. The Old Dog is plodding along slowly, still spending more time stopped sniffing than walking. We have come only two kilometers in thirty minutes, much slower than when we walk without the dogs.
"Sheep" said the Webmaster. "Sheep in the field."
"You'd better keep the dog on a short lead."
We turn into the field and the Young Dog immediately sees the flock of sheep, mainly gathered in the centre of the field with one or two stragglers around the edges. He pulls towards them in an obvious and excited way, but the Webmaster has him under control. The Old Dog has noticed the sheep. She makes frequent sideways glances in their direction but no move towards them. Her attention is on the stragglers.
"She'll try to round up the stragglers. Can you remember when we had sheep in the field and the gate was broken. She sat all day by the gate watching and only moved when they approached the gate?"
The Old Dog starts to pull, not hard but steadily, on a line bisecting the path and the line of the stray sheep. The sheep notice and move closer to the main herd. The Old Dog stops and turns to watch them. No sudden pulls or lunges. She bends her legs as though to crouch. The sheep rejoin the group. The Old Dog watches for a few seconds and then continues on her walk.
We walk through the field,once again overlooking the canpoy of woods ahead of us.
"This is definitely the most colourful time of the year."
"The orange makes a vivid splash of colour."
We arrive at the lake. "There aren't many people about today, more like a Saturday than a Sunday lunch time."
"Let's go this way." I indicate a side path that runs along the top of the embankment next to a ditch. It is an alternative route which will rejoin our usual route after a few hundred metres just beyond a small reservoir. "I wonder if this was the main path once upon a time and what do you suppose that was built for?" I point to the small, narrow reservoir.
"The trees along here are spectacular. Look at that one." I point to a large tree, its lower trunk looks to be continuation of its roots, like a number of thighs pressed together before merging into a single trunk. It is one of several, equally spaced along the path, appearing to form an avenue. Some have had their crowns removed and are toped with thick, stunted branches where once the grand trunk would have soared many metres higher.
"They were probably planted when the estate was built. Must be well over two hundred years old. What sort are they?"
"I think those are ash trees but there are a lot of oak and beech too. And those with the patterned bark may be elm trees. I've got an app for identifying trees, I have to look them up to check."
"I can recognise oak and beech trees!"
We reach the main path. There are a few more people here, quite a number with cameras of various sizes. One place is particularly popular with the photographers, several standing waiting to take pictures. We walk towards them and they wait while we pass. The scene before us is mainly green, holly, pine and other evergreen trees. A few deciduous trees which have not yet turned completly from summer to autumn colours. We stop and turn to look behind, to see what is attracting the attention of the photographers. It is a scene of almost complete organge and yellow, with the sun now shining through the canopy of leaves lighting them against the sky and a path of fallen brown and yellow leaves rising gently to the turn at the top of the hill. For some reason it reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle picture.
"Do you know how to process the file from the gps watch to put it on a map?"
"But I thought you did it for the summer series race routes, from my old Garmin."
"Yes but that was years ago. I've forgotten and the formats are different. Don't you know how to load them into that GIS application you've got?"
"Yes, if it's the right format."
"There are plenty of conversion tools. You can probably download one if you need to, something like GPSBabel. But how are you going to diplay GIS on your website? I don't want to have to run a GIS server?"
"Well the simplest way is to export an image for each one, but it would be nice to have a scalable map where you can select each route by displaying and hiding layers."
We turn off the main path round the lake and take the 'back way' up to the visitors' centre.
"Lot's of speculation about what sort of deal May did with Nissan" said the Webmaster. "How can she afford to make promises to all the exporters? It'll end up costing more than the EU subscriptions. And for less. Nothing for ordinary people. Just businesses."
"She can't just offer any subsidy. It isn't allowed. Must be to do with investment or training or deprived area development or something. I don't know exactly but there are restrictions. And yeah, If I were a manufacturer I'd want the same. But I saw some suggestions that this is a trojan horse deal, because it is the first step to tying us into the single market. We can't afford to compensate everyone, so the cheapest way to safeguard against the cost of tariffs is to stay in the single market or at least the customs union."
"So is she leave or remain?"
"Who knows, but those reports of her talk at Goldman Sachs make it clear she knows the risks she's taking. Why doesn't she explain them instead of the meaningless 'We are determined to get the best deal possible for Britain'. She's trying to suggest it will be a good deal, but isn't saying that. She is still allowing for it to be crap but better than all the other more crap deals she could do, or rather her men David and Liam could do."
We walk down the drive of the visitors' centre and across the road.
"Are we going along there?" The Webmaster indicates the path to the right.
"Yes, unless you want to walk down the road."
We walk along the ridge, under the horse chestnut trees, down into the wood and up again, emerging into the fields. The ground is rough and uneven. Cows have cut up the soft ground with their hooves. The Webmaster slips and is nearly pulled over by the Young Dog which is jumping around in the mud, his legs now turned from blonde to brown. As we decend towards the feeder the ground becomes more sodden. The hooves have left deep holes in the mud, many now filled with water. The Young Dog sticks his nose down one of the holes.
"What's he doing?"
"Yep. He likes muddy water. Oy, come on Mr. Dog. Let's go."
We finally reach the feeder. The path here is much firmer and it is easy to walk.
"My shoes are wet."
"Your shoes? My feet are soaking. It's OK for you 'I'm wearing my boots'", complained the Webmaster.
"Do you want new boots for Christmas?"
"I thought I was getting a pair for your birthday."
We stop at the bottom of the path up to the church and let the dogs paddle in the feeder. They like it and it cleans the mud from their feet.
"Now they are clean, don't let them walk in the cow pats" instructed the Webmaster. There were no cattle in the field but there were still plenty of wet cow pats.
"Whoops. That was slippery."
We make our way slowly up the track. The Old Dog is very slow. She finds something interesting to sniff at every two metres. She needs encouraging to keep going, but she seems to realise that she is old enough to play the befuddled old lady role and pretends to ignore anything she doesn't want to know about. She is happy taking her time sniffing here and there.
"They've replanted those rows." We pass a small nursery of shrubs and small trees.
"What is it?"
"Laurel I think. We could grow as much holly as they do? Why don't we? We must have torn up hundreds of holly sapplings and these guys are making a living from selling them."
"I've checked the regulations about cutting down trees. We might need a licence and it costs, and they could refuse. You don't get your money back. But it could be OK. You can cut down a certain amount per quarter providing the trunk is no more than, er something like 8 cm."
"What, you need a licence even to cut down leylandii and anyway, I thought we needed to take some down because they were becoming unstable. Can't we say they are dangerous."
"Yeah, but they might want to come and inspect."
"We only planted them because of the planning permission. Required to protect the visual ammenity. Bureaucrats at the council classed the riding arena the same as an industrial yard. After we planted them the only neighbour that could see the arena from across the field complained we had blocked her view and she liked watching the riding lessons."
"Did they say what type of hedge and how high. Well they suggested hawthorn and holly but we got a lot of leylandii very cheaply and we didn't have all the sapplings like now. It was all lawn there and they never seeded."
"If we need to maintain a hedge we could use the holly sapplings and there are plenty of hawthorne too."
"But we don't use it for riding now, so why would we need to keep any hedge there. Do you think we could convert it into a vegetable plot? It should still be well drained."
"It is covered in weeds. They thrive in the rich soil created when what's her name left her horses in there all the time as though it were a paddock."
"Well, it's no use now so we either need to restore it or use it for something else."
We turn towards the village and walk up the road.
"Seven point three kilometers and its taken us two hours. This is very slow."
"So this walk will be about ten k" guessed the Webmaster.
"Probably a bit less, but not far off."
We walked up the hill out of the village. The sun was now quite warm, but it wasn't a bright day.
"We were late setting out and now the hour has changed it will be nearly dark before we get back."
"No it won't."
"But by the time we've had lunch there'll be no time to work in the garden."
There are eleven cars in the car park. "Wow, the car park is almost full. I've never seen these many cars here before," exclaimed the Webmaster.
"Early Sunday afternoon. Everyone out for a stroll after lunch."
We climb up over the hill. Considering there are so many cars we do not see anyone else walking. Maybe the cars belong to the group of walkers we saw down by the lake and they will be out until dusk.
"Someone has been running up here. Look at the tracks." The Webmaster points to footprints in the dried mud. "They look like those shoes you used to have. Those grey ones you had for years."
"The Inovate Mud Rocks, yeah they do. I don't think we should go to the end, let's go down the track. I must have twisted my knee, it hurts and I don't want to risk the dog pulling me down where it is likely to be very slipperly." The Webmaster needs no persuasion. He turns down the track and we follow the road home.
"Nine point seven kilometers, now how do I transfer the data to the computer?"