Autumnal Walks and Found Treasures
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons to be outside. The blast of cold air on opening the front door or an upstairs window has the same effect on me as a splash of water on the face on a hot day. The vibrant colours and stark beauty of nature between the months of October and March invigorate the mind, body and soul, where the summer months produce – in me, at any rate – only a calming lethargy.
My dream holidays would take me to Scandinavia, northern Japan or the windswept Suffolk coast in winter; the perfect picnics include homemade soup, a flask of coffee and something sweet that smells of cinnamon; ideal country walks involve wellingtons – or at the very least walking boots – and you'd probably want to bring an umbrella.
This autumn, that umbrella has been needed more often than not, but it has still been a joy to escape into the wet countryside. Weekdays trapped in the office have led to often desperate attempts to get out: a swift lap around the outside of the building in the rain; a spontaneous detour to enjoy a short dry spell in a patch of roadside woodland on the way home in the evening; weekend walks interrupted by a sudden downpour that drives us into the nearest café or pub.
However, the rewards of getting outside in autumn and winter far exceed the inconveniences. Carpets of saffron leaves slowly softening like blanched spinach. Mushrooms are found hiding in the undergrowth beneath arching pines and yews. Seaweed and driftwood are run aground by the winter storms and found nestled in beds of salt-licked pebbles. The shells of horse-chestnuts crunch under my boots, but I have already collected a couple of good conkers, so I leave the rest for the next passersby.
I've always enjoyed gathering things: I am a compulsive collector. Working in publishing, this has usually taken the form of hunting-down the missing titles from multi-volume sets, and an inability to resist beautiful special editions of favourite (and often already owned) childhood reads. However, almost anything can form the beginning of a collection: interesting handmade ceramics; paintings by – or prints of – favourite artists; beautiful papers or fabrics that may (but probably won't) come in useful. I have so far resisted stamps, cigarette cards and Toby Jugs, but fully accept it's probably only a matter of time, not taste.
I suspect this obsession with collecting started when I was very young. "I can't take you anywhere!" my mother would exclaim when she discovered the chocolate bar I had hidden beneath a loaf of bread at the checkouts at the supermarket. (As Elle will testify, this isn't a phase I grew out of, though it's more likely to be speciality olives, exotic mushrooms or heritage squashes that make a sudden appearance just before we pay). It is only natural that I should also struggle to resist picking things up while walking outside.
When on countryside walks, I return with pockets laden with objects that have caught my eye: leaves and conkers, flowers and mushrooms, whole branches. I remember the excitement of trying to find space in the living room for a deer skull, complete with antlers: a gift from a friend who had herself spotted it on a walk, and understood our love for found things.
More often than not, the flowers in our house have been found on our walks, and Elle's bridal bouquet was made of wild meadow flowers collected from her parent's garden. Pine cones and empty seed pods form part of a seasonal decoration for the coffee table. Delicate, intricate leaves become the inspiration for drawing or painting.
These treasures – each unique and many temporary – offer a beauty and significance that no shop bought ornament could begin to imitate. Each one holds a memory: a moment outdoors, usually wrapped-up in jumpers against the cold, but always happy.