Since we have been confined to our homes, I thought that it would be a nice idea to give you a treat and take you all for a day out with me.
I think you could all do with a change of scenery by now.
I’m not suggesting that we break any of the emergency legislation or self-isolation and social distancing rules, not at all.
This will be a different sort of trip and one that we can all take, regardless of our state of health, fitness or ability. For this will be an outing of the imagination.
And the better you can use your imagination, to see the sights and hear the sounds and use all your senses, the better the day will be. You can even add some of your own experiences too.
We will also need to travel back in time to a beautiful summer’s day, last year..
All of us have memorable days. They are days that, in some way, were unexpected or fun. Or simply days that we enjoyed so much that they live on in our memories and we can re-live them at will, like a family photograph album.
I’m talking about a day just like that.
My South African friend, Jean and I had arranged to meet on the slipway of the river Dart in Totnes, next to the rowing club.
The Dart, begins its journey on the high moors of Dartmoor, where it twists and roars and foams over granite boulders and fallen moss-green logs, down and down through ice-age valleys of ancient woodland.
Rushing, at first like a torrent, it slows as the river broadens where the tidal estuary comes up to meet it twice a day at Totnes and take it out to sea at Dartmouth.
We both had a Kayak and a paddle and a dry-bag containing lunch. You will just need your imagination to join us. I expect your kayak will be a newer model than mine.
Taking advantage of the turning tide, we launched together into the hardly moving water, feeling our weight settle into the kayaks for the next few hours.
It was already warm and I needed only a pair of shorts, a cap and my wayfarers. I like to feel the sun.
The water was like glass and slightly salty to taste. With barely a breath of wind, the conditions were perfect.
Dipping my paddle into the water ahead and pulling it behind the kayak glided effortlessly forward. First right then left, getting into a steady rhythm.
It’s a perfect day, we agree as we set off into the unknown.
I’d always wanted to paddle here but somehow had never got round to it.
We quickly left behind the boatyards and signs of human activity into to the wilds of the south Devon Amazon.
Parts of the river here are actually used as a low budget alternative to filming in the real Amazon and it’s easy to imagine. We could be on another planet, in a land that time forgot.
The river bends and coils like a giant Anaconda, only revealing her thick dark body, one section at a time as she folds, expertly camouflaged into the steep, heavily-wooded hills on either side. These are some of the last truly ancient forests of English oak.
A prehistoric Heron stands motionless, staring into the dark water. A picture of deadly concentration.
Twisted oaks spread their monstrous claws into the thick slimy mud of the riverbank. Whilst others lurk with patient menace, their long dark bodies covered in shaggy seaweed coats.
Suddenly, a great rush of air overhead, like the loosing of so many arrows, that makes us duck for cover.
“Wow,” we shout in unison.
A flock of thirty or more Canada geese, twisting and turning, performing acrobatics and victory rolls as they come into land on the grassy mud behind us.
To see and hear this marvel of nature up close and personal is something to behold.
It is a phenomena of onomatopoeic splendour called whiffling. A large bodied goose, flying at forty miles per hour, needs to slow itself down to avoid crash landing and does so by these amazing ariel manoeuvres.
Jean and I congratulated God and one another on being present to witness this miracle of aeronautical genius.
What makes this moment special is that we each had someone to share it with. As CS Lewis has expertly observed, ‘praise completes the joy.’
If I had no one to share the moment, it would lose some of its shine. But now, we can recall it together and smile at the memory.
I hope you can too.
We continue on down the river, one bend at a time, past the perfectly situated Sharpham House and vineyard and on and on. I stare thoughtlessly into the miniature swirls and eddy’s left behind by each paddle stroke that stir the mirrored clouds.
Each new scene around each virgin bend did not satisfy my curiosity for long. I always want to go that one bend further down the river. Isn’t that just typical of our explorer spirits, to seek new lands and find the next new thing. I wonder what it is we are really seeking?
Surely the trick is to enjoy each river-bend as it comes and rejoice that we are alive; to share in the sheer joy of it.
A snowy Egret patrolled the far bank and took flight as we neared. Brilliant white when distant, then dark against the brighter sun.
It brought to mind something else, my hero, CS Lewis said:
‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’
Jean and I paddled our silent prayers on down the river as we forgot ourselves in the beauty of it.
Soon we were joined by a seal. Can you see it? There, bobbing in the water, watching us.
His large brown eyes study us with inquisitive dog-like intelligence, wondering what manner of creature we might be. “Have you got any fish?”
Then he dives again and is gone. We wait patiently but he’s gone. Still there somewhere in the water, but we cant see.
We’re moving faster now with the tide and hardly need to paddle, just to steer.
Our voices echo across the water to one another as we chat.
We’ll stop for lunch soon.
Eventually finding a floating pontoon, to which an old, shabby boat was attached, we came alongside and began to eat our sandwiches.
I noticed traces of white chalky matter on the end of the pontoon and realised that this is where our friend the seal likes to sun himself after lunch.
Sure enough he reappeared, lifting his body high out of the water to see who had taken his sunbed. This matinee performance, the crowning glory of our day.
It was among the best meals I have ever eaten.
The freshness of the bread, the pungent cheese and the vinegar bite of piccalilli as the seal amused us.
Some days just have the perfect ingredients and their rarity makes them all the more precious.
Soon the tide was turning again and we made the long, slow paddle home. Although retracing our steps we were presented with a new perspective, and just as lovely. Like excited schoolboys, we chatted all the way.
We had travelled unchartered waters, seen strange new lands and we had encountered the monsters of the Amazon.
I hope you enjoyed it too.