It's been a long Sunday, I'm cream crackered, but the kids aren't. I've driven over a hundred miles already, travelled twenty miles on the Watercress Line through Hampshire, dragged by a locomotive called 'Bodmin', appropriately enough.... walked along the River Arle, seen the tombs of Napoleonic POW's in Alresford Churchyard, and enjoyed a latte and croissant. Then, as I was getting ready for the long haul home, I mentioned that we were only a few miles ffrom one of the kids' favourite high points in England, and that was it. We HAD to go there.
Bright but cold, the earlier fog having lifted itself back to Heaven. A cutting breeze scything across the high ground as we park in a layby between White Hill with its radio mast, and Cannon Heath Down with its Gallops, then strike west.
The view along the ridge is blurred through our watery, wind-blasted eyes. A kestrel hovers and swoops, seemingly immune to the wintry Hampshire gusts. A flock of crows wheel across the Imbolc sky before settling in a twisted, hardy tree perched precariously on the upper slope of the Down. We soldier on.
At the end of Cannon Heath Down, the footpath between the Gallops kinks and widens. Before us, the beech hanger where Richard Adams settled his lapine characters thirty years ago. A squat, concrete trig point sits lonely in a field of fallow verdance. Beyond, the lumpen contours of the Ladle Hill ramparts, the hillfort grey in the haze. Beacon Hill in the distance like a ghostly, rounded hulk. Far, far in the distance, the cold nectarine sun droops, bisected by a string of cloud, the shadows around us lengthening as if to greet the impending dusk.
It halves, falls to a quarter, disappears behind the distant and vaguely definable line of the Marlborough Downs. I look around, at the children romping in the February air, as dusk gathers around us here on Watership Down. The lights of Newbury are winking into existence to the North. It's time to go. Homeward Bound, a stop at the M4 Reading services, then the tedious drag around the M25.
It doesn't matter. We still have the steam from the train in our hair, the scent of the river and the earth, the image of the sunset and the darkening Down.
We'll always have that.