Saturday, 18 April 2009

WARNING: A Daytime Nightwalk

I have a confession. Today - Saturday, 18th April 2009 - I cheated on nightwalking.

Yes, that's right, with the moon nowhere to be seen, I headed out for a day walk. Let me call it a walk - that's how I think you diurnal creatures refer to it. I meant no harm to nightwalking but had to reassure myself that strolling in light didn't now scare me. And the offer of early morning birds and Richmond Park was too alluring.

At 6am this morning my alarm woke me. My planned day in the park, at the Spring Bird Walk, had begun. Had begun 30 miles away. I hopped in the car and circumvented London on the empty North-South Circular combo. By 8am I was standing, shivering, with 40 twitchers ready for a walk and talk around the park, in search of the first summer migrations of the season.

But wait. It wasn't all sunshine. I met a man called Frank. Hi, Frank. We talked - and he told me about a moonwalk he'd had a while back.

My moustachioed friend had cycled through Richmond Park after a night out. A bright moon shone above his head and lit the land around him. As he passed through the gates, he entered another world. Richmond Park in daylight is spectacular - a fruitful oasis in the arid desert of London; but by night, says Frank, it transforms.

"The wildlife comes into its own in a way you cannot imagine in the day. The deer - the deer by moonlight - it's fantastic. They pass across the roads like they're theirs. It's as though they reclaim the land they feel belongs to them. It was so beautiful I kept cycling around and around."

I told Frank about my lunar explorations.

"They have a bat tour - a night-time walk around the park. It's fascinating. When there's a group of you, it's exhilarating. Not sure you'd want to do it on your own though."

Frank isn't the first stranger I've spoken to who's engaged in some sort of habitual moonwalk. There was Lucy in Devizes Books back in January, who loved the idea for my lunar-regulated year ahead - she likes to walk every full moon, providing her husband doesn't mind too much. Then there's Susy - my old tutor and editor - who, when I first explained my plan for moonwalking, told how she walks with a women's walking group monthly (I'm tagging along later in the year!). And Richard Reynolds of course, the Guerilla Gardener, who gardens by night but walks by full moon.

I'll be honest: most people smirk and call me a lunatic (or werewolf) when I explain what I'm doing. Some ask for motives and then call 999. Others brush it off, like I've told them I'm writing another book about a boy wizard. When Franks and Lucys ask the sorts of detailed questions I hope for, it makes the whole process more fun, more interesting and more fulfilling. We're all a little bit intrigued by the night skies - we just have to admit it.

I may have betrayed my nightwalking roots and failed to learn the difference between a chiff chaff and willow warbler, but I heard stories from a nice man with a keen interest in travel writing. A successful walk.

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