There was little temptation to hang about. I packed as quickly as I could and started. I don't know how cold it had been that night, but the ground was hard as stone and the puddles frozen over.
The path clung to the edge of the woods, sloping up towards to the watershed. I walked briskly, trying to restore the circulation to my feet. As I climbed I breathed deeply, lungs burning, breath catching in my nostrils. I reached the top of the ridge and looked out. The view stretched for miles. Every feature to the far horizon was sharp in the frosty air. The sky was clear and the white fields cleansed in the pure rays of the sun.
On the further side of the hill the footpath leaves the valley of the Test, dropping to the Bourne, a tributary running down from the high chalk. The stream is dry in summer, but during the winter months water flows through this secluded vale. With only the brief intrusion of a main road hurrying on its way, the countryside is made for idling in the sunshine of a fine morning. The hills slope gently on either side; along the valley floor, tidy villages are laid out at regular intervals. The path wanders through fields and hanging woods; in the meadows by the brook, sheep scatter over the grass. That day, in spite of the bitter cold, it was good to be there.
Beyond Ibthorne the path leaves the river and turns more to the north, climbing swiftly to assail the last wall of the downs. It rests for several miles on a ridge of land, then plunges into a steep-sided valley which tunnels into the hills. I stopped for a while in Linkenholt churchyard, listening to the soughing of the wind in the trees, and the rooks' complaint. It was growing colder now; a blast from the north was rising, and black clouds stained the sky. I dropped quickly down to the temporary refuge of a belt of trees. Walking among the woven branches I was unprepared for the bitter wind which struck me as I came out into the open, and began to climb the long bare slope leading up towards Inkpen. I stopped and put on wind-proof clothing, but I could feel the muscles in my head and face shrinking with cold. The path mounted steadily for a mile and a half, but in that icy wind it felt more like five. Along the crest far ahead I could make out the shapes of paragliders, hanging like kestrels in the gale. I had a disconcerting sense of getting nowhere, as if I were being blown backwards as fast as I pushed ahead.
Finally, thankfully, the curve of the hill levelled out and I reached the top. The view out over the Vale was dramatic. Torn clouds swept from an immense sky, hurrying south. Far grey slopes flowed in waves, rising to the Ridgeway and the Vale of the White Horse. Below me woods and fields and villages broke on the steep face of the chalk. Hedgerows traced intricate designs on the level farmland. It was a wide and lonely world, and I was glad to edge off the exposed hilltop and drop down to the valley. The weather grew more threatening as I hurried through narrow lanes to the railway station. I crossed the Common, past Hell Corner and Wergs Copse; dark names on a cold dark afternoon. Finally I reached the first outlying houses of Kintbury.
I had two hours to wait for a train, so I walked back into the village, seeking shelter from the approaching storm. At length I came upon the cheerful lights of a pub shining brightly in the gathering night. As I pushed open the door, the snow was falling.