I like to think walking is about looking for solitude in nature – as far from towns, villages and roads as it’s possible to get. But once I’m alone, I start looking for people. It’s a strange contradiction. The River Chelmer was quiet today. Lonely. No anglers. No walkers. Three mountain bikers all day. I was tired. Someone was cutting grass on the ridge at St Mary’s Church, in Little Baddow.
The mower’s hum filtered down to the river in waves of labour on the south easterly. The rattle of spring. It was like a baited hook. The footpath up and into the cemetery was a breadcrumb trail.
By the time I’d arrived, the mower had stopped. I could hear laughter and voices. Six men in a church yard. They sat around a table in sunshine, drinking tea. A work party that meets each Thursday. The men asked me to join them. Poured me a cup from the pot, and cut a slice of cake. A happy moment that can happen on any day, but no less special when it does. Kind company. Rest. Pro bono refreshment.
I’d been sitting down less than three or four minutes when the men encouraged me to get up. I needed to investigate something between the two conifer trees over the cemetery, they said. I thought they were still joking. So I took another sip of tea. And looked for more cake. They pointed again towards the cemetery. And then I saw it. A tiny bat circling and dipping. No bigger than a large butterfly. 5cm long. Less than 20 metres away from us, in the mid afternoon. A pipistrelle bat; in sunshine.
I got up, picked up the camera and moved to the trees. A magical moment, that was away from another: tea, cake and company. The men carried on talking as I fumbled and filmed. I stood there apart them. Waiting for the bat to re-appear. Listening behind to the stories and tales. Wanting to be sitting with them, if I’m honest. After a while the pipistrelle disappeared, so I returned to the table. My tea was cold. The table had fallen into shade. And the men were preparing to pack up. The moment lost.
I wondered whether they had ever seen a bat before in sunshine. “No,” they said. “Very unusual.”
We cleared the table and chairs. They invited me back for another Thursday. I promised to bring work tools next time. “Not tools,” they said. “Bring more cake.”