Many men walk by day; few walk by night. It is a very different season.
From Night and Moonlight, by Henry David Thoreau
Following a recent decision to sacrifice, on an ongoing basis, a large chunk of income for the far superior commodity of time, economies have to be made. Combine my passion for tramping the pavements of our fair city with the increased amount of time at my disposal and a fairly obvious cost-cutting option is that of shanks’s four-legged friend. I still cross the palms of our friendly local bus companies when necessary, but I try to avoid that electrified interloper the tram at all costs. Tram journeys are clinical and soulless, the views from inside restricted, the conditions cramped. And God forbid that you should fall foul of the system by innocently stepping on board without a ticket, only to discover that your journey is suddenly going to be substantially more expensive than you had anticipated.
I digress. Having occasion to journey just over 3 miles in a westward direction from Nottingham city centre this evening, just as the dark had descended, I decided to pursue the no-cost option.
Life takes on a different dimension at night. Nottingham is no London, but even the provincial lights of the Queen of the Midlands can lend an air of mystery, romance and excitement to the proceedings that is quite at odds with the cosy familiarity of the city by day.
Strolling along St Peter’s Gate and across into Hounds Gate, admiring the reflections on the rain-soaked street surfaces while simultaneously despairing at the proximity of the annual retail frenzy trumpeted by the festive lights present at every turn, I decided to thread my way towards Castle Boulevard, where, after a short walk, a pedestrian bridge would lead me over the Nottingham Canal in the direction of the sterile retail boxes of Castle Marina Retail Park.
While crossing the aforementioned footbridge, I stopped to admire the calming sight of the nearly-full moon reflected in the waters of the canal, the lights of the Inland Revenue buildings in the near distance (no doubt still reasonably well populated by dour, late-finishing civil servants, subsumed by procedure, dinners in their dogs) somehow complementing the more natural elements of the scene in front of me. As I took out my phone to take a few photographs that would inevitably turn out to be disappointing approximations of the view that I was witnessing perfectly contentedly with my own two eyes, thus ensuring a retrospective cheapening of the memory, a wonderful thing happened.
I became aware that a gentleman of slightly more youthful appearance than yours truly, having noticed that I was taking photographs of something, had come to a halt beside me and was gazing admiringly at the view hitherto described. Before I had the chance to weigh up the situation, he began to talk. ‘Wow, that’s beautiful. Thanks so much for making me stop. I walk over this bridge all the time, and I’m generally in such a rush that I don’t usually notice anything like this.’ Cheered by this unexpected, life-affirming encounter, I briefly held forth in a companionable manner about the myriad benefits, nay the necessity, of pausing to take in the world around us every so often, before we went our separate ways.
Equally buoyed by the revelation that not every interaction with a fellow human being in the vicinity of a canal after dark has to involve events of a somewhat less agreeable nature, and not wanting to break the spell, I averted my eyes from the glare of the retail park beyond and joined the canal towpath, coming to a halt again shortly afterwards in order to exchange glances with a fellow occupant of the path – a heron who had obviously been having difficulty sleeping and had decided to pop out for a snack. Fixing me with an impatient-looking stare, as if to say ‘Look, just piss off, will you? This is my patch and I’m bloody starving’, the heron flounced past me before descending into the adjacent Tinker’s Leen to get on with its fishing.
The rest of my walk along the moonlit canal towpath, before my emergence back into the land of the car headlight, was no less magical – occasional instances of being unable to distinguish between towpath and canal water aside – and at journey’s end I made a mental note to embark on another night walk before too long.