Oscar’s Favourite Walk

Posted: October 7, 2010 in Living, Nature

Originally in my Wiltshire blog; published in Wiltshire Magazine, December 2010.

When you come face to face with death, a walk in the countryside sounds like a very good idea indeed.

That was my family’s feeling last weekend after learning that Oscar the dog has cancer. Following a period of shock and disbelief, my parents decided to take Oscar on one of his favourite walks.

The walk from the A420 near Biddestone to Castle Combe cuts through some of the most beautiful countryside in Wiltshire. Beginning quite low, the path follows the Bybrook for about a mile, passing through fields used since medieval times, before reaching the sleepy hamlet of Long Dean. From here the path ascends along a ridge overlooking the Bybrook. It passes a small pig farm and fields which are often home to donkeys and ponies before descending through the ancient forest which surrounds Castle Combe.

Oscar loves this walk. He rushes back and forth, greedily sniffing everything he can get his nose close to. The cattle are sheepish as he jots around their field; they watch him with a shy curiosity and then return to munching grass.

At the smallholding, we all stop to watch the pigs roll about in their pen. The younger ones in particular love to play fight; they rub their snouts in each others faces and chase one another in circles. They have the energy and exuberance of a group of toddlers in nursery school and they’re so fun to watch that we stand there for a full five minutes. Perhaps they run around to keep warm, as I can already feel the chill of autumn in the air.

The donkeys aren’t there this time. In the summer they stand under the trees near the fence, close enough for us to reach over and pet them. The path is quieter without them. The only sounds are of the Bybrook in the valley below and the ponies snorting and clip-clopping in the field above.

On the outskirts of Castle Combe we notice the first sign of the film crew which has been based here for two weeks: a huge marquee with a security guard sat outside. A few days earlier Steven Spielberg was filming War Horse here – an adaptation of the popular novel and stage play about a horse called Joey who is separated from his owner when he is sent to serve in the First World War.

In order to transport the town back to 1914 the roads of the village have been covered with dirt. The names of the pubs have been changed too, and Union Flags fly above some of the houses.

We end our walk at The White Hart, now called Fry’s Tavern. I drink my pint of 6X slowly while Oscar shuffles around the pub garden, sniffing under the tables and benches. The pub garden is quiet and conducive to contemplation. As Oscar sniffs about the place I begin to wonder if he knows that he is unwell.

Is he capable of knowing that? Is he even aware of his own mortality? Would he act any differently if he was? Would any of us?


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