There are two observation challenges while walking in nature: the first to find the hidden species, and the second to see the beauty and importance of common, obvious things that seldom capture much of our time.
There is a national trail in Surrey that reveals plenty of both. The North Downs Way is south-east England’s most absorbing footpath, threading through over 150 miles (250km) of chalky hills, ancient beechwoods and rolling farmland. I live on it, or very nearly; it runs through my parish on its pilgrimage to Canterbury and the sea.
It is big enough to feel uncrowded, human-wise, but the wild is there to offer its company.
Amethyst deceivers bring royal purple to the forest. The name reflects their variable shape which can outfox identification. These clustered on a fallen beech, joining moss in a living shroud.
The beech that still stand are catching the light as though it were a cricket ball flying towards them in the season’s last match.
Flowers, too, are still shining. Poppies redden the edges of arable land.
Scarlet pimpernels peep through the grass.
And here – the harbinger of spring, resting on a grass stem coloured by autumn:
It is a brimstone, and although at rest it mimics a leaf, on the wing the male is brilliant yellow. One of our longest-lived butterflies, it hibernates through the winter.
Whatever wild dramas autumn and winter bring, it will be oblivious.