The hills are not alive

Downs around Wroxall, Isle of Wight, January. © 2015 EHN & DIJ Oakley.

There can be few people who have seen TV or movies who cannot recall the moment that Julie Andrews, arms outstretched, bursts into the title song, in the middle of an intensely green, manicured field in the mountains: “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”

Just recently the false perfection of that scene has been literally shot away by an animated GIF version, showing Miss Andrews firing a pair of Uzi machine pistols whilst prancing across that grass. But the greatest conflict in my mind is when I take my daily walk up into the hills.

We live among Downs, with less than thirty minutes to walk from our front door to the crest of the chalk ridge. From there we can see the English Channel, the white cliffs down by the Needles and as far as Dorset, Southampton and the busy yachting waters of the Solent, Portsmouth, and on to Selsey when the weather is clear enough.

Panoramic view of the Isle of Wight from the Worsley Obelisk, 22 March 2015.
Panoramic view of the Isle of Wight from the Worsley Obelisk, 22 March 2015.

We live among one of the densest networks of footpaths in the whole of the UK, in an area heavily dependent on tourism. It is the height of the tourist season at present, the local population swollen to nearly double its normal size with visitors. Many come over to the promise of the extensive walking and off-road cycling, or horse-riding on the many bridlepaths.

Yet on most days, when going round our habitual 4 mile (6 km) route, we see no-one else out on those paths.

There is the occasional dog-walker, which makes me wonder whether those who do not keep dogs ever exercise at all, and a week ago I nearly stepped on a couple who were pre-occupied in another form of exercise which does not feature in the tourist guide (yet), but round here the hills are deserted, the paths untrod.

I cannot think why. Our health experts and services are imploring us to exercise more to maintain our health. The weather here this summer has not been very suitable for long days building sandcastles on the beach. The tourist attractions – theme parks, landmarks such as the Needles, and so on – have been very crowded. The ferries have been heaving, and the roads frequently jammed with cars. But now in August we are seeing fewer people out walking, cycling, or riding than we did back in the Spring.

Am I missing the Olympics, World Cup, or some other major international TV event?