I learned yesterday that one of the group of friends with whom I have been walking off and on - mostly off - for 30 years and more, has died. I say 'one of' but he was a stalwart, the stalwart of the group. He seldom missed a walk, and was the strongest walker among us, always in the vanguard, striding along, whatever the weather, whatever the terrain, uphill or down - keeping up with him was a challenge; we generally took it in turns to walk a while by his side before falling back, outpaced.
Then, a couple of years ago, symptoms of Parkinson's Disease became sadly apparent, and walking was more and more a struggle for him; he fell back to the rearguard and eventually, having kept walking as long as he possibly could, he had to give up. It turned out that the Parkinson's symptoms had been masking the advance of cancer, and there was only going to be one ending. He bore the illness, the treatments, and the prospect of his death, with the most exemplary calm and stoicism. Which, couched in more Christian language, would sound very much like one of the innumerable epitaphs he must have read in a lifetime of church crawling. But - unlike, probably, many of those epitaphs - it is true.
He was a man of very wide interests, knowledgeable, well read and with a notably well furnished mind. A master of the ingeniously turned (not to say excruciating) pun, he was also a rich source of quotations and allusions. Once, while booting up for a day's walking, he turned to me and remarked, quoting Montaigne: 'Il faut toujours être botté et prêt à partir.' Booted and ready to leave. And so he was.