We haven't been planning our walks much ahead, so our hikes and walks end up serendipitous. We discover detours and shortcut trails, chase the little icons for caves and waterfalls as they appear near our routes.
We've just hiked an hour into the hills, emerging to a country road lined with bracken and bluebells. A couple of cars crawl by on the single lane, but it's otherwise just birdsong and the bleating of sheep. We've barely seen anyone today.
As we pore over the map to choose our next trails, we notice a labeled icon for a tea shop down by the lake. We exchange a glance: really? Here?
It's shoulder season; even if there really is a tea shop, lots of places aren't open yet. But this is along our chosen route, so we might as well look.
Our luck is in: at the top of an angled driveway, there is a slate board: the cafe is open today.
Picnic tables sit empty in a garden overlooking the water. It's not exactly warm out, but the sun is shining. Inside the shop, the lights are off, but two older men seated at table reassure us, "the lady is around."
Sure enough, a blond woman in an embroidered white apron emerges from a little doorframe to stand behind the glass cabinet full of cakes. We order a slice each from the apricot-almond and the Eton mess, berries on top of cream. She pulls a teapot from the shelf, unhooks china cups from their hanging mismatched rows. She has written out the flavors of her herbal teas on bunting above it all.
An orange cat, seventeen years old but still very soft, appears from nowhere to wind around our ankles.
"Boo," the shop owner smiles ruefully. "My grandson named him. Now I'm the one who has to look silly when I call him."
Boo purrs effusively and follows me as I carry the tea tray outside. He jumps on my daypack where I've set it down, then uses my lap to climb onto the table and investigate our cake.
When I scoop him from the table and attempt to pour the tea, his steadfast interest in the cream pitcher keeps both of my hands full. But he settles, eventually, beside me. We sip our tea in the quiet afternoon sunshine. Behind us, dark purple tulips and bleeding hearts are in bloom.
Tea and cake are gone almost before I notice. I hike with my e-reader, but I haven't even opened it. I've been too busy keeping track of the cat, feeling the breeze across my cheeks, watching the bloom of cream in my teacup.
When we get up to leave, Boo has settled in the garden bed, curled up among the pansies and the English daisies. We each give him a parting pet before hiking on.