Links on Walking Places
Lands End to Cape Wrath
GETTING OUT THERE
Two Holy things I do every day
I think you know what they are
Two Holy things I do every day
I think you know what they are
I put my boots on
I take my boots off
I put my boots on
I take my boots off
I put my boots on
I take my boots off
You know they both can make me happy.
You know they both can make me happy.
This is all about walking, what walking is about (for me) and why I do it.
In particular engineering in my forty fifth year to take four months to indulge fantasies and romantic notions; Lands End to John-o-Groats.
Go out and see if it was the truth.
If it was the truth:
One foot in front of the other under the sky; the reason for being on planet earth.
Using my time in the best way possible.
Drop everything. Step out and step out of the normal life, take a look over the horizon.
Dump responsibilities and disappear, get lost in the landscape, make a shift. Get out there.
Get out there:
Let go of usual essential habitual and safe (and absolutely OK that is fine and lovely) life things and check out what goes on. Who is living this life and where and why. Out in the woods, out on the hills, out of it.
Feet in the mud head in the sky. (actually only mud sky, no feet and no head).
Finding something that makes me happy and takes me where I want to go/be in this life.
3 days out along the Cornish coastal path in May1982. Fowey, a yellow plastic bivi-bag and Dr Martens Boots, very sore feet limping into Plymouth but discovering something:
When Iíve been there all night, early morning on the cliff path. Mist lifting, dew on spiderís webs, heavy spring vegetation crowding in and soaking my trousers and a spot where the coast folds; gulls and fulmars circling below, clearly flying because itís great to fly.
And before that I knew the hills were out there and I could go to them.
School army cadets, tramping around the Brecon Beacons, orienteering in the New Forest. Enjoying that with teenage belligerence and absorbing enough; orientate the map and you have to walk before you can fly.
Since then wandering when I had the chance. Cornwall and all kinds of Wales, Dorset, Suffolk, The Pennines, Cumbria, the Chilterns, the South Downs, the Dordogne, Provence, Majorca, Nepal, Kenya, Alaska.
Not the every weekend and holiday all the Munroes kind of obsession, but whenever the pressure builds and I can organise it. Maybe only a couple of weekends a year. Sometimes come September and hey, I havenít been for a walk yet this year. Life and everything else, family, work, living in London. But Itís always there with the wonders of the gear stashed in the Boyís Own Cupboard, maps accumulating on the top shelf. All trips prototypes and preparation; building up to this.
Iím going to get into everything, all I can about the experience, relentless detail. The science and the art of it, the way I like to do it, lots about me. (Self obsession actually) Self indulgence.
The kit, the food (of course the food) and cooking. The physical body fitness survival thing. (though not extreme survival more the keeping my lonely self together and on top of it)
The inside my head, the absence of any supposed head at all, or body in fact.
The people and the hills, the weather, the route, the path (of course the path); whatís under my feet and all around. Obsessions, relationships, fear, joy, grass, heather, gravel, tarmac, rock, mud, mist, sheep, barbed wire, earth, air, fire, water.
The most normal and essential thing to be doing. Exploring the world on foot. Use my body and just my body, just what I have, wheels no.
The most simple way. Down from the trees and one pace covers this much ground which is the scale and pace that this monkey was built for and making the connection once on the Purbeck cliff path; this is how I am most able to express myself. Like Satish Kumar:
ďMy two legs were the most creative parts of my body and the most creative expression of my energyĒ
Sometimes to be walking just to walk. Round the block, up the road, over the hill, along the river, across over to there today and then round there and maybe back through there tomorrow. Pouring over a map.
The natural world and that includes me, (body mind and legs). Adventure itís all waiting, a playground; the earth and the universe.
And with enough of an education in rocks and plants and animal doings. The theatre of geomorphology and ecology, having some depth of understanding and knowing what Iím looking at and so able to read it a little and wonderfy at what goes on.
A general and in fact full-on what you might call hippy and unashamed tree hugging spaced out excitement in the natural world. Saunter, saint terre. Wander off into the holy land.
And then the romance. On The Road and The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels at a formative age and I was lost. Not to mention Lord of the Rings about every three years since I was 16.
The joy of the quest: Tolkien, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, Kriss Kristofferson, Bob Dylan:
The path goes ever on and on, down from the door where it beganÖ..
Get the Motor running
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure, in what ever comes my way
Oh lord Iím gonna make it happen
Hit the world in a love embrace
Fire all of my guns at once and
Explode into space
Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpikeÖ.
We sang every song that driver knewÖ.
I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong.
The romance of it. Definition (Oxford English Dictionary) ďconcerned more with emotion than formĒ. Is it real but it doesnít matter.
To be outside for all that time. Under the sky with nothing between the top of my head and the infinite space. Dangle in the void. Stay connected for as long as possible with that knowledge that the earth is spinning through space.
Walk eat sleep breath.
All this stuff is it real?
Iíd been out for countless long weekends, and a few times for a week or two.
Three weeks in the hills of Majorca was the longest I had been out alone before, November 1990 with the plan of walking west to east all the way along the north coast ridge. Four days out I was getting ill and disillusioned and ending up in hotels and monastery hostels. Having in the end a good time but not really ready and strong enough inside and outside then for all the way camping out lonely up on top wild and alive in the hills to drink it in.
Could I do it now? Be out there doing the do all summer?
Landís End to John-o-Groats? An idea first entertained when I read John Hillabyís Journey Through Britain. About the time of that 1982 Cornish coast jaunt.
Thinking one day Iíll do that.
And the route? Just to make the most of all the wild country. That had to include the west coast of Scotland (as a headlining feature) and saving it till last. So uphill to Cape Wrath and across the top to J-O-G. A west coast adventure.
1) Minimum roads.
2) Time to wander, saunter. No tight schedule, easy mileage, all summer.
3) Self sufficiency, carry it all.
4) As many nights as possible camping wild.
If Iím gonna do it
Iíve gotta do it
Iíve not ever really been into climbing to the top of mountains. Preferring mostly to wind my way between the hills rather than head for the top.
Itís being out amongst them that gets me going. Down and around is almost always quieter as most people seem to head for the summit. Itís great to be up there but if you want to find wild and isolated-ness, take the lowland route. Go round.
Walk round and through but I love to camp up high. Not on the big top but somewhere with a view and (in Scotland summer especially) a breeze. That knoll over there, 200-300 meters where no one thinks to go.
Spend the evening gazing out and find myself still there in the morning. Every now and then with a carpet of clouds in the valley below.
Once even waking on the top of a cliff above the Dordogne valley with that miraculous dawn sunlight lensing trick when I was reflected enormous and waving 100 feet tall on the clouds below.
And up there above things is an antidote to the lonely-ness.
A spot in a wood or by a stream; very pretty, but I can find myself quite maudlin and the babble of running water in my head can become oppressive. Become nagging voices .
High up alone. Silence space sky.
Just like looking for a nice spot to picnic; out in the open with the sun and the view would be what Iíd choose.
So as the end of the day approaches Iím usually scanning ahead. Looking for a bit of a hill or a shoulder. An eyrie I can head for or contours on the map that looks promising.
Wild camping. If itís not dense agricultural land there is almost always a spot where no one will find you and thatís my usual plan; Make sure no one finds me. If no one knows Iím there itís not scary. Be invisible, a shadow.
Was there someone there? I donít know.
This is the way Iíve always done it and up until a couple of years ago with a Gortex Bivi-bag rather than a tent. With planning this trip and what feels like the reduced resilience of advancing age, I now pack a one man tent. Bijous luxury.
Planning this trip if I find myself in built up or dense agricultural land then it will have to be a campsite if one appears at the right place and time. This would be the first trip Iíd be getting into campsites, get a shower and maybe some company. Holiday areas; Cornish Coast, Lake District, there should be plenty of them.
If thatís not possible then go in search of a farmer and more often than not a welcome and an anywhere in that field up there is fine.
A bed. Plan to find a bed maybe once or twice a week. BnB or Youth Hostel. Wash and rest.
Alone: I just sometimes have to get away from people. Connecting with people is complicated and I have to have a rest. Seeker out lonely beautiful landscapes, tune into the hills and the sky and thatís a lot easier and then I know Iíll be going home as well. If I had no safe and happy home I donít think Iíd be doing this at all. If saunter means to be land less: sans terre, then I can pretend thatís me for the summer, fancy free.
Itís an adventure for me urban dwelling bourgeois baby boomer who has lived a life in a secure setting, comfortable and absolutely privileged. But I can step out and find some perspective on life, a chance to scan and see what goes on inside and out and where am I now. Feel the forces that are flowing and what direction the river might be taking me.
I donít necessarily come back from walking jaunts recharged; sometimes down and knackered but I know I have to do it to as part of the keeping my head above water.
Could I do it for 4 months?
Do I really know what Iím doing?
Is it really possible to become at ease and happy with such a different way of life away from all that stuff; family and friends people and familiar environment and even the deadly but reassuring familiar routines of everyday life. And late afternoons when Iím cold and tired and maybe uptight and I can just go home and get into a hot bath and everything will be Ok and maybe someone will cook for me and just be cosy at home.
Iím going to cast myself out into the cold.
On the outside.
Am I strong enough, resilient enough? All kinds of doubts as well as overwhelming barely contained excitement. No way I could be planning to do this without that excitement and perhaps worthwhile things have to be scary also and what if it all goes wrong and I donít like it and give up and come home and have to go back to work disappointment terminal decline.
Making space in my life. (selfishness)
A thing that so many people have connected with; that has touched a chord with lots of people Iíve talked to while making plans. Make sure as life rushes by that you do what you want to do. Let your inner adult give a little play time treat to your inner child, keep it alive and giggling.
Step 1: Decide what it is that you would really want to do, that ambition or fantasy that has entertained you through sleepy Monday afternoon meetings and
Step 2: No messing; engineer it.
I know Iíve been lucky. Life has allowed me in many ways to do what I want, enough of it anyway.
I started planning 5 years ago and in fact declared:
Iím going to do it or Iíll scream and scream until Iím sick. David always gets what he wants, but actually much gratitude to everyone who had to make changes in their own lives to let me do this. Family, Vivienne, Hob, work colleagues. Delighted all in fact getting rid of me.
But why has it come around now and who is this person setting off?
44 year old man, reasonable health and fitness, fluctuating sense of self and confidence, father husband son with dawning awareness of mortality and time so eager to be doing, making use of summers and legs, ears eyes teeth. Yes, life passing by with normal (?) doubts and disappointment and decide and do something special now.
And itís the time as much as anything. 4 whole months to please myself, out wandering in the world. Stepping into the mystical summer; off in search of the never ending childhood summer land rolling down grassy hills everything possible hope and freedom daisy chains and stay out till after dark and lets do this again tomorrow.
What can you find out there in the summer? What will I find? Where will it take me?
What will I find in me? What can I be?
What will I find in the country? What is left of it? Will it be one big sad new housing estate golf course?
Who am I?
Where did I go?
Where will I go ?
Whatís in here?
Whatís out there?
What does this island look like?
Whatís left of it?
What am I looking for?
What was I looking for?
Will I find it?
Did I find it?
Why on earth should it be so important to do this?
Having a purpose, fill the void working hard with this task; to get as fit as possible. Physiotherapist advice; walking as the best way to get fit for walking.
Six months I gave myself to work it up, eager to get into training, it was going to be like the beginning of the trip, making it real after five years of waiting.
Walking to work in Tottenham with a small day sack full with litres of water in plastic bottles, giving my legs more to do, out earlier in the mornings and taking the long way round along Green Lanes.
Days off and weekends on circuits of Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest with new 85 litre pack moving towards full size heavy with bottles of water. Over and over becoming so familiar with the circuit; half days Wednesday afternoons from Gospel Oak up round Parliament Hill and on following the boundary parakeets shrieking and chasing above the trees past Kenwood and bathing ponds.
Stretch for ham string with leg up and plonk down on the same ritual bench half way round each time, Wednesday afternoon not at work people and dogs and getting dark at 4.30. Twice in Jan and Feb in a horizontal snow storm and once a Rookery came pealing down from the Kenwood trees and spread out across the grass all around me. Delight and thinking how many Rookeries will I come across and I could count and record them all or maybe make friends and invite the whole crew along with me down the path now wouldnít that be groovy or perhaps a gang of Long Tail Tits.
A pack full of water bottles a real dead weight, feeling daft and much mockery from friends and family but I enjoyed that when it was so heavy stepping out on muddy rainy winter days.
From October on all through the winter trees bare and cold winds knowing that come the spring Iíd be out for real. Would I be out before the leaves? I liked that idea; get going before the seasons had really turned and watch it happening. Walk through the young soft green leaves and where would I be when the blue bells and the hawthorn had gone over? Cuckoo stopped singing and is autumn arriving in the north of Scotland by the end of August?
April on the Cornish coastal path, probably spring gales and chilly nights.
Pealing off a skin.
Was it going to be a hot summer? And can I actually keep going, walking on and camping out through really wet weather. Lovely romantic idea; be with the coming and the going of the weather, the wondrous theatre of weather on these islands, passing moods and colours, but everything soggy for nearly a week now and getting into a wet tent again?
Made it out to the New Forest for 2 weekends in March, hoped to do more but somehow not managing it.
No other place I know down in these south eastern humanised parts where you can go out on a compass bearing. Spend days cutting out across all different landscapes, varieties of woodlands and bogs and open rolling heath very beautiful. Do some miles and feel actually quite wild for a weekend back to work on Monday morning.
And Epping Forest has been there ten miles up the road out of town for 20 years now and Iíve got to know my way around it, worked there for a couple of years.
Itís the nearest largish piece of woodland and I have an ambivalent relationship with it. You can do some miles buried in the trees and if you know where to go you can just about get out of earshot of the motor car and even not see anyone else. There are some lovely corners with old old coppice and pollarded beach and hornbeam across some interesting topography up and down round winding steep gullies. Itís quite easy to get lost which is always good. A couple of iron age settlements and a sense of history so actually I always enjoy it when I get there but because itís all I have when Iím strangled and choking in Hackney I kind of resent it. Tend to see it in the light of a comparison with the woods and rocky moors and fields that tumble down of the northern slopes of Cadir Idris into the Mawddach estuary.
Friday 11 March
New Forest weekend out Friday night in tent.
Iíve decided to do something. An idea, a fantasy with itís own reality, a reality I am going to discover. Now itís cold and dark trees looming and silent between gusts. Silent enough to hear those little sounds made by what out there.
When a weight descends, a seriousness I know Iíll be Ok but it suddenly becomes a tunnel and now itís very quiet. Tent zipped up candle burning and pen scratching, ears ringing.
Confronted with a feeling I know, being on the outside why is this uncomfortable? What do I miss, what am I missing?
Darkness gathers, gangs up, descends, insinuates itself and things take on this heavy serious energy. Survival, vulnerable, lonely.
Perched with some comfort though on this new Thermarest seat contraption five weeks to go and today a little shaky, pack very heavy and a glimpse of reality. Out alone in the woods in the dark and Oh! This is going to be hard. How close is all the excited expectation planning to this reality? A little hollow.
Still unformed, work to do, head down and work but getting closer, rising to the surface and not allowing doubts to creep in; that my knee will give out and
Startled what was that? but the end of the tent zip tapping the cooking pot in the wind ďTingĒ.
This is what I have to do and trust that it works; that I can work and prepare body and mind and all the practicals.
Melodrama. Actually just going for a long walk and pleasing myself.
Yeah Iím powerful man (powerful)
Yeah Iím beautiful man (beautiful)
Yeah Iím excellent man
PBE (London Elektricity)
Having a dodgy right knee; stabbing pains and physio assessment that itís all to do with out of line bow-legged imperfect bio-mechanical machinery. Hackney and City Health offering a Motability Clinic with not too much of a waiting time and I was getting good advice. Stretches and strengthening exercises and feeling I was on the case and it was going to be Ok. Iíll get this knee sorted out and ready to walk a thousand miles and also look after it and itís other half with very focused and aware walking techniques. A long walk with plenty of time for focus on such things, how to walk most properly; awareness and the optimum good foot.
This is all about a long walk with diary ramblings and all kinds of other obsessive details to be explored after my return home.
But the diary doesnít really get started until a quarter of the way into the walking. Sporadic up until then. 350 miles covered and not recorded. What can I do about that?
It took me 350 miles to find a way of writing it down, learn how to do it, before that only scattered chunks. Walk and walk all day and collapse so knackered come the evening. Get organised, cook eat sleep.
I was wanting to write but not knowing how to start. Worried about that with miles, weeks slipping by unrecorded. Detail lost.
(Two months later this has switched. Iím puzzling with the sensation: Is the writing creating the walk? If itís not written about does it happen? Where is the reality? Am I already a character in a book? Walking to write writing to walk)
But perhaps first I have to try and describe what got me to the point of being able to write.
So sitting on black craggy rocks facing north and dodging midges. Sultry grey and drizzle, afternoon on the day after I finished and also the subsequent 5 days on my slow journey home. Back to the London of ordinary life.
DAY MINUS ONE.
Penzance with my Dad. 19 April wet evening very nervous. In an hotel sewing a loop into the right hand hip pocket of my trousers to attach safely my pedometer, eating huge quantities with a plan to drive down to Landís End tomorrow morning.
I left my family, Vivienne and Hob, in London on the 18 April. Lunch and Underworld:
Cowgirl twice ritual closing down maybe that ear of my life
Goodbye and tears then into the car driving away, surprised at how hard it was to go. This was the time I had set 5 years ago; Iíll do it that summer, my only son Hob will be 17 and I was hoping not bothering too much if Iím out of the way for a few months.
5 years of waiting and planning and It arrives, the scariest thing.
All the rounding up and neatly sorting out. All the have to doís before I go at work and at home. Tidy ship shape, nothing left hanging. No weight of unfinished.
A goodbye party 2 days before. Being the centre of attention, lots of people into what I was doing. Keen for details, Whatís your worst fear? Why you need 4 hats?!
Being the one who was doing it, making it happen (what a great guy!)
But oh hard work getting ready and itís not real yet.
Get ready but can it actually be going to happen?Am I just going to walk off for all that time? A dotted line on a map on the Kitchen wall......
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