Links on Walking Places
Lands End to Cape Wrath
CARLISLE TO ARDOSSAN
Body working and being wide awake inside it and all the time itís going down to the earth. Always keeping awareness of that connection; human being with feet planted on the surface of the earth.
Getting into a real focus on the act of walking in the months before setting off with much wisdom and guidance from Murray Douglas my Tai Chi teacher.
The wonder of walking; the physical activity experience and I was going to be doing a good deal of it so I wanted to get right into the details; get into how it might be done the most efficient way possible applying Tai Chi principles and as in Tai Chi the joy in fact all that is sacred being in the detail; relentless, layer on layer.
Awareness, put your mind into your body.
This is I think the wisdom in my own words and understanding of it this far in:
Ankles, knees and hips relaxed and empty, borrowing energy from the ground. Relaxing from my chest down to the soles of my feet (boots) and feeling that key moment in each step when I relax and empty into and push off my back foot and allow my weight to transfer or fall onto my front foot.
That is the moment, each time, drop the energy down, shoulders down and a hollow chest and as my forward heel touches the ground and the ankle relaxes and the toe drops down, I hollow and loosen into my back heel, push of, drop the energy down and the earth will bounce it back up for me and propel me along.
To help this happen itís good to have my stomach drawn slightly in and this will tuck my bottom under as well. Loose in the waist turning at each step to bring my centre over my weight bearing leg.
With this and with my head up that borrowed energy will find itís way straight up through my legs and spine sending me upwards and forwards on itís way to the top of my head. ďAn intangible and lively energy lifts the crown of the headĒ (Yang Chengfu; The Ten Essentials of Taijiquan Theory). So at one and the same time Iím being drawn upwards into the open sky and Iím sinking downwards into the solid earth. Trying to keep my head up, not rigid but upright using eyes not neck too much to look down at the path.
Walking up hill, well all this is exaggerated. Each step is a drop into and push from my back foot. This rather than a heave-ho up using the thigh muscles of my front up the hill leg and this is going to protect my knees. I get a grind and a sharp pain in my right knee if I rely on the lift from right leg when itís the leading up hill leg. Borrow energy and push from the straighter back leg, no pain and also preserved energy in fact an energy profit, gift from the earth.
Going down hill itís hard to apply this so I rely on simple rules:
Try to keep the weight ever each foot as it takes the weight. That is I think keeping the knee over the foot, not allowing it to drift in or out and create dodgy stresses on the knees. On steep ground it seems to work to point my toes out, maybe 45 degrees, so waddling side to side perhaps like a Baboon.
On steps (the Cornish Coastal path!), I went down one step at a time side ways so I was dropping down left knee over left foot down onto straight right leg for 20 odd steps then change to right knee over right foot.
Dropping the weight from the soft hollowed chest through drawn in stomach helps to keep balance. Keeping the leg receiving the weight straight. Straight but the knee not locked, a bit of spring and heel first, toe pulled up slightly. Very satisfying to dig big boot heels into steep hillsides. Feel that solid safe connection.
With a big pack itís often difficult to be upright, leaning forward to balance especially up-hilling. Iím finding Iím getting more upright as I go on so perhaps itís to do with strength, body changing shape I donít know. Upright straight back must be optimum for flow of energy up and down.
With this heavy pack what Iíve found is donít carry it.
Strap it on, adjust it right good and tight round the waist and leave it sitting on hips. If you think about my shoulders doing this carrying job they end up doing the work and aching. So relaxing shoulders and finding a balancing point in the middle of the chest. Hollow and relax the chest and send the weight of the pack down to the ground. Forget itís there.
Iím using this stick and I get into really leaning on this as well. I use it to balance and to push me along adjusted so I can lean on it with a straight arm it has saved my life and planet earth many times.
Stay with the walking sensation and be careful. Watch each step, take time.
ďTouch the Earth deeply
Walk as if you were kissing the Earth with you feet
As if you are massaging the Earth with each stepĒ
Wednesday 22 June.
9.45, sun just set on The Longest Day.
Camping tonight between the bridges again. On the 14 May I was camped between the 2 Severn bridges, behind the dyke on the edge of the salt marsh ready to cross into Wales the next day. Tonight itís between the mainline railway bridge and the A 74 on the bank of the river Esk. About 3 miles from the border so Itís Gretna for breakfast tomorrow.
Beautiful stretch of rich meadow, high and ready for hay making. Iím in a little square mown by the footpath just for me. This is private land Iím sure but no one around to see me except from the Virgin trains and jugging goods trains back and forth. Road bridge about a quarter of a mile away but silent with the wind taking the sound of the traffic off upstream. Silent streams of trucks and caravans in and out of Scotland.
Comet, BnQ, McVitees, DHL, Ramage Distribution, You Shop We Drop.
Thereís wild camping when Iím up on top and away, perhaps common land or the wilds of an estate but this is a little bit dodgy. Feeling I have to stay hidden and worried Iím going to upset the farmer. Will he arrive at 7 in the morning to start hay making?
No livestock to disturb and itíll be dark soon but feeling a little disconcerted. There is someone wandering around on the salt marsh with a .22 riffle. The occasional ďPop Ė zitĒ the other side of the railway line, probably the farmer out after rabbits but still discontentualising. Angry mad and armed people do inhabit the earth. Think Iíll get into tent and into new bookÖ..
Tucked up in tent now and these goods trains are a lot more frightening when I canít see them. Rumbling in and out of Scotland and it feels like theyíre coming straight under the fly sheet. Coal I think and cars and mail trains going fast on through.
Scotland tomorrow and do I feel a little daunted? Not sure how Iím going to find it. How different will it be to walk through? Into the unknown.
Heavens though, itís not Alaska! Just relax and explore.
But I can see from the map that there are fewer towns and villages and fewer footpaths marked. England is well endowed with footpaths so Iím going to have to hit the roads more. Thatís Ok but Iím getting worried about my boots, getting precious about my boots. Tarmac will quickly wear down the treads and thatís not fair on a good pair of walking boots. Although my others are ready and waiting to be sent Iíve come so far with these, I kind of want them to go all the way.
Thursday 23 June
A landmark day of course but also full of frustration and confirmation of some fears.
A getting there kind of feel, mostly happy to be plodding along except that is for 3 or 4 hours in the mid afternoon. Into Scotland great, sense of achievement, first time Haggis, but with no particular excitement. Under leaden skies through non-descript country.
I shared first breakfast time with a marsh harrier, big lazy flap and hover over the marshes and hedges along the estuary.
Gretna at 11.00 and a second breakfast after struggling through ditches and hedges on pasture land in order to avoid the trudge in on the A74. (A couple of musical interludes in nice echoy underpasses, Who shall wear the robe and crown?).
1.30 and I was down on the north coast of the Solway Firth.
Anticipation of a day walking a marshy shore, judging from the map a similar feel to the approach to the Dee Estuary and the Wirral coast.
But advice: Path marked on Landranger sheet 85 from West of Gretna, Browhouses, to Battlehill almost Annan.
If once there was a path, he not there no more.
Bush waking shoulder high nettles and reeds and rushes way over my head concealing hidden salt marsh channels.
Yes wild and birds and emerging onto carpets of Bladder Campion and not a soul (Homo Sapiens) but exhaustion and no going back and stand marooned in nettles and brambles and shout Fuck!
Also endless high wire fence of an enormous M.O.D site, super top secret not marked in any way on the map (so no spies or enemies of the state would ever find it).
GO AWAY! Signs. Not a friendly place for a wandering Hooman Been. Great if you an Oyster Catcher, big happy swirls as I struggled past.
First footpath in Scotland?! A taste of things to come? It means nothing. Be where you be. Is where you is.
Sunny evening and into Annan along the road. Feel of an out of the way French market town somehow or just actually not English and perhaps seen better days. Municipal town camp site by the football stadium, me and one other tent and I can feel it happening; (SUI) Steely Dan.
Planning to follow the River Annan north into the Southern Uplands so when will I be able to kick this one?
Tumbles into the sea
Thatíll be the day I go back to Annandale
Tried to warn you about Chino and Daddy Gee
But I canít seem to get to you through the US mail
Thinking about estuaries, rivers and bridging points, water dictating my route north, the ins and outs of the coast.
Making a B-line for a bridge: Bideford and the river Torridge; Banstaple on the Taw; Bridgewater and the Parrett; The Severn Bridge; Connahís Quay on the river Dee, Preston on the Ribble; Carlisle on the Eden. Walking out along coastal flats, trees blown to grow skew-whiff, isolated farms, mud and salt marsh. Dykes and long straight roads across reclaimed land. Lapwings if youíre lucky in the silage desert.
Iíve taken two Ferries so far: one to cross the Camel at Padstow and then across the Mersey and into Liverpool, not precious about that. Avoiding buses and trains and lifts on land but the odd boat trip, adds some spice and later they are going to take me between the islands and across lochs on my way up the very jaggedly Scottish coast.
Friday 24 June
Hoddom Castle camp site. 7.15pm heavy rain. Iíve been here since 2.00 deciding on a short day, second in Scotland, tired and sluggish so just a morning walking up the river Annan and a lazy afternoon here. Peering through tent flap I can see this pretend castle sitting amongst pines and surrounded by dripping tents and caravans. Actually a very nice spot.
Reading new story book. Purchased in Carlisle: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I set off with a reading book which I thought Iíd be in the mood for on this trip.
The Mind Of God, Science and the search for ultimate meaning, by Paul Davies. Time to indulge:
ďMind- i.e., conscious awareness of the world- is not a meaningless and incidental quirk of nature, but an absolute fundamental facet of realityĒ. ďHuman beings are built into the scheme of things in a very basic wayĒ.
Lots of heavy stuff about those important everyday questions, what happened before the Big Bang? Where did the laws of Physics come from? Are they accidental? Was God a mathematician?
Spend a summer under the stars I was thinking, gaze up and get into all that stuff.
It hasnít really been happening, not as I expected; much too tired at night to be out star gazing. Also too tired to do much reading, after getting fed and organised of an evening Iíve been collapsed and asleep often before dark. Doing that reading a paragraph over and over thing, one page a week.
Persevered (Lands End to Carlisle, I did try!) but abandoned and posted home and now I have a story book.
I had a notion to see if I could add that getting excited and stuck into a story delight to this trip and also the idea that it would help me to slow and enjoy days off.
Going into Scotland and memories of the film of Kidnapped, Michael Kane, a very kiltish and heathery romp that might fit with this Boyís Own adventure.
Also Iíve been having the feeling that Iíve been passing on and very quickly through all this country and in my own little spaced out plid-plod world.
What about all the history and culture and such? Much of the focus in John Hillabyís Journey through Britain. Canít visit every castle and museum but there are perhaps more perspectives than Iím allowing space for in these wanderings.
Kidnapped: Scottish history, Clans, Jacobites, clearances and lost highland culture. It might not be accurate but it was played out where Iím bound, now on page 20 and Iím enjoying the language.
The Mind Of God went back home in a parcel with a bunch of maps from Carlisle Post Office. Thatís the system, maps Iíd walked across. Hallelujah to walk across, trace a path across a map, a chunk of land and on to the next one. Landranger 1:50.000 usually about 3 days bottom to top. Sad though, that little section now in the past.
Have to keep them, they can sit on a shelf and remind me of this till I pop my clogs, but hopefully be used again one day. Maybe Iíll do this again one day.
Itís a parcel day tomorrow, up to Lachmaben and onwards
Realisation. While itís raining up here in Scotland, is it raining in a field in Somerset? Pining slightly for the massed midsummer gathering in the mud.
Saturday 25 June
On having with me an electric mobile telephone.
Itís been an integral part of the trip, would be a different kind of experience for me and family and friends without it. Connecting directly and immediately with that ordinary world back there and having a lot of fun in the texting arena with folks all over, lifting loneliness and connecting with friends.
Been speaking with Vivienne every night with only 3 or 4 nights so far outside Orange land. A walk up the nearest hill usually finds a signal and itís very nice to be able to talk and stay connected with home, bizarre though to be having semi domestic conversations from up a mountain or in a Scottish wood, as tonight.
Without it I would be searching out payphones to check in so this would be a more wild and away from it experience. That might have been good. I came out here looking for that but dumping responsibilities can only go so far. Not fair on Vivienne and Hob or my parents to disappear completely.
I have a hand me down discarded Nokia from Hob, small and light with a plug sized charger. The battery has lasted fine between BnB nights until today just when I needed it for practical rendezvous planning talks; it runs down. 4 days since charging in Carlisle, I had to sort it otherwise Iíd have been thrown back to the dark ages of the early 90ís, 20 pence pieces and smelly glass boxes or even knocking on a random front door. So that I had to do, Templand north of Lochmaben opposite an out of order BT phone, ďcan you charge my phone please Mr? just 10 minutesĒ. And of course nice people and a cup of tea and cake and a chat in the front garden about living in London and Plymouth.
So allís well and tomorrow at 10.30 my old school friend Charlie is picking me up at a junction on the A701, (OS sheet 78, 076972) and whisking me back to his place near Penrith. There for 5 days off! First couple of days with just Vivienne then joined by Hob and friends Andrew and Ian. Eat and drink and hang out. Holiday on Holiday.
Sitting by my tent and first outing for newly acquired midge net. A roe buck keeps appearing, head up looking at me through the bracken and bouncing off down the hill again. Finding a strange creature in his evening strolling zone. Camped in a ďNO ENTRY GO AWAYĒ big metal gate wood ďCAUTION DEER STALKINGĒ. Should I take that seriously is it just a ruse to keep people out?
Tent up in long grass under a big old beech. Not so old rather in itís prime, trunk maybe 6 feet across spreading wide in the glade and glowing in the evening sun. In the field over the fence behind me is the semi-circle bank of an Iron Age settlement. Into the wood a steep bank; 100 feet or so down to the Kennel Water river. The scramble down and up I made earlier on to wash and collect water; that would have been their daily up and down trudge.
In the long grass means an abundance of bugs. Slugs and beetles and spiders joining me in the tent. Never alone.
Question: Is it camping if you only stay one night and move on? Or just spending the night?
In the morning big black slugs all squeezed up and squat like shiny black-currant wine gums. Mmm just pop them in and suck.
Lots of forts and settlements marked on the map along the way north of here. Busy part of the Neolithic world. Perhaps along the route through the mountains up into the north lands. To wander between them and all those I have visited on the way up: Cow Castle, Dolebury Warren, Cadbury Camp, Twyn Y Gear. Looking out for those folks.
Romancing the stone. Coming down from Gallows Hill in the Forest of Bowland on day 54 Sunday afternoon 2 weeks ago? Hail storm double quick into water proofs and I could see the route I was going to take down into the Roeburn Valley. The moor folding into steep gullies that gradually filled with trees hustling into a channel north off the hills into the flat lands. The weather is changing with predicted storms coming in but I feel safe. On my way down into shelter and on board with all I need. Across these hills another milestone.
Following high dry stone walls I climb through a gap to cut north west and down. Over a pile of stones and noticing something fossily, the way it happens if youíre in the habit of looking out for fossils. They seem to show themselves when youíre not looking.
As I remember, a large lump of the gritty stone (that the hills are made of?), the size and shape of a large chocolate yule log, a bit squashed.
Markings around about two thirds of itís surface. A regular pattern like rows oflarge scales, quarter inch triangular chips into the stone like the stem and maybe remains of leaves on a fern or palm tree. I looked at it for a while standing and resting my pack on the wall. A striking regularity in the pattern and to me seeming not to be what you might call a natural rocky feature, so a fossil or perhaps the work of a long gone humanoid hand.
Kleptomania, I have weakness for the hoarding of funky rocks. Very bad, they should be left under the piece of sky where theyíd shown themselves to me. But I want them on the roof terrace under my piece of sky (Heathrow flight path).
A quick decision there in the hailstorm, and said funky rock is now nestling in a gap in the dry stone wall. 2kg plus and too heavy to carry away and donít be silly post home.
Photographed and 6 figure zeroed on the map (601602). I can make a romantic journey back to that spot high on the northern slopes of the Forest of Bowland. Retrieve (steal), the stone and make it all my own.
Friday 1 July
MIDGE MANAGEMENT (Learning about).
Getting up into the Southern Uplands now and the Lowther Hills. Camped near Rivox, a beautiful open flat clearing in a large lump of pine plantation, Fox Gloves in the their prime west of Moffat. Six odd miles walking this evening, picking up the Southern Upland Way after train and taxi ride back from 5 days RnR.
Out here again at the foot of Scotland and 6 weeks that should see me all the way. Thatís the time I have left. 6 weeks, 42 days blimey, how to think about that?
Tonight weíre back in the midge thing.
Excuse me if Iím going on about these multiple companions but they are kind of pre-occupying. They become a pre-occupation.
Iím camped (spending the night?), in a lovely spot in a birch grove by a babbling brook (tinkling really and quiet enough to not be nagging). A still sunny evening, I knew it would be well populated but so would everywhere be through here and maybe from here on in. So just needing to live with them and cope.
Now Iím well armed, I have:
1) The inner sanctum last resort of zipped up tent. Midge net keeping them out and allowing some ventilation. This was all I had for surviving the first onslaught on the Forest of Bowland nearly 3 weeks ago. Also now though:
2) Midge head net. Lifesystems Ultra Fine Mesh delivered in the Lochmaben parcel. Yup works. Can sit outside with swarms a swirling round my head alarmingly close. Only with darkened and blurred view of the world. Too bad. (lift up to eat?) .
3) Avon Skin So Soft. Watch them land and expire! Blimey whatís in it, a beauty product?!
4) Newly acquired Mosquito coils. Advice that you can light them in the tent lobby, good for early morning preventative measures. I have one going now,- eyes stinging a little poisoning myself also, not so good. Try to direct the smoke out through the fly sheet open a little and prevent mass entryÖ yup check that, better now.
So Iím set up to camp where I know the air will be thick, expect the worst and get on with it. Manage the midge, gonna have to from here to the top as part of the personal admin thing, strength and maintaining morale.
Just getting dark now and needing head torch to write, 22.52.
Tomorrow up and down and out of this forest onto the tops of the Southern Uplands. West towards Wanlockhead.
Military phrase I think, acquired from TA and actually oldest friend Matthew.
For me all about maintaining morale, looking after myself.
Morale - confidence, self-esteem, spirits, self-confidence, drive, (Antonym, aimlessness).
So this is the completely absorbing world of food and water and feet and general body fitness and cleanliness and energy conservation management. The science I guess. Keeping the show on the road.
From feet upwards:
Feet have got to be Number 1 priority during this little outing. Lavish all kind of care and energy upon them. Try and keep them dry but not always possible. It often happens they end up wet all day so evening time boots off when I can and get the air to them. Wave around and a good dose of athleteís foot powder. If itís cold then into dry clean socks if itís warm leave them in the air.
A feedback loop goes on here:
Look after your feet and they look after you and help you to look after them.
Knackered after a long day, sore feet and maybe a little down and lonely (what am I doing out here?) Dig out that little extra bit of energy to give them a good massage. I have my cooking supply of olive oil, perfect for feet. Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and work away.
I have Ylang Ylang and Frankincense little pots to choose from out here. Rich exotic stimulating both. Ylang Ylang kind of sharp and dark and always a surprise to smell, Frankincense sweet and fruity. Splash them on and dig around, pull my toes out and work on the back of my ankle and all the tight spots. I can feel the rest of my body relaxing and waking up, spirits lifting. When I get into doing this regularly I definitely feel lighter and more energised.
It wakes me up It brings me round.
Finding the socks that suit me best (Brigdale Treckers way ahead).
Massage feet in the morning, clean dry sock and boots on.
Iíve had 1 blister so far. Little toe right foot (day 5?). Lasted just 2 or 3 days on the Cornish Coast and nothing since then so I must be doing something right. But my wisdom is getting socks that suit and boots the right size. Boots have to be big, well just right actually.
Foot powder. Getting through quite a lot of this. Athleteís foot powder, liberal doses in the morning as I put my boots on providing extra lubrication I think to prevent blisters, keep dry and doing the anti-bacterial thing.
Looking after your feet.
(Note: ensure that the rotating lid of the container is closed before stowage. Twice now the contents has spilled out into my toiletries bag.)
Stretching and stretching.
I really do find, the more stretching I can get round to doing the stronger and lighter I feel, maintaining elasticity and restoring energy flows. Itís just such a physical thing this everyday walking. Sweat and puff and strain push it along day in day out. Engaged with my body in the most direct and focused consistent way. Joy to be doing this actually and stretching sessions only add to this. So I have concoctions of Yoga and Tai Chi and Physiotherapy exercises head to toe routines.
Out here marvellous having the time and motivation to do it. At home somehow life gets in the way.
And out walking everyday, tune in to my body, aches and pains and twinges
listening to what it says; Iíve done enough today stop now or be careful, watch my step late in the day on rough ground.
But donít be fooled though and push it sometimes and see if tiredness is to do with energy blockages and can be worked through. Make a study of it.
Eating properly. Walk, sleep, eat, breath.
Food out here taking centre stage as life is so simple. Itís the energy to do the fundamental walking thing and itís a source of delight and motivation so a subject for study and obsession. Feeding.
Do it properly; focus on what I really need and want rather than maybe at home just often wander into the canteen at lunch time because itís there.
I can only carry so much so make it the right stuff. Energy, nutrition, taste, variety, weight, practicality and treats. Eat well get into and enjoy the cooking and look after myself, make myself happy; dried Organic Apricots, best quality Chorizo, Belgian Chocolate coated Brazil nuts.
More than just fuel and how to keep this going as I get into the wilds? We shall see.
The sun the rain, be careful, take your time, donít cut corners.
Drink water and apply sun block. put your hat on stay sharp. Keep your shit together.
Saturday 2 July.
Getting going again after a break; hard going just like down in Wales. Thing about being rested, 5 days off to rest legs and feet and recharge, should be sproing but it all seems harder, legs heavy and pack squeezing me out. Perhaps itís just about having forgotten how hard it is and having to re-acquaint with that. Got to build momentum again, re-absorb into the landscape and get ready to catch the next wave.
Anyway, out in a more wild thing today. Seen nobody all day except for a few cars as I crossed the A702 this afternoon at Overfingland; the Roman Road north across these here hills.
Over and down to Daer Reservoir. Getting the hang of this wide open Scotland, big and empty, around here anyway. Rows of towering round hills with their tops in and out of the clouds. Pretty wild weather today actually. Wind building through the afternoon, rain off and on, lifted now but tent flapping like mad.
Decided around 5 to find a spot down in the valley below Cold Moss instead of going up to camp on Lowther Hill, my original plan but silly in this weather. Frustrating but a good idea I think also for energy levels.
Dark patches of heather in streaks and squares vivid against the grass on the hillside opposite, right pretty and hares running back and forth and boxing.
Listening to the Live 8 concert out here. Compelling and moving, Sir Bob and all that positive energy somewhere very else. Though somehow feeling part of it, walking to kiss the planet.
Will I wait up till The Who and Pink Floyd? Way past my bed (bag and mat) time.
Chaffinches. Came through a clump of plantation today that was just alive and full up with Chaffinches. I walked out away from it and the cheerful chattering pursued me down the hill and in fact has been pursuing me through woods and along hedges all the way up from Landís End, the noisiest and it seems to me most ubiquitous bird in the land or actually only one or a pair that has been following me the whole way with important news that I just donít listen to but they wont give up. The soundtrack actually of this walking along with larks and of course rooks early morning and evening coming in to find me and roost up. The Boy with the Imaginary Rookery; all alone on the hills and finding friends.
Sunday 3 July
Hard to write about today, donít know if I can get it all down.
One of those days when everything just came together. Might even venture that itís been the best day yet! Another Mendip Day certainly.
Suddenly. Suddenly the Southern Uplands! There they were opening themselves to me, as beautiful as any hills Iíd walked through and today very friendly. Summer again, sunny and warm with a gentle breeze. Smooth and round and open. Relaxed paths and their winding route round and through and over the top swoopy curves off in all directions, rich humming plantations. Through the middle of a bouncy soft wilderness. Lovely and that new wave coming in and I jumped on board. Relief that I can get hold of Scotland, reconnect with energy flows. Here it comes.
This way of life, so simple and un-jumbled, just little me and the ups and downs are very clean. Itís easy to tune in and be aware of how Iím feeling, where I am with my energy and motivation levels. Plain to feel in my body and loud in my mind.
I have the awareness of where I am in a way that donít remember in everyday home and work and so much plate spinning life where foggy confusion and doubt ambivalence rule.
You know what?
Today has been the biggest surprise.
Did you get it? Do you dig it?
And getting very into the map today. Enjoying finding the way that the route I had picked out last night unfolded and turned into a landscape to be walking through. The contours came to life in 3D and everything sat together, rivers and paths and patches of forest. I have a well established routine of planning routes stage by stage, a few days ahead. That is an exercise of having that destination point across the map and picking out a direct-ish route, paths that look interesting or just going vaguely in the right direction. Finding ways of avoiding roads, judging the contours, could I do that? looks rather steep, would it be better to go round? I have to watch out for that, sometimes fooled by a straight line, forget to study the contours and arriving in the real world to find lots of up and down I hadnít anticipated. Must remember to watch the contours Ė turning 2D into 3D.
Actually this is all a delight, that transition from map to real world. I am completely dependent on the map, I donít know the country so itís a line on paper translating miraculously into a physical experience of underfoot and all around sweaty and tired and exalted. The map is all in my head, where the thinking and excited or doubtful planning and anticipation happens. Playing an enormous (enormous) role in this trip.
Study the map and think about, trust what it says to me and my understanding of the way that it translates into reality, the world of imagination: guide, tool, toy, concrete representation to aid cognitive internal symbolism of the world out there, making it manageable, control, domination, human omnipotence, fear of the unknown in fact dump it now and just take a compass or just my nose and the sun.
To start with work out the route then logistics of food and water supplies, towns and shop and streams and miles between. Becoming more important as I move north into wild places. A lot of estimating how long itíll take to make identified destinations, must be getting better at this. Spotting where there might be the option of a bed if I feel like or if the weather dictates. What kind of country it looks to be, contours and vegetation and how much water.
A good game to study all the information on the paper and try to picture, conjure up what it will look and feel like when I reach that point tomorrow afternoon.
Not very good at it actually, I tend to be surprised by something or other a lot of the time. Perhaps thatís best. Let the world take you by surprise. Donít pre-empt it, let it come and find you. (Q for a song?)
But maps and reading them can be so entertaining like at a moment mid afternoon today that went like this:
Ií been following a winding forest track, firm graded gravel easy going twisting and turning for a mile or two on the contours through a narrow strip of plantation. Not concentrating particularly on exactly where I was, enjoying the up and down-ness and the clumps of rich lichens by the edge of the path and spotting I think a Siskin darting off. Down a hill, over a stream and suddenly a
T-junction, left or right neither way the obvious direction. Consult the map; on the path I was following a T-junction was marked, yup just up from a stream. On the map the left turn going west (my overall direction) would take me shortly out in to the open for a while, back into the wood and then peter out. The right was what I wanted; east round an open hill and off west down to the road.
But just to check this was the spot I was looking at on the map I wandered up the left hand path for a few yards, round a corner and there was the gate out onto the open moor. Hallelujah when things come together like that and life is understandable and you know exactly, exactly where you are and where to go. No confusion; illusion of order in the chaotic universe.
Over Lowther Hill (725m) at about 11.30, past the Big Something Thing being round and white on the windy top. Down to Wanlockhead and Steak Pie! In the Sunday lunchtime lead mining museum cafe. Out westwards past Meadowfoot and remains of long gone busy industry following the valley of the Wanlock Water. Hills around are big old 1950s American cars stretched out and rubbing noses.
Feeling strong. Entranced round every corner and just digging the energy of the landscape. Wanting to cover a good distance, push on and get into the physical. Relax into every step, empty into the ground and let it bounce me along.
I have a destination and a deadline thing now: The coast and Ardrossan by Thursday night. Oh yes, I can do that, trusting my strength and knowing I can cover the ground. Delight of finding a signpost at Spango Bridge saying Muirkirk 15 Miles. A path leading out over wild hills and taking me where I want to go. Safe and in the right place. The right spot on planet earth.
Tonight down and settled by Blackgannoch Cluech above Spango Water. Beautiful wide open grassy valley with blimey! Knockenshag (436m) up to the north west. Warm dry evening, midgles on about 10% of 2 nights ago so fine. In tent 9.57, flap open not being bothered. Allís well with the world.
Looking at some post cards I bought in the Mining Museum today; ďA group of miners with their manager Mr Mitchell circa 1900Ē and ďWanlockhead Silver Band around 1890Ē. The Silver Band all very clean and Sunday pressed uniforms and proud moustachioed with some smiles and go on show us your instrument and the ten years later very much more extravagant whiskers of the underground men out in the sunshine though with sleeves rolled up. Blokes living a hard life out there, lead lives and to be photographed some with a smile and this is a laugh and others well Iím not so sure about this photography thing and best look serious and donít make me laugh.
Marc Bolan again for a soundtrack uninvited but inevitable.
Baby baby baby Iím just looking with my eye to the sky
Baby baby baby Iím just looking with my eye to the sky
With my eye to the sky
You better keep on looking baby
Keep on looking
You better keep on looking baby
For the change.
Monday 4 July
Iíve walked from Landís End to here. This is where Iíve walked to -just here- this very spot. This is where my life has arrived at. This moment this spot this step this breath.
Itís what I do, I get up in the morning and I walk. I walk all through the day and in the evening I stop. I put my tent up and wash, maybe in a stream. Collect water, change into warm evening wear and cook.
The joy is in the detail of this kind of life. Not really doing very much so each little thing has a significance. Breaking camp and making camp in a very particular way, routines to throw myself into and delight in. Getting organised (super duper).
There are 2 lighters that live in the draw-string bag with the stove. In there really to light the stove.
Either will do when I reach in for one.
The stove is set up, fuel bottle attached and primed with a few good pumps, legs out and level, wind baffle ready to stick around it.
Now I know the lighters will be there and the stove will be going in just a moment. There it is. Hey, Iím on top of all this.
I arrange my seat to face the setting sun, I stare in disbelief at the beauty of it all. I read my book, David Balfour meeting interesting characters and getting into all kinds of scrapes and on land and sea not so far to the north of here.
I eat Chilly Pork and Leak Sausages in Bulgar with Mature Cheddar and Apricots.
I enjoy a warm constant breeze from out of the sun and not a single midge. Not a single cloud.
Iím out north west of Muirkirk. Polkbock Burn. Open wide grassy plains melting into soft gullies, green and green and at this moment sublime benign and mine.
Meeting with the young Laird as I walked out here this evening. Bumping over to cut me off on his quad bike and concerned about my disturbing the hen harriers up on his hill.
But after a chat ďOh Yeah camp down over there, go for it, avoid the tops of the hills and if you stay on our land youíll dodge next doorís game keeperĒ.
So Hey, the Southern Uplands. The most beautiful landscape. Doing it for me at every turn and opening out.
A very path moment this morning: across wide open grassy very gently rolling high hills. A four foot wide strip of shorter grass with occasional parallel vehicle ruts arcing round following sweeping contours. Soft and few signs of feet between thigh high waving grass flower heads, a few different species dotted with Tormentil yellow spots. That was it, green.
Iím feeling chuffed at how this passage is turning out. Since back on the road on Friday near Moffatt, 4 nights in lovely spots. Changing weather across the wildest country yet, for me the unknown. And Iíve coped in fact conquered, that is Iíve got it right. Climbed the hills, done the miles, eaten well and felt strong and this all is why I came.
This is a defined stage. Southern Scotland: Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire.
North West over to the coast and meeting Mark.
Mark is coming to meet me. Venerable idealist naturalist smiling and striding old college friend. Up from Reading by aeroplane to walk across Arran for the weekend. This weekend actually, 4 days time. Satisfying it is as Mark and I were due to meet on the cliffs east of Fowey on that evening back in 1982. That first little walking out adventure on the coast path back to Plymouth. We hung around each looking for the other until dark. We never connected and both walked east, for 2 days him 2 hours ahead of me all the way home. Nearly grown up now but still not yet got around to walking together, each going off and having a life so 23 years later weíre going to have another shot at it. Actually I think Iíve already told that story.
What I remember of the kit list for that long ago walk:
INCONTINENCE (Litter Rant).
A lovely path a winding path, very little trod through open moor and plantation twixt Fingland and MuirKirk. Out there mid morning yesterday after third night in tent feeling happy in the middle of nowhere. Discovering the Southern Uplands.
Crossing a deep gully down and up the other side beneath Drummondís Knowe (730207).
There suddenly when Iím thinking hey no oneís been through here for weeks: a Milky Way wrapper sitting glaring in the grass. So I put it in my pocket and walk on and within 10 yards I have 5 more and the 6 pack mother wrapper.
6 times 26g (156g). 0nly 79 pence. Best Before 31/12/05. Batch number 1021115 A/3.
Now how is that!?
6 people all choosing to dump? 1 hungry person with a mind elsewhere? Clearly in fact absence of mind altogether.
Well somebody went home and did they/he/she, lose sleep and worry over what had happened?
They are out there somewhere now on the planet, maybe at home or at school maybe at work or at the cinema or eating:
Potato Wedges with Soured Cream and Sweet Chilly sauce,
Venison Casserole with Pastry Crowns and Seasonal Vegetables.
Or copulating. I donít know.
The human race, too early out of nappies, (Diapers especially!). Not in control of itís movements, incontinent. Just drop it here and spill it there. No way of controlling itself or thinking about what itís doing.
Iím perfect of course.
Wednesday 6 July
Horizontal in tent at 9(21)05. A particular kind of getting there day, through raggedy farm land and urban-ness. Galston to Kilmarnock and down to the sea. Tired and pushing on mostly on roads, more or less following the course of the River Irvine.
Content to be doing that, and aiming for a spot on the coast between Troon and Irvine, looking on the map to be a wide sandy bay.
Wild enough hopefully to find a camping spot and that it is.
Iím down between low sand dunes among spiky grass and heather. The sound of sea and surf 300 meters to my west and the throbbing and groaning of some industrial process from factories the same distance inland to my east.
Great to be back in tent after a night in a dismal BnB in Galston. A hot bath and a good sleep though.
Current primary ailment is painful throbbing feet. That bruised tenderness in the soles persisting and bad especially after lying down and wears of but slowly in the mornings. Not so bad as to slow me down though and not really worrying.
A Slight Reprise of Haemorrhoidal irritations also. Ignore. Ha! Me I donít have Piles anymore.
So today a very different kind of day to the previous 4 out in the hills. Scottish hills for walking, just fab so far, but lowland Scotland not so. Few footpaths and those that are marked on the map are very often overgrown or fenced across. Broken old styles and dead ends. I guess itís; why walk around these parts when there are so many groovy mountains to tramp? Ancient rights of way, which is what most footpaths are I think, would just get lost and disappear if no one demands to use them. Not satisfying for the likes of bourgeois rambling me though.
Again in Style. Across the Southern Uplands, getting hold and making them mine, up and over and down. 4 days and nights out in the wilds and another fantastic surprise and discovery. Very into that wide open grassyness. Almost Dances With Wolves type country. Must return one day.
Hereís the route if you want it. (Hereís the route if you want it dear).
Not interesting I think if you donít have a map to look at. If you have and are so inclined, just so exciting!
Following the River Annan north and picking up the Southern Upland Way at Beatock Hill south west of Moffatt. Following this to camp the night near Rivox then over to Daer Reservoir and crossing the A702 at Overfingland. Getting off the path to dodge the weather and camp in the valley between Cold Moss and Crooked Bank. Up on to Lowther Hill to rejoin the path and on down through Wanlockhead and the Wanlock Water valley. Leaving the path to carry on north east to the B740 at Spango Bridge. From there due west over Lamb Knowe to camp near Spango Water east of Fingland. Winding path north west from there across to Muirkirk and from there good bush-whacking north west to the radio mast at Greenfield and the road out.
And I did stay up and listen to Pink Floyd down behind Lowther Hill. Till 11.24! Snuggled in my bag actually while the tent rattled in stormy wind and rain. All very moving and too excited and revved up to sleep after that so a tossy-turn night.
Part of this seaside camping experience has been to arrive and make camp while convoys of throbbing Chinook helicopters, escorted by smaller military looking helicopters, pass back and forth directly overhead perhaps the same beasts I met on the cliffs north of Newquay day 5 . They ferry it seems the leaders of the 8 great nations of the Earth and their entourages from Prestwick to the summit G8 at Gleneagles. Yes thatís the day Iím here; itís all going off up over there somewhere.
Actually an episode from Star Trek; the leaders of the planet assembled along a table to make decisions. Little Ball floating in space, Human Beans.
ďLong ago our leaders were unable to decide, unable to choose a course of action that would allow our world to sustain and nurture us. Those that survived the ensuing calamities were forced to burrow into the planet and have lived for millennia below ground, etcĒ
ďLong ago our leaders came together and together chose a path that enabled the whole human race and the planet to flourish. We now live in peace and co-operation on many planets across the Galaxy. War and suffering have not been known for millennia.Ē (ďUntil you Kirk came along with your EGO thingy sticking outĒ)
Friday 8 July
5.30am on a Hotel Balcony. Over looking Brodick Bay on the Isle of Arran.
Sun about 3 fingers out of the Scottish mainland hills, still below a bank of cloud that will take it quite soon. Sea dead calm with a few yachts at anchor, 1 sailing out early and a large ship with cranes and derricks and things (grain?), newly anchored a little way out over there.
Occasional ďChunkĒ of diving Terns and Gannets. Gannets circling slowly quite low and fold up and ďChunkĒ. Oystercatchers and the smell of breakfast on the go.
Arran and awake early with a head full of stuff. A strange day yesterday which I guess Iím still digesting.
A gentle start out of the sand dunes and north along the beach towards Irvine. 11 oíclock and overhearing people in the car park at the mouth of the River Gannock. Talking of things happening in London, bombs in the underground and of course no surprise, now would be the perfect time. Strange confluence of distance and proximity. London Iím so familiar with but way away now and my people down there and the Chinooks still ploughing back and forth above my head. Out here getting away and away and the turbulent world Iím still plugged right into it. Strange days have found us.
So Iím making a panicky phone call and finding my people are all Ok though dislocated. Hob stuck on a train in Oxford and Vivienne anxious and frightened by it all of course and trying to work out a way getting him home.
I listen a little to the radio news. Vivid pictures of events in places I can imagine clearly. I walk through drab edge of Irvine and round the Garnock Estuary through tattered country towards Saltcoats and Ardrossan. I tried to find a bed in Ardrossan but non to be found. A particularly run down and nowhere kind of town, remnants of some kind of a Victorian past but long gone. Just the way through to the Arran ferry and a new marina spot for moneyed folks with big yachts. No bed so I picked up parcel number 6 and jumped the first boat to the isles. Parcel system still running so smooth.
2 days ago spaced out in those grassy hills and now a very different thing; so it goes.
Iím glad Iím not in London but Iíve abandoned Vivienne and Hob to cope with it all.
Should I go home and see them? Responsibilities dumped.
A well meaning and very friendly local guy was my companion for the afternoon, keen to show me the way round to Ardrossan and share his walking stories. Kind but AAAH! Wanting to be on my own. Also Iím finding that I canít (donít want to), accept help. Iíve got this far, I donít need it plus usual macho not asking for directions thing. And walking and talking, requiring a change of gear, hard work.
Sitting here, sudden memories of a holiday in Norway when I was 14. Sea and rocks and fish, is this what this next stage is going to be?
Back into overwhelmed and anxious mode. Obsessing over (and even dreaming about): will I be able to replenish my supply of breakfast coffee sachets? For heavenís sake!
Can I handle the wild places? Am I strong enough? The unknown.
I have a day off and then at 7.00 I shall meet Mark off the ferry.
That is something special. Several enthusiastic friends said they would come and meet and walk with me, he the one who has made it happen. But also how will he find it and me too? An interloper into my private world. What are his expectations and do I have the energy to connect with him? Kind of self absorbed in these hills at present a little negative and I want to make sure he has a good time. Looking forward to sharing things and doing some exploring together, communicating my excitement. Probably bore him to tears with endless stories of that hill and this hill outrageous groovy camp site.
5.30 now and itís been a sunny clear and still day.Goat Fell emerging slowly and shining. Sitting on the beach all day, dozing, writing letters and resting my legs. Feeling heavy and exhausted. Rest days, I need them but theyíre not easy, restlessness and foreboding. As if Iíve stepped out of the I can do it moving along and strong zone into an anxious pre-occupied and doubtful zone. It was there when I stopped at Grassmere, same feeling.
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