I’ve been walking a fair bit of late, around 30 miles a week or so over 4 or 5 days; I keep asking myself why I’m doing it. I feel like I’m looking for something but I don’t know what. Answers maybe? But to what questions. I know that for me walking’s a time to notice things, like today as I was walking down a steep grassy hill in the finest mizzle. I was looking at my feet, transfixed as the water saturating the grass flung from my shoes in a silvery spray with each forward step. It seemed like something and nothing
I’m on one at the moment. As in right now, this very moment. I could talk shit for England. An hour ago I could have cut my arms in despairing loneliness and hopelessness. An hour before that I was on a massive high after a short trail run. Then it just hit me, a punch in the stomach to remind me and bring me down to the floor where I belong. I feel a painful absence, a strong sense of someone missing, like I’ve been cut loose but I don’t know why. I ask myself what I did, or do wrong and I can’t find the answer.
I can’t sleep, even though I know I should try. What’s the point, I’ll just lie here fidgeting, sighing, face wet with tears staring at the ceiling. Actually, fidgeting doesn’t really describe it. Throwing myself around in deep frustration is more like it. So here I am, thinking about crap and letting it flow through my fingertips. I’m trying to ‘censor’ myself, tidy up my thoughts by writing; but there’s a lot of shit in my head tonight that no-one wants to hear about – forgive me if I don’t make sense. I’m sure I don’t. I hardly know myself what I’m on about. I’ll change the subject.
I’m reading books about walking at the moment. Well they’re not really about walking in the usual sense, more like walking as a vehicle for something else. Long distance walking. They thread stories of who we are through the landscape, connect us with the past through geology and archaeology. With each step the walker seems to find a connection, a root growing from the past to the present. It’s interesting to see where that root comes up to the surface. Every one comes up somewhere different. I’m not just enjoying these books, I’m learning. I think that’s the interesting part. I know so little about the archaeological features that shape the landscape I feel like I’m missing out. I look at rock formations and I think about how I could use them as metaphor – but I don’t know anything about the geology that caused them. I look around me with the eyes of an artist, and not a landscape artist at that. My work has always been about relationships at the root: I look at the landscape as a way to understand relationships. Sounds weird, and like something that needs some unravelling. Or investigation. Or is one the same as the other?
I have a new project brewing, but I want to write something rather than make something visual. Well at the moment. And there, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. I want to write. And not crap like this.
The wind’s getting up. I feel a little calmer. Sleepy. Maybe I’ll fidget less if I try to sleep now. I’ve got to be awake again in 5 hours. I wonder what it would feel like to sleep with someone curled round me for 5 hours. I used to love that feeling of security, touch, warmth. I just listen to the wind now. Goodnight.
I think of my footsteps in yours sinking in the sands one becoming another
Imagining what it would be like for someone’s warm hands to cup my face. Smile as they look into my eyes. I can’t remember any more. I can’t remember what it’s like to be touched by love. Imagine that.
I can tell you what tears feel like though. And longing.
We’re on to a new map, but my map of the area is holed and creased with the ink thumbed away to nothing in places. It’s been just a few weeks since I was last here, a beach stomp at Godrevy before the storms. It didn’t have the purpose of this walk and the further west we get on this particular mission the more excited I become. I’ve lived here 30 years, it goes to say I’ve walked significant parts of the coastline in that time
Sea water and rain pool on the rocks like spilt milk, reflecting the white misty glaze that washes the sky. Miles of sand floats on beyond the horizon, the clear edge of the land invisible, caught under thick, tumbling clouds. We watch the sunlight break through in silence. It creates a shifting tracery across the sand reminding me of light falling through high stained-glass windows onto the stone floor of a mediaeval cathedral.
When it’s as long as a piece of string?! I’m finding the definition a bit blurry.
In the US ‘hike’ seems to be a more common term, whereas here in the UK we just seem to walk everywhere, although I think I recognise some finer distinctions, for example:
Rambling is what ‘old’ people do in largish organised groups. They have walking poles on level ground, binoculars around their necks, obligatory ‘stout walking boots’ and drab green coats, probably with a National Trust emblem on them somewhere. They are slow. And talk too much.
Hill walking (also called fell walking) is a much more vigorous form of walking in mountains, or close to mountainous terrain. You’re probably Scottish or Northern, whippet thin and hard as nails. It’s also possible you could be Welsh. Hill walkers walk for hours on end, in all weathers, and might even camp out. I imagine them as solitary figures, or in groups of no more than four.
Dog walking just involves taking the dog around the block because you’re fed up with his pleading eyes boring guilt into your soul; you don’t really like walking at all. And probably shouldn’t have a dog.
Strolling is a sort of aimless meander in the countryside at the pace of a snail: something your grandparents do as a couple.
Challenge Walking appears to be a new breed. You’re probably youngish and have joined an organised challenge to walk excessive distances in difficult terrain in a limited amount of time. You’ll be walking as part of a team, your team, one amongst hundreds. You’ll receive inspirational emails from a charity that you’ve agreed to raise rather a lot of money for. In the end you’ll probably think it was easier to make a donation to charity and forget the walking. Ah, but the challenge and camaraderie were amazing, so perhaps not. (I have participated in one of these, about 9 years ago).
Trekking We can’t go trekking in the UK. It is obligatory to go abroad to do it. You go to far flung places like India, Nepal or South America. And you walk for days, preferably weeks. You can trek with an organised group (a holiday or charity) but you get more kudos if you go off on your own and get lost for several months. It is something you aspire to do in your gap year, and regret if you don’t. You arrive back in the UK a changed person. (I have also participated in an organised one of these, about 10 years ago. I didn’t have a gap year).
Hiking? What exactly is this? Is it just very vigorous walking over longish distances, sometimes in harsh conditions or rough terrain? Or is it ‘real walking’ where you have to be able to use a compass? And a map. Or does hiking have to involve a large rucksack and a tent? Do you quantify a hike in terms of the miles clocked up or the hours on your feet, I mean you could walk for 10 miles in 3 hours on undulating terrain or 6 miles in 3 hours in very hilly terrain. I’m confused.
Where do you cut this piece of walking string and call it a hike?
I’m interested in this definition, all of a sudden, because I want to step some of my walks up a gear and be able to distinguish them from each other. For example, for some walks I want to up my speed and heart rate significantly. Apparently the average walking speed is 3mph, 1 mile in 20 minutes (impressive maths there!), my average walking speed on undulating terrain is about a mile in 17 minutes. Now I want to aim for a mile in 15 minutes. And sustain it for at least an hour to begin with. It feels like a pace of walking where to go any faster will be to break into a jog. This is a deliberate ploy on my part…because, basically, I just want to run! My theory is that if I can walk fast, when my achilles is healed (oh god, when, when, when?!) I should be able to start running at a jogging pace for a reasonable time/distance. Also, of course, the significantly increased heart rate and sweating will make me feel virtuous and get me properly fit!
But am I off on a hike when I go out to do this, or do I have to walk 10+ miles, with maybe some of it at an elevated rate, or do I have to be out all day on Bodmin Moor for a walk to be called a hike? I don’t know, what do you think? My feeling is that a hike probably has to be at least 10 miles or more, probably on hills or a windswept moor, because a ‘hike’ surely has to be more effort than a ‘walk’! But then again, walking ‘hard’ is probably not what the average person means when they say they’re going for a walk.
I’ve got nothing to say, but I need to scream or something. I hate this new medication I’m on and the sooner I get off it the better. My head feels thick and tangled, so many thoughts and not one of them clear. I feel as though I can barely string a sentence together. Everything is chaotic, I feel impulsive and I can’t sit still, but I can’t concentrate or focus. Nothing I do is constructive and there’s a trail of mess and good intentions behind me. I’m living surrounded by half finished things; half the washing up done, half the ceiling painted, half the clothes washed, half the shopping done because I’ve gone out, with a list, and still managed to forget half of it. How can you forget if you have a list? Well you have to remember to put it on the list in the first place and you have to remember to look at it as you’re going up and down the aisles. Three times I went out to get toilet paper and came back without it. I came back with things I couldn’t afford instead, like printer ink or walking trousers. I’ve spent a fortune getting myself out of endless scrapes. Even my chickens died because of it; I’m living in some sort of farce.
Six weeks it’s been like this and I can’t take it any more. Yes, my mood has lifted a bit and I’m more motivated, but the side effects seem to be outweighing the good at the moment. What’s the point in being motivated if everything you do goes wrong and you can’t concentrate on what you want to achieve, if you can even remember what that was. The only thing I seem to accomplish is exercise, but there’s no great plan, nothing I’m aiming for. All I want to do is run, and I can’t. Needless to say my mood is dropping off again, constantly frustrated, irritated and confused: if my mind were an engine it would be permanently mis-firing.
When I saw my cpn last week there was talk of increasing the dose again, but I think not. Move over Citalopram, your days are seriously numbered. At next week’s appointment you are gone. After all, it’s not as though I’m on the usual 6 month course; I’m going to be on this for years.
It’s pitch black. I’m struggling to see anything at the back of the car as I tussle my bike off the rack. There’s an eery quiet, nothing but the sound of the ocean. The waves sound big and much closer than I expected. I lock the car and wonder, vaguely, if it’ll still be there tomorrow when I come back to find it. I cycle off anxiously leaving it isolated and vulnerable, probably to vandalism rather than being washed away on another spring tide. There isn’t much at Godrevy, except the lighthouse
Walking Home, Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way
By Simon Armitage
The travel section of Waterstone’s bookshop in Truro isn’t particularly large; you can find just about every Michael Palin or Ranulph Fiennes tome ever written, but I was looking for more achievable inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to travel and explore, challenge myself by running or hiking in exotic places, but realistically it ain’t gonna happen: I’m broke (though I suspect I might be able to raise serious funds by persuading just a few people I know that it could be a good way to make me disappear for a long time). So I hovered around the ‘Great Britain’ section for a while, upstairs at the back, looking at glossy guides, but they’re not that inspiring really are they? All shine and no substance. I wanted to read about a journey, a challenge, something different or unusual, not which B&B has the best fried breakfast or instant coffee in your room.
I guess the ‘trouble’ with Britain is that it’s a relatively small place and somehow you feel like you know it too well just because you’ve heard a place name somewhere before. The South West Coast Path, The West Highland Way, The Coast to Coast (Hadrian’s Wall Path), The Pennine Way. . . all long distance trails that everyone knows about and everyone’s walked a bit of or been somewhere near – so what’s new to say about it? What has been said or written before doesn’t always seem that appealing when I’m browsing along the shelves anyway.
My index finger flickered over a quite revoltingly green coloured paperback for a few seconds: Walking Home, Travels with a Troubadour on The Pennine Way. Shall I shan’t I? Like a needle finding north, I did. I recognised the author’s name, Simon Armitage, or at least thought I recognised it, but I couldn’t think where from. Reading the back it transpires that it’s that Simon Armitage, the poet. Well, I thought, a poet should be able to write shouldn’t he, use language in a more interesting way than some of these bland you-call-that-travel-writing books I come across. I flicked through a few pages and decided I quite liked the sound of it. Then I noticed the sticker on the front: Buy One Get One Half Price. I scanned the shelves until my eyes rested on yet another green paper back: The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane. I liked the sound of that one too. It’s a deal, I thought, went to the cash desk, paid and buggered off back home.
Huh? What? I’m reading, tell me later. I spent the next two days or so holed up on the sofa or in bed, nose in book. The weather was crap so what else was there to do? Truth be told, it wouldn’t matter what the weather was like. I was so engrossed in Simon’s journey from north of the Scottish border to somewhere further down south in Yorkshire (still waaaay Up North to the likes of us down here in the far south west of the country) that the only weather I was interested in was the weather he was experiencing on the moors and in the Dales. (I’ve decided I shall call him Simon because he has one of those familiar looking faces, like someone you’ve known since school. Although, come to think of it, I didn’t actually know anyone called Simon at school.)
Now, Simon decides to go for a walk. A long walk as it happens, 250 miles. He’s a Yorkshireman and The Pennine Way, also known as the Backbone of England, happens to start in Yorkshire (see what I mean – we all live somewhere near a famous trail, no matter where we live). Being of a creative nature Simon decides he’s going to walk the path “the wrong way round”, meaning north to south rather than the customary south to north, which is meant to keep the bad weather (pretty much guaranteed) on your back rather than in your face. It is, after all, quite ‘poetic’ to be walking home. The journey will take 16 days and he plans to pay his way like a troubadour by giving poetry readings along the way in return for a donation (preferably of the monetary variety, although it transpires that he receives a significant number of plasters too). The readings are arranged in advance in private homes, pubs and hostels, from the grand-ish to the humble. He’s not camping out and roughing it, but is, perhaps more challengingly, giving himself over to the kindness of strangers – anyone who’ll give him a bed for the night, mostly, it seems, people that have hosted the poetry readings. As well as his day-sack he has a fully laden suitcase, that gets heavier and heavier by the day as it fills with coins and books, which he sends off on a lonely journey between accommodations each day, again at the mercy of strangers (and, surprisingly, no-one runs off with the loot).
I love the quirkiness of the challenge, the doggedness and naivety that seems to get him from a-b: why just go for a challenging hike when you can complicate it even more? Random strangers join him along the way, which would constitute the major part of the challenge for me, whereas Simon seems to delight in their company and eccentricities. But you also sense his relief when he’s in the expert company of some of the park rangers across areas of very difficult terrain. He describes rising panic when he’s alone and lost in the fog, the monotony of crossing a nondescript forest in atrocious weather, the geological features of the landscape…and as the journey and the book go on it gets funnier and funnier, as though he’s becoming more and more delirious as the days wear on.
I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to know what happened to him and couldn’t rest until I did. His descriptions of the landscape are memorable, beautiful; he roots you in the history and geology of the land; and he makes you laugh, quite a lot. Mostly though, he inspires me to want to take on an endurance challenge. And write. I definitely want to write.
Last kestrel night’s sketches, in no particular order (although the bottom one is probably my favourite at the moment!). They’re all done in an A4 sketchbook, the top one’s in acrylic ink (mostly) and the others in drawn with a pastel pencil. Not sure what I’m going to with it next, but for the moment the skull’s in the freezer in a bid off to kill off the maggots that were beginning to evolve!