My travels: W for Walking

June 7, 2017

I’ve never been one for sport or strenuous exercise: I could have won prizes for skiving at school. And I’ve always firmly believed that the only time it’s necessary to run is to catch a train one might be in danger of missing otherwise… But I’ve always loved walking, from exploring footpaths around my Stamford home in my childhood, to walking and tramping around rural Nottinghamshire when at boarding school – as long as a couple of friends and I took exercise, we were pretty much excused team games, which was marvellous. And we fairly ate up the miles.

Later, as a student, I did some walking in the Lake District with friends who were keen fell-walkers, but I’ve never been wild about that part of the country, and have recently realised that it’s because to me – sorry! – it’s rather grey and bare: I prefer walking in woods and forests where suddenly and unexpectedly an amazing view can reveal itself as I turn a corner, or briefly come out into the open… and I loved the footpaths around the River Lune when I lived in Halton, near Lancaster.

I walked the footpaths in the parks of Leeds and later around Ripon when my daughters were small, and I think I’ve helped pass on a love of walking.

Now that I’m retired, I can do a lot more, and lead my feet farther afield, as it were. I have come to enjoy walking on my own, spending time with my thoughts, reflecting and meditating, and looking carefully at my surroundings, pausing to take time over my photography when I see something worth capturing; all of these are things much harder to do when you are in company. I sometimes think I’m a bit anti-social, but I set out with good intentions of joining local walking groups when I retired and, six years later, have still to do so. I’m a fair weather walker, too – can’t be doing with wind and rain, so mostly it’s spring to autumn, and despite living in Yorkshire, I’ve yet to do much exploring of the Dales or the Wolds.

My favourite walking territory at the moment is the Ardennes, in Luxembourg. There’s an astonishing variety of terrain and landscape in a very small area. There are walks along the border with Germany where you often don’t know what country you are in, and there’s a broad swathe of land along the border with Belgium that is being allowed to return to the wild, and it can be quite spooky in the middle of it all, carefully following a map and a trail and wondering where the next way-marker will be, or whether I’m lost. It feels like being lost in a jungle, especially as it’s quite rare to meet another walker, and yet you can be only a couple of miles from a village.

I’ve walked quite a bit in the Somme region of France, exploring the battlefield sites of the Great War: there are some good walking guides, and everywhere now looks so peaceful, beautiful in places, especially along the river marshlands, that it’s almost impossible to believe the carnage that happened here a century ago. That is, until you come across a small pile of rusting shells at the side of a road or path, waiting for the French equivalent of the bomb disposal squad to pick them up and take them away. They’re not in a hurry – there is 700 years’ (yes!) worth of such work to do in some areas. But you do get a clear picture in your mind, as you walk along sunken paths, or look at the gently undulating and open landscape, of the utter insanity of climbing out of a trench and walking slowly towards enemy lines under machine-gun fire: those poor men never had the slightest chance.

Last year I did some wonderful walking the the Aude departement, in Cathar territory: it was incredibly hot, even in September, but the landscapes were beautiful, even in their dryness; they smelt different, the plants and bushes and trees were different. And assuming I remain fit and healthy enough, I have plans to go walking in the Eifel region of Germany, and also in Switzerland.

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3 Responses to “My travels: W for Walking”

  1. kirstwrites Says:

    This is only a very tenuous link to your post, but speaking of WW1 battlefields, I wonder if I could pick your brains. Am doing a spot of research on Wilfred Owen – could you recommend any sound critical commentaries of his poems? All the ones I’ve found through google I’ve disagreed with their interpretations – I thought you might know which critics are generally considered he experts?

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  2. litgaz Says:

    I’m away from my resources and library till the weekend, but will get back to you on this. If there are any specific poems you want information about, do let me know.

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  3. litgaz Says:

    OK so I’ve had a look through what I have on Owen; there’s not a lot, I’m afraid. There’s a good introduction in the edition of his poems I’ve always used, which is the original one: The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited and with introduction & notes by C Day Lewis (he was Poet Laureate in the 1960/70s) and with a memoir by Edmund Blunden (another FWW writer). I think it’s still available.

    Writers who are good on Owen include Jon Stallworthy and Dominic Hibberd, who wrote the definitive biography of Owen, which I have still to read. I had (until I donated it to the Amnesty booksale last month) a monograph in the Writers and their Work series on Owen, which was by one of those two authors, and was very good.

    When I was preparing to teach Owen for the first time I also cannibalised such things as York Notes (!) and the intro to Nine Modern Poets for useful bits. I discovered among my stuff a copy of an essay given out by an exam board as a sample many years ago, which was awarded full marks, for a comparison between S.I.W. and Strange Meeting.

    I hope some of that is helpful, and if any more detailed notes I may have would be of use, please ask in case I have something! Good luck with the research.

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