Posts Tagged ‘walking’

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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Tristan Gooley: The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs

January 1, 2016

51Yjd+BScbL._AA160_There is an awful lot of information in this book, which appeals to the Sherlock Holmes in me: the idea that, by being attentive whilst out and about, it’s possible to pick up all sorts of useful and interesting information about the world around.

I do a lot of walking generally, as well as taking a couple of walking holidays each year, these last on my own, which gives me the opportunity to try and be observant. I suppose I would say that I do pay attention while I’m walking, but not in any structured or organised way, and I hoped that this book might give me some ideas as to how I could develop some of these skills.

The book is well-structured, taking one logically through how to observe terrain, weather, trees and plants, wildlife and so on, with plenty of examples. It was an interesting read cover-to-cover, and yet, my overall impression at the end was one of confusion, or rather, information overload, and I realised that I would need to have a second, more careful read of certain sections that I feel I might be able to use, and perhaps to annotate and highlight some key points, before trying to put anything into practice.

It’s clear the author is very knowledgeable, and has travelled, explored and found his way about, using the data around him, in many different parts of the world; equally, he manages to explain his techniques pretty clearly and logically, but what seems to escape him, I feel, is how much this knowledge is ingrained in him – second nature, really, and how hard the rest of us neophytes may struggle to use any of it in a structured way.

However, I cannot see how else the information might have been presented, and I’m not sure I would want to be carrying a book around with me to refer to as I walk: I need to have a map, and I already find that sufficient distraction… but I will persevere.

Bernard Ollivier: Sur le chemin des Ducs

May 9, 2015

downloadI became a fan of Bernard Ollivier through reading his epic account of walking the entire Silk Route, from Turkey to China, which took him three years and which he completed in several slices. He’s an interesting man, who has also set up an organisation in his native France which aims to help young offenders rethink their lives and get back on the straight and narrow through long-distance walking, and this has had some success.

In this book he’s in his home territory of Normandy completing the pilgrim’s walk from Rouen to Mont St Michel – not a long trek compared with his previous ones. I was also attracted to this book because of my own love of Normandy, where many aeons ago, it seems, for a year I was an assistant at a secondary school. I came to enjoy the food and the landscape.

Ollivier is more relaxed as he walks, in familiar territory, including passing through the town where he grew up. He describes well the beauty of the Normandy landscape and his love of solitude, nature and contemplation comes strongly through his writing. There’s also rather more humour than I recall from his previous books. The episode where he recounts the installation of a new weathercock on a village church is interesting: tradition demands that he takes it to each house in the village to show it, and he is treated to coffee and a shot at each house. He is totally plastered when begins to climb the spire and totally sober on his descent!

Olliver notices the gradual rural depopulation as the flight to the cities continues, and the continuing gentrification of the desirable areas of the region. He clearly loves walking, deploring our increasingly sedentary world where few make the effort to get out on their feet and encounter the natural world and engage with it. A voice crying in the wilderness, maybe, but it’s a great pleasure to accompany him on his travels.

Robert Macfarlane: The Old Ways

February 18, 2015

51lcCRMsz6L._AA160_Ultimately, I found this book frustrating. Macfarlane walks a great deal, loves walking, for the sake of it and for the feel and exhilaration of it. He write about some of his favourite walks, the people he meets on his way and perhaps shares some of the way with, and the people he stays with.

Some of the walks are fascinating – Ramallah in Palestine, and the difficulties encountered in following footpaths there, tracks in the Himalayas, the trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the South Downs. England and Scotland seem to be his real ones. The detailed exploration of the haunts of the poet Edward Thomas and the story of his troubled life, and death in the First World War are very moving. Some of the walks were, quite frankly, tedious, especially some of the ones in Scotland, and the digression to sailing across wild waters off the Scottish coast left me cold.

I longed for some maps to help me relate more closely to the journeys, but there were none. The books called out for images to accompany his wonderful writing, so descriptive and atmospheric. Macfarlane is inspirational, urging us to our feel to get out and tramp through hill and dale, here and abroad; I’m certainly looking forward to my walking trip to the Ardennes even more than I was before. There is a spirituality to his idea of walking, a retreat from the world in one way, and yet a sharpening of the senses and a closer engagement with it in another…

The book did remind me quite a lot of the late W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, through Sebald is more philosophical, more engaging, and pursues a rather more coherent thread, whereas Macfarlane’s approach was often rather too disparate, too diffuse for me.

Ollivier: La vie commence à 60 ans

May 5, 2013

51+U8MrxdVL._AA160_I’ve written about Bernard Ollivier’s epic walk along the Silk Route in earlier posts; this is more personal and biographical, and explains more of his thinking about life. I decided to read it as I approach the ‘six-0’ in a short while, and I found it quite inspirational.

One of his major ideas is that walking solves everything, and I agree with him: he discovered this by walking from Paris to Santiago di Compostella in Spain, and I read his book while on a walking holiday in the hills of Luxembourg. He explains how he came up with the idea of walking the Silk Route, how he planned it and the reactions of family and friends to the exploit. There is honesty in the way he approaches ageing and its inevitable effects, and coming to terms with these; plenty of material for thinking about here. Above all, it’s an attitude of mind which I’d hope to emulate. One can’t escape growing older and gradually weaker, but one doesn’t have to be oppressed by it; being retired brings opportunities and freedoms along with it.

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