Tag Archives: countryside walking

What does it really mean – to go walking with friends?

On the gorgeous Saturday of June 10th, I set out to walk the Chess Valley Way with three of my friends (N, E & L). It turned out to be one of the best days in months.

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However, it was not the gorgeousness of the Chilterns AONB nor the perfect walking weather nor even the shallow chalk rivers that allowed us to playfully wade through them that made that day into an acutely special one. After all, technically speaking, the entire last month has not been lacking in the special – I finally obtained my PhD (yup, I’m Doctor Marion now :)) and signed my first book contract (oooh yeaaah!). But none of those specific moments can now be compared with June 10th. Why?

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For starters, had I walked the Chess Valley Way alone, it would have still been a gorgeous day out. Also, had I taken the same friends into a pub – we would have most definitely had a good day out as well. But I would not be writing about this at the moment. So now I’ve been wondering for nearly three weeks… What renders walking with friends so special that it makes your heart sing with joy even 1.5 fortnights later?

 

Where does the walking joy come from?

There is enough research out there (without me having to repeat it) about the benefits of walking in nature. It lifts your mood, boosts creativity – and hence, helps to think outside any box and see new connections -, pimps your immune system, and generally makes you into a better person (fine, fine, meta tests are yet to prove this last one, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark). But this is not all.

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People who undertake longer treks and walks seldom do it out of politeness. This means that all the people you meet during your walks are enjoying what they’re doing. Fully. I think this feel gets mirrored back into your micromuscles and neural networks. Also, lots of people come with dogs – so, even better. You can pet the dogs together with your friends. But even this does not fully explain the essence of that special joy to me. So, to properly figure it out for myself, I’m turning to my oldest friends: lists.

What does it really mean to go walking with friends?

  • It is a perfect combination of alone and together. Walking with friends allows you to fall silent for long periods of time with the knowledge of the bubbling word being right there, at your fingertips. It is the feeling of doing your own things in your room while overhearing all your friends having a party in the kitchen. My semi-silent version of a secret heaven.
  • It is old topics. It is new topics. The change of scenery acts as a catalyst for new ideas and for new connections. Suddenly, you are asking questions about your friend’s thoughts and feelings on topics you had not even worded to yourself yet. This is the time that showers you with ideas for new stories, games, services – you name it!
  • You let new people into your life. Better than a dinner at home or a pub visit – walks with good acquintances have a good chance of turning them into friends later.
  • The shared process of witnessing the new. This experience is richer than a bag of gulab jamuns dipped into clotted cream! This how life itself should unravel, being on the road with the people you love, not fully caring about reaching the destination or getting lost.
  • It pushes you into the present.
  • It feels like a micoradventure.
  • And you see your friends being happy.

 

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The peacock cries of North Yorkshire

I spent the three very last days of April in North Yorkshire, in the land of wild garlic, frolicking ewes and magnificently shaped rocks.

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Brimham Rocks of North Yorkshire.

Little brooks, arched bridges, slate roofs, trees that are still barely accepting the arrival of spring, private fancy bidges and light hearts – these are the keywords from one of the best weekends of the year. So far.

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My heart feels light in Yorkshire. Not because you can go trekking with llamas there and imagine yourself to be standing high on the Andes platoo. Not because it offers you the best little pies in the country, and shop keepers who literally say “Welcome to Yorkshire” in your face. 🙂 It’s actually not all romance and glory. On our circular walk from Pateley Bridge (via Brimham Rocks) we also saw large flags with the word “Brexit” written all over them. Fair enough, the flags were also half-burnt but… Even that could not take the lightness away. I do not know how to be a political person, really. And probably never will.

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North Yorkshire’s lightness seems to come from the wide open spaces, from the tiny brooks leading you to bigger rivers and bigger bridges. Yet, there’s no unnecessary quaintness (like sometimes in the Lake District, for me, sorry!). Spring always arrives much later in here. In fact, it’s almost like you get two springs in one year, just by travelling between Yorkshire and London.

The source of the lightness seems to be a mix of natural beauty (the land is never too flat), a certain sense of time (nothing is too compressed or too eternal or long) and from forgetting to complain. Completely. (A habit I picked up during last 6 months and am now dancing a slow departure walz with.)(Can’t wait for the music to end!)

And then there’s a sense of magic. Somehow, behind every corner, there’s a surprising view you just did not think or imagine to meet you. Everything is clean. So clean that is has an immediate effect on your mind. Something would almost suggest the presence of a monastery, of sorts, but all you can see are country lanes and daffodils. Maybe this it, though? Might as well be. The real reason why the heart becomes so light in here? Parts of North Yorkshire feel like a vast, outdoors monastery where walking is proof of your silent yet lively dedication. To life.

And it sure helps to hear the cry of a close-by yet unseen peacock just when you are crouching down to pick some of that long-awaited-for wild garlic. In your undefined and unnamed temple gardens.

More lessons from the Lea Valley Way, April style.

 

So, what will actually happen when I finish the Lea Valley Way? Will there be a tiny deluge or will the river itself disappear? (No, no one is suffering from illusions of grandeur in here, no one.)

Lea Valley Way is the 50-mile long-distance walking route following the River Lea from its birth spring in the suburbs of Luton to the Thames near Limehouse.

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It can be pleasantly walked in 4 days or so the Internet says. When I was planning to walk it in one go last summer, there was only one proper description of all stages available online.

I’ve walked the Lea Valle Way:

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 36 km; read about that stupidly lucky walk here

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 4 / 26.09.2016/ 7.9k km

– And on 16.04. 2016, S-L, G and I set out to do the Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 (25.9 km)

Stage 2 of the walk stretches from Hatfield to Broxbourne. By all accounts it should be pleasantly doable in one day, during the warmest sunlight hours. “I can’t believe I’m finally finishing it today!” I told my lover, my friends and my housemates when leaving for that last stretch that Saturday morning.

The first half of the walk was cloudy, but after leaving Hatfield behind and lunching in Hertford, the skies lit up and our step got faster. (Sadly, G actually had to go home, since his foot had managed to seriously convince him it was too exhausting to move.) I also witnessed my goldenest golden hour during this stage of the walk. Everything was going brilliantly.

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Lea Valley Walk, from Hatfield to Broxbourne. Hertfordshire, England, April 2016.

We continued on, following the lovely water. The darkness had long-ago fallen when S-L and I reached Dobb’s Weir – a location separated from the Broxbourne train station by a few kilometers. Finishing the Lea Valley Way was going to happen tonight. Suddenly, all the tiredness was gone from my legs as we started to cross the canal (the river has been directed into a canal around those parts already), I could clearly imagine reaching the station within the next half an hour and… and… and… The road was closed. Blocked (even cordoned off, maybe?; can disappointment also create false memories?) off by a large road works sign. Somewhere not far off in the darkness we saw the orange working lights of the industrial vehicle. But. Not all was lost yet!

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I dashed off to talk to a security man. And yes, all types of roads were closed. However, he directed us to a path in the forest which would take us straight to Broxbourne train station. So we entered the dark forest-like area with the help from the flashlights on our dying phones. We walked to the railway (“When you’ve reached the railway, you’ve gone too far,” the man had also said). Upon then retracing our steps we found the path. Also to be blocked off.

And we decided to call an end to our day.

I asked for local cab numbers but the security van gave us a lift to the train station. (Reminder to self! Always carry chocolate around to give to nice people!)

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*

I still have roughly 3 km to finish, which I will do at some point this year. How else can I ever say that I’ve followed an entire river, right?

Lessons learned:

1) Never underestimate a journey;

2) If destination becomes a goal the journey will lose a bit of its magic;

3) Passing a race track in the dark makes you feel like a character in a James Bond movie;

4) Trips can be undertaken that take you to a beginning of a journey which itself is actually shorter than the trip to get there. (Which part of the journey is the real journey? she asks in an ominous voice.)

My dear and much-esteemed last kilometers of the Lea Valley Way,  I’m coming to find you in 2016.

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So that I wouldn’t forget January

I did get out of town during the first month of this year, I swear! And I did leave the  city in February as well. But two months without a real wander is as long as I can humanly stretch it. If not for any other reason, then to stop myself from staying up until morning to search for all the possible tracks and paths on this island. (And off it.) You know, those if onlys, if onlys

I do prefer to keep my books and magazines more or less intact and *not* to crumple their pages up every time I see a photo of place that looks just too… mmmmmppffff. Origamis of desperation, those.

But I have such good news! March marks the change! And updates on this blog start appearing more regularly again, which is only a good thing!

Until then, here’s proof of the only bit of snow I managed to see in January. Spotted in the Epping Forest District, Essex.IMG_20160117_162658

Ashdown Forest: the bats, owls and mists of Samhain

On the last day of October, a small group of us set out from London Victoria on a train to East Grinstead. From there, we a took a bus to get closer to a certain forest. I did not carry a camera this time, so all the pictures posted today are in courtesy of Mr Rainer S.

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Ashdown Forest is located in East Sussex, on the the highest sandy ridge-top of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. When not knowing where to go, you can spend a bit of time wandering in rather civilized areas before fully reaching it.

At the start of our walk, we sauntered along an old railway track for a while (oh, how it really, really reminded me of the Ayot Greenway trail between Wheathamstead and Ayot St. Peter! –> my unplanned detour that shaped the real outcome of my Lea Valley Walk’s first day this summer: the road where I started limping and the reason I got stuck on a field of beans (the full story is here). After the old railway and some nibbles on the roadside, we decided to go and find the Poohsticks Bridge (a famous bridge from a famous children’s book) and wave the houses good-bye.

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Having easily found the bridge after a bit of walking next to fields and across them, we crossed it together with some horses (or donkeys in disguise?) and finally found ourselves in the beginning of the forest.

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There were leaves, everywhere. There should be special word for the way leaves smell on the autumn forest floor before the the first night colds. Hopefully, at least one of the languages has it. On the small paths, on the soon-to-be naked trees, in the creeks that had to be crossed and between the mythic looking ferns – the leaves where everywhere, bringing with them the feeling of carelessness known to people before they reach the age of 20.

Ashdown Forest needs time. In order to fully roam around there, a day is probably not enough. At least not in the season when the light starts fading rather early. But in our case, the day almost was enough. It left all of us with that bitter-sweet taste of wanting more, just an hour, two or tree more or time, yet not making us feel as if we had not had any time at all.

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We wandered deeper into the forest when noticing that the sunset was a mere two hours away. The plan was to go as deep as possible and then find our way back to civilization again.

This was the happiest I had been that entire week. Thinking about it now, October was a deeply happy month on all levels. (See, how I just avoided at least a one worthy mountain pun!) October was also a month that started and ended with a walk. As every month should, I say.

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Walking in Ashdown was calming and exciting at the same time. A small practice in zen, a small exercise of looking at the leaf patterns. The ferns rustled although there was almost now wind. When we got deeper into the forest we met no other people.

After the clear and sunny day, the darkness started to gather fast. The bats came out and the owls started hooting.

Only when the tongues of mist started crossing our road did we understand that all the sheep we had seen during the day had been black.

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More owls started to hoot.

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And more trees appeared that looked like they had been brought here from the 19th century. (Probably that’s the last time they did have leaves, when I think of it.) The darkness fully took over when we had walked through the mists and encountered our last flock of black beasts. This was pitch dark countryside darkness, the proper kind where you forget that cities exist. And in the middle of it, someone found a pub with a living fire. I can’t remember who but I’m very grateful to him or her. I would have taken that window for someone’s living room.

But things shouldn’t be too easy. And because life doesn’t want you to miss out on all the possible courses for one day, we had to leave that beautiful coziness quite soon and step into the deep darkness to make our way to the bus stop.

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No street lights, no house lights, no moon light. Just the stars, the occasional passing cars and the hope that the bus would come, not miss us or not run as over.

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More owls hooted. The old church spire was still there, probably looking as pastorally perfect as it had done in the fading light. More owls. More darkness. The most simple Samhain evening one could wish for.

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