Planned: The Boudicca Walk in Epping Forest, London/Essex
Date & Distance: Saturday, 22.07.2017; 17.3K
The thing is that sometimes you get a completely another walk than you were planning for. You might read about a route with interesting historical connections (such as Queen Boudicca fighting the Romans), you might download a new and an interesting app, but when you can’t find the beginning of the trail for three times in a row, and then lose the first half of the trail another three times, it is time to accept the fact that it is not going to be one of those walks. Even when your friend has the patience to help you out with your lousy city map reading skills.
This is how we ended up following random arrows and feeling – at least on my part – completely back in childhood again. This is one of the things I don’t like about these last decades – it feels like too many things have deadlines, or are recordable and trackable, dulling our sense for innate wanderlust.
Happy to lose the trail
Thanks to the moody weather and the trail that had no descriptions online, we actually ended up having a lovely walk through the part of the Epping Forest I had not fully explored yet. For example, a part that looked like a scene from The Predator.
We found a swing that swung you above the forest river and an effingly rich mirabelle tree which we properly foraged thanks to L’s backpack throwing skills. We saw a forest grove that looked like it belonged to a time without humans. And we found a pub with nice food and a coffee place with even nicer coffee. Who we did not find was Harris, the hawk, who had gone missing somewhere in the area (there were posters).
I remember the next evening as well. There was a smell of freedom in the air. I went to a park close to my home just to smell it. The smell of “I have no responsibilities”. Sometimes, but only sometimes, it smells so so sweet. Even when you’ve just ran out, thinking how really, trully summers really are the most melancholy seasons.
But my home park was kind to me. I discovered/created a new game you can play totally alone. It helps when there are no kissing teenagers around, thinking god knows what of you.
If you near anywhere swampy, you can start mapping out the zones of differently cool air that lingers around the area. I have experienced this twice, when growing up and now (still growing up) – the walls of cold air guiding you into invisible labyrinths. Now, how to build new type of walking experiences around invisible air walls… That’s a task for some other season.
What: Sevenoaks – Knole Estate – Ightham Mote – and back again
Who: E, E, N, R, K, R.
I understood something a couple of days ago, on last Saturday when we set our course towards the Medieval-Tudor-Victorian Ightham Mote in Kent. I understood that many forests in Europe smell the same.
I also understood that summers are the most melancholy yet the most carefree seasons, and that for the second summer in a row I am not going kayaking or mountain biking as I had mused about. That’s the trouble with musings, however, they never get me anywhere. This makes them different from actual dreams/plans, of course, but it also works a nifty little beacon to any underlying dreams that might go untouched. It is good to know the undercurrents, I think.
Kentish meadow curves.
Gentle, yet promising
Luckily, last Saturday also brought many lighter realisations. My leg has become stronger. Slowly I’m starting to feel like I can move again. And it is a good, satisfying, smile inducing feeling. Fair enough, running up little hills with R after a double pint of Hells Bells might have helped to get to obtain that positive outlook. But it was not only that.
There was a sweeter realisation at the top of those hills: nothing beats walking into the golden hour with your lover and your friends. (Technically, yes, fine, there are some things that beat this, but that is for the other blog.)
And also, most surprisingly – I understood that although I do not know what will be the next place or the next country where I shall be living in, I shall definitely miss English countryside when there. I shall miss it differently from the Welsh and the Scottish one which fall into a category totally of their own making! But the English countryside. The one that feels small and gentle, yet promising. The one that lacks the feel of the wilderness but that greets you as a friend. The one that can get so ridiculously pretty so fast that it feels like you should stop laughing at the way the sun is breaking through to the undergrowth.
See, the thing is, nature is beautiful everywhere. Yet there’s something about the English countryside that can’t be experienced anywhere else. It keeps a fine balance of alluring you in and then looking the other way for showing you its posh butt cheeks. And yet, you feel welcome. Somehow, it does feel like anold friend you meet again, again, and again.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I spent the three very last days of April in North Yorkshire, in the land of wild garlic, frolicking ewes and magnificently shaped rocks.
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.
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.
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.
The second walk from our series was framed by field edges. (This is not even a pun. Framed by edges… Ah, never mind.) When our first walk was formed by bench and forking path descriptions, then this one was definitely all about following the fields. Which is not bad, you know. I can definitely think of a worst thing than walking next to a field on a cool yet sunny day!
Section 17 took a bit of time, although it was not very long and did not feel very long either. Once again, we chose the sunniest day of the week and hit the road. Arriving at Cockfosters was strange. Strange in a way reaching a final destination on yet another tube line is. It did not take long for the car parks to end and greener parks to start. Also, it still had not rained in London by that time. It was getting close to 5 weeks.
There was a lot of green happening that day. A lot. Spring is getting properly ready to turn into summer soon. With the blue skies in the background, it was a lot like walking around in alternative versions to Windows’ desktop wallpapers. K. also knows that you can use a word meaning “greener than green” in Turkish in occasions just like this.
It was a walking day which did not enwrap me (or possibly us three?) in anything impossibly magical, but gave us many small surprises that were sweet in their own everyday way:
little fresh oak leaves
ivy-smothered forest signs in Enfield
cherry blossoms on the grass (up to this point I had only seen them on pavement)
the Railway Inn of Enfield that plays opera and smells of old cigarettes
two women nailing “Missing: Rooney” posters on trees (Rooney was a parakeet, there was also a photo)
the sweetest sign post, saying “New river. (Old course.)”
This one got me thinking. Life, literature and philosophy are brimming with the idea of the opposite: old river, new course. You know, the idea that you can always turn a new page however tired or alienated you have become. There’s also the idea of the opposite of this opposite – old course, new river – meaning that some things get discovered over and over again throughout our lives, in different situations. But new river, old course, exactly in this order, contains something devastatingly romantic, if not even unforgiving. It seems to either hint (in the unforgiving version) that life has certain patterns or ways of influencing us which no one can escape, no matter which century we’re living in – or – that were there has once been life, there will be life again (the romantic version). What I don’t like about this sign, however, is how it seems to rob the one who is living (the new river) from any other options. In a way, it almost makes it not trust itself, without even giving it an option.
And this is also the reason why I finally need to take a month off work for the first time in my life. Because I am so tired that I get offended by forest signs.
So. I visited Norfolk for the first time this February. Norfolk has a skull-shaped coastline but I did not discover it all on my feet. We wandered around Hunstanton and the Holme Sande Dunes instead. And the biggest thing that happened to me in February is straightly related to that visit.
Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve, Norfolk.
When the tide is out in Norfolk.
Into the great beige open.
Namely, I came up with a new theory about human nature which answers the most spike-y and acute questions I’ve had about what makes us all so different. (Well, technically, what makes us all the same, but using different means to reach that sameness.)(Uhuh.)
Imagine you get an unplanned job project that suddenly leaves you with you a nice amount of extra money. What’s your first reaction?
I, being a slow thinker, spent the most of 2015 and 2016 pondering over the following question: is it possible that not all of us feel the same thing in that situation?
Hunstanton Cliffs. February 2017.
The same cliffs, indeed. February 2017.
The answer: it is not only possible, but it also is the actual case. The actual life. With a perfect shock I discovered that not everyone is thinking about new routes, roads, mountains and destinations all the time. And that explains it. The difference of us all.
Yes, I have a job that’s my love and my hobby, and which I would also do it for free (for any clients reading this, only kidding). Yes, I’m reaching an end of a long academic road this year which just might leave me with a PhD degree. And yes, there is life, and a house renovation that is nearing its finish this year as well. But surely, SURELY, all one really thinks about is what unknown roads there are, just hours from their doorstep?!
Towards Hunstanton Cliffs. Norfolk, England, February 2017.
Definitely quite bleak.
Did not get bleakless.
New theory for human nature
Based on long hours of interviewing my friends, and on accounts heard from others, I am now convinced that humans fall into two large (and obviously not always straightforward) categories:
– people who get properly grounded, energised and refocused by visiting places they know well or where they have been before (visiting the same fells feels like visiting an old friend, a friend once said);
– people who get their soul back and reach their metaphorical home by going to places that are completely new.
In Norfolk, you shall find fossils, they said.
How the theory really explains it all?
Here’s why and where it can be applied. It shreds light on:
why some people are not upset when an idea of a trip gets forgotten because no one really takes the lead in organising it;
why people have savings accounts that are actually savings accounts, and not cover-names for Travel Accounts;
why some people follow maps in new cities and others could not think of anything worse;
how certain work and living choices get made;
why it is not the most shared dream of all people throughout all times –> to sit around a map or a globe, dreaming of places you can’t yet pronounce;
why some of us have a need to return to certain places that give us back the sense of self (a ritual of sorts, technically);
why some people always choose the new dish from the menu or never cook the same dish twice, and why some do.
Entering the rounded rock area.
Hunstanton Cliffs and Rainer.
Icelandic moon landscape of Norfolk.
Looks like a troll cemetery.
A ritual for relocating the self
Usually, humans need rituals to create a new space either physically or mentally. This is why we choose the same roads to walk on when feeling on the edge, and why we re-read the same books or visit theat same holiday spot. This is partially why meditation works, and why regular workouts keep us sane (apart from the funky hormones, of course). It is curiosity that’s been given a form. But there’s another way to handle curiosity.
Gaining security and strength from the new
The other way is the following: you are one of those people who feel most secure and yourself-like in places where you have never been. This makes a rucksack full of sense. In a new place, your idea of the self has no familiar triggers to bring on the feel of a certain image, so you can feel borderless and – in the lack of a better description – the most authentic version of yourself.
You probably belong to this category, if:
you’re willing to sit on a bus for 7 hours just to see a new place for one evening;
you feel like sleeping in the palm of your favourite god when sleeping in a new place (a bunkbed, an airport, a hotel, someone’s sofa, etc.);
you prefer hiking new trails to returning to a set of sweetly favourite ones:
your mind rests like crazy when having boarded a local bus or a train in a country you have never been in;
the unfamiliar makes you love and respect life and strangers more;
an amount of fear in the day renders the peace of your evening more serene;
it’s bliss to sit on trains for 12 hours withour internet or books;
you need the knowledge that you’ll never run out of streets to walk on. You need it for your daily sanity;
horizonless cities make you feel home;
mountaineous terrains make you feel home (ok, now I’m just talking about me, but mountains are some of the last areas of true wilderness left);
not having your things around you makes you feel creative again.
And this is why bleakness is good for the soul.
IDEAS, ITINERARIES & TIPS FOR WALKING IN & OUT OF LONDON, IN SCOTLAND, IN EUROPE AND THE WORLD. ALSO A COLLECTION OF MEMORIES.