After having lived in London all these years, I finally took my first trip on a towboat last weekend. There is another world out there with canal dogs and boat shows. It is wonderful. And I could never do that for more than a couple of weeks. 🙂
The last weekend of August was one of those super warm ones. Hottest in a decade or in a hundred years or since the temperature recordings began in the UK. And that’s when I spent my 3 days in Cornwall.
It was a strange weekend. The land itself was ripped out of time and space. The rocky ground was very different from the luscious Newquay region I had visitied some years ago. The turquise of the ocean was a surprise to me once again. The vertigo-inducing holes in the coastal cliffs were magnificent and scary. Here was summer that lasted when the rest of the world was going to hell.
There was a Guinness World Records book attempt for most pirates in one area. There was a white caravan from the 1970s where the bed was surprsingly soft. There were cows on the hills, and cows standing against the flaming evening horizon, their black silhouettes giving them the feel of artistic cardboard cut-outs.
I saw a friend whom I had not seen in two years. The cancer she has is so rare that nothing can be done to hinder its growth. But there are some things that matter. The conversations, the I-can-still-hide-the-pain-almost smiles, and the sweet dreams for next visits. Actually, it is the taking each day as it comes approach that seems to work best. Even if you have to rip those days out of their surroundings, to make them less horrible.
The next day I walked on the South West Coast Path. The National Coastwatch’s “Eyes along the coast” magazine reported a local incident. They had copied the article to the wall of their bunker on the cliffs:
“A passer-by reported to our watchkeeper that a couple were having a very serious domestic close by, near the cliff edge. Naturally, the edge of any cliff is not the place to have animated discussions since heat-of-the-moment actions can have much more serious consequences than if they occur – for example – in your local High Street! Our watchkeeper kept a close eye on the situation in case help needed to be summoned but, thankfully […], after 20 minutes or so, it degenerated into a “Your Dinner is in the Cat”-type scenario, with one party storming off to the car park, followed, after a few minutes, by their partner.”
I just hope this autumn will be a peaceful one.
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.
Name: London Outer Orbital Path
Walk: 3-5 of 24
Route: Harold Wood to Upminster Bridge (section 22), Upminster Bridge to Rainham (section 23), Rainham to Purfleet (section 24)
Date & Distance: Tuesday, 05.07.2017; 28.3 K
Fellow walkers: K.
What to expect from this part of LOOP/Essex?
So, woop-woop – 19 sections done out of 24! 🙂 Less than 200 km to go!
I must say that I did not have any expectations when entering this part of the LOOP, but oh, did it never stop to surprise us. What to expect of the sections 22-24 of the LOOP, then?
- All sorts of very specific or motivating signs.
- Signs of fairy life
- Pets less common.
- That unmistakable feel of childhood (cross-overs from marshes to industrial zones)
- Art that looks like something out of Dr Who
So far, my definite favourite part of the LOOP. Let’s see what the rest of the 19 sections bring!
Where: Kent, England
When: Saturday, July 1st
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.
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.
- It pushes you into the present.
- It feels like a micoradventure.
- And you see your friends being happy.
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.