Jennie suggests I might be racing through this project too quickly, and it’s true that I’m keen to press on. As David Thomas once sang in a Pere Ubu song, ‘My hands are complicated thoughts…but my feet just want to go.’ And I’m finding the process (the planning, walking, writing) exciting, revelatory – not as massive miracles, but as an unpredictable unfolding of tiny things – finding pennies, in the words of Annie Dillard, quoted by Solitary Walker.
When I look in new bookshops for things that might be helpful, I see a lot of ‘Best Walks’, ‘Greatest Landscapes’, ‘See before you die’ type books – chasing peak experiences and Sunday-supplement gorgeousness – and their shadow, the ‘Crap Towns’, ‘Everything is Rubbish’ genre. Neither seem particularly useful, so I tend to just buy maps and plan arbitrary routes. I’ve never found the famous places as memorable as the journeys to and through them and the surrounding minutiae – rather than stand and admire, I have walked on by the Golden Valley, hurried down from Golden Cap, sought out the restaurant at the Golden Temple. But a steel plate covered with blobs of glue that look like a map of islands: that’s worth stopping for:
(Looking at this again, it’s also a self-portrait.)
Time-wise, I don’t think I’ll finish early and have to circle round Brighton in a holding pattern. Roughly, I expect to spend the remainder of 2008 getting into the Midlands, and 2009 traversing points like Milton Keynes and Leighton Buzzard. The aptly-named Odyssey sf convention at Easter 2010, back in the Heathrow Edwardian (site of a previous post), will make a nice milestone. From there I can either walk around London, or through it (though London might be too densely packed with images, history, and story – hundreds of pages of Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore et al acting as a drag coefficient…) thence down through Surrey and Sussex. Thinking about when my fiftieth year actually is, the earliest finish would be my 49th birthday in December 2010, the latest one year on. So the timing feels comfortable.
Taking stock, I’m neither chasing the perfect (or even particularly interesting) rural walk, nor seeking some ‘grim underbelly of urban Britain’. Often I seem to be entering and leaving cities, towns and villages, traversing suburban ecotones, rather than arriving at major places. I’m grateful to Mike at Beating the Bounds for reminding me of the ecotone concept. Mike quotes Solitary Walker: ‘The border between water and land at the sea’s edge. Between land and sky, or sea and sky, at the horizon. These are potent places.’ Indeed they are, though in my case I expect to see little of wilderness – more the interstices between residential and farmed landscapes, industry and leisure, geography and biography. But nonetheless the potential for the numinous is everpresent: hence my title. (Thinking of a line from Alan Moore’s Unearthing; ‘This is it, this is real, this lamp-glow that’s inside the world like torchlight through a choirboy’s cheeks, the mystical experience of Gilbert Chesterton’s absurd good news…’). The work of walking (eloquently described by John Davies) is unbereaving me from the inevitable losses of living.
(Since purchasing my EeePC I may also be navigating towards WiFi hotspots…)
Basically I suppose I’m trying to travel with open eyes, see places and my own times and stories from new angles, make new connections…
Next week, hopefully, I’ll move on from Chester and strike down through Cheshire into Shropshire. More then.