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Posts Tagged ‘walkinghometo50’

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:

glue ).

(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.

nothrough

(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.

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Home now, with leads aplenty, I’ve added pictures from phone and camera to the interweb, for your viewing pleasure.

To whet your appetite, there’s a rather painterly shot of a crane in Leeds.

Moving on, pictures of the Parkgate-to-Chester leg of my main walk are in a set on Flickr.

chester

And in another set,  images in and around the Orbital 2008 SF Convention…

car park

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Itinerant puppeteer and social commentator Walter Wilkinson visited Liverpool in the mid-Thirties. In the brief account of the visit (in Puppets through Lancashire, 1936) he and his partner Winifred remark on the Merseyside penchant for building on a massive scale: “The Mersey Tunnel is the largest sub-aqueous work of its kind in the world. The Landing Stage is the largest floating structure in the world. The spot cotton market, whatever that is, the largest in the world. The great arch of the cathedral is the amongst the largest Gothic arches ever constructed. St. Georges Hall is one of the greatest edifices in the world, and the clock on the Royal Liver Friendly Society’s building is the largest in England.” Were they to return (contributing a welcome vegetarian Socialist Punch and Judy element to the year of culture) they would find the tradition continuing: Liverpool One, for instance, will be “the biggest and most imaginative retail and leisure development in Europe.”

warehouses

Travelling towards the ferry on a cold, clear February morning, I too was struck by the bigness. Once commodities like tobacco and tea, and abstractions like finance and religion were housed in buildings of scale and decorative splendour to rival the world’s Hermitages, Red Forts, Alhambras; these now now mirrored in newer stupendous structures; the glass towers of retail, leisure, and ‘urban living’. I walked through nearly-deserted, first-reel-of-last-person-alive-movie streets where traffic lights signalled to no traffic. Above me on the stone buildings, mythical creatures, heraldic beasts, infinite Celtic knotwork. At eye level, newer symbols: internet access, disabled access, CCTV, smiley customer care emoticons. And here and there, randomly altered signs like fragments of a concrete sermon: COVE_T GARDENS, _OWNING, a row of giant &&&

I was early and I wanted coffee. There was a place open, run by a London expat, who wished me well on my Wirral walk. This was nice, but his coffee was two thirds foam (that’s London for you, all promise…), so I headed to Starbucks to consolidate my caffeine. Their current slogan: GEOGRAPHY IS A FLAVOUR. This struck me as a rather stark bit of corporate/consumer honesty, a bit like saying FOREIGN PLACES TASTE NICE, or LET’S HAVE A GIGANTIC APPARATUS OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE OPERATING TO DELIVER A MILD FRISSON OF PLEASURE TO ONE OF OUR SENSES. (The sort of thing a modern Marquis De Sade with ADHD might demand.) Still, say what you like about global megacorps, their portion control is excellent, so I had a brimming beaker of spicy caffeine milk to eke out the remaining minutes until the ferry departure.

The ticket office had people in it, but oddly they couldn’t open their own doors, so I was waved towards the boat. No-one asked for tickets or money, so even though I won’t have walked every step of the way at least I won’t have paid fares.

liverpool

Finally I was leaving Liverpool. Seeing it framed and diminishing I made a last attempt to form some thoughts about it. It’s hard not to write some kind of ‘city of contrasts’ cliche. Perhaps the title of Samuel Delany’s unfinished novel,
The splendour and misery of bodies, of cities, will serve for now. Like any city, lots of stuff happens there; it’s a place for great cascades of stuff to happen. Surprising, warm friendly encounters like the ferryman talking about how great walking the Wirral would be; pointless actions like the comedy approximation of a flying scissor kick aimed to just miss the face of a man outside the comic shop; giant clock faces and an empty file blowing past.

file

Photos.

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I meant to stroll, drift and dream the city around me. In fact I rushed, like a droplet in a torrent, following any green man crossing chance, snatching blurry pictures in the evening light.

holiday

Liverpool’s outdoor spaces didn’t feel like places to linger, more like places to move. I first came here nearly 20 years ago, for the opening of the Tate. I was in a rush then, but not so much that I didn’t get an impression – of a city on a large scale, a European city. I’ve been rushing through it ever since, always finding myself outside some giant ‘Building’ …

building

I did stand still long enough to grab a picture of St Georges Hall. Back in 1885, a meeting of philanthropists founded Edge Hill Training College, the precursor of the institution where I now work. (Earlier that day I took a picture of the newest part of the Campus, so in a way I’d staked out the two extremes of Edge Hill history.) The original college, aiming to educate ‘a better class of schoolmistress’, is now a university, expanding and evolving, traceable to that moment in 1885, now with eight years of my own history bound into it. The campus buildings, described by Toby Litt as having a little bit of the atmosphere of J. G. Ballard, coexist with grounds that were landscaped as a horticultural experiment in the 1930s. Steel and glass curves and grids overlook rock gardens, old roses and played-out orchards; the trees show the height reached by each species in a three-score-and-ten span. The destruction wrought by the creation of the new buildings opens up fresh vistas on long-neglected spaces; different eras mingle and cross-fertilise – as long as people walk around, look and breathe – the kind of thing I was trying to do in Liverpool.

stgeorgesehu

I suppose one drive to keep moving whilst walking through cities such as Liverpool is an urge not to get embroiled in conversation with strangers – people on slower time, wanting things. On this trip I could have spoken to a Gouranga person, a shabbily-dressed man approaching me with a question, a Big Issue salesman. I did speak to a guy in a wheelchair, wanting to swap a stack of two-pences for silver to use in a phone box (to report a broken collarbone), and a kid in a hoody wanting directions – so I’m not completely misanthropic. However I doubt this journey will be full of encounters with amusing tramps, interviews with village elders or discussions with local historians. (I wrote the ‘Why?‘ page today, coming to the conclusion that this is an exercise in self-portraiture.)

The practical details of the walk: I ran an errand to News from Nowhere bookshop (delivering a poster for a series of public lectures on the ethics of torture, which was received with unfeasible delight); bought a Wonder Woman comic in Forbidden Planet; looked at Lent books in the window of the Pauline bookshop (a much loved place with customer-care empowered nuns); cut through an alley to Renshaw Street (where schoolgirls were pouring drink into an innocent-looking container); skirted St Geoges Hall; had a beer in Doctor Duncans…

drduncs

…zig-zagged though Tithebarn and Water Streets, had another beer in the Lion (a pint of Banks’s, from Wolverhampton, a future destination: earlier that day they finished a barrel of ‘Sussex Gold’ from Arundel; had I arrived earlier, I could have sketched out the whole journey in beer form); peered up at Exchange Station/Mercury Court (huge and white, like a cliff); reached the docks and located the ferry office for future reference.

The plan to spot Liver Birds was totally abandoned, but the most famous ones were hard to miss (on the Royal Liver Building.) Again the sense of everything gigantic. Like Edge Hill, older and newer coexist and are interwoven. Buildings witness to times dominated by trade (then), leisure and lifestyle (now); they stand there, just sort of existing, massively, with the Mersey flowing past.

So that was it – Liverpool passed through, a logical start for another wander established.

I finished up near Central Station in the Globe. The last time I was in here was also a Thursday, when it was so empty that I sat in the corner texting (desperate for human company after all it seems.) This time it was a riot, a kaleidoscope of people, drinking, singing – even dancing. The barmaid was serving drinks like a stoker fueling a desperately speeding engine. Once again, ‘I Walk the Line’ came on the pub tannoy at the end of the walk – Johnny Cash becoming the journey’s patron saint.

I’ll hold back on the urban paramythology. Except to say: there could be the starting point for a new Tarot deck in the places I went: Mercury, the Doctor, the Exchange, Nowhere, Forbidden, the Globe, Lion, Ferry, Station – accompanied with minor suits of Beer Glasses, Regeneration Builders’ Hoardings, Two-pence Pieces and Purple Bins Behind Restaurants.

All pictures from this leg

Distance travelled: about a mile

February 7th 2008

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Later in the walk, getting to start points will present difficulties. However as the previous day’s leg finished at my house, I had zero travel time to the start. I headed out over the small hill at the back of where I live, territory I only know from dark early morning trips to the paper shop – seeing it in daylight (albeit dark and drizzly) was a novelty. Like many people, I have made surprisingly little headway exploring the immediate vicinity of my home on foot. Little wonders like the Gorse Lane Nature Reserve, a few yards from my house, are less familiar to me than places many miles away…

Gorse

(Local Scouts have done some good work contibuting to the upkeep of the Reserve and working towards their Tree Hugging badges.)

A good thing about a purposeful journey like this is that there’s no pressure for it to be ‘nice’, ‘pretty’ or ‘spectacular’. So walking in gloomy mud and rain was fun and didn’t feel like a waste. It played havoc with my stuff though – the map has turned to papier mache and I came home mud-spattered. I recently bought a nice pair of black Berghaus boots, so smart that I’ve worn them in their pristine splendour as my main leisuretime footwear, even to work, a sort of ‘I may look like a regular guy strolling along the high street but I could head out for the hills at a moment’s notice – and my feet would stay dry when I got there’ look. Now they look like something Grizzly Adams would discard as being insufficiently stylish.

TREES

I had a vague idea of getting over to the Cheshire Lines, but once I reached the Leeds & Liverpool Canal it seemed best to stick with it, virtually all the way to Maghull.

canal

In Lydiate I went looking for a packet of crisps. An off license looked like the best bet – it had a glass wall inside, with hatches for handing over money and receiving purchases. Superficially resembling a museum display or Damien Hirst installation, presumably this is a security feature like the metal grilles I saw in bunker-like off-licenses in Belfast and Glasgow 20 years ago. I took this to mean that this was a relatively deprived and/or high-crime area. However, the houses backing on to the next stretch of canal were very large, detached, distinctive residences with enormous gardens, sometimes with boats moored outside, suggesting a well-heeled neighbourhood. Perhaps the big-house residents are wealthy to the point of incandescence, their money transfomed to a deadly light, so that the off-license staff need to be protected like scientists at an A-Bomb test. (A more prosaic explanation could be that Merseyside neighbourhoods of wildly different types exist side by side.)

Finally came into Maghull, past St Georges Church, where a shrine still carried some winter green and the walls an unfortunate message:

no entry

The walk took nearly three hours. The train journey back, 10 minutes.

> All photos from this leg

Distance: 7 miles approx

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It was a good day to start something – fresh blue sky, a rainwashed town, smell of new air. Reached the end of the pier, took a look around, and started walking towards Brighton. (But on this day aiming only to get as far as Ormskirk, where I live.)

The sea is famously distant from Southport, hovering beyond miles of sandflats, and I was expecting to write about the treacherous, shifting landscape – land, sea and sky hard to distinguish – unfixable like future memories (or something). But today the tide was in – so to stand at the end of what is ‘the second longest pier in Britain’ according to the official website, was to be standing out at sea. The territory at the foot of the pier has a name on the map – The Bog Breast – and further out there are ‘places’ called Bog Hole and Angry Brow – probably not named by the Tourism people. But I just saw sea, and a cloud standing above it…

sea

As I set off, the pier was busy, the low sun rendering people as dark figures to my camera (reminding me of ‘A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many’):

pier

(The motherlode of pictures is on Flickr, so I’ll only pick out a handful that interest me, like these two serendipitous signs:)

50sign

promise

Saw the signs, and lots of other things, on a long hike around Ainsdale. After that I crossed the Moss, sometimes on the Trans Pennine Way, taking a few pics of water pooling in fields, making patterns that I fancied looked like runes or hexagrams.

field

Quite a long day, probably 12 miles in the end. I had expected to be on the Cheshire Lines (disused railway and now part of a long Euro-route), but when it came to it other routes always seemed more direct. I ended up surrounded by darkness, picking my way along lanes, navigating by the illuminated spire of Christ Church Aughton.

> All photos from this leg

Distance: 13.5 miles approx

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Yesterday, 12th January 2008, was to be the start day. The first thing was to get to Southport Pier, from where the actual journey could be said to have started. Getting kitted out took ages, then a bus journey to Southport. But by late morning I was there.

I took this sign outside the Information Centre as a good omen: anything is possible…

sign

Then I got a second breakfast. Eating omelette and chips in the Gallary Grill, reading the Southport Visiter, I pondered the town’s dogged insistence on using unusual spellings. It gives the place a frisson of estrangement, the accumulation of tiny differences that hint that you may be in a different universe. Perhaps that’s it: Southport some kind of mirror universe version of Hove or Eastbourne, and my destination will really be a version of the starting point.

Seeing no queue in Blades barbers, I got a quick #2 crop. This was wasting time, which was a bit vexing – the walk itself is meant to be rambling and leisurely, but I hadn’t started yet. But I figured the reduced weight and wind resistance would help me catch up.

And after that still I didn’t actually start. I bought a map, then decided to toast the start of the walk in the Baron’s Bar, a delightful real-ale fueled haunt in the Scarisbrick Hotel. (Somehow it has escaped the Southport ‘Spell it different’ rule, otherwise it would be called something like the Baran’s Bar or Baron’s Barr.) I like pubs best at odd early hours, as much as I hate them at busy times – I enjoy the unpredictable mix of people and laid-back atmosphere. The pre-noon crowd at the Barons was a nice mix: pensioners drinking whisky and water; bearded men on a real-ale mission; some raffish types who would fit in well on a racetrack – an impression enhanced when someone popped a champagne cork…

I had hoped to drink my toast in something from the Southport Brewery – unfortunately (and unusually) none of theirs were available. So a pint of Foxfield ‘Old Lancashire Pale Ale’ had to serve – appropriate enough for a starting point in Sefton I suppose. (And jolly nice it was too.)

And after that there was no possibility of further delay. I headed for the pier, past the shallow curves of the retail and entertainment zone (don’t want to sound sniffy about it; it’s a much-loved spot despite the ersatz architecture) towards the place and the moment when I would take the first step.

oceans

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