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Archive for the ‘sidetrips’ Category

The intention had been to continue the walk from Guildford last week but a combination of illness, work, failing light and a Tube strike made this unfeasible. So I swopped a day’s leave, did some work on what would have been the walking day, and this week went to Cardiff for 24 hours instead. Maybe this is how walkinghometo50 will end – never actually finishing, just getting diverted into aborted projects, side trips, health issues and random new starts and isn’t that just like middle age itself?

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The train journey was long but interesting, leaving Chester under a rainbow for a long twilight run through Shropshire into Wales. I had taken a book with me – Mythogeography: The Art of Walking Sideways – which I had known about for some time, but not delved into until now. It proved to be a compelling and fresh exploration of the ‘world of resistant and aesthetic walking’, part pseudo-literary account, part manual, part encyclopaedia. Plug:

The reach is wide and deep, occasionally idiosyncratic. The fragmentary and slippery format recognises the disparate, loosely interwoven and rapidly evolving uses of walking today: as art, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as performance, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday. Mythogeography is a celebration of that interweaving, its contradictions and complementarities, and a handbook for those who want to be part of it.

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“If I’d known it was this good, I’d’ve bought the fancy edition…RB”

I was absorbed in this stuff when, somewhere near the border into Wales, the book broke the fourth wall as the passage I was reading turned out to be a quote from this blog. A few pages on, my name appeared in a list of ‘Exemplary Ambulatory Explorers’ amongst such luminaries as Peace Pilgrim and Arthur Machen. So if nothing else I have edged my way into some kind of provisional pantheon.

My mission in Cardiff was to accept an invitation to the private view of an exhibition – Everybody Knows this is Nowhere by Andre Stitt. I’ve known Andre for 30 years but not seen him for nearly 20 so thought a surprise visit was in order. I had also read the catalogue from the show’s original outing in Northern Ireland and, based on the photos, wanted to see the real pictures. And, if I was a salaried psychogeographer who had to justify his time in terms of spatial exploration, Andre’s show would be on topic:

The artist’s psychogeographic experience of Craigavon is examined through a series of site visits and explorations via the new city’s cycle and pedestrian network. This process is then in turn extended to the wider context of trauma, and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland. The project is both an investigation of the failure of institutional planning; exemplified by dead-ends, planned but uncompleted city sectors and vacant land, and a celebration of utopian aspirations through the integration of housing, civic amenities, dedicated paths, the separation of traffic and green space.

Up close the work is very powerful. I love the way maps, diagrams and writing are buried under pigment…

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The re-meeting was great. These not being the old days (for instance, neither of us were downing bottles of Thunderbird) and, having arranged to meet the next day, I wandered off at 7. Walking around Cardiff on an exceptionally windy night was a fragmented experience – the regenerated centre delivering flashes of other cities, bits of Leeds, bits of MK, even bits of KL (Chinese students in late-night shopping mall.) There was the same stuff you see everywhere – gorgeous lights, giant digitised faces of agony, and Lovecraftian incursions into old photos in the back corridors of the pubs. I was in bed by 10.

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The Premier Inn was a quiet space in the general hurricane. The room worked well for my newly-restarted, haven’t-given-up-yet meditation practice

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Then down for the all-you-can-eat breakfast, where the waitress was amazingly wholehearted by UK service industry standards. As well as making interaction with the largely machine-delivered breakfast a pleasant experience, she was conferring with colleagues about drifting leaves and spending ages sweeping up every conceivable shard of a dropped glass from the tiles next to the Costa machine, which as she said was difficult ‘when the floor has a sparkle in it’.

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Those worrying leaves

I checked out and walked around the outside of the hotel, took some pictures and had another look at those leaves. Then I headed off towards the art school, trying to keep my psychogeography eyes open, noticing things like 1980s-style graffiti inciting REVOLT and a woman in a headscarf playing an accordion, looking like something from the 1930s, maybe caused by leakage from the 2000s media success of the time-travel-based TV shows made here.

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Back at UWIC, I was casting a professional eye over their publicity when Andre reappeared and we went off to his studio. We drank coffee and caught up from a couple of decades. The studio had been a funeral director’s yard. It was as if we had only met up last week. He had been given the keys of the city of Manila. Andre gave me a painting: ‘Prospecting for the Memorabilia of a Lifetime (The 1980’s)’. Traces of words and glimmers of a camp 80s pink show dimly through a bitumen surface, and I’m in there somewhere; we agreed that on the whole things work out OK; as the Mythogeography man says ‘you can explore the whole whirling snowglobe.’

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All the pictures

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Rydal Water

For no reason other than to show that I do, sometimes, go walking in beautiful places just for fun, here are some pictures from a trip to the Lakes last weekend. Lads’ trips like this used to be frequent and well-attended but life seems to have got in the way, so it was good to resurrect the tradition. We planned a modest walk from Ambleside to Rydal and left cars at each end, but ended up walking to Grasmere thus rendering the 2-car shuttle pointless. Good though.

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In other news – I was invited to give a talk at a Psychogeography group at Leeds University, which was fun. Cheers Tina Richardson.

And my Bypass Pilgrim book finally found its way onto UK Amazon. Cue PR onslaught next week…

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Another few snatched miles of local walking – drifting north, away from home, maybe even away from 50…

My ‘no pubs next to stations’ rule is easy to follow at Burscough Junction, as the ‘Junction Hotel’ is derelict, though a notice on the door referring to ‘peaceful re-entry’ by the owners suggests it might soon stir into life. I walked into town, and failed to join the canal at the Waterfront which had a strange, dark, neglected dead-end garden.

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I found the path on the other side of the bridge. A large factory was also derelict, rooks flying around the top of its chimney. I wonder what was made here – and when it will become apartments.

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Soon I found the Ship Inn, aka the Blood Tub – does anyone know how it got its name? And walked up to Rufford in alternating cloud and sun.

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Saw a heron, thought through some vexatious work stuff, and got the train back.

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“IN the pale moonlight, the Wanderer lifted the latch of the field gate and crossing a meadow, passed through the woodland. The day had been an eventful one, the times were unsettled, the markets unreliable–verily it was a comfort to a tired mind to walk the meadows at nightfall.” So begins A Romance of Burscough Priory, a story published in 1928 by that organ of wonders, the Ormskirk Advertiser – collected in book form in Lancashire Legends, republished in 2005.

Reader, I was that Wanderer. Markets are indeed uncertain and days therefore eventful for a marketing director. I walked away from Edge Hill University (my place of employment) with some misgivings, as I could easily have stayed on into the evening doing more work. However with members of the team working away at crafting images of the campus:

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and others hosting a social networking event, it seemed allowable to leave them to it and walk a while in ‘the hour for sweet repose and reflection’.

I headed into Ruff Wood and started off in a northward direction. This may turn out to be a one-off evening stroll, or it might be the start of a longer trek – I have a vague ambition to walk to Fleetwood, take ferries to Ireland and on to Stranraer, and walk the pilgrim route down to Whithorn. But later for that. Tonight I was just aiming for Burscough. Beyond the Ruff I traversed bland fields familiar from my lengthened, cardio-friendly commute into work.

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I joined Lady’s Walk, down to the crossroads with the disused railway and, like the Wanderer, crossed into the woods.

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I had not expected it to be rough going, walking a couple of miles between familiar towns, but I found myself in boggy and confusing terrain.

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My clothes became spattered with mud – I felt like Will Eisner’s Spirit in terms of action-packed sartorial disehevelment.

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Image source and copyright info

I scribbled some notes about sense of place – thinking how genius loci co-exist, the spirit for a particular field-corner containing those for individual blades of grass, say, then connecting to all field-corners everywhere.

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Back in the Romance, the Wanderer ‘became conscious that a hooded figure stood silently behind him’, a ‘ghostly companion’ who explains the history of Burscough Priory, including some very specific details: ‘The nave was nigh upon one hundred feet in length…’ I proceeded in the lengthening shadows, alone but not wholly lacking in ‘a sense of unreality and…a profound stirring of the soul’ as I watched fitful autumn sunlight touching the fields, sheds and railway tracks.

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In fact the landscape and the momentum of the walk were so beguiling that I forgot to look for the actual Priory ruins. Instead I walked into Burscough, had a Spar sandwich and found a pub to go to (the Hop Vine, recomended). I sat outside, under a giant hood covering a smoking area. With its windchimes and bamboo lining, this space had a sort of new age feel. Perhaps the smoking places that have appeared outside many pubs inns and taverns have some shamanic purpose – the superficial resemblance to tropical beach bars conceals a deeper identity aligned to sweat-lodges and temples where sacred smoke is shared.

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I pored over the map, wondering how I could possibly not have bothered to look at the Priory. (Later I missed another opportunity on the train back.) A stray memory surfaced, of a dream I had back in my 20s. I was in some kind of science fiction mission, in a group exploring a planet, walking through forest laden with equipment. We were welcomed into a community with people in white robes and given nourishing vegetarian food. It was a peaceful place, filled with silence and golden light and (as is the convention) there was temptation to stay forever – but my dream-self was thinking ‘No, it’s too soon – I need to go back, back through the forest, back to earth, back to smoke roll-ups made from corner-shop tobacco, to explore the hidden pubs of Hove seen from trains amongst the house-backs, to figure out why pubs right next to stations are never any good but the next nearest ones are often OK [a vast cascade of such stuff] – not to the best things but to those things.’

And then ‘the dreamer awoke, to find himself in his own century…and the life and history of to-day’.

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A few weeks ago we were down south visiting my parents. A moment came, at the top of the Devil’s Dyke, when we looked north west across the Weald, across most of the landscape I still have to walk:

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More recently, we attended Journey of the Bride, the opening of an exhibition by Alice Lenkiewicz. There were readings, by Alice herself and a crew including Andrew Taylor, Cath Nichols, Janine Pinion, Robert Sheppard, Patricia Farrell, Tom George, and Ursula Hurley. And, like some grizzled beyond-hope Cinderella, even though I was meeting most of these people for the first time I got to read myself – some of my Bypass Pilgrim stuff, and a new blank-verse piece based on the part of this journey that involved walking around the perimeter of Pinewood Studios.

And went away thinking about how journeys intersect. There had been Robert Sheppard, referring to a ride on one of Brighton’s buses named after famous people. Andrew Taylor had actually lived in Woking, a place I had recently walked past, who had written a series of poems set there. A tiny picture of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the corner of one of Alice’s drawings, reminding me of the time I stumbled across a production in a Buckinghamshire village.

Tom George, fresh from a workshop in the National Wildflower Centre, a place we had driven past on the way to hospital, his Urban Beauty Shock praising a ‘solo rebel seed’ wildflower. Tiny barbs of connection in the richness of all the reading.

Then we went to Scotland for a holiday. Sometimes it looked like this,

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and sometimes it looked like this:

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In case I have any readers left after a long hiatus, here’s an update.

It’s now two months since my quintuple bypass operation. The recovery has gone well – I now feel better than I did before the operation, suggesting that it has all been worthwhile. As well as not getting angina symptoms when walking I also feel as if I get more oxygen out of each breath. This could well be the case as the bypass-enhanced arteries that feed my heart should be working much better now. I have progressed from five-minute expeditions into my own garden, to low-level strolls of a few miles. Here a link to an example from yesterday, with a map, pics and even stats Note for anyone interested in the technicalities.

This was an excellent little walk, through fields and Haskayne Cutting, where residue of dead railway has formed a nature habitat.

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As well as being an essential part of my recovery, these walks have led us to explore our own environs a lot more closely. Way back near the start of the walk I commented on finding a nature reserve near my house but it has taken this to inspire us to actually go there regularly. As I intend to walk for exercise on a daily basis, rain or shine (part of the plan to keep my new mashup innards in working order for as long as possible) I anticipate seeing a lot more of these places.

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I have also been writing all this time – just not here. I plan to put out a book, Bypass Pilgrim, some time in the next few months – details will be posted here.

So that’s ‘what I did on my cardiovascular repair holidays’. I plan to resume the main walk very soon – after a six-month gap I feel as if a version of me has been stranded in Langley, Bucks waiting to resume. Let’s go and rescue him.

Note: I recorded this on my iPhone using the Everytrail app. This was fun and very easy to use compared with ‘real’ geotagging. Basically you turn it on, leave it running, then turn it off and upload it at the end. You can record waypoints and take pictures as you go. What you can’t do is switch to any other app. It is also pretty hungry on battery, so I wouldn’t use it for a long trip. Note also one of the points is out of sync – it looks as if I hurled my phone away in a straight line… and that it came back using its ‘boomerang function’.BACK TO POST

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I am a Downsman lost

I am a Downsman lost on friendly hills,
snagged in gorse and fretting:
how did I arrive, here,
in this exacting valley?

Maybe my map was wrong,
a route’s turn missed, the
lucky lightning stone lost
on a hurried contour.

Maybe the soft curves of the hard
chalk lead inevitably
here, to a place that was aways mine.

Soon strangers will come,
carry me over the unwanted hill,
give me a child’s help negotiating
stiles and fences towards
familiar paths. Then I hope for
my own full steps, flowing:
down past Thunderbarrow, Rest and be Thankful
and the Crooked Moon hedge.

But for now, see
the sunlight on the black branches:
it is early yet, and the paths are generous.

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