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Sometimes everything just comes together. Today’s walking was as perfect as I can imagine – great weather, interesting discoveries, fantastic views and the green of spring flooding in. Blossom scattered on the path. A day bursting with life – even though I was headed for a battleground. Today’s walk aimed for the small hamlet of Edge Hill, where the first skirmish of the English Civil War occurred in 1648.

(Update: I discovered afterwards that I had walked close to ‘The largest ammunition dump in western Europe‘, part of the gorgeous vista seen at the end of the day.)

I had a new toy along for this journey – a GPS logger, which has plotted my route and added location data to my photos. If you navigate to my Picasa (by clicking on a picture), you will notice map positions for each photo, and a kind of map-route for the whole album, with an option to ‘view in Google Earth’ if that’s your bag

In the instruction manual it points out that GPS ‘was originally developed in the 1970s as a navigation aid for submarine-based Trident missiles’. Using a weapon-aiming system for creative entertainment seems slightly anomalous – like taking wedding photos with a sniperscope. But maybe it isn’t so odd – I already use Ordnance Survey maps, presumably designed to help get ‘ordnance’ into the right place. However I’m not pulling a gun carriage with me today – just trying to ‘look at the pictures’ in the ‘Book of Life’ and maybe fix some moments of meaning in the crosshairs.

TYME FLYETH
WHAT DOETH THOU?

says a sign on the church at Harbury. Today I’m walking and writing – not magic realism, but maybe magic autobiography, placing cutout fairies in the hedgerows to hoax myself…

Most of the day was spent on the Centenary Way, a path though Warwickshire designed to celebrate the Council’s centenary.

After Harbury, there were miles of lanes and fields walked under fresh skies, the weather getting warmer as I went. Broken fences made the runic shapes I love so much for miles.

I brushed the M40, often-driven road to the South, beginning to get views of Edge Hill in the distance.

At Northend, a sign indicated a ‘Chapel of Ease’ which seemed unmissable. The small chapel, made of the deep yellow stone used for many buildings around here, was cool and peaceful. A black binder contained information about an aircrash that happened yards away during World War Two. Earlier I mused idly on navigation by weapons system. Fortunately Trident has not been used in anger, but decades ago death and destruction were being delivered by aeroplane. A B-17 bomber came to earth here, its crew of 10 killed. It was carrying 42 oil-and-rubber filled incendiary bombs which would have gone to Bremen, in a plane decorated with a bomb-throwing Alley Oop flying a purple pterodactyl.

Outside, a lamp-post had a pleasing Unmitigated England look, of Tipton manufacture, a little reminder of the West Midlands.

Walkinghometo50 has made me a connoisseur of canals, disused railways and shopping centres – all of which involve walking on the flat. The cluster of hills above Northend (Bonfire, Windmill, Magpie) were the steepest ascent I’ve made for a long time. I heaved, panting, to the top, thinking I need to do more walking between walks.

Descending, I found Burton Dassett All Saints church, and the adjacent holy well in its Victorian shell.

All Saints is in Simon Jenkins’ 1000 Best Churches book, in which he gives a rousing description of a church in ‘a wild spot at the watershed of three Englands.’

On though more fields to Avon Dassett, where I had lunch in the pub, looking at the village built from more of the yellow stone. Sitting still meant the breeze was chilly so I moved inside, where Sinatra was singing The Tender Trap. Vague musings of the eros-power of the season as mating insects flew by.

Now I actually crossed the M40. I love the contrast between the tracks and byroads that cross the motorways on the dozens of bridges glimpsed by drivers – ancient droveways lined with weeds and covered in the droppings of cattle – and the motorways themselves – newer, faster, busier, seeming to cut through the landscape rather than be part of it. I’m not anti-motorway, I just notice how different they are, and the proximity of very different types of road, seen from the less-usual angle, reveals a complex palimpsest-like quality in the landscape. (I’m looking forward to Joe Moran‘s book On Roads: A Hidden History, as I’m beginning to see dimly the interest that roads offer – vast horizontal sculptures…)

I began my ascent of the Edge Hill escarpment. This will be the third Edge Hill I have connected with this route – the others being the University, and the Liverpool district. When I say where I work, people sometimes ask ‘Where is that?’ often followed by ‘Oh, I thought it was in [insert name of place somewhere other than Ormskirk]’. I can now say (in a Johnny Cash impersonation) ‘I’ve been to Liverpool, Birmingham, Oxfordshire, West Lancashire… and it’s definitely nowhere other than Ormskirk.’ Despite its lack of university, this Edge has the most actual Hill of the ones I’ve visited, making a superb walk with views back towards Warwick.

If the military lead the way in technological development, then the sex industry is never far behind – consider the internet for instance; there are only about ten non-sexual sites and this is one of them. I toyed with the idea that military applications create technologies which are then used to shill striptease shows, and only after that put to other uses. First comes the army, then the camp followers; farmers move back in once they’ve all gone away. A discarded Fiesta magazine in a ditch below the ridge where the Royalists gathered in 1648 offers a hint that this may be an accurate assessment.

More enjoyable walking brought me to my destination. Who needs porn (specially waterlogged fading pages) when celandines are blooming? The satellites may have been built to aim missiles but we can make art with them now and generally mess about. Pikemen are still clashing and muskets being aimed, not too far from here but thankfully not in this place.

At the Castle Inn, a castle/folly-like tower on the ridge, I got a pint of Hook Norton bitter. Normally I spurn outside drinking as the preserve of lightweights and families, but the view of the battleground was too good to miss. I think outside air causes a chemical change in real beer, as it tastes different – one of those evocative tastes. (Presumably I have enjoyed drinking outside in the warm months of past years, even though it has been by accident.) I looked out across the fields, points soon to be plotted on a map, old stories of crash sites and troop deployments, my own meandering, wondering if this moment will be evoked in future years as I sit in yet-to-be-imagined gardens looking out at stuff.

At the next table, a couple of Sealed Knot men were planning a campaign of some sort.
There was an Easter Egg on my table – I’m a week late for the Easter Egg hunt, but I get an undeserved prize anyway.

Map of this leg

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Kit Crisis Carousel

I thought I had it all sorted out. An Android G1 phone from T-Mobile would let me record my tracks with its nifty GPS function, and effortlessly upload them to Googlemaps. In between times, I could fire off the occasional photo to Twitter, and maintain a steady stream of random Facebook banter using the ‘always-on’ internet. And the phone does all those things, as recounted in a couple of work posts (1,2.) Here’s my test track and here’s a picture I was able to share with my Twitter readers. But it has a fatal flaw – T-Mobile coverage is puny on the Edge Hill campus, making it redundant as an actual phone…

So back to the drawing board. People keep saying iPhone, but I have an aversion to this device for two reasons:

1. It reckons itself…

…if an inanimate object can indeed ‘reckon itself’. Let me tell you a story. When I was in Junior School (seven or eight years old), there was a competition that involved making a fancy-dress hat at home. So we kids, helped by our parents, made assorted hats from things like card and felt. Mine, for instance, was a wizard hat made from a cone of paper with some stars and moons crayoned on to it. All harmless fun for the families. However one of the Dad’s took this on as a serious project, and made a hat that was also a functioning, miniature carousel. Horses rotated and went up and down. It played a tune. It glistened and gleamed. Obviously the embarrassed child beneath this item won, but he had to endure waves of mingled contempt, envy and pity overwhelming a bit of reluctant admiration from the rest of us. Who was his dad anyway? Batman villain, the Mad Hatter? A NASA scientist? I guess we all lost a bit of innocence that day, and I certainly still bear the scars. The iPhone reminds me of that hat – it is too good.

2. It’s expensive

My deal with T-Mobile cost £20/month, whereas the cheapest iPhone deal I can see is around the £30 mark. That’s an extra £120 a year, a not inconsiderable sum: enough, for instance, to commission a full re-enactment of De Sade’s ‘120 Days…’ in a Poundland shop (‘Anything You Want – for a Pound’). Don’t they know there’s a recession on?

So what now? It has occurred to me that expecting ‘converged’ devices to do many things well is unlikely. Cameras in phones will never be as good as actual cameras, for instance. So the current plan is to
a: buy a GPS logger to record where I’ve been, create accurate routemaps, position photos on them (Amod AGL3080 GPS PhotoTracker to be precise) and
b: buy a Macbook so that the processes involved in getting photos together, blogging etc are more elegant and enjoyable.

Advice from owners of such devices welcome.

As for perpetual internet, unless iPhone gets cheaper (and I can forget that damn hat), or the new Android from Vodafone has an affordable deal, I guess I’ll have to live without it. Which might be no bad thing. Forest Wisdom turned me on to a great little book called Journeys of Simplicity by Philip Harnden, which looks at the experience of travelling light through the medium of packing lists and inventories of possessions for folks as diverse as Peace Pilgrim, Basho and Thomas Merton. I keep coming back to the section quoted by FW, a brutally simple equipment list for a transcendent walk and a reminder that ‘enough’ can be very little:

Werner Herzog’s Winter Walk from Munich to Paris

Boots, solid and new
compass
jacket
sweater and scarf
thin plastic poncho
duffel bag
with necessities

Acquired along the way:
storm cap
long johns
flashlight
sticking-plaster, for blisters
Shell Oil road map

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I was intrigued by a message on Twitter mentioning ‘Location based/locative storytelling via your GPS device’ –  imagining some gizmo that would record and upload narrative about places from out in the field, a technoshaman’s dictaphone.

Looking at the StoryTraveller website, I discovered something slightly different: ‘Yes it is a GPS that shows you the way, but above that the StoryTraveller automatically tells you the stories about where you are, based on your position.’

So it tells you stories, not the other way round. Sounds intriguing, but whose stories? Mine? Some wild poet, undergoing location-based ‘derangement of the senses’ and setting it down in mad holy words? Unlikely, as

The StoryTraveller Solution allows Organizations to bring information (content and guidance) together with experience on places that would normally not be possible, or just too expensive or impossible to have that up-to-date information at the location.

Having said that, the example of ‘Walk’ applications is quite poetic:

Seeing the invisible. Look at the nightlife by day. Have a look in animal holes. Talk a walk with a satellite guided companion that happens to know all the stories of the surroundings, whether its nature, culture or history. From wild-west walking to city walk.

It will be interesting to see what kind of organizations use this, or similar products to create routes that can be accessed on portable devices, in which ‘User is immersed in a real story stimulating all senses and feelings’ and can ‘have an experience on a route based on GPS through audio and video fragments.’ (I could envisage using this at work, to devise an campus tour, revealing the invisible University any day of the year). I’m sure there could be some great applications, but I await the noncommercial Wiki version so that I can be my own ‘Story Traveller’.

Thinking about this stuff, the way copies of the real world like Google Earth are steadily silted up with accretions of images and words, reminded me somehow of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

We’re the ones who tread and tread and tread; do our words just add to the smearing and blearing as we try to ‘explain the world to ourselves and give value to the things we love’?

(Pictures are from my story and not associated with Navitell or StoryTeller.)

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