First Friday 1 January 2021: A Triangle Walk Incorporating A Yearwalk

This walk drew a triangle between Rodborough, the Randwick Transmitter and Standish burial mound, and was undertaken as part of Walking The Land’s First Friday walks. The intent today  – to walk, taking inspiration from one or more paragraphs given from Thomas A. Clark’s prose poem ‘In Praise Of Walking’.

I chose 2 paragraphs, or rather they chose me, so closely aligned were they to several themes, musings and ongoing walking habits that continue to preoccupy me.  These two considerations were addressed during one triangular walk from my home in Rodborough, across town to the Randwick Transmitter, through Standish Woods to the Standish burial mound, and then back to home.   The walk was around 6 miles with 1000ft of climbing, some steep.

I found that it was a walk of two parts, the first falling naturally into a more urban setting and the second into more rural areas.

Part I

‘Everything we meet is equally important or unimportant.’ Thomas A. Clarke, In Praise of Walking

For the past 4 years, each new year I have carried out a ‘yearwalk’ Based loosely on a Scandinavian tradition, this involves going out for a silent walk, alone, and paying close attention to your surroundings in order to divine information about the year ahead. This heightened attention to ‘seeing’, rather than ‘looking’ can raise a walk to an almost mystical experience, where consciousness alters so that the everyday and commonplace becomes suffused with meaning and significance.

Or, of course, not. The trick is to be able to spot the difference between that which is wishful thinking or merely beautiful and interesting, and that which is genuinely significant. I believe that the difference is characterised by a reaction that is felt mostly in the body rather than experienced mostly in the mind – or rather, the head-based bit of the bodymind, for of course our brain is as much a part of the body as any other.  

I suspect this feels different for everyone, and in the nature of felt experience it is tricksy, slippery and difficult to describe, never mind quantify – always slipping out the reach of my words.  The best I can do is say that for me, it is like a pulse or a hook low down in my gut; a clarion call that halts me in my tracks very suddenly, like a dog on a scent. Salivation increases  – my mouth waters, literally and metaphorically, with a sense that I am on to something, and an almost physical impulse of curiosity that I have to investigate. Sometimes I get these feelings before I am fully aware what has hooked me, and I have to look around, follow my gaze.

On walks like this, it is best to direct your heightened attention inwards as well as outwards. Pay heed and listen to your body and your feelings. This is a skill which, like any other, gets easier with practice.

Usually I carry out these walks in a natural setting, and today, I was heading towards one.  Interestingly, I found most meaning, identified as such by my feelings as described above, at the beginning of the walk, in town. This was pleasantly disorientating and surprising, as often it takes a while to settle in, to adjust to a different way of walking outside of the merely functional A to B, for the entrancement that comes from rhythmic movement to take effect. To be thrown into it sharply by an old factory was refreshing.

A series of graffitos and signage leapt out at me. ‘Infinite’, accompanied by the ancient side-lying figure of eight symbol.  ‘Bad Static’, next to a ‘No Entry’ sign. Be Aware’, underneath a surveillance camera surveying the factory car park. 

infinite bad static. be aware

This felt strange, and occult. I wanted to look around, to see who was leaving this message for me, so clear and imbued with significance. It doesn’t do too well to attempt to translate, or analyse the things you find on these walks; it is much better to let them simmer away in the cauldron of the unconscious and see what bubbles up. There is a feeling that they have very much their own meaning, which may or may not make sense to us, but certainly resists any interpretation we strive earnestly to put on it. Also, the tricksters like a laugh and so we get it wrong, mostly.  So I let it lie – I acknowledge the thoughts it brings to me, and leave it there.

I walk on, and as I walk, I become acutely conscious of the crossings I am making, and also of interference. Enabling and disabling, travelling, yet having to flex and adjust a route.  I cross the A46 at the site of an old toll house; I follow an old track down and cross a balustrade bridge; I cross the Stroudwater canal and then the A419, and then the main London to Gloucester railway line. I am prevented from following a popular desire path by the new erection of some Harris fences surrounding a building development. It is needless, and annoying, though technically legal, and I use this path so unconsciously that I stand there for a moment, unable to make sense of what I’m seeing, temporarily frozen. Be aware. Bad static.

I walk around the obstruction and as I do, I feel a kind of deflating, a relaxing and a calming, and I think I am back in the world now. The time for prophecy has passed. I no longer feel like Ghost Woman, flitting unobserved through the alleyways and the everyday in some parallel heightened state.  I become more aware of sounds, traffic and birdsong, the smell of the chill air and the bite of the breeze. In terms of time and distance covered, this was a small percentage of my walk, but during it time stretched, became elastic, and it felt much, much longer. My mind returns to its usual restless magpie chatter. Road names set up trips of doggerel in my mind, which loop lazily until something else bumps them out of the way.

gannicox

ganymede

gannet and crow

two pigeons fluffed up against the snow

one hops and fluffles in front of me

robin singing seasonal in a holly tree

I continue with the remainder of the walk, playing with the idea that everything we meet is important. I come to a beech tree emblazoned with a bright pink arrow pointing down and to the left, and I decide to take it as an instruction and follow it along snowmelt paths in the dark sodden carpet of fallen leaves and mud. The colours are so strong – white and dark brown and green-grey and copper. 

I find a large yellow skip with the word ‘Skip’ written in red on the side, and so I obey and skip a few steps down the path. It feels quite liberating to be told what to do, even in this heightened time of being told what to do to a for-most-of-us unprecedented degree.

why are you doing this, and that

because the skip told me to

because the tree told me to

because I wanted to

Part II

‘We can walk between two places, and in so doing establish a link between them, bring them into a warmth of contact, like introducing two friends.’ Thomas A. Clarke, In Praise of Walking

From my north-facing window, directly opposite our house, I can see a transmitter mast on the horizon arising from the woods. From my earliest days here, nearly 3 years ago, I resolved to discover it, and I have driven to those woods many times now.  I got somewhat distracted from finding the mast in person, as I discovered a burial mound along to the left at the far end of the stand of woods, and this exerted a strong pull.  I discovered that I could see my house from a bench situated near the mound, and I have spent some time there, casting silver threads with my mind from mound to my house and back again, as part of some work to embed me into this land, to weave my story in, to bind me here at a time when I felt so homesick for my birthplace.

I have been constantly aware, sometimes insistently, sometimes as a background hum, of the triangle formed between mast, mound and house – an awareness of these nodes, of points joining lines and a desire to trace this with my feet and boots.  When I received the above paragraph of Clarks there was only one choice of place to manifest this – substituting his two places for three, it was clear that today was the day I needed to walk from home, to the transmitter, then to the mound, then home once more, closing the circuit.

This was in part a very intellectual exercise of map-reading, and as I was doing this – after my yearwalk section of the journey which was all on paths I knew well – I realised that I would have been unable to do the yearwalk for the whole of this journey as I had to engage the thinking, executive, problem solving parts of me.  I headed through town, towards the flagpole at Paganhill, and hooked round through Humphries End, following a foot path up the hill until I came to Ruscombe and there turned right to head to the village. As I look back, I see there are two paths leading to the stile. Triangles within triangles

Here, the transmitter seemed to start to flicker in and out of reality. From my house, and from town, and indeed up until this point, it had been clearly visible and I could have got there by sight alone. At this point as I stepped onto the road, it disappeared. This seemed a strange quality to have, for a thing to become less visible the closer one gets – and it continued, right up until the point when I reached it. 

I had not seen the view towards town from this side of the valley, and I spent some time enjoying the change in perspective as I approached the elevated heart of Ruscombe proper, with its cottages improbably wedged into the side of the hill, higgledy-piggledy. I found the village spring, and took a welcome draught – I had forgotten to bring a drink of my own. Above the spring there was a hand carved, simple wooden plaque, its message be-mossed and water stained. Expecting to find a wise religious homily I struggled to read it until I traced the letters with my pencil. What it said was this:

The Quality Of The Water

Cannot Be

Guaranteed

I walked up to the wonderfully named head of the valley, The Throat, describing an almost perfect bell curve of road, and wandered into the little churchyard there, before retracing my steps up the very steep Zion Hill and into the woods. The path levelled out following a low stone wall boundary and passing through stone gateposts. Coming out onto a small, sloping open area covered in snow I paused, listening to the low of cattle and the steady drip of melting snow from the hedgerow – bramble, haw, old mans beard.  It was noticeably colder this high up, a wintery microclimate.

Strangely, the transmitter had flickered from my mind as well as my view, until I and carried on, and then suddenly, to my left – ‘Oh! There you are!’ there it was, safe behind its government issue green spiked railings.

I had been casting more silver threads as I walked, and now turned and faced the direction of my house and cast even more, a strange weaving fisherwoman not looking for a catch. Often, transmitters, pylons and their ilk feel eerie. This one felt friendly.  Feeling oddly warmed, and also satisfied with a successful hunt, I crossed the very old-looking road into Standish woods and set out for the burial mound. On the way, I found much better views of the transmitter.

I am also struck by a series of anti-signs – the ghosts of previous information, or direction given.

By the time I reach the mound, it is 3pm and there is a hint of dusk. I continue to cast my threads between transmitter and mound, 2 sides of the triangle now drawn. I don’t know why I must do this, but I really must. Even though it feels uneasy, tying my house to a place of the dead, it feels right and I still must. I throw out more threads towards my house, and then leave to continue down Ash Lane, towards home, leaving my threads as I walk.

As I walk, I reflect on Tim Ingersoll’s essay on lines and points. He believes (or so I interpret – he can be a bit impenetrable, to me) that point and lines are somehow outdated, or not the point – we do not experience the world as a series of nodes and points, but as a mesh or web. Luckily for me, he uses the body tissue fascia as a metaphor which I understand. I know fascia, have worked with it as a massage therapist, with my own body and others. It is a magical,  mysterious connective tissue that links everything in our bodies to every other thing, that wraps all our organs and bones and muscles, and even individual fibres within our muscles. Rather than seeing our bodies as a mechanical system of levers and pulleys, muscles pulling bones into position, we can see it as a series of components floating in and connected by fascia – our bodies work on a system more akin to flow dynamics than mechanics. So I gain some insight into what Ingersoll is saying, I think.

I do not think though, that it is an either/or position. I think there are nodes and points and connectors and meshes and webs.  I remember that even fascia is made up of fibres, linear ones, that are so small they can give the illusion of an unbroken surface but actually each fibre has a beginning and an end point. It all depends on how close you look.  I could weave a seemingly seamless fine cloth with all my walklines and silver threads if I walked this walk often enough – but it would still be made up of individual starts and ends.

I return home in semi-darkness, triangle and yearwalk complete. It has been satisfying, and I am pleased with my walk. There is a ‘rightness’ in walking what you can see, and the pull of the transmitter is less insistent now, as if it has been pleased, or appeased, or as if some kind of sacrifice has been made of my footfall and sweat and breath. The mound is still impenetrable to me.  It is possibly too old, the hands and minds that made it possibly too distant in time. I feel as if some seeds have been sown for future works and future walks.

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