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Post 31 of A Journey On Foot

22nd August 2013

The other day, a kind reader of this blog sent me a lovely quote. It reminded her of what I am doing. It reminded me of the myriad miracles I pass every day, and the many different personalities of the paths I travel.

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

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Post 30 of A Journey On Foot

20th August 2013

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One might think, when moving mainly on foot, that the leaf turnings and the fruit ripenings and the seed formings would somehow happen at a similar pace to my own slow transformation. Or at least that my noticing of it would be a gradual process of ever so subtle increments. But as I have fared these many Devon ways, it has struck me so suddenly how the summer has turned.

The coolness in the air is immediately noticeable of course, as it has prompted my need to wear all that I am carrying, and affects where and how well I sleep. But different hedges are at different stages in their journey – a small difference in altitude or proximity to a river determining if the blackberries are indeed black, or still decidedly green.

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It is an exciting time to be walking, as I begin to hear whispers of the busyness of autumn coming, and the harvesting of the metaphorical and real fruits of this journey. Now that the summer has given way, each new day is a retelling of a growingly familiar tale.

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And in their gardens and their allotments, the people who live in houses are busy too, picking and tending to their fruits, and sometimes leaving them out for me to find on my way, in exchange for a penny or two.

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In the orchards, the apple trees are busy yielding their answers to the Wassailing prayers, that will keep me and these good folk of Devon in fruit, juice, and cider for the coming months.

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Post 29 of A Journey On Foot

19th August 2013

I am always impressed by people who busk with a harp. But children busking with a harp is truly heroic. And the end goal of their efforts commands immense respect – watch the video very carefully!

I came across these two lovely lads, while spending a day in the wonderfully eclectic town of Totnes with my mother, and a dear old friend with whom, once upon a time, I climbed up to Annapurna base camp in Nepal, and had not seen much of since. How fitting to reunite on another journey on foot, all these years later.

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We spent a meandering few hours wandering the streets and looking for refinements to my kit for the next leg of my journey – a frying pan, a grill and a lovely little lantern, which I found huddled in a higgledy piggledy shop (my favourite kind) that had a bit of anything old and beautiful.

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I must admit, though I have refined my kit to what I actually need, there are still some things that feel are ‘essential’ in a different way, and candle light is one of them. I read in Roger Deakin’s ‘Wildwood’ the other day a quote about candle light illuminating the darkness and electric light killing it. The darkness in Devon is something I wish to embrace totally, so candle light is therefore part of my ‘essential kit’, whether journeying or staying put.

I have been fortunate so far, in each region I have journeyed, to be offered a ‘base camp’ in some form. In Devon, a lady I didn’t know before has so kindly offered for me to base myself in her converted granary. This connection came through somebody else I met in Cumbria, who had read my blog and we happened also to meet me because she decided to visit Sprint Mill, which the blog described, while I was there.

In Devon I shall likely be walking more often with my large backpack, from A to B, than I was in Cumbria, where I would leave it at the bottom of a mountain and go on day walks. For the curious among you, on these day walks I found that my essential items comprised: a notebook, a pen, some nuts and dried fruit, some dried meat (very good walking energy), my iPad for taking photos and videos and posting blogs when I found network at the top of a mountain, a map, and some water. That is what I need. No more, no less.

Post 27 of A Journey On Foot

August 16th 2013

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Walking in Devon is, like life itself, much about weaving through the shadow and the light – bounding through sun scorched fields and ducking into the emerald dappled holloways. I arrived at dusk, and what struck me most is the intensity of the darkness. The absence of a moon made darker still by the high hedgerows, cradling you in your way, or hemming you in – whichever sentiment your perception gives way to. It is the antithesis of walking in Iceland, where the vistas are vast and trees are close to non-existent.

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The hedgerows are so tall and present and full of life, that my first thought as I sat in the crackling black, was that non-human life in Devon took place more in the vertical than in the horizontal. There is a whole universe to be relearned in the leaves, the tendrils, the seed heads and the rosing hips. And in all the creatures that live on, under, through and between them. There are scurryings in the understorey, and flutterings in the upper levels. As I walked down a lane with my mother, I felt honoured to witness the moment when a leaf dried like an umbilical cord, then after weeks of photosynthesis, fell to its destiny.

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The hedge is a many storeyed library of life, and it is impossible not to wish to read of its books. It feels an offence to the creativity and abundance of the hedge then, to begin to come across a majority which have been crudely subjected to a strimmer as the summer plods on. Apparently the farmers must keep their hedges in check to keep the car channels open, otherwise the council will do it for them and present them with a bill. The ancient, skilled and time consuming art of hedge laying seems to have largely been lost.

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With my mother I passed old barns and derelict mills and followed a nide of pheasant hens up a hill into a wood where stood the ruined castle of Berry Pomeroy.

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Down the hill again we passed an apple tree dripping with temptation. And, parked up beside a stream, a bow top wagon with a letter box – a suggestion of a rarity: that this traveller has been allowed to stay awhile, before wending its way again between the bright fields and the dark hedges.

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Post 27 of A Journey On Foot

14th August 2013

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I have always felt very calm in round dwellings. In fact, they do not even need to be round; just cornerless. They smooth off the jagged edges of your day and hold you in deep sleep. I have a couple of friends who have lived in yurts and have been so fond of the beauty in their structure, the crown that can open to the skies, and the smell of lanolin in the wool insulation.

It is with some excitement then that I took up my second prize offered by Virgin Experience Days, with my mother who came all the way from Kenya to join me for a few footsteps of this journey. It was the perfect way to smooth off the slight confusion of suddenly being in a completely different county, having taken the train from Cumbria to Devon that morning – the furthest distance I have travelled in a day for a long long time.

Even more I love to sleep in a place lined with story. ‘Glamping’ sites have become rather ubiquitous of late, so I was very heartened to hear the unusual and meaningful way these yurts came to be in this field in Little Hempston as the owner Liz Jeffery showed us to our yurt. It was the first yurt they acquired, and so the beginning of their story with them…

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“Our yurt camp has evolved into the holiday business following inspiration from a book I read called ‘The Horse Boy’ by Rupert Issacson (now being made into a film). Based on a true story, it documents the journey through Mongolia of a family who have an autistic son, in their search for healing from spiritual leaders, or ‘Shamans’. They travel all over living on the land, riding horses and reindeer and staying in yurts whilst looking for the Shamans.

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Liz showing us the hand painted doors, which symbolise prosperity for those who pass through them.

I felt a great deal of empathy for the family as my youngest son Myles, who is 15, is autistic and very similar to their son Rowan. I would have loved to emulate their journey. However, it would never be possible for us, as we have too many commitments to be able to sell up and live a nomadic life in the same way. Eventually we decided to buy an authentic Mongolian Yurt and bring it to our home here in Devon.

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I wanted desperately to bring a small piece of Mongolian spirituality to Devon. And it is not an easy task to bring something half way across the world. Yurts arrive on a boat taking three months to be transported from their homeland. I love and enjoy our yurts with a passion. I feel the very essence of their spirituality, which is enshrined in the organic structures that they are. My imagination allows me to feel at peace with the world when spending any time in them, and my son Myles loves them too. He has a great dislike of interaction with people, preferring to associate with the horses and to remain insular. Such is the life of someone with autism.

The idea of a holiday yurt camp was primarily to share both the yurts, and the stunning rural location where we live with others, and to make it a viable commercial venture.”

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We had arrived late the evening before and only seen the area in semi – then absolute darkness as we found our way to (and less successfully back from) the pub! There was no moon, you see, and the hedges were high. All the landmarks I had noted simply disappeared on the return. Rather embarrassed, I gave in at 11.30pm and Liz’s husband kindly came and rescued us from a place where “‘Ere be dragons!” as he put it.

In the morning, I got out my map in the dining room, which is a converted stable, to somehow align my cells and my senses with my new location. We ate a breakfast of boiled eggs, courtesy of Liz’s free range hens, while Liz regaled us with tales of her predatory badger neighbours who can stand on their hind legs (she now has a video camera on the chicken run!). She also told us of the fine walks in the area, and so in the fine sunshine, we donned our boots, and headed off to see what the shade dappled lanes and high hedgerows were going to show us.

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It was a wonderful way to slip into Devon and I am grateful to Liz, her husband and Virgin Experience Days for making my first night in a new land such an intriguing one. You can read Liz’s blog about her various visitors – furry and otherwise here: http://www.devon-yurts.co.uk/1/post/2013/08/a-wayfarer-and-a-dark-night.html

Post 26 of A Journey On Foot

13th August 2013

Rock of Names by Harry Goodwin. Watercolour. 1870. Reproduced with the kind permission of The Wordsworth Trust.

Many footsteps ago, when I was kindly hosted by The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, Dove Cottage guide Mark Ward took me on an out of hours tour of Wordsworth’s former residence. One of the things he showed me was this painting of Thirlmere, before it was dammed to make a reservoir to serve Manchester, flooding a village in the process. Wordsworth’s poetry flowed at a time of great social change, and the idea of microcosms of culture disappearing in the name of progress, while a mark of that era, is also sadly very current.

It was while I was staying at The Quiet Site, that the manager told me about the submerged village of Mardale, lost forever to the expansion of Haweswater – also to serve Manchester. With all the dry weather we have been having, he imagined it might be possible to see parts of the village if the water level became low enough. The idea of the past becoming momentarily visible captured my imagination, so it was with my friend Mary Ullrich that I set out, along the valley of Long Sleddale near her home, to find it.

Long Sleddale

Long Sleddale is one of the lesser known valleys of The Lake District and is so named as there is a slate quarry at its head from which the stone was transported out by horse drawn sled. On the steeper parts of the old road, the cobbled stones on which the horses could grip their hooves are still plainly visible.

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Up and over the pass, we soon spied Haweswater and fragments of what might be a submerged village. But instead of doing the easy, sensible thing and heading straight down to it, we decided to take a longer route that took in a part of High Street – a Roman Road – and descend in the region of the Golden Eagle’s nesting site, in the hope that I might see him again and check that it really was him. I do not know what it will take for me to learn that ‘small detours’ almost invariably turn into epic adventures and what appears to be gentle undulation from a distance can often be uncomfortably jagged or steep terrain!

Haweswater

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Slabs of rock pushed out of the hillside like the crowded tombstones of a subterranean cemetery. They are striking to look at, but not so pleasant to walk upon. We passed cairns with bedsteads growing out of them, and made our way down the crooked spine of a hill towards what looked like field boundary walls poking their tops out of the water.

Mardale headland

Mardale from above

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The voices of this lost village were loud, and I imagined I saw a house with a roof and chimney. It could not be, as the houses were largely demolished and their stones used elsewhere. But when looking for something ‘lost’, our imaginations tend to populate the spaces with their desires.

The walls were there but anything else that might have been visible was covered with many layers of sediment. We longed to get closer, to see some sign of a life lived, and waded out into the water.

Sarah wades out

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Walking along the shore, as if to put this relatively recent submersion into a much vaster context – geological time – I came upon a boulder. Tumbled onto its side, the grayscale layers of millennia of the earth’s identities were as stark as a bar code.

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This, my last Wayfarer walk in Cumbria, would add yet another layer of story of the landscape, as in turn the landscape has cloaked me abundantly in layers of story.

***SAD UPDATE*** The ‘Mountain Woman’ mentioned towards the end of this post sadly and inexplicably went missing during a house move, with everything else present and correct. If you see her anywhere in the world, please do get in touch via this blog. There is only one of her, and she was absolutely a symbol of my journey. Nobody could care about her more than I do.

Post 25 of A Journey On Foot

August 12th 2013

Escaping from the ceaseless rain-drenched valley with a very wet tent, and a stove that felt too damp to co-operate for a morning brew, Eleanor and I made our way into the sunshine and breakfast, and the open possibilities of a Sunday.

Driving towards Penrith, we noticed a sign for Potfest, an internationally renowned festival of potters who come with their wares from all over the world to enjoy a weekend gathering of creative minds in beautiful surroundings. We’d both always wanted to go to it, so we seized the opportunity.

Potfest

Paul Young stall

Japan stall

There are two Potfests over two weekends: Potfest in the Pens was the original open-to-all event, and still takes place in an old cattle market in Penrith. Potfest in the Park at Hutton-in-the-Forest is a more selective event, with some of the world’s best talent chosen from potters’ fairs internationally, by founder Geoff Cox.

 Geoff in the fleshGeoff Cox – Potfest Founder

It didn’t take long for me to find Geoff, or rather for him to find me, as he saw I was particularly interested in the ‘Journey’ concept they were showcasing this year to celebrate Potfest’s 20th anniversary. Both the journey of rock becoming clay, and the journeys that people make from all over the world to come here, year on year, to exchange news and begin new stories elsewhere.

Clay – The First Journey

Clay begins its journey as feldspathic rock, pushed up from the earth to form mountains. Over millions of years, ice, wind and water erode the rock and it falls to the valleys. As it continues to erode, smaller particles find their way into rivers and are transported sometimes great distances, eventually settling out into thick seams. Throughout their journey they are continually ground finer, sometimes picking up organic matter and other minerals along the way. This gives the resulting clay its particular character. Often those things it picks up will help it fire at lower temperatures; it’s become earthenware clay. Clay that is purer and found nearer to its original mountain source fires at higher temperatures, called stoneware. The clay most studio potters use are mixtures from various places, blended to achieve different working qualities and specific effects.

(Excerpt from Journeys In Clay catalogue)

Geoff comes from a place called Holme on Spalding Moor, near Hull. There, he told me, farmers used to make pots in winter for their own use, until a Roman garrison was established just across the River Humber, which created a ready made market for the pots. It is then that the ceramic industry took off, and some pots that originate from there have allegedly been found in Egypt, identifiable by their style. In those times the River Humber was “like a motorway” – a major transport channel. Roman settlements were often built near rivers, and it is across waters that these pots would travel.

Potfest in the Park is a focal point for a selection of the best potters in Europe. Now they travel here with their wares by car, and out of this gathering and sharing of new work, opportunities emerge to attend other fairs, and meet other potters. On the Friday night, all the potters have a meal together, and each country is asked to bring a ‘liquid prize’. Each country then chooses its favourite potter, and awards the prize. Geoff said with a glint in his eye, that he used to throw the lid away so that it would have to be consumed, and shared, there and then!

You may remember, from my stay at The Quiet Site that there was a particular ceramic lady who caught my eye as my friend and I had a drink in the bar. She had such presence that I had to ask the manager what he knew of her origins:

ceramic lady

So much had happened since then, and Daniel had never told me the maker’s name, so she had slipped from the foreground of my memory. As I talked to Geoff I suddenly remembered her again. I pulled up the photograph and asked, “You don’t by any chance know who made this do you?”. “Sally MacDonell” he said, instantly. “She’s over there.” I felt as if I’d entered a nexus of stories and pathways, and was surrounded by precious biographical objects. The longer I stay in this area, I begin to notice certain characters, stories, or themes coming up and tapping me on the shoulder once again.

I went to find Sally and she was very pleased to see her old friend (though she said it could do with a polish if I’d tell her where to find it)! She said she made it about ten years ago, during an “armchair phase” when all her figures were seated. She asked me to email her the photo, responded saying that receiving it was “like seeing a family member again after years of separation”.

Sally MacdonellSally MacDonell

She admitted, “I don’t do arty farty bollocks but I am an optimist. That’s what my work is about really. All my ladies wear different hats but they’re all the same. We’re all the same deep down. We all bleed.”

I can imagine, if you have spent many hours holding and forming a piece in your hands, it becomes forever a part of you; just as I may hold a certain swathe of earth beneath my feet as I walk across it, becoming familiar with it until I and the memory of it are inseparable – especially true when walking barefoot.

I met another magical French potter by the name of Hélène Sellier- Duplessis, who had made a stunning collection of otherworldly creatures, shamanesses and dream stupas in earthy tones – intricately glazed in tiny detailed parts with Tibetan reds, blues and turquoises.

HeleneHélène Sellier- Duplessis

“The matter in your hands connects with the matter in you”, she said.

Helene Shamaness

Hélène had travelled for much of her life. Then, aged thirty, she asked herself what was the most important thing that she wanted to do. The answer was to play with clay. She came from a family of potters but had no formal training. Her work is some of the most beautiful and intriguing I have ever seen.

I was particularly drawn in (irrevocably in fact), by a character in the series that she referred to as The Mountain Women. Even though other pieces were equally beautiful in their own way, this one totally had me. “She has her arm outstretched, ready to give, or receive”.

Helene Mountain Woman My Mountain Woman

A sizeable ceramic sculpture is not something your average Wayfarer would consider acquiring en route. Less still, parting with a chunk of cash. But I had no choice in this one, you see. Sometimes, you know a thing is yours to look after. Hélène kindly offered to let me pay later as I am not carrying a cheque book (travelling light!) but to solve it all there and then, the organiser of the festival actually lent me the money and said I could pay him back when I’m done Wayfaring. I am so heartened to find a concentration of good souls around and it was the perfect end to one story and the beginning of another. This piece embodies so much about what this journey has been for me. It, and my walking stick, will forever be my mementos of the ways I have fared this summer.

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