Thursday, May 29, 2008

we make marks, we leave traces

Further to my post about solitary to social paths below, I recalled this quote from walking artist Richard Long:

'My materials are elemental: stone, water, mud, days, nights, rivers, sunrises. And our bodies are elemental: we are animals, we make marks, we leave traces, we leave footprints.' Walking and Marking catalogue, Richard Long, (National Galleries of Scotland)

So I am still pondering - what form do our marks and traces take on pavements, and surfaced paths? Narrative lines drawn in snatches of conversation or thought left hanging? Scuffs and smells and litter trails? Furrows of displaced air?

Friday, May 23, 2008

white tails

This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve walked to this year. Without saying exactly where it is, for reasons that will become obvious, the name roughly translates as ‘the grey precipice rooted in water’ (I think), and is to be found by following wild goats where they have worn a red soil path through bluebell and young bracken towards a glistering sea, its horizon hung with small islands.

Here, caves forge deep under the cliffs, laid with floors of soft damp sand that, back in daylight, you find has stained your clothes a salmon pink. Burns course from a thousand feet above you to fall through birch tangled escarpments as waterfalls, spraying dark the shoreside pavements of rock and pool where bluebells force up between white sea-rolled pebbles. There are cockles too, to collect in a handful, boil and pull with a needle in small coils from their shells, to taste the sea.

And here, last weekend, I was hypnotised by the wheeling white-tailed flight of a sea eagle, Europe's largest. Mobbed by crows, tiny in comparison, it flicked and rolled to shake them off, and creaked up and down lugubrious door-sized wings. Then there was a second, larger, one joining it in the sky, coming so low that we could see the missing ‘finger’ in its left wing, see something of its battle-scarred, tom-cat character.

We were close enough to see the female return to her nest on top of a pinnacle above us, to catch the flash of her eye and the yellow curl of her beak as she looked down, imperious. But when she launched from the cliff face above me and hung, spread-winged, finger feathers in silhouette, head low, a shadow between me and the sun, I gasped with something close to fear. A beast so large, so feather-quill close, on our own shores. And then came awe and relief as she swooped away, leaving me lying safely on the rock.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

from solitary to social paths

When solo footsteps are followed by others, a path is worn - like the one on the right in East Africa.

But when I studied the hillside below and the web of paths woven by sheep and wild goats, I started to think about the webs we lay in urban areas where the most dense walking patterns seem to now exist. What kind of resonances do our interlocking ways leave when concrete and tarmac refuse to hold our marks?

Walking from the 'Muckle Toon'

Last week I spent a sunny afternoon in the hills of south-west Scotland around Langholm prior to an evening reading at the lovely, recently refurbished, Gilnockie Hall. It's a place with an interesting writing heritage, being the birthplace and burial ground of poet Hugh MacDiarmid. I worked in schools in this area during 2005-6, and discovered a new generation of enthusiastic writers with powerful imagingations, as can be seen from the 'Our Island' story I wrote with Glenzier Primary pupils.
I joined a local walking group to head south over the hills below Whita Quarry and into the lower reaches of Tarras Water. Then we doubled back to cross back to the 'Muckle Toon' along the old railway line. Features of the walk included a dramatic rescue of stranded tadpoles from a drying puddle (a crisp packet the vital conveyance), sights including a former distillery, seams of coal, and the 'Marl Well', a petrifying spring in a hillside. Best of all, was the subversive temptation of what must be the most extreme bungee jump in the world (I didn't dare).
When working in the area I discovered, with the help of some useful signing and leaflets, some wonderful and varied walks in this area. This makes the annual Langholm Walking Festival a big draw to the area, coming up shortly, in early June. If you venture there, I can highly recommend the Border Guest House for a friendly welcome and the best scrambled eggs in Scotland.

Friday, May 16, 2008

'Cleave' - New Writing by Women in Scotland

A section of my non-fiction piece 'The Dogs' Route' about walking a drove road last September appears in this new anthology from Two Ravens Press (a Scottish newcomer attracting significant attention). Intended as a cross-genre record of what it is to be a woman in Scotland in 2008, there is a great diversity of forms and names including Jackie Kay and Dilys Rose. Launched in Borders, Glasgow on June 12th, I wish the anthology well and am pleased to have my first non-fiction 'walking' piece, about the joys of chance encounters, female-ness embedded in land and stone (see above), and the meaning of ageing, included in such a book, already available direct from the publishers.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

'Riprap' by Gary Snyder

Thanks go to the Solitary Walker for drawing my attention to this wonderful poem . With its association of words with rocks with planets and paths, it seems to bring together many of my recent preoccupations whilst walking - following old forgotten crafted walls, touching worn slate stiles, and laying words to try and evoke and celebrate places and journeys.