Monday, 5 May 2014

'The slow death of purposeless walking'

Here's an article almost designed for a fine British bank holiday Monday - from the BBC : 'The slow death of purposeless walking' [here]
As someone who has done quite a lot of purposeless walking in my time (and the occasional more purposeful journey) it strikes a chord:
"..Henry David Thoreau, who was both author and naturalist, walked and walked and walked. But even he couldn't match the feat of someone like Constantin Brancusi, the sculptor who walked much of the way between his home village in Romania and Paris. Or indeed Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul at the age of 18 inspired several volumes of travel writing. * George Orwell, Thomas De Quincey, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bruce Chatwin, WG Sebald and Vladimir Nabokov are just some of the others who have written about it.
CS Lewis thought that even talking could spoil the walk. "The only friend to walk with is one who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared."
The way people in the West have started to look down on walking is detectable in the language. "When people say something is pedestrian they mean flat, limited in scope...."  
The heyday of walking seems to have been the Edwardian era, with writers such as Edward Thomas, Chesterton and Belloc all taking to the rolling English road, and the inns along the way. 
One thing seems to be true: in an increasingly urbanised and, despite the ritual genuflections to 'diversity,'  highly conformist culture, as we lose the willingness and even perhaps the ability to walk, we also risk the loss of the possibility of independent thought ....  
* "....The land changed a lot between Zographos and Chilandari. The evergreen valleys have been left behind and replaced by heather-clad highlands, shaded by fir and oak woods, and the rock underfoot has turned to sand and gravel. The whole scene reminded me of Scotland. The day was wonderful, not a cloud in the sky, and the birdsong was filled with optimism and the promise of spring. A bright-winged jay screeched at my approach, and a whirring cloud of woodpigeons burst from a giant ilex. High overhead a hawk hovered, casting his wavering shadow on a stretch of bare sand. The pathway nearly always followed a water-course, and sometimes the going was torment, as the recent gales and snow have mangled or uprooted innumerable bushes and saplings. This meant crawling underneath on all fours, or clambering over mountains of shrubbery, no easy task when each twig is festooned with a mesh of spined brambles and creepers as strong as wire. That hallowed neighbourhood soon re-echoed to savage blasphemies. Perspiring and aching, I climbed at last to a higher point, commanding the surrounding country, and there below, basking in the noonday sun, lay the Serbian monastery of Chilandari, the faded tiles of the lichen -coated roofs appearing above feathery treetops; in one wall a tall battlemented tower overlooked the courtyard, with the four leaded Byzantine domes of the church and three cypresses, almost as high as the tower itself. Fold on wooded fold descended into the valley, like a wide staircase, and not so far away the blue sea glittered ..... "  
from Patrick Leigh Fermor's  The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos " (2013) - the completion from his diaries of his epic journey - edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper

Music by another confirmed walker - E.J. Moeran's Overture for a Masque:

The Ulster Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley

1 comment:

  1. Americans, mostly, seem to have forgotten how to walk. I miss that;still, in Texas at least, there's quite a lot of purposeless riding (horse & car). I like nothing better than a horse ride across country -- but gone are the days when you could ride out for as far as the eye can see and further. Thanks, barbed wire.


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