Saturday, 24 January 2009

Solvitur Ambulando.##


I wonder, now that we no longer have to walk everywhere, whether we have lost the art of what I would like to call "purposeful walking." The age-old footpaths that criss-cross our countryside, the lanes, the old drove roads, are now only used by leisure walkers, Most of these paths/roads stretch back well into antiquity and were, in their time, important thoroughfares.

Our local Mill Lane begins at the water mill on the beck-side in our village and follows the course of the beck, roughly, between hedges and stone walls, across fields to Friar Ings Farm. And in the name of the farm lies the clue to the lane's origins, for it was the main thoroughfare for the monks from nearby Jervaulx Abbey who, in The Middle Ages, trecked along its length with their flocks of sheep, their corn to be milled, their other livestock.

All over the British Isles there are footpaths and lanes which would once have been seen as the main roads of the day. These often still have names like Gypsy Lane, Smuggler's Lane, Beggar's Lane; we have one in our village called Hobthrush (I think that is some kind of witch) Lane. Along the side of it are the foundations of a Medieval House.

Up to the last century most people walked everywhere. On April 7th 1870 Francis Kilvert, the curate of Clyro (Kilvert's Diary) wrote:

"I had the satisfaction of managing to walk from Hay to Clyro without meeting a single person - I have such a liking for a deserted road." In those days Kilvert had three choices if he wanted to get from Hay to Clyro - he could ride his pony, take a stage coach or walk.

My father, who was born in 1896, took his first job in a chemist's shop in Lincoln at the age of 14. Lincoln was eleven miles away from where he lived, or eight miles by footpath, so there was no contest - he walked the footpath each morning and back at night until he saved up enough money to buy himself a bicycle. Then he rode the same footpath to work each day.

In my own childhood in the forties we always walked everywhere. There were only two cars in our Lincolnshire village - one belonged to the doctor and the other to the vicar. The vicar drove so slowly that one morning my brother overtook the vicar's car on his bicycle!

Ronald Blythe in "Field Work" (pub. Black Dog Books) says that until quite recently people's existence was controlled by footpaths. He calls John Clare, the country poet, "the genius of the footpath."

In fact until the last century tramping for miles was commonplace. He speaks of Mrs Hazlitt who hiked from Edinburgh to Glasgow daily during the course of her controversial divorce. And what did people do whilst they were walking? Well I think they looked at the countryside around them. Most country people in those days were amateur naturalists, noting the birds, the wild flowers, the butterflies - although most of them had not the wherewithal to write down their findings.

Wordsworth wrote much of his poetry while treading country footpaths. Gustav Holst would walk from St Paul's Girls' School home to Cheltenham so that he could compose in his mind along the way. Langland wrote much of Piers Plowman walking regularly from London to Malvern.

Now we walk these paths when out for a stroll and often meet noone (particularly once we get a hundred yards from a Car Park!), but years ago there would be people laying hedges. ditching, working the fields; there would be children playing, courting couples, families out walking - because that is what they did. These ancient green ways were once busy thoroughfares. Now we rush from A to B by car, by the shortest possible route. In days gone by people had no option but to walk and that made the pace of life so much slower (and better for it??)


## "we can work it out while walking"

The photograph shows a marker post on the footpath across Coverdale (necessary when there was a heavy snowfall).

30 comments:

Sal said...

It's a lovely photo.
Fascinating to read that extract as well. I bet those old footpaths could tell a tale or two.
You're right..generally people do not walk many yards from their car!! ;-)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

After commenting on the comment you left on my blog (does that make this a comment on a comment on a comment?), I visited you here and found this wonderful piece on walking.

Here in the States, folks never walk. (One look at our national chubby selves tells you that!) They hike…they exercise…they amble around the block and talk on their cell phones…but they don’t walk. Not in the way you mean. Many residential areas—especially the newer, and often more expensive homes—don’t even come with sidewalks. Walking along the roadsides is literally risking your life, what with the zooming traffic. The person who decided to walk around a sidewalk-less neighborhood might also get sued or fined or at least cussed out if they walked across their neighbor’s property. And most of the rural areas have “no trespassing” signs plastered everywhere.

I envy you your ancient network of footpaths. Over the years, so much of the literature—novels, poetry, genre fiction—I’ve read from your side of the pond has either mentioned those paths on their pages, or were written by authors who were confirmed walkers. I think there’s an undeniable connection between writing and walking, something about being afoot that stirs and stimulates the creative juices, sharpens your cognitive powers, allows you to both focus and clear your mind while you work out phrases and plot twists; for a writer, walking is more than mere ambulatory brooding.

In closing, just let me tell how much I always enjoy your blog—from the mole piece to the beloved china, the sketches of folks you’ve known, Christmas cards (though I could no more toss mine out than I can throw away a book after I’ve read it!) and sheep counting. Just a few of my recent favorites…and I’m reading my way through your “back issues” too.

P.S. Nice photo. Makes me want to walk there this morning…

Crafty Green Poet said...

I walk a lot, but much of it is for leisure, certainly all my walking along riversides etc is for leisure. I've always got my eyes open! I do think we have lost a lot though by so many of us rushing around and not noticing things.

Lovely light in your photo too.

Jennifer Jilks said...

We love our walks. Not today, as it is -20, but normally walk 2km into town for mail.

There are several folks around that walk or jog regularly. The cute young things, with their size 2 bodies do not inspire me. I find many benefits from a brisk walk, though.

We have a snowmobile trail through our town, and these days have to be vigilant for men on 400 lb. machines screaming along the sidewalk. There is no other path than this in the middle of town.

Reader Wil said...

Hi this is great post and it reminds me of the times that we, when we were on holiday in Cornwall, walked from Penzance to Lamorna Cove via Mousehole. It was on those footpaths on the cliffs that we hiked. Other hikers, who walked faster than we did, passed us on their way to Lamorna Cove. When we finally arrived after hours, they exclaimed in surprise:"Oh you made it!!!..."

Thanks for your visit. It's wonderful that your chickens can roam freely.

Red Clover said...

I have been thinking about the same idea as of late, and spent more time walking when I could, especially during the summer. It seems that many of our "modern methods" are great assets and shallow friends. Your post made me want to read Throeau's "Walking" essay again...thanks!

Janice Thomson said...

I love walking whether for business or for leisure. We don't have the kind of trails and footpaths except in the parks that you talk about - how I would love that!

BT said...

What an interesting post weaver. I never really thought about it, but I only walk for 'leisure' too. People used to walk miles to school and back.

I have been sent a 'meme' and have been asked to 'tag' so many people but can't make the tagging work, so will do it here if you don't mind. If you want to see my answers, they're on my blog:

25 Things Meme from LeatherdykeUK
Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.

45 and Aspiring said...

Nice post & picture. I lived in Boston for years and took the train every day to work. I drove to the train station but had to walk a stint from the parking to the train. Then I walked from the train to the office--certainly not on a walking path. . .but a thought provoking route none-the-less. Based on my pedometer, by the time I got to my desk, I'd walked about 2 miles.

Now I live in Atlanta. No one walks anywhere purposefully. . . Unless I work on it, I only walk 2 miles after a whole day!

I do live near a paved walking trail which is very popular, but it is so different than the natural scenes from a foot trail. . .

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comment Sal - I always think that about our lane when I walk along it - who has gone down it before - why?

The Weaver of Grass said...

If so, Incorrigible Scribe then this is a comment on a comment on a.....better not go on! We were in Scottsdale in May last year and wanted to walk to Borders bookshop. Our hotel advised us to take the free trolley bus, saying that noone walked anywhere and I must say we never saw a sole on any of the footpaths. It was a lovely warm day and just the weather for walking. Also in Alberquerque we were advised not to walk to the Botanical Gardens as it was too far - we did walk and it was barely a mile.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks c.g.p. Are you doing the Garden Birdswatch today?

The Weaver of Grass said...

I would not like to share my footpath with a snow mobile, Jennifer!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Reader wil - those coastal footpaths make wonderful walking don't they? And if you are lucky you see dolphins too.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks red clover - shall get my copy of Thoreau out again too. Thanks for reminding me of it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I have walked some of your park footpaths, Janice and they are lovely, but I do agree with you that they don't hold the same history as a path which was once a main road.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks BT for the comment. My skills are not up to that either, but thanks for thinking of me.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes 45 and aspiring - I have found this lack of walking anywhere in the States very strange - here people walk everywhere even if only for short distances.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

How very true about walks being a great way to engage in creative thinking. We are very lucky here to have many walkways and footpaths, for which I am most grateful!

Woman in a Window said...

Oh, I think we've most definitely lost something. I didn't start driving 'til I was 27. Up until that time I had a real connection with my surroundings. After that, nada. Just fast, fast, zip!

I have gained something though, too. About twenty pounds!

elizabethm said...

I absolutely love this post Weaver. I love to walk and also remember my grandmother's tales of being sent to take her father his lunch when she was about eight or nine, a five mile walk along the canal. We live just off the Offa's Dyke long distance trail and I love the idea that you can walk down the length of wales from sea to sea.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Raph, I agree. Walking is good for my soul.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Woman in a window - gaining twenty pounds happens to us all sooner or later I am afraid. Walking doesn't seem to shift it either.

The Weaver of Grass said...

elizabethm - how I envy you living near to Offa's Dyke - before I retired, when I lived quite near to the Welsh border, we used to regularly walk bits of the dyke. There is nothing to touch Welsh scenery.

Heather said...

We would all be so much fitter if we walked more, and cars have made us lazy. My parents didn't have a car until years after I had left home - if I missed the last bus at night I walked home, fortunately only 2 or 3 miles. These days we are scared to let our children walk alone or even play alone outside the home environment. The world has not become a better place in my lifetime.

Cathy said...

I envy you all that beautiful countryside for walking. Growing up we walked everywhere as most of my family lived out in the country and close to each other. I really didn't stop taking "good" walks until I moved into my present home 10 years ago. Althougth I'm surrounded by woods. I am still surrounded by subdivisions built all around them. I've gain alot of weight since moving here. I would love to move but we like the schools too much. Enjoy all that beauty!

megha said...

It's a lovely photo.
Fascinating to read that extract as well.


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Derrick said...

A bit late arriving! but I enjoyed reading this, Weaver. Episodes of 'Larkrise to Candleford' spring to mind!

But I'm sure that in various parts of rural UK there are folks who still walk, simply because they need to get to a place. I'm not a great walker but find I will walk for hours when I visit a new city!

Dominic Rivron said...

Regarding the photo of the stone. It's near the top of Coverdale, I think, and there's a tradition -as I remember it- that every midnight it turns round 180 degrees. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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