Reflections on Walk #1 as part of 'Lines in the Landscape' residency.
A written account, including thoughts during and after the event, of a walk from New Radnor to The Rodd.
20th January 2017.
I have always loved to walk but, when I started walking again after an illness last year, it was with a new intention. I wanted to regain control of a journey on which, under the pretence of being given a gift, I felt so much had been taken from me. My journey had been too fast to see out of the window. I needed recalibrating and I thought I could achieve this if I returned to a walking pace. I felt my body had failed me; how could I ever learn to trust it again? Maybe by propelling my tiny shape across the surface of the Earth, by making indentations with my feet, by casting a moving shadow, I would be able to reaffirm my existence; to blend my internal and external landscape. And so, as a consequence of simply placing one foot in front of the other, again and again, an unexpected path has appeared before me: Lines in the Landscape. Navigation of this path will require a reconnaissance on foot of ground new to me and so I began by walking, with my little dog Dot, from New Radnor to The Rodd.
I parked the Wagon R in New Radnor’s main street and was tempted to explore the churchyard before finding the start of my route on School Lane. I had recently read of a, ‘startlingly convincing tombstone on which was inscribed the word REUNION above two sculptured, scantily clad figures of a man and girl kissing in close embrace’ in an account of a trip to New Radnor in 1937 by S. P. B. Mais and was curious to see the grave for myself. However, I felt a pressure to perform the walk (this I will discuss later) and so decided that was for another day.
School Lane (once I had passed the school), which had looked appealing on the map, was deeply rutted and flooded with icy, muddy water. Dot looked up at me, questioning my wisdom of walking such a route, as she bravely tiptoed through the freezing mire. At times the water was so deep the track resembled a river and we were forced to leave the way to walk in an adjoining field. The route was old and carried a brutality about it; many smaller paths fed in from the hills to the left, like green slipways. This is a landscape of big farms and the sheep that watched us had been turned brown by grazing fields of root crop. So relieved were we to reach the road at Four Stones that we forgot to go and look at the four stones.
Below, to my right I could see the buildings of Hindwell Farm, but not the pool that had so interested me on the map (the source of the brook and mentioned by Watkins) but, as with the four stones, I was reluctant to detour. At the time I did not question this decision but now, sat typing in the warm, I wonder why. I think I was concerned that the walk was too long for the little dog. On my previous long walks I had walked alone, so as not to worry about anyone but myself. On this walk I found myself talking to Dot, encouraging her through mud and brambles, and was worried about lengthening the walk unnecessarily. On that section of the walk there was a stream of aggressive farm machinery; the farmer and his dog glaring as they passed us. The other significant difference was that I was ‘expected’ at The Rodd. They knew I was walking today and the knowledge that they knew fed into my work ethic; the walk was nudging towards a responsibility to deliver. An action that had begun a few months ago as an open-ended exploration to redefine myself through performance without audience had now gained an expectant audience and this was altering my experience of walking.
We crossed the Walton to Evenjobb road, passed a big muck pile and descended to the old settlement, with Motte and Bailey, of Womaston. Here the map had promised a pleasant path along the right-hand-bank of the Hindwell brook but the fields were again turnips and sheep and sectioned by temporary wire fences. Dot, as always, was excited by the water and kept trying to get down to the brook but the bank was steep and the water fast. Again my romantic expectations of the territory were redefined by the reality of a working landscape and, after a dicey stretch on the main road where the low sun rendered us invisible, I turned left into Lower Harpton Farm. Here the Offa’s Dyke path was labelled clearly but there was no sign of the footpath I wanted to follow. However, I could spy the trees marking the settlement of Knill between the gateposts of Burfa Bank to the left and the big sleeping beast of Herrock Hill to the right so I walked a wide farm machinery track, past yet another vast muck dumping area and skirted the edges of arable fields.
As we approached Tan House Plantation there was a crashing in the undergrowth and two Roe deer parted; one headed away and one passed us, its hooves singing as it jumped a fence and galloped towards the woods of Knill Garraway. Sun rays just peeped over the ridge and three backlit Scots Pines marked the line where ice met dew. Dot and I stood still and watched for a moment and I took a photograph.
A photograph in an album is not a representation of family life. An image of mum and dad and kids sat on a beach eating ice creams cannot imbue the viewer with the experience of what it meant to be there, to be part of that moment within the entirety of a life. If one continues with the well-trodden metaphor of a walk as life’s journey then, just as you would not presume to understand a person’s life through a series of snapshots, nor would you expect to understand a walk by being presented with ‘evidence’ of particular points along the way. The only way to experience a walk is to walk it and, each time it is walked, whether by the same person or by a different person, the experience is different because it only exists in the present.
We crossed the brook and stayed to the right of the pool; a heron watching from the crown of an oak that rose at the edge of the water. Knill is an astonishing array of colourful half-timbered buildings and I felt I had been here before, but couldn’t remember when. When we reached the ford I recognised the location ‘A Watersplash on the Hindwell Brook, Knill’ from a photograph in P. Thoresby Jones’ 1938 book ‘Welsh Border Country’. An anxiousness that had accompanied me since the beginning of the walk eased and I felt more hopeful about the ‘success’ of the walk. Was this because I was on the ‘home straight’ or because the landscape here was more hidden; the homesteads more fairy-tale-like; the fields and lanes more sentimental? As I stood at the meeting of three ways above the ford my phone rang. ‘How long till you get to The Rodd?’ asked Ant. ‘I’ve just passed Knill,’ I said, ‘so I reckon about an hour.’ I was conscious of a waiting on my arrival further down the valley and felt humbled but also exposed.
The sun shone over the top of Little Brampton Scar and Dot and I sat down on an opened out jiffy bag. I had a flask of carrot and coriander soup and shared my banana pancakes (left over from breakfast) with Dot. I felt happy. The sun was warm on my face. Walks hold these unexpected moments. Again the track was muddy and rutted but dryer than the one from New Radnor. The Hindwell meandered way down to the left and it was a short walk to Little Brampton. There was an extraordinarily beautiful inscription carved on to a creamy-stoned building and I wish I had photographed it because now I can’t remember what was written; I think it named the architect. I saw no-one and the farmstead looked empty although surely wasn’t. There was a path to the right that rose up to the wood but we carried straight on to Nash.
At Nash (which must have featured on a chocolate box) Dot paddled and washed the mud from her paws at the stony ford. We followed the brook within the perimeter of an electric fence that had been erected to protect the meanders from the churning cleaves of cattle, and, prompted by a familiar bend and beach, then climbed a gate and walked towards the buildings of Rodd Farm. As Dot and I crossed the yard we met Anthony wheeling some Sidney Nolan canvases along on a sack truck.