Reflections on Walk #2 as part of 'Lines in the Landscape' residency.
A written account, including thoughts during and after the event, of a walk from Fairview to The Firs.
25th January 2017.
It takes about 15 minutes for me to drive from my present home, a bungalow named Fairview, to The Firs. My studio is roughly mid-way, in a farmyard opposite 1 Buckton, a cottage that was my home for 4 years. During that time I worked at The Firs as a personal assistant. At 3pm on 25th January I was to attend a meeting there, in my role as participating artist and programme consultant, concerning the proposed walking event at The Rodd.
Warning: clichéd walking metaphor ahead. My path to being an artist is like a zig zag on a scree slope; running downhill I send shards tumbling and have to trust that the mini-terraces created by my feet will prevent me from falling and when I plod uphill I slip backwards and progress is slow. But, I embarrass myself, writing about walking is far trickier and more exhausting than walking (note to self for response to next walk). I have already spent many more hours writing, and re-writing, this account than I did actually walking the route; and I haven’t even left the house yet.
It was 1.40 and the sun was shining. I had decided to drive to the Firs via my studio and do some work for an hour, but then I thought, ‘Why drive to a meeting about walking?’ On previous occasions, I had walked to my studio from home and I had walked to The Firs from Buckton; so why not combine the two walks. I clipped the lead on little Dot and we cut through the diagonal lane at the back of the council houses down to the main road. I always feel there should be a more direct route to The Firs. You can look across from the Wigmore Rolls and see the oak trees that pour down, like sand in an egg timer, to the bank on which the Colliers’ house sits, but the line is blocked by rivers and hills. I could have chosen to walk past Court Farm and down to Walford; or skirt the fields to Stonybridge; or walk the back road via Letton and cross the Teme at Brampton Bryan. As I walked, these floating tendrils searched for anchorage across the topography in my head and I wondered why on earth I had chosen to walk on the busy main road. Now, I realise I wanted to walk the same route I would have travelled in the car. That’s the great thing about walking; you feel the solution in the soles of your feet.
We have all driven along and almost clipped a walker with a wing mirror and thought, ‘Why would anyone choose to walk on a road?’ I was in that walker’s boots as Dot trotted along on the lead, cowering slightly as traffic sped by. A red car was approaching us on the opposite side of the road and, hearing the heat of braking behind us, I looked back to see a large stock lorry brought to halt as there was no room to pass us without crossing the white lines. We stepped up from the tarmac, balanced on the high sliver of a muddy grass and the driver nodded before he drove on.
We crossed the Knighton road at Walford and I let Dot off the lead. This was the prone-to-flooding single track lane to my previous home and old neighbour Henry drove by and waved. We crossed the river and called by at the studio. I stuffed a blanket in my bag for Dot to lie down on, as she would have to be tied up outside when we reached The Firs. We walked fast towards Bucknell and met Ali and Alan walking past the turning for Adley Moor. ‘I can’t stop,’ I said, ‘I’m walking to a meeting about walking at The Firs.’ They told me they were going up there later with a Burns’ Night supper. By this time I knew I would not arrive for 3pm so I emailed ahead. I knew this road so well from driving, cycling and walking and there were no surprises.
No surprises; what I mean to say is that I think I may have stopped looking. I admit that I was hardly more aware of my surroundings than if I had been in the car. Was that because I was following the same route I would have driven; or was it because I was so over familiar with this little stretch of territory? I had been walking on autopilot and, with no need to navigate the external landscape, I had turned to my internal landscape for interest. The local landscape had become all about me and I pondered how it was inhabited by 20 years of versions of me; spirits that had the potential to be released as I stepped on the ground, like spores from an old puffball. It is difficult to look afresh at the familiar; so much easier to concentrate on what is new and exciting, but only now do I realise how introspective I was on this walk.
We kept up our brisk pace along Oil Mill Lane and crossed the Heart of Wales railway line in Bucknell, said hello to Lance Phillips the butcher who was putting screenwash in his van and turned left into Dog Kennel Lane. They were tidying an oak tree at Florence’s and I saw the tail end of Anthony Plant’s car waiting as they cleared branches from the road. He was late too, so I would only be 15 minutes behind him. I was propelled up Mynd hill by a surge of energy. It always amazes me; these moments on walks when you are thrown forward as if you have stepped on a landmine charged with positive energy. Dot trotted on ahead to say hello to a black Labrador on a lead and I felt light and hopeful and cheery. I was being given an artistic licence to be myself and realising that acknowledging my strengths is not arrogance for there is plenty I admit I cannot do, such as dancing at parties or driving in cities. Dot and I walked up the drive to The Firs and Penny was weeding between the granite sets as I tied the little dog to the porch upright and went into the meeting.