Reflections on Walk #4 as part of 'Lines in the Landscape' residency.
REFLECTIONS ON WALK #4 AS PART OF 'LINES IN THE LANDSCAPE' RESIDENCY.
A WRITTEN ACCOUNT OF A WALK OF PERSONAL SIGNIFICANCE
ALONG THE DEVON COAST TO PRAWLE POINT.
For the past few weeks I had been exploring the beginnings of a collaborative piece for Lines in the Landscape with my friend Ant who lives with Motor Neurone Disease. The concept of Mindwalking had arisen from a conversation about Herman de Vries, an artist we both admire but who had rather riled Ant, as someone no longer able to walk, with his carving of the statement ‘Ambulo ergo sum’. My enthusiastic acceptance of the statement to define my own existence probably didn’t help his irritation. The first walk Ant had chosen to attempt to communicate his concept of Mindwalking was along the Devon coast from Prawle Point to Lannacombe Bay; one of his last physical walks of any distance.
Ant dictated his memories of the path and we trawled through computer files to find photographs he had taken on the walk. When we looked at an OS map I showed Ant how close Prawle Point was to the farm where my brother lived and worked; probably only an hour and half walk. I had only visited my brother once in East Portlemouth in the summer of 2014, shortly after he moved there. In 2015 we moved house so I had to cancel a holiday near the farm and last year I had two trips planned but my ovarian cancer had scuppered both.
‘I need to walk this path myself,’ I said to Ant, ‘to understand.’ And so it seemed an ideal excuse to visit my brother. I emailed him, ‘I’m working on a film,’ I said, ‘can I come down to you and walk to Prawle Point? Also, can you put up the bell tent so we can all come down and camp in the summer. And, Carol and I are coming down in September to Dartington, can we call by then too?’ My brother was notoriously bad at keeping in contact and he hardly ever replied. He didn’t reply this time. On the 10th February, 2 days later, he was killed instantly when his tractor rolled on to him.
So I found myself on a steep green field overlooking Salcombe and the Kingsbridge Estuary, a patch of diesel marking the point where he died. Leaning forward, I walked up the slope between the wheel tracks. When I reached the road, lines of mist, like breaths from the sea, passed in front of me and the skylarks were singing to my right but I couldn’t see them. I chose a bridleway of rocky chevrons, followed a stream through patchy gorse and met the coastal path as the stream fell off the cliff.
Following a cliff path is the closest walking gets to flying. I wondered if Ant was mindwalking this walk as I bodywalked it. I thought about the freedom my brother and I were allowed as children on the cliffs of Cornwall and, now as a mum and step-mum myself, realised our mother was probably having kittens every time we skipped off to explore. I remembered bladder campion, thrift and when an adder crossed our path at Lamorna Cove; clambering down to sit on flat rocks and hang our legs into the sea and watch for seal heads. You can’t keep a wrist leash on a child forever.
A National Trust sign told me I had reached Gammon Head. I looked down on a sandy cove; was this the one Ant had told me about? I would have liked to have scrambled down but there were some people on the beach and it was the first time I had left my parents for a week and they would be worried if I was out of contact too long, so I crested the next outcrop and saw the lookout station ahead of me. When I reached it I waved at the lady in the window and sat to eat my sandwiches. If I had had a signal I would have phoned Ant to say, ‘I’m at Prawle Point!’ I tried to text Mum and Dad to say I was eating a late lunch by the sea but it wouldn’t send.
Ahead, below me, I could see a wide bay with a sweep of rocks meeting the sea and I wondered which ones my brother had fished from; and which ones he had wanted his ashes scattered from; and I thought about how little I had known him. To the left, rocks with verdigris undersides of popped bubbles hung over my path. To the right, there was a thin orange line that split the sky from the sea and I took lots of photographs of it because it seemed important. I also photographed every gate I opened because they too seemed important. I descended closer to the sea, past a row of former coastguards’ cottages. There was probably less than two hours of daylight remaining so I reluctantly left the coastal path and started the road up to East Prawle. As my feet made contact with the ground I chanted the line: tracks larks coastalpath, and I recalled my Mum telling me that the only reason Tim didn’t get 11 grade A GCSEs was because of his incorrect use of commas in the English paper.
I walked this line in the landscape for my friend Ant who can no longer move with his body and for my brother who I never really knew.