Gridlines: Walking the ST63 Down

Walk — 02/09/2016

A necessary day off work and still energised after my long walk along the GR4 from Montserrat to Sant Vicenç de Castellet, near Barcelona.

In the week run-up to this, I’ve been poring (pawing? pouring? pooring?) over the OS maps on Bing, Open Street Map’s becitizenized paths, and Google’s satellite images. I have a great fondness for walking from the front door. But nothing really ‘took’. The post-industrial, nature-clawing-back of the River Avon to the east is too familiar. To the north, the monotony of the suburbs; to the west: the social housing and barely-functioning industry that so often lines the edges of city centres.

No, I need a concept, something that might give me direction: a move away from the whims of personal intrigue; of willful wandering.

From the OS maps, I notice the gridlines, and we live just shy of the intersection of ST63 and ST73. That’s it: I shall follow one of these lines as closely as I can. But which way? South: it has to be. After less than 1km, I’ll need to cross the Avon, and without a huge diversion, there’s only a single option: the Avon’s oldest ferry crossing to Beese’s Riverside Bar. The bar’s only open during the summer, and so too the ferry crossing. I can follow the gridlines in other directions in the depths of winter.

Ferry. What is a ferry? I grew up landlocked; a brook opposite the house. The nearest big river was the Thames in Oxford, but we rarely went. So a ferry to me is the behemoths that run from Dover to Calais. My first shock at the non-industrial sized ferry was the 20-berth fishing boat taking people from Mallaig to Knoydart, NW Scotland. Until arriving at Mallaig, I could only picture a vast boat, with bars, amusement arcades, and vehicles. A lifetime’s conception dashed, but pleasingly so. Beese’s ferry is even smaller, carrying a maximum of six people.

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So I’ve made it. In about 5 hours I’ve covered eight 1km segments, plus a bit more either end. But that’s as the crow flies (imagine: a crow flying straight!); it’s a fair bit more underfoot: a zigzagging, doubling-back meander. Now, I’m tired, my legs ache, blisters flowering. The bottoms of my jeans are heavy with water because this is not Spain, and there is rain, and there are ticks.

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Paint splatter/hunting bittern/limping bull reed.

 

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Some might like to praise the UK for its plethora of paths, taking in as they do the long distance trail as much as the quotidian and local. I, however, was not praising the quality of the path marking. I was surprised: the closer to the city (Broomhill near Beese’s; Stockwood Open Space Nature Reserve), the less likely the rights of way are to be signposted. I followed wrong paths back on myself; pushed through bramble thickets; raised my hands aloft through head-height stinging nettles — only to have to turn back. I started to rue my straight-jacket decision to follow the fictions of the Ordnance Survey’s Cartesian cross-lines. Wouldn’t it be much nicer to have a walk at a beauty spot? What is this going to prove, anyway?

But I stuck with it. Of course I did.

I have lots of ideas, most of them fleeting, but if I get as far as starting the journey, I’m loathe to abandon. Even the unexpected rain (that went from fairy mist to persisting-it-down), did not tear me from my aim. And so much the better.

It’s peculiar, following the lines. The walk can be categorised into three scenes: 1 — suburban Bristol; 2 — single-track country lanes; 3 — field footpaths. Because I had the schema, I missed most of the villages on the way. I ignored the most intriguing-looking paths. I merely chose the route that allowed me to follow line ST63 most closely.

It took a long time to feel I’d left Bristol and its conurbations. For every leaf-dappled lane, every overgrown path, there followed as much in the way of post-war bungalows and social housing, bus stops and convenience stores. Horseworld was especially confusing  — a sanctuary for diseased horses (according to one sign, feeding the horses is forbidden because they may transfer diseases deadly to humans). Horseworld resolutely threw out the notion of ‘the city’, with its stables, paddocks and electric fences — only for houses to reappear. And why does a city like Bristol require a horse sanctuary?

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Mountains of the mind.

 

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Out of the city proper, and onto the many, many unclassified roads. Some were narrow, steep, and with near-vertical banks to cling to as cars approached. Some were wider, encouraging lead-footed drivers to swerve to avoid me. The most fun on those lanes, was the abuse hurled at me from a small hatchback. Incoherent, but I transcribed to my phone what I heard:

“Awefurfife fur fa fawf!”

Quite.

I grew up in the countryside. Narrow lanes and speeding cars are nothing new to me. On the city’s edge, I imagine gangs of adolescent youths, at the end of long summer holiday, hurling abuse, and possibly worse. I’ve always had this sense; a feeling that arises from the unknown. But despite all this, the country lanes, on this wet day, really got to me. When I heard a car far off I’d tense up. Anxiety would start with a tiny thought before torpedoing down to my heart, where it would bloom into heavy-handed arrhythmia. I started to dread the approach of every car; imagined scenarios where two could cars would need to pass each other right where I stood, pinning me to the bank, speeding off, leaving me. And it was because of this that I broke my rule.

I was near the end of the walk in Pennsford, and the last bus stop before wandering off the map’s edge. The road: steep, narrow. The cars: fast. Legs: sore. I wanted the walk to last longer than it otherwise would (the sore legs a pleasing ache of achievement). I ducked off the road onto some footpaths. I went round the back of a church, which had a barbecue in the graveyard. I looked at the limping sheep, one so poorly it wouldn’t get off its elbow; it’s toenails overgrown, black and gnarled. I zigzagged a river at the path’s whim.

And then, after 5 hours, I was in Pennsford. Its single-cell gaol, the vast railway viaduct, the pubs, cafés and museum, and of course, the bus that arrived just as I did.

Krickrickreck: Strange occurrences on the GR4

Walking the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range – 18/08/2016

Monestir de Montserrat a Sant Vinenç de Castellet

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Cable-car to Monestir de Montserrat, and the walk’s start

As soon as I got off the 1.5 hr loops I didn’t see any one. But I heard people: gentle talking on a parallel path above mine. But there was no path. I even heard voices and movement when the cliff to my right was sheer. This was before I got very tired, and up in the cool, high air of the mountain. But I’m convinced it wasn’t my imagination. Utterly. But that doesn’t mean I can explain it. I balanced a small quartz stone on a tiny cairn.

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The high path and parallel voices

 

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Add a stone to the cairn

 

Later, I came to a small monastery. A sign for the GR4 pointed me down an unused-looking path alongside the carpark track. It didn’t seem right, but the arrow looked pretty confident. I got to wooden hut, perhaps a hide. A sign in both Spanish and Catalan seemed to say: don’t proceed further without permission. But it was the only path I could see: steep steps off the steep cliff. I edged slowly forward to try to decipher the status of the steps: whether they were safe, and whether this was my path. I passed the hut and was startled to see a man sitting out and staring to the vast plain below. I was ruffled, but remembered enough to cobble ‘dónde está la gran recorrido quatro?’ He understood. I knew roughly that it went down the valley side, so was surprised when he told me to go back across the main road and rejoin the path I’d left. My puzzlement translated, and he seeked to clarify: Lo siento, GR 4?; si, quatro. Ah! Perdon. He checked his phone and I’d been too hasty with the right turn, and he wasn’t familiar with path. He apologised again and I left to take the proper path down the valley.

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Back onto the path, and again no single other walker (though some mountain bikers and a couple of cars). I was no longer followed by occasional chatter or slipping rocks from a hidden path. Who made those noises before? And who was this man, only too pleased to help a hapless hiker? How, and why, was he there?

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KRiCKRiCKRECK – the walk’s timbre

Saint George: bottom of Trooper’s Hill Road

Photographs from southwest end of Trooper’s Hill Road, Bristol
Notes made in Trooper’s Hill nature reserve

Friday PM 25/03/2016

So. It’s been a while. What started as a simple conceit — walk locally, play with my camera, read some Ansel Adams — has taken on a trickier hue than it ever should have done. What happened? I started driving to work instead of getting the bus, so no meanders down the hill. The evenings drew in. A cloud descended whereby effort — and a project — felt futile. I contracted whooping-cough — I’m about halfway through this 100-day cough. And then there’s Ansel Adams himself. As a figure, I’m sure he loomed large; but more than that, he has a penchant for the monumental within the landscape.

The first photograph in the book is Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, a massive extrusion of rock rising from the snowy alpine slopes around, which sets the scene for the rest of the book. Even his detail shots have a sort grandness, an expansiveness that seems to circumvent the closeness of the shot. His technical language too: on page three, a section is headed Most exposure failures result from erroneous meter readings. I don’t own a photometer, and doubt I could even find one of his recommendations: “The Gamma Scientific, Inc., Luminance Analyzer a-500 measures with great accuracy a solid angle of ½º”. Ok. So do I need one? Is there an inbuilt function for my fairly modern Nikon SLR?

I wanted his overall philosophy to inspire and inform my own attempts at photography, but instead I get the sensation of reading a rather dry technical manual (and who reads technical manuals?).

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Approaching Trooper’s Hill. The chimney atop is a landmark hereabout (though not the focus of this post).

But today, I got out. There were two features I wanted to focus on, at the bottom of Trooper’s Hill Road. 1: The half-ruined chimney stack that forms the corner piece of the Trooper’s Hill nature reserve. 2: The peculiar ripples in the tarmacadam on a steep section of the road

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The chimney stack  felt like an important feature — one that gels with Adams’s penchant for the monumental. It’s tall and narrow, and seemingly once the corner of a larger building. Like Adams’s Half Dome, it apparently speaks of endeavour greater than the photographers’ practical ken. And it’s visible, but rarely properly seen — though perhaps this is an inference too far.

Trooper’s Hill’s appearance is due to extensive quarrying and mining, for Pennant Sandstone, coal and fireclay. The coal was used for smelting copper ore which was brought here via the nearby River Avon. An information board informs that in 1754 there were 49 copper smelting furnaces in the Crew’s Hole area. This particular chimney, though, formed part of an engine house, that was used for hauling up coal and pumping out water from mines.

* * *

The ripples are a more beguiling — and less monumental — feature. I don’t know what’s caused them, but I’ve seen something similar in two different (though mechanically similar) situations. My first thought was toward storm water charging down the hill during heavy rain. Like the rippled bed of a stream, the tarmac itself taking on the form of the rippling water, but held in time — like a photo of a stream; the landscape’s own attempt to make permanent that which is ephemeral.

But what if something more machine-like has caused this? I think of mountain biking. It can be seen on popular trails where a fast straight approaches a slower technical section. As riders approach the corner, they are prone to braking heavily. The wheels tend to skip and skitter where recesses form: known (unimaginatively) as braking bumps.

I’m not sure if either parallel explains the ripples in the road — they’re on the uphill side of the road, so maybe they’re caused by acceleration in a similar manner to braking bumps. But then, the hill’s steep, so perhaps the rain has enough force to do this. Maybe it’s shoddy workmanship. Maybe a combination, or none of this.

But at least I’ve made an effort to record both the bumps and the chimney. Isn’t that why I began this project?

POSTSCRIPT

Notes from Easter Sunday, 27/03/2016

Isn’t that why I began this project?” Well, yes, that was certainly an intended aim. But it was also to get more from my camera. I look back on the processed photos, and I’m not happy with them. Too out-of-focus, poor colour contrast, lost detail. Ansel Adams recommends use of a light meter, and after these photos, I can see how it would help. His discussion of sources of light and how best to use them could be focussed on more closely. I would also probably benefit from paying more attention to my camera, such as noting settings. I struggled to match the better photographs with the settings used.

And last, I already had a plan before I set out of what I wished to capture; though perhaps I should be more flexible. When I got out, a couple more things caught my eye. The rotting wood in the verge, birds in flight. And last: a half-finished nest in the bare May tree. Or was it crown of thorns?

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Ring of twigs in the May tree.

Contiguousness of Memory: recalling Lynmouth

When you look down on Lynton, from Barbrook Road, the town appears to lie in a combe beside the sea; but when you look up at it, from Lynmouth harbour, it appears to cling from a cliff above the sea. Lynton’s setting is Lynton’s name, the tun on the lilynn or torrent. Strictly speaking, Lynton bestrides two torrents, for the River Lyn has both arms, East and West. With Lynmouth, the town forms an urban district; but hill and harbour remain as they always were, self-consciously separate. Not even Parliament can join what Time and Space have set asunder.

P.72, Portrait of Exmoor

A semi-aimless drive, with no more in mind than to visit Exmoor in north Devon and Somerset. Along the M5. Ignore Bridgwater. Ignore Taunton. Ignore Minehead. So junction 26, somewhere I don’t know called Wellington. Head north, north, north, towards the coast. Signs for Watchet – too far east. Signs for Minehead – still too east, and too familiar. Lynton and Lynmouth? Yes. I don’t recall visiting since I was I kid. What will it look like? Will I recognise it?

An enchanting, and circuitous, journey. Sunken lanes of red sandstone; steep up and steep down; deciduous woodland; passing places; old two-pronged tractors; Victorian manorial farmsteads. Then wind-blasted heaths, rolling and roiling, with Wales way off. Then: 30 or so car-towed horse boxes, their back gates swung wide, and empty inside. Few people around; I imagine local horse-owners suddenly and simultaneously overcome with compassion, and releasing their horses to the wild. The road demands concentration, but I look around: I see nothing, but know it’s most likely the sign of a hunt. My car is sealed so neither bark nor horn reaches my ears.

The slopes steepen once more, and become heavily wooded, leaving behind the unpleasant underbelly of rural life. Some of these roads are half-familiar from cycling from Barnstaple to Bridgwater last Easter; a lot, though, is beguiling in their newness.

As I near Lynton and Lynmouth, older memories peel into my consciousness – those maybe-memories/maybe-will-to-believe of a place I treasure for the two short weeks I spent here when I was little. The road follows the West Lyn river through a steep-sided valley; a road junction and a choice of the twin villages: Lynton at the hilltop, or Lynmouth on the bay where rivers East and West Lyn meet briefly, before plashing over granite slabs and into the Bristol Channel.

I choose Lynmouth, and everything is still kind of in place. There’s the hotel we stayed in! There’s the House of the Rising Sun! The park where I learned to play catch! The funicular! In an odd way, Lynmouth is a much diminished version to that which I held as a memory. Was it not a sizeable, bustling town, like Minehead? But this is all it is. My memories may not record accurately, but the steep slopes show that this place could not have been much different those 30-odd years ago.

I have little stories for those things familiar. The hotel’s food was bad, but they cooked the fish we caught when we went sea fishing. I learned to play catch with a large golden sparkly ball. I’d already decided before the trip, that if I ever owned a pub (such ambition!) I should call it the House of the Rising Sun. That the funicular ran by using water as a counterweight to bring the opposing carriage down – and that at least once I walk up the cliff path to get the railway back down to Lynmouth.

There are also less obvious reminders, which need to be picked at to induce recollections. The flood which devastated the place in 1952, and on which my middle school pal JF did a presentation. Since my last time here, a wooden cross has been erected at the point where the river wall collapsed, on the flood’s 50th anniversary. Then there was the walking up the Valley of Rocks into Lorna Doone country. There was the son of my parents friend who was staying at the same time (who I am assured was rather unpleasant, though I remember nothing of him it but his name). I want to walk up that valley; see what it conjures: but that will have to wait. Will it activate something? Will I again find rainbow trout in one of the river’s pools? Did that even happen? For now the memories – no matter how time-encrusted and incomplete – must suffice.

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* * *

Postscript

Memories are a fickle thing. I once heard it said that memory is not continuous, but rather contiguous: that the act of remembering is merely a process of recalling an earlier act of recalling that is a process of recalling an earlier still act of recalling, and so on. In retrospect I question whether I have not been to Lynmouth and Lynton since I was little; not having returned seems unlikely. But all I have are these memories, recollections butting up and scraping against other recollections, jostling alongside wishful imaginings.

My compact camera didn’t work for this trip, so all images are from my phone – something that annoyed me at the time, but I think well suites the musings of this post.

Reference

Peel, JHB., 1970, Portrait of Exmoor, London: Robert Hale

Anecdote: Reliquiæ

At my folks for Christmas, and showing them my copy of Reliquiæ 3 I received a week earlier for my birthday.

My dad turns to On the Sadness of Thrushes by EJ Moor:

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On The Sadness of Trushes, EJ Moor, in  Reliquiæ 3

 

“This isn’t right, you don’t get mistletoe thrushes in the spring, they’re wintering birds in the UK”.

I shrug my shoulders. My dad was a keen birder when he grew up (and nest-rustler, in a time when such a pursuit was not seen negatively) on the Lincolnshire coast, so I trust his word. But then, I find it unlikely that Reliquiæ would be printing a mistruth.

A quick web search suggests that yes, missel thrushes are present throughout the year. But then, a more specific search (missel thrush overwintering scandinavia), and there it is: “A few Scandinavian and northern European Mistle Thrushes winter in the UK, especially down the east coast.” Maybe my dad got his information not from some text book, but through his own witnessing, perhaps bolstered by asking other Grimbarians.

So, two truths, and both in some way anecdotal. A glimmer of seasonal joy: to learn something new about British birds; and to tap my dad’s all-too-infrequently-shared knowledge.
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http://www.garden-birds.co.uk/birds/mistlethrush.htm

“Reliquiæ is an annual journal of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, translations and visual art, edited by Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton.” For more information, and to order Reliquiæ 3, visit http://www.corbelstonepress.com/reliquiae-3.htm

Thanks to Corbel Stone Press to allow use of the text from Reliquiæ

Richard Long: Time and Space; and a walk

Today, with time to spare, I went to Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery to see Richard Long’s retrospective. See HERE. The following notes were made immediately after my visit, and are largely verbatim. Notes from the dark room are of the exhibition in near darkness, called By the Mark, the Deep, by Matt Davies and Milo Newman. The Photographs are from a walk I took after visiting Arnolfini, where I attempted (and failed) to find Richard Long’s Boyhood Line.

First Impressions

Liked the repeating motifs – the word association poem of a Scottish walk mentioned FLOOD as an associated word (associated to what I can’t remember); and then, on an adjacent wall, a photo from a walk entitled Flood, of somewhere else (possibly somewhere in Africa)

Circles in several circumstances, white wooden board on the floor in one room, photos of circles of boulders, remains of round buildings

A photo, taken outside a cathedral, showing a circle of white limestone, while in the gallery, a huge cross, using similar stone. The stone cross inside, more likely to be thought of as an X (this is an artist of maps and landscape, after all)

But viewed as a cross – divine, like a little church or sacred marker to the landscape outside

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Dark room – very dark at first

Anyone there?

Where are the walls?

Big, dull bulbs, and tiny LEDs

‘Soundtrack’ cracks, pops, a decomposing tape, I’m told.

Felt like a wildcamp, carefully pacing around, nervous about what or who might be around

A while passed and my eyes adjusted; someone entered, sat straight down

No stress. Eventually sit down myself, feeling comfortable, relaxed

Walk the room’s perimeter, trace the wall with my finger; a familiar space now

But still – all space, no place, just like that brief moment on a wildcamp, never to be visited again (though I will, to both previous wildcamp spots, and this dark room)

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On my way out, buy an academic journal on ruins, and a book of interviews with Richard Long

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These notes, written at the Lloyds amphitheatre, skaters making their own lines in the landscape.

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Saint George: Fir Tree Lane

12/07/2015

I get the bus home from work, and from the bus stop a walk down a very steep lane. But recently I decided to descend the slope via a different route. A quick look on Open Street Map revealed a road called Fir Tree Lane, which would only add a few minutes to the walk. Maybe, if I was lucky, it would be less steep – I have dodgy knees, hips and feet, so anything of a gentler gradient would be much appreciated. Turns out it is probably just as steep – and anyway, it joins my previous hill before the steepest section. But Oh! what a tremendous route. Bristol often surprises me with green spaces, but this went beyond the usual manicured parkland. This path, in places, feels like a walk through a country village.

At first, a church, probably built in the 19th century, then a quaint wooden Scout hut with field. On the right, 100 year old cottages with overgrown gardens and dillapidated huts. This is still near the top (though sloping downwards), and the pavement-less road feels all the more rural for stone wall hemming its sides. Through the gaps in the buildings, it’s possible to glimpse Trooper’s Hill nature reserve, with its charred golden grass, purple flowers and abandoned smoke stack from its glory days when this was a working quarry (I can’t remember if they quarried coal here and shipped the copper ore for smelting, or if this was the site of a copper mine, and they brought in the coal – I’ll be looking in to this more in the future).

Further down the road (here called Firtree Lane – note the conjugation), the character returns to suburban, as is most common hereabouts. Buildings are in various states of completion as developers aim to fill any gaps not yet built on. But further still, and the road narrows to a path – steep enough for steps. It was raining today as I took my photos, yet this section remains dry – to my right a thicket of tall fir trees edge a garden and shelter the path.

Growing between the cracks in the stone slabs: lush, verdant plants, and filling between the plants are fine, colourless pine needles. Despite no rain making it on to the path, this can be a slippery walk; the needles shifting with each step. I imagine it would be easy to slip and fall here, though I’m relieved this is yet to happen.

Towards the bottom of the steps, the path curves, obscuring the view. It’s dark, and this all makes it feel everso slightly surreal. Yes, I’ve walked it many times before, but still, it’s not hard to feel a little bit of magic. I wonder: how old is this path? Why was it never widened to take traffic? In whose footsteps do I follow? I once saw a dead magpie in this darkened section – though it had vanished a day later when I retraced my steps.

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