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.

* * *

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.

 

* * *

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.

 

* * *

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.

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Saint George, Bristol: Paths, Cuts, and Lanes. PROLOGUE

I have decided to document the paths and lanes around where I live. I live in Saint George, Bristol, or possibly Crews Hole, depending on who writes the address, or which map you look at. Our flat is a few hundred meters from the River Avon, though despite our ellevated vantage point, the river cannot be seen, though its route is clearly visible as it wends its way downstream.

It is, however, just possible to see Crews Hole Road [sic – the lack of apostrophe in ‘Crews’ is not my doing]. We can also just spot the peaked roof of the recently-reopened Bull Inn, just beyond the cliff-clinging Buddleia plants that edges the flats’ carpark.

The aims of this project (at this point of time, leastways) is (1) to document some of the hidden, and not so hidden, routeways of the area; and (2) to learn how to get the most out of my oft-neglected Nikon F65 SLR (film) camera.

So some more detail. First, the paths and lanes. There is quite a variety of walkways roundabouts this steep valley slope. There are the roadways that plummet straight down the hill, the narrow paths cutting between houses and past backs of  gardens. There’s Trooper’s Hill nature reserve with gravel-surfaced paths through the heather, and the tarmac’d River Avon path. Some trails are overgrown and unused, such as the path that starts at the end of our car park, and there are rat-runs through pavement-less narrow lanes, unnerving for walkers who find themselves facing a suped-up Mitsubishi, or impatient van driver.

Second: my camera. I have owned the camera for about 8 years. For a good few years it’s been mothballed, collecting dust in the spare room. I recently got a copy of Natural-Light Photography by Ansel Adams (1952: 1971, Morgan & Morgan: New York) from Bristol Central Library. It’s pretty technical, recommending all sorts of light meters, and discussing the merits and demerits of various, and largely obselete, film types; but depsite that, it is the philosophical approach to natural light photography (a term that refers to not only outdoor shots, but the process of photography that does not use specialist lighting equipment) that is inspiring.

I intend to use a single film per routeway. This means about 36 shots each time – so I will have to think carefully about every photograph. I documented a path today and used about 2-and-a-half films! Using a digital compact camera has certainly made me lazy about photos, with its vast memory and instant results. I look forward to slowing things down, to take my time; and from this, become more attentive of my local area.

There is another aspect to this approach which I hope will be useful. There will always be a lag between photographs taken, and photographs developed (barring converting the spare room into a darkroom). It means it is possible to write some notes about each path during or immediately after, perhaps with some research. But once the photographs are developed, it is hoped I will have a new perspective – perhaps something I missed during the excursion, or that ability to look at something in its fine, static detail.

Essentially, I envisage that the process will embody three key elements:

  1. Close observance and photo-framing during the walk
  2. Writing and considering my thoughts and feelings of that walk
  3. The close study of the returned photographs in all their pristine, and not so pristine, detail.
St George/Crew's Hole

St George/Crew’s Hole area. Click map to got to OSM.

If Bristol were flooded.


* Video is my recording of a film shown at Millenium Square, Bristol, on 03/05/2015. The original film Cheers, Drive! can be viewed at: http://www.triplegeek.com/portfolio/visuals/cheersdrive.

* Boat images are of the Withdrawn exhibition in Leigh Woods, near Bristol, described as “an unexpected encounter with a flotilla of abandoned fishing boats installed in the depths of the woodland”. More details at: http://www.lukejerram.com/projects/withdrawn

Not (yet?) the cove of forgotten dreams

What is this gap, this cut, this cove?

From the river path, I see a trunk sewer, elevated above the ground. Duck under, and a ruined concrete and brick structure. My eyes dance across the surface of broken angles; peer into a rubble-strewn chamber.

But soon, I am looking at something more massive. A cliff, dwarfing the ruin and sewer. (Though is massive the correct term? A cliff suggests a lack of mass, a void. But whatever might be appropriate, it is surely a derivative of ‘very big’). The cliff a horseshoe of wall, and trees sparsely fill the flat bottom and lower flanks.

Up high, leafless and stunted trees tiptoe on the edge of the golden-in-sunlight rocks. It’s sandstone, I think. Or maybe limestone. The lower cliff faces are shiny wet and pattered in sunlight. Here the water seeps through the rock’s crevices, and drips off the brambles and ivy. Not quite a din or cacaphony, but an asyncopated collage.

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I’m at the highest point I can get to from the bottom, and the space is quite a wonder: an amphitheatre of stones and gravel facing a stage empty but for the trees. What happened here? How did this place come to be? I search high up on the cliff faces, looking for prehistoric rock art. A folly practice, in a site near the city in view of the busy river path, but I look all the same.

But there is still rock art – the furze of spray paint. The prescence of modern (that is, contemporary) people, or at least, the signs of their prescence, sometimes unnerves me. I can happily lie in a flimsy bivuoac in the thick night while foxes bark and owls screech, but if the thought that I might be discovered by a gang of kids or a gamekeeper crosses my mind, I’ll not be sleeping. Now, seeing this rock art, the narrowmindness of my romantic prehistoric-focused imagination is thrown in to sharp relief. I wonder: what would an archeologist make of this space in two-thousand years?

In Don Fernando, W. Somerset Maugham considers that great proto-postmodernist tome Don Quixote and the mention of a meal named duelos y quebrantos, which translates as pains and sorrows. He points out the great scholarly exertion used to find out what this dish might be, for it to be discovered that it’s merely bacon and eggs. He then leaves a quip about bubble and squeak, anticipating the three-hundred years of investigation into what this meal could possibly be. And so to here: as well as the spray paint, there’s a picnic bench and abandoned tent, as well as the concrete ruin and sewer pipe. When this place is buried and then excavated, what conclusions would future thinkers draw with regard to this space? Picnic bench as ceremonial table? Tent as nomadic home left in a hurry? Sewer pipe a sign of Romanesque technology?

I scramble back down and it becomes clear that the boulder and scree is not timeless; permanent. There are signs of a recent rockslide. In among this largely plant-free stony debris is a tree with large blocks against its trunk. Other trees lie half buried, their roots rising skyward. Fractures in the rock face portend the next rock fall.

Materials

After K.J.

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What are these Materials of which she speaks?
Something about a line
My eyes follow the words but I don’t read
The siren of an ambulance
Too loud for thoughts
But there was a line

Perhaps it was the trace
Was she talking about a trace?
The oscillating siren creates a line
A loose, wobbly line that my ears follow

I glance up for a second but soon go back to read
The poem was surely mean to be read
In the Highlands or on
A remote coast
Not in the noise of a south-England city

What if I found a
Quiet place to read it?
Would I better take in its story
Or would ‘line’ jump out at me again
Sound line of a bird
Water line of a river