I recently went on what was for me a long walk in hilly Dorset – Hardy and Austen country. The walk was led by John Jones of Oysterband, accompanied by the Reluctant Ramblers – musicians who support his solo work – and the rest of us, supporters and friends. If you don’t already know them, Oysterband is a great band with amazing energy especially when performing live, and John’s more recent solo work is well worth discovering.
I surprised myself by completing the whole 16 -18 mile walk (hard to know how long it was, we lost our way a few times!) We walked from Lyme Regis to Broadwindsor where John was performing in the village hall.
I usually walk alone or with one or two others, and have never been for a serious walk in a large group. I am very independent, and in all honesty, I felt uncertain about walking in a group of mainly strangers, especially where there was the potential for seeing oneself as a kind of follower. Still, I liked the idea of walking to a gig which felt like a more compelling destination than usual, and I was curious about what I might learn. I was also intrigued by John’s passion for walking – he says ‘Walking is such a strange and intriguing mixture of what we internalise and experience on the outside. It has been all things to me at different times..my gym, my drug and my church’ – and particularly the way he has linked it with his music.
The day of the walk dawned misty with heavy rain threatening to obscure the promised Dorset views. When we reached the walk’s high point at Pilsden Pen, not only the hills but we too were shrouded in mist as we touched the trig point, thanks to Colin’s compass, and congratulated each other on our achievement.
‘The process of placing trig points on top of prominent hills and mountains began in 1935 to assist in the accurate re-mapping of Great Britain by triangulation directed by the cartographer and mathematician Martin Hotine. In low lying or flat areas some trig points may be only a few metres above sea-level. When all the trig points were in place, it was possible, in clear weather, to see at least two other trig points from any one trig point. Careful measurements of the angles between the lines-of-sight of the other trig points then allowed the construction of a system of triangles which could then be referenced back to a single baseline to construct a highly accurate measurement system that covered the entire country. Trig points are truncated square concrete pyramids tapering towards the top. On the top a brass plate with three arms and a central depression is fixed. A plaque on the side provides the reference number of the trig point and the letters O S B M (“Ordnance Survey Bench Mark”).’
What did I learn? Well, talking at intervals does in fact speed the walking. Miles were covered effortlessly when on flat ground, and it was a luxury to have confidence in those leading the walk such that it wasn’t necessary to worry about finding the next footpath. Being independent isn’t always easy or necessary; and being dependent while on a walk provides a protected space, a kind of bubble, where you can just be in the present moment, in the changing landscape. Time changes shape, and eight hours spent walking, with only a brief break for lunch, is a different day than most.
I also discovered I liked walking at the front of the group and setting a pace for myself. A woman I crossed paths with earlier this year who was an experienced long-walker, advised me to keep a place at the front to sustain my stamina and commitment. That made sense to me. I knew it was unlikely I’d be able to do this for the whole walk but I thought I’d give it a go. I managed it for the morning but after the lunch break when the pace quickened, I found myself drifting to the back. Once I had clearly settled there, I was comfortable in my own space well behind the others, as long as I could keep at least one person in view. I felt that I was now on my own personal journey.
Happy at the front or the back, I was impatient and unsettled in the middle. I felt trapped and uneasy – not enough space! This gives me some insights into how I approach life and why being in the middle never really suits me. Walking can teach us so much about life. Those of you who were also on the walk, I’m wondering what your reflections are especially those of you who went on to complete the whole three days? And if you weren’t there, it would be good to hear from you too.
I liked being part of this loosely connected group which was temporary in nature. This gave a kind of freedom, the opportunity to interact without any obligation so you could just be yourself. Some of us were there more for the music, others more for the walking, all for some mix of the two. John led an informal session the night before in the hotel bar, which was both a kind of rehearsal for his gigs in the week to come and a chance for us all to get involved. I liked it so much and the energy was so compelling, that just being in an audience will never be the same again. There was a particularly memorable moment at the end where one of the hotel staff said ‘thank you for the music’ in a very genuine way which made the whole occasion even more worthwhile.
Another high point was Dil Davies’ innovative ‘upholstery drumming’ where Dil made use of all the furniture near where he was sitting in the hotel bar to create a percussionist accompaniment. (The person sharing the sofa with him was perhaps less enthusiastic about this experience!) Dil – also of Oysterband – has written a fascinating piece on his blog which has transformed my appreciation of drumming. I recommend it, especially if you’ve never been very interested in the drums! And what he says makes me think again of walking and the landscape (substitute ‘walk’ for ‘set’ or ‘song’):