Home, belonging and a sense of identity

As I have walked around Europe in the past three years, being away from home half of the time, I have been much concerned with notions of home, what makes for a sense of belonging, and what constitutes a sense of national and community identity. Language has been a key topic as I have sought to understand and be understood. Coming at a time of great change, as the UK first voted to, and then has left, the European Union, and when countries have either become considerably more or less right- or left-leaning, I have had many exchanges and considerable dialogue around these issues.

The image used by the Audacious Women Festival 2019 Travellers’ Tales

In 2019 I was part of the Audacious Women Festival’s Travellers Tales. A small panel of us debated, discussed and presented with each other and an audience of perhaps 40 women, the reasons why women may travel, how they settle, establish friendship and support structures and negotiate language and cultural differences. It was an unexpectedly lively and moving event with women of all ages taking the stage to speak about their experiences in moving and travelling around the world.

Map of the archipelago of Shetland

At the time of writing, I am on a virtual visit to Shetland, north of the mainland of Scotland. I am having a series of fascinating chats with women who live there, or who were born there and now live elsewhere, on these topics. I have also been stimulated to reflect on my own and my family’s stories around identity. Women travel for many reasons:

To obtain work

The start of the oil boom saw families moving to Shetland, or young couples settling who then had children there. This was good for the community in many ways, enabling integration and expanding the community. Even when the adults moved away again, some of their grown-up children stayed and continued to build lives on the Islands. Nowadays this happens far less, partly because the trend is for individual workers to come for a spell of weeks before returning to their families, and partly because the oil industry is in decline. Many local people who have worked at Sullem Voe, for example, lost their jobs just before the Corona virus hit, and job hunting has of course, been hard during this time. Will there be an exodus as a result?

Some join the armed forces and the Merchant Navy and travel across the globe. Often they return to Shetland, but others do not, settling in other countries and establishing families and support structures there, their accents and habits changing over the years. In the past, men were Press Ganged (1755 – 1845), which had a considerable impact on the way of life, not least that at one time there was a ratio of 3:1 women to men on the Isles.

When I travel, I am usually asked where I am from. Scotland, where I have lived for 30 years, and our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, are popular on the continent so there are smiles when I answer. However, there is usually a pause after that. With a puzzled expression, they say, ‘but you don’t sound Scottish’. My parents and grandparents were very keen that I spoke ‘good’, or ‘Queen’s, English’ and it hasn’t rubbed off after all these years, much to my disappointment. It betrays my origins!

My maternal grandmother, Violet Elizabeth, known as Liz who went back and forth to Africa during World War II on the Banana Boats

Marriage and relationships

The Marriage Bar was still in place when my grandmother married just before World War II. She had trained at college to be a PE teacher and secured a position at Benendon College, a school for girls, but on marrying my grandfather, she was required to give it up and travel with him to Africa where he worked. The expectation that she should be at his side extended to the children. She travelled back by ship to have each of her daughters, but had to leave them behind in the UK (in 1937 and 1941) in order to return to him.

The main problem was undoubtedly the attitude of senior officials, but the Marriage Bar also deterred ambitious women from entering the civil service and/or ensured that, once recruited, they were forced to leave. 

Women in the Civil Service

Seeking education

Young Shetland girls / women (15 years and over) attend boarding school or stay in a hostel, Monday to Friday, if they want to continue their education past Standard Grade level. There are two high schools: Brae in the north west Mainland and the other in Lerwick, further south on the east coast. After that, although many now choose to stay on the Islands and attend the Highland and Islands University (which has 13 colleges and research centres, over 70 local learning centres, as well as online tutoring), like many other young people they also choose to leave home and go to Aberdeen, other Scottish cities or further afield.

Other reasons for leaving home and returning that I am going to be looking into are:

  • Wanderlust – stimulation – inspiration – curiosity
  • Seeking asylum or otherwise escaping injustice or abuse
  • Looking to provide one’s children with a particular environment to grow up in which is often linked to happy childhood memories
  • To be with family
  • Illness
  • The landscape and community

I will be examining the challenges to stability and identity that are involved in travel

Language: The Shetland dialect is distinctive and a strong part of people’s identity. There are variations which are closer or further away from Scots and English, and modulations are naturally made depending on who is talking. I will be writing much more about this soon.

  • Winning independence in another culture
  • Facing the cultural assumptions you grew up with
  • Settling and belonging
  • Making a home
  • Never quite settling down

I have already discovered, personally and through speaking with other women, that a sense of a new identity can emerge from moving to another country, and be liberating. This may surprise both the woman and her family, even disrupt relationships as parts of oneself changes in response, either being emphasised or stymied. A set of different religious or cultural values may feel liberating or constricting; a change of temperature, climate and daylight (or lack of it) may have a positive or negative effect; opportunities may be greater or fewer, leading to enrichment or a blocking of possibilities. Crossing oceans and borders sometimes requires courage and daring, and other times is easy and natural because of a sense of coming home.

St Ninian’s Isle, in the south west of Shetland, connected to the mainland by the largest tombolo or ayre, meaning gravelbank in old Norse. (source: Wikipedia) (not my own photo)

Special thanks to Geraldine Wooley who initiated a meeting between the different presenters, prompted us to think about the topic in alternative ways, summarised the discussion and then chaired the live session.

Emigration Records can be found on the Scottish Archive Network website

The building in the title photo is Lerwick’s Textile Museum. Thanks to Isobel Cockburn for her permission to use it.

Leith to Lerwick – days 1 and 2

2 – 3 May 2020. A virtual tour informed by friends and relations, online resources and other kind people who agreed to speak with me or shared their photos and experiences via social media. Please see the Research and Planning post for more details.

Custom Lane on the left, looking towards Leith Docks, Edinburgh

My virtual visit to Shetland began at Leith Docks in Edinburgh. The Aberdeen, Leith and Clyde Shipping Company extended a route from here to Lerwick 83 years ago, enabling Shetlanders to trade their lace and knitted products. Approved of by Queen Victoria herself, it was women who toiled to make these fine stockings and shawls, who were the mainstay of the economy.

 “Women were culturally, economically and demographically predominant in this period,…hundreds of unmarried women … were only able to support themselves through knitting.“

Isobel Cockburn, ‘Fingers as clever as can be yet’: Shetland Lace and Women’s Craft in Victorian Britain.

Nowadays, it is not possible to sail from Leith, so I took a train (approx. 2.5 hours) to Aberdeen which was also the first leg of my 2018 journey to Orkney to walk the St Magnus Way. It was an easy 10 minute walk from the railway station to Jamieson’s Quay, and I had almost an hour before the ferry left at 5pm.

I travelled with Northlink Ferries who have great customer service. Photo Isobel Cockburn
Seeing the sun starting to set, seen from the stern.Photo Isobel Cockburn

It was only 10 degrees when we left and the temperature was dropping steadily during the four hours before sunset, but it was well worth being up on the chilly deck for the spectacle.

Spectacular sunset. Photo Isobel Cockburn

The wind was a light northerly (5.5 miles an hour) and the journey on the Northlink Ferries‘ ship, the MV Hjaltland, took 12 hours, stopping half way at Hatston in Orkney, docking at 11pm and leaving again 45 minutes later. I had elected for a seat rather than one of the cabins (the cheapest) and wiggled in and out of my sleeping bag at 1.30am when it was totally dark (3 degrees – brrr) and again at 6 when it was already quite light an hour after sunrise. Sadly, I saw no cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) although many do during the early hours at the end of this journey.

Lerwick harbour. Photo from the Northlink Ferries site

Lerwick is almost equidistant from Aberdeen on the mainland of Scotland, Bergen in Norway, and Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands. Its name comes from the Norse ‘Leirvik’ meaning muddy or clay bay. It’s a major fishing centre where more fish are landed than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined, despite the, relatively, small population.

As I had had breakfast on the boat, I was ready to explore. Fifteen minutes walk north of Holmsgarth terminal is The Shetland Textile Museum (opens 12noon). Located at the Böd of Gremista, it is only £3 to enter. Fifteen minutes in the other direction is the Shetland Museum and Archives (10am – 4pm) where there are exhibitions, events and the Emma-Louise coffee shop. Remember that, in real life, both are open Tuesday to Saturday. As this was an imaginery trip, I was able to enter on a Sunday! (note: The Co-op food store, if you ned to stock up, is on the Holmsgarth Road 6 minutes from the terminal towards the latter.) If you arrive on a Sunday like I was meant to, you will have to either go somewhere else and come back a few days later, or spend a minimum of 3 days in the town. There is so much to see and do that I can see this would be a delight.

Advertising image from D&G Kay, 1900s. Photo Isobel Cockburn

Right now, during lockdown, there is a vast array of archives available at Shetland Museum and Archives at the click of a mouse.

Traditional croft display with baskets and fish, Shetland Museum and Archives. Photo Isobel Cockburn
The Shetland Museum and Archives is right beside the sea at Gutters Gaet. Photo Isobel Cockburn
Textile Museum, Lerwick. Photo Isobel Cockburn
Looms in the Textile Museum, Lerwick. Photo Isobel Cockburn
Admiring the fabric in the Textile Museum, Lerwick. Photo Isobel Cockburn
Available from The Shetland Times. Photo from their website

There’s a brewery, a town hall, a fort and the bookshop is part of The Shetland Times where you can buy Heirloom Knitting, A Shetland Lace Pattern and Work Book by Sharon Miller, as well as maps and gifts.

The broch at Clickimin Loch, west of Lerwick, Shetland. Photo Wikipedia

What would a hiker do? Why, take a walk along the Knab Road and then right into Hillhead which becomes Scalloway and then South Road, until I meet the roundabout. From there I would drop down onto the track which skirts the Loch of Clickimin almost all the way excepting for Westerloch drive. I would admire the wildfowl and explore the broch, a Pictish fort, which was occupied circa 700BC until about the 6th century. I would camp somewhere if it’s warm enough at night (you can wild camp in Scotland) where I could leave my rucksack so I could climb.

North Staney Hill

Then I’d climb up Staney Hill and get a good old panormaic view of Lerwick and sourrounding landscape.

A Shetland pony. Photo Isobel Cockburn

Shetland Wildlife offer tours from Lerwick around the Noss coast to see the birds and sea mammals.

All photos are copyright Tamsin Grainger unless otherwise stated.

Shetland – research and preparation for my first trip

May 2020

On 2nd May, I was supposed to be making my first visit to Shetland – by train and ferry, from capital to capital, via Aberdeen. However, with the restrictions on travel and interpersonal contact imposed as a result of Covid-19 virus still in place in the UK, I cannot go until the lockdown has been lifted. My visit will now be virtual.

The North Sea – coming into Stromness, Orkney – a mere 32 miles from Thurso on the north coast of Scotland

From Leith to Lerwick

During my initial research, I discovered that when, in 1836 the Aberdeen, Leith and Clyde Shipping Company extended a route from Leith Docks to Lerwick, Shetlanders started using it to trade wool, lace and knitted items for the markets down south. I have lived in or very close to Leith for many years and this started me thinking – perhaps I could also make a return trip, but in reverse, and maybe I would find out what it was and is like to cross 216 miles of North Sea. It must have been a real culture shock, coming from a rural crofting community to a noisy city. I remembered how hard the lads from Fife farms had found it when they started dance college in London – many returned within the first term.

The River Medway at Yalding – on which side were you born?

I have thought a great deal about home and belonging over the years. I am English, born a ‘Kentish Maiden (KM)’ south of London. (It depends which side of the River Medway you were born as to whether you are a KM or a ‘Maid of Kent’). Also referred to as the ‘Garden of England’, Kent is where I am staying at the moment, with my mum. I left home when I was 18 years old, spent some time in Wales in my 20s, and moved to Edinburgh where I have lived for 30 years. In 2016, I began a new phase: six months of each year travelling in Europe, and six at home. I feel comfortable when I am away, I am not homesick and my and others’ relationship to their homeland is something I want to continue to try and understand more through this trip.

Puffin (tammie norrie) Shetland taken by Lesley

Walking and talking with women about home

I was hoping to invite women to walk with me when I was there, and talk about their home on Shetland as well as what it is like to leave, live elsewhere, and then go back. I am interested in what brings about a sense of belonging. The act of walking is one which can ground us, ease the flow of conversation, and connect with what can be called ‘home’, the earth. As I walk where I am and they walk where they are, I hope we can have a fruitful chat about this subject.

Much of Shetland’s business is in fishing. Photo Lesley

While I cannot go in person, I can identify some benefits in making an imaginery journey. As an inveterate walker, I had planned to explore as much of the mainland as possible on foot. I knew I would start in Lerwick for practical reasons, but from there it would depend on invitations received and what turned up, caught my interest. Now that I will be travelling virtually and ‘meeting’ folk on the phone or Zoom, I can zip backwards and forwards from Bressay in the east to Papa Stour in the west, from Unst in the north to Sumburgh on the southern tip without having to worry about ferry or bus connections. Although I would prefer to smell the real scent of the Loch of Spiggie and hear the actual squawks of the skua on the Noss coastal path, it will be quicker to get around!

Here is Christine De Luca speaking in Shetlandic, the dialect of the archipelago, sometimes called auld or broad Shetland / Shaetlan. Recorded by Wikitongues.

‘I wis boarn and bred in Shetland an maist o mi childhood wis spent in Waas….. – it means ‘Inlets o da sea’, an hit hed a fundamental effect on me, bein browt up in a croftin/ fishin community aa mi childhood. Whin I cam awa tae Edinburgh whaar I bide noo, an I’ve bidden for 50 year, hit wis redder awe-inspirin an scary.’

Direct from Christine De Luca recorded by Wikitongues
Leith, Edinburgh taken by Anna Jane

I recently lead a walk in Leith focused on some of the women who lived there in the past (Walking Between Worlds) although I was unable to find much information about women from Shetland. I am on the look-out for stories about women from these far-flung northern Isles, accounts of the sea trip (the route has been discontinued), or people who have passed-down tales from friends and relations.

Photo courtesy of Visit Scotland

Aims

  1. Get a female perspective of the Isles – now and in the past
  2. Look at the topic of ‘home’: leaving home, returning, living and working there and away, in general
  3. Start to understand a particularly female viewpoint of home and belonging, specifically the northernmost islands which have a chequered relationship with Scotland and Scandinavia.
Shetland wildflowers and nets. Photo Lesley

Thanks to Isobel Cockburn for the title photo of a loom in the Textiles Museum, Lerwick

Dalry Cemetery

A photo essay – Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh

Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

It was Autumn, season of the falling away of summer foliage and the start of nature’s melancholy. On the day I happened upon this place, on a walk from Slateford to Tollcross, rays of sunlight lit up corners and features of the deserted graveyard.

Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

There was sadness there, of course, but also a lightness and positivity. I find beauty in every season, and the shift from one to the other, the inevitable transformation, often calls for contemplation on what is passing, and what may be to come.

Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

‘Death dismantled them’ (she was writing about Rumi, Christ, Yogananda). ‘It cannot be undone, it can only be carried’.

Megan Devine
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

 ‘I looked up darkness on the Web…. there is always death. We say death is darkness; and darkness is death’.  

Because of the metaphorical dark, the death dark, we were constantly concerned to banish the natural dark’.

Kathleen Jamie pages 3 and 10 of ‘Findings’
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

There are times when we feel that death is closer than usual, and very often the news is full of it, as it is today. Some block it out because it is too hard to face, others have no choice but to deal with loss and the complicated practicalities it brings. Still others will realise that the proximity of unexpected demise can be a good thing in some ways.

“A close conversing with death … would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us …”

Daniel Dafoe 
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality. We are at the mercy of merciless death, which is darkness. When we died, they [neolithic people who built Maes Howe] sent a beam of midwinter light in among our bones. What a tender, potent gesture. In the Christian era, we were laid in our graves to face the rising sun. ‘

Kathleen Jamie, ‘Findings’ p 24
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.’.

The Bible, Isaiah

This is not a religious blog, I am not a church goer, but I do notice that when we know sorrow, it means we will also recognise happiness as its opposite when it returns; when we experience grief, then, too, we will recognise love. Living through the death of someone throws the light on these inevitable aspects of life.

Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

English poet and hymnodist, William Cowper, described grief itself as medicine. Grief cleanses the anguish from our souls and sets us back up on the path of life so we can dance. 

Bible Study Tools
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

In these days of Covid-19 (we are still in lockdown in the UK as I write) there are a few more articles about death in the media than normal. The Guardian’s Yuval Noah Harari wrote, ‘Some might well argue that…the crisis should teach us humility. We shouldn’t be so sure of our ability to subdue the forces of nature…..While humanity as a whole becomes ever more powerful, individual people still need to face their fragility…We have to own up to our transience.”

My greatest fear is that my daughters will die, so you can imagine what I felt when I found this grave stone with the eldest’s name on. Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

‘the relentlessness of mortal lives. Even as we spoke the moments were passing.’

Circe, Madeline Miller P. 197
Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

For me, the acknowledgement that I do not know when I will die is something I remind myself of every day. It helps me put things into perspective. I might not live to a ripe old age, so I ask myself, ‘What is the most important thing right now?’

Dalry Cemetery, Edinburgh ©TG

Access to the Dalry Cemetery is on Dundee Street near its join with henderson terrace and it backs onto Dalry Road in Edinburgh. See Find A Grave dot com

And on I walk…

This essay was inspiried by reading this:

“In today’s twitter-centred terms, ‘ Exits to Edinburgh’ could be described as a hashtag that walkers used to refer to the type of walk I guided: one which would meet at Edinburgh castle, choose a location at the periphery of the city, and then walk an unplanned route in order to reach that location. A fourth stage might include sharing our creative responses to the walk afterwards.”

Lusa Bhuí

The walks I make have a beginning and an end, but I get lost in-between. I ‘lose myself’ in my thoughts and sensations, I ‘miss’ the signs and ‘find’ myself somewhere else. I start out with an intention, a stone in my hand perhaps, and I end up with a living plan(t) inside.

Having discarded the prompt-stone at a prominent juncture, it has served its purpose, I have turned towards a new East. (Did I take a ‘wrong’ turn?) I ended up who-knows-where in my quest.

What was related, tangentially, to what I started with, has metamorphosised and ‘become’. Appeared. Taken shape. 

I walk

I notice

it reminds me of

that connects with

and before I know it I am in a new here

I feel the thrill, I recognise it has to be done, followed through with, communicated.

Then my task is to ‘find’ my way back to the path and continue until I arrive at a place of safety for the night.

I sleep on it, like a mattress of new endeavours under which is a pea that cannot be ignored. It sprouts while I dream. In the morning, I discover that my subconscious has fertilised that small plant and when I step out again onto the continuation of that route the next day, it leads me somewhere else and the shoot inside continues to grow with the next set of new. 

‘The pathways get stronger with repetition until the behavior is the new normal.‘

Health Transformer

If I go ‘my way’, take the “unplanned route to reach the periphery” (which by its nature is just outside my forward-seeing vision), there I am in an unfamiliar “location”, the sort which contains new possibilities. New neural tracks are trodden and remembered, forging unexpected links which lead me in directions not previously imagined.

‘and like many of them he ceased to be lost not by returning but by turning into something else.”

Rebecca Solnit

And on I walk.

Happenstance – a Healthy walk

I took this walk in response to Unlocked walks for Spring ‘20 No 1 ‘for Health’ by Edinburgh Walking Workshop (socially distanced) and posted on Edinburgh Psychogeography. The prompt was to have questions about the links between walking and health in my mind and see what arose.

Danger! Pedestrians walking on the road

Moving away from the familiar and safe

Out of the house, I turned right instead of the usual left. I was heading towards a certain place and hoping to deviate – deviation, on occasion, being the source of imaginative instigation. 

Ahead, on the single lane bridge, was a man on the non-pavement side where there’s a ‘>’ in the wall, a ‘more than’ nick out of the road. There is more, because when you stand there and look over, you can see the river. I was prepared to walk on the pavement, to keep my distance, but he crossed back. He had a stick. I said ‘good morning’ and he seemed surprised. I crossed to the nick and leaned over to look at the water. I live by the sea in Edinburgh, but here in Kent with my mother during the Covid-19 lockdown period, I am landlocked. It is different. It has an effect on me.

A lone swan with plenty of water all to herself

I took a left at the post office. Another gentleman and I dodged right-left-right until we wordlessly worked out who would go in the road – me. We smiled, maybe murmured, I can’t remember now.

Does this shifting onto the highway to keep our distance, endanger our health?

Flood protection sandbags

My route is chosen 

I passed where the sandbags are still piled up outside ‘the pretty cottages’ from the flooding,. Further on, there were words carved in chunks of stone at the top of 2 brick gate posts – Lyngs Close. I typed it into my notes for memory’s sake, and google changed it to ‘lungs’. For once, clever google – Lyngs does mean lungs! It denotes ‘an open space in a town or city, where people can breathe fresher air’ (which I didn’t know at the time). That set off a chain reaction in my mind. 

Lyngs Close

Theme

I am a health practitioner, and when I refer to the Lungs in my work (Chinese Medicine), I spell it with a capital letter because the term encompasses both the respiratory organs and the things we practitioners have all noticed over the years that are repeatedly connected with them. For example, clients I see with asthma and other pulmonary issues, will often tell me, ‘I can’t breathe in this relationship’, or, ‘Although there is space at my work, I can’t take a deep breath when I’m there – I think it’s because my boss watches over me all the time’. These phrases link the physical lungs and the ability to breathe easily, with the psychological feelings around having enough space and freedom. 

The lyng at Lyngs Close (and Beech tree #1)

This week, the Daily Mail reported concerns that ‘political appointees are breathing down the necks of scientists’, implying that they are being pressurised to make a vaccine quickly. In ancient Chinese texts you will find references to regulations, and the setting of borders (including those between what is right and wrong) linked to the Lungs. As it is their job to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide across membranes (the borders between the alveoli, the air sacs) in order to maintain our vitality, the aspects of our lives related to rules, space and air are also connected.  We are living in a time when the government might ‘push strict lockdown rules to their limit’ and that affects each of us in different ways. I tend to rebel if the boundary is too restricted, if my freedom to create is curtailed.1

A walk theme emerged by happenstance (which I always think must be about happily coming across something). Chance is about things happening unexpectedly and about providing for the possibility of… 

Beech # 2

The Scottish charity Greenspace Scotland (2011) defines green spaces as: ‘the green lungs of our towns and cities which contribute to improving peoples’ physical and mental health…and ‘breathing spaces’ to take time out from the stresses of modern life. ‘

Gayle Souter-Brown ‘Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing: Using healing, sensory and therapeutic gardens

You may like Alice Vincent’s Rootbound – Rewilding A Life (biography, memoir, botanical history) which examines how the heartbroken can be saved by nurturing plants.

Claustrophobia and open space

Allowing walkers a strip of land

As I made my way down the narrow close, I remembered a walk I took a few weeks ago – I was directed along a foot-width path between two fences, by a farmer who did not want ramblers on his land. This expression of limitation was in the middle of a great, grassy field. I was unable to stray in any way. I recalled the signs I had photographed the previous evening – ‘Strictly Private’ and ‘Keep Out’. In Scotland we have the ‘Freedom to Roam’, not so here in England, my original home.

Restricted parking sign
Leaves cleaning our air on our behalf

It’s like the world’s northern forests become a giant vacuum cleaner, scouring the air, sucking down the CO2 till around November

Robert Krulwich, National Geographic

Nature breathes, we all breathe. Or not

The way then opened up and there was a huge beech tree, one of earth’s 3.1 trillion ‘lungs’, with lobe-shaped leaves. (See the link in the box above for the source of that statistic). By the tree, at the edge of this oval patch of green for everyone to share, was a sign telling me that parking was for residents and their visitors only. I manoeuvred between the cars and came upon an even bigger Green, surrounded by houses and vehicles of varying shapes and sizes. I don’t have one, haven’t had for years, but I remember shutting myself in mine, in a secluded spot, to cry or scream, sleep or read when the children were at school and it all got too much. Here, it was momentarily clear, no exhaust fumes clogging up the air. I wondered if more cars were ‘at home’ than usual – that our new rules were going some way to liberating the planet from exhaust fumes.

There was a murmur of voices, slamming of doors and then a thrumming as an engine started up. It couldn’t, it tried again – the machine was coughing. 

Dry tracery of tracks and mud

I had already strayed from my path, wandered off the tarmac onto grass and the crunch of dry sticks breaking. I took a big deep breath and blew at a dandelion clock. Under my boots, a dry tracery of tracks and mud; above, birds warbled. Avian creatures are the only species with a syrinx, the air passing across these thin membranes to produce their songs. Sometimes, like the Song Thrush, there are 2 windpipes and so 2 tunes can be sung simultaneously. It’s known as ‘duetting’. (How Do Birds Sing, CelebrateUrbanBirds.com)

If they stay there long, the grass will die

I noticed two bins on the grass which I knew would starve it of light if left there for very long. Without light, as every school child is taught, it would be unable to photosynthesise, to process carbon dioxide and water and convert it into oxygen and glucose to be able to thrive.

Dandelion clock

I mused on a Facebook story: A friend living in Peru reported, ‘Six weeks of no physical exercise, except for 2 minute walks to take the rubbish out, or check the mailbox, or walk from the car park to the pharmacy…’ Another, from Scotland, wrote, ‘I have felt a bit up and down emotionally this week, wondering….when I shall see my children and grandchildren again.’ Starved of light and sunshine, of physical contact and face-to-face time with friends and family, the health of we and our environment is threatened.

Outside the Village Hall, a man and a woman in a stationary car were smoking with the windows open and the engine running.

There seemed to be cars in every shot, stealing the focus from the lilac

Alone and together

Now I was back on the main road by the bus stop. A cyclist sped past, the dynamo humming. Four-by-fours raced, causing a wind to ripple my trousers. For a moment it was me and the birdsong before the next one. As it pulled away my nostrils filled with toxic vapours. A child stamped so he could hear himself, questioned his parents. He sang a snippet of the tune in his head, aloud. It was boiling (April) – I was ‘warming’.

Sweet chestnut blooms (plus a speed restriction sign and a car)

There were the wings of a pigeon, whirring; there, the straining neck of a blackbird dashing; and there, the candelabra of the chestnut tree. I remembered that they give some people hayfever.

People have trodden an illegal path

On my right was a track, and a gate with just enough space to squeeze around. ‘How do I know where I am not allowed to walk if there are no signs?’ I caught myself wondering. I went anyway. It took my fancy. 

The pheasant hotfooting it away

There was one single crow high up in the clear blue sky; further on a solitary cat in the forage; a pesky pheasant in the stubble, its red head and plumed tail quite evident. Until it spotted me, that was. Then it ducked. If I had been a hungry buzzard at that moment, that pheasant would have seemed to be a clod of earth – cunning. A buzzing insect intercepted me and my camera. I ignored it because of the game and my thoughts. It was me and them. It smelled of hot, cut grass and faintly acrid chemicals.

8, 12, 4 birds flew around in ellipses, making a 3d spirograph of smooth circling, their wings catching the sun and glinting like morse code. I watched some more. No, the signalling came from their white bellies being exposed between wing flaps – hidden, shown, hidden, shown – around 3 x per second 2, 70-95 mph3 Notably, they choose to expend extra energy in order to fly together, adding an extra wingbeat per second in order to have compatriots to home with.4 I have brought Sara Baume’s book ‘handiwork’ for a walk with me. She writes that birds migrate with other species sometimes, if they share feeding habits. I didn’t know that. I like to think I could join a flock of others who have the same needs as me for company on the long journey. 

If I am not allowed to go there, I can’t help them

Over and over again, as I walk, I am faced with limitations and the knock-on effect of them. As I turned a corner, cars were relegated to the distance, birds and other unidentifiable noises took precedence, but I could not investigate because of the fence. On Saturday morning it was the same – I think it was a distressed duck I was hearing (perhaps because of my concern over the mother of the 2 dead ducklings the cats brought in the day before), but I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity because of the wire and wooden posts. Nor could I help, even if that had been possible. (This is another topic – the crossing over the road to avoid contact, thereby missing the opportunity to be close to another, strike up a conversation, smile into their eyes and help if need be; the secluding which precludes neighbourly chats and offers / receiving of support; the ‘Keep Out’ signs which stop me reaching the scene of the problem – none of it healthy). I realised I was walking the outside perimeter of someone’s garden. They were on one side, me the other.

Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata

The wood pigeon gurgled her underwater sounds; the sweet smell of hawthorn was like incense in a mosque. Two rabbits ran out onto the path and turned towards me. I realised they don’t know I was there. One turned off close by, the other froze. She seemed to be unsure. A pigeon errupted from above my head, and I startled. That scared the bunny away.

Lush hedgerows and official footpath sign

Nearing the end

This was the front of the sign I got stung to see …

A woman’s voice I couldn’t quite hear, interrupted my peace. I saw the phone ringing and I didn’t answer. Before I knew it I recognised where I was and glanced at the time – it was getting on. 

I was on the official footpath, but it was the back of a sign that was towards me. I got stung by nettles trying to read it, and, although I generally think that homeopathically that does me good because I respond well to the properties of Urtica dioica, drink it every day (it’s good for the health of my joints and blood), nevertheless this is another danger inherent in rural walking!

Wilding

Raspberries gone wild

Before the cherry orchard, I came across raspberries which have been allowed to go wild. Not over excited, although maybe they are because they have grown in exuberant, prickly arches, more monumental than the brambles. (Do they compete? I wonder). They have been left, free to go their own way. Kids who ‘go wild’ are said to be having fun, they squeal and scream, their voices filling the air with their freedom of expression. I go a bit wild when I walk: I dismiss pretence and constraint. Not quite feral, not ‘gone mad’, but I have wilded. 

The voices behind me were getting louder. Closer therefore. ‘You don’t want to do it on a day like today’, he said with a forbidding tone. I stood to the side to let them pass.

I wanted to stay out until I wanted to go back. I knew, now, where I was and how long it would take to get home and guaged it was perfect timing to speak to the kids on Zoom. (Actually I was late and the youngest messaged, ‘Where are you all? I am here on my own. I could be outside.’)

Offstage, a child screamed. A fatherly voice said, ‘Calm down, don’t panic, if there’s a problem, tell me’. Then I was back on a road. They cycled past. 

So, be careful, you have been warned
You can’t do this, or that, nor the other

As I crossed the Lees, there was a procession of us, socially distanced. We were strung out, hopefully not ‘strung out’ – nervous or tense – after our walk. One woman wore headphones, cut off; a couple were knee deep in the undergrowth; a what-I-call ‘proper hiker’ was focused forwards with his baton jauntily over his shoulder like Dick Whittington (I said hello, but got no response); a friendly woman with a walking stick smiled and nodded. 

Most of us were well spaced out – these 2 must have been living together

I did go where I had intended to, but I got there an unfamiliar way. I came across a lot of warnings, but survived. My health was all the better for the open air and the Spring green.

1 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8256435/Brits-emerge-lockdown-new-figures-rise-people-outdoors.html accessed 26.4.20

2 https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v064n04/p0619-p0620.pdf

3 http://blogs.bu.edu/biolocomotion/2011/11/14/pigeon-power-dynamic-wings-improves-capabilities/

4 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190618140201.htm

Walk This Weekend – words and images

30 Women and men took a walk on the weekend of 4/5 April 2020 when most people around the world were vastly restricted in their movements for the purpose of limiting the spread of the corona virus. They took 30 minutes of exercise, as encouraged by their governments, staying close to their homes and collected sounds and images while they were out. These are being made into a video / audio, a soundtrack of photos, to share with those who are unable to leave their homes (for example in Spain). People took walks in Israel, Greece, France, Iceland, the US, the Czech Republic, Scotland and England. 79 joined the Facebook group (including the 30) over 48 hours.

I have selected one photo per participant for this blog. The other photos mentioned in the commentary below will be in the film. Guidelines were set for the walks and they can be found here.

The Pentland Hills, Edinburgh, LG

LG wrote: I started from home wearing gloves as there are a few gates and stiles to go through before gaining access to the hills near my house.  I did have to speak to one woman who commented on my walking pole, wishing she had one. She had just come down the steps in my photo, they are very steep. I climbed the steps then made a right angled turn up the side of the hill where all Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth come into view below – not a great photo it being my old smart phone, but it is amazing whatever the weather.  I walked up to the brow of the hill, the larch are beginning to flower, hard to capture, it was quite windy up there, and the fence posts all have moss hair! I sat for a while to admire the view looking east and south towards Allermuir Hill. Down across the boggy bit to the lovely stone seat erected as part of a woodland planting initiative commemorating the First World War, where I sat again to listen. Wood pigeons, chaffinches, two magpies, a flat-footed hill runner, a mountain biker struggling up the hill, lots of silent intervals. Down to a small burn, took a short video. Back along a different path and across a field through the woods to my street. Love this tree, someone once carved a heart, it has grown with the tree and the tree has formed its own heart above it ❤  This is a favourite short walk, which since my hip replacement last autumn, I can now enjoy again. I’m so lucky to have this on my doorstep – think I’d go crazy if we were confined to our homes!

Video on Facebook – click on Liza’s photos within her post and you will see her video of a beautiful burn.

Graffiti – Chichester, England, KL

KL wrote: I had a slightly belated, long, tiring and enjoyable cycle ride yesterday, but on Saturday a short suburban walk.  Space to observe normality and uncertainty, fears and opportunities, isolation and society . . .

Kim’s audio on Soundcloud 4.4.2020 – 04:04:2020, 12.40

JW sent videos – from herself in Edinburgh – Wind Murmuration – and from a friend of hers on Holy Isle off the south west coast of Scotland.

King’s College, Aberdeen, GC

GC wrote: I went for a walk around the block today that led me to Aberdeen university. I loooove that area. So nice and full of old building, lovely houses, little cottages. It’s the old Aberdeen 😍 Daffodils are in bloom, Seaton park was deserted and it all felt so peaceful. It was 3. 4km and bird and bells were ringing at 6pm. Bliss ✨⚡️#walkgowild

Yellow Gorse in Musselburgh, EP

EP wrote: I walked by the coast with my dog on Sunday afternoon – my daily walk towards Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. Lots of birds chirping in the warmth of the sun, so fortunate to have the Forth estuary on my doorstep. The sea soothes me. Seaweed in abundance, daffodils in the scrubland, bright sky sunshine – so good for the soul. I love yellow – gorse on the hill. Healing our world.🌎

Magnolia blooms, Harrow, London, CS

Carmen S wrote: It was a late evening walk, beautiful light, extraordinary blossoms, spring is here.

Wood in Shropshire, SJ

SJ wrote: Today’s walk next to my house 🙏 

‘Close’,Greece, Maria G

Maria G gave her photos titles: Walk and sense all dimensions! Far, close, hug, and Leia.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, GI

GI wrote: My favourite walk and I am so lucky to live near by the Arthur seat, Edinburgh. I could not resist to walk with the bare feet, the Earth was so warm even thought the sun came out later on – such beautiful day, very grateful for moments like this. My daughter was climbing the tree, I got the beautiful hag from it and some fresh nettles to brew the tea and we collected white fluffy feathers on the way home to be creative 🙏/ Sunday around 5pm. The concert from all the birds and gentle wind were so refreshing.

I appreciate the old bridges over the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes, Catherine S

Catharine S wrote: A stroll in the local park in Milton Keynes – along the canal, and then back along by Caldecotte Lake, up a bit to Ouzel Valley park, and back onto the Grand Union, and home.  Traffic noise is possibly less, but still pretty noisy – not too much bird song to pick up, so no audio. Pub is closed, which I notice means later on less light pollution from the sign, allowing for a bit more vision of clear, starry nights. I appreciate the old canal bridges over the Grand Union in Milton Keynes, and the good looking moon.

Danson Park, London, SS

SS wrote: Danson Park for 30 minutes this afternoon after 4:30 pm. Her video on Facebook is here. A few from me. I had a quick walk for 20 min between 14:00 and 14:20. With the first photo, I just fell in love with the bright green. The third was all about sky and sense of space. And the last 2, color, delight for the heart.

Near the Water of leith, Edinburgh, Catharine T

CT wrote: I went for a walk at about 16:00 along the Water of Leith with my husband and then, half an hour later, kept walking on my own in our communal gardens below our street, which face onto the river. I see a magpie settle on a tree. I listen to the birds, trying to identify them from their sound (I’m so bad at that) and the river flowing below. I look at the blossom across the river from the old orchard. I’m looking at the trees in the garden – can I see a tree creeper, that I haven’t seen for the past two years but I know are in the gardens? It’s very peaceful, people walking along the river, minding their distance and enjoying being out.

Reflections, Edinburgh, Catharine T

Walk 2: I walk up the steep slope in our gardens. I’m not good at birdsong but think I can hear the see-saw sound of great tits and the more mellifluous robin. I meet someone also looking for a tree creeper – they’re very hard to see, so I’m trying to learn what they sound like. I’m also looking for a wren; there are lots in the garden but you don’t often see them.  I see another two magpies – one for sorrow; two for joy; three for a girl … I’m looking down on a pigeon! it just flew away. I hear a bird give a warning sound – is that a blackbird? I’m not quite sure. Past the badger’s hole. I finished my walk down onto  the public footpath and then a brisk stride up the 140 steps from the river to our street (no landings for the first 111 steps – done without a break!) to get my cardio-vascular exercise for the day.  Catharine’s video on facebook is here.

Maria Shi-Fo sent videos of Plaka and Akropoli in Athens – autumn within Spring, Saturday morning. They are on Facebook here. She has another one taken on Sunday afternoon, not very far from Athens

Near Dalry, North Ayrshire, South West Scotland, EL

EL wrote: I walked behind the house today.  The flowering currant is in memory of our first pony Benji, wind turbines were noisy, good views and interesting lichens. 

France, KL

KL wrote: Our dog Ruby was a little too hot, so we ended up doing lots of stops to cool down pottering in the streams and river. Ruby was a thirsty girl! She has dodgy hips so finds it very hard to go up and down that particular slope – hence the encouragement from my partner! Here is the video of Ruby

We went for a walk – a familiar route, straight from the front door, down to the river Le Noireau in the valley down a decline of 20%. Keeping to the required distance from home (1km in France) and only 1hr for exercise. The full loop is about 5km and usually takes us an hour. It was quite warm today.

Leith, Edinburgh, CM

CM wrote: On Saturday around 3pm I went for a walk with my granddaughter, aged 5, along the Water of Leith. We started at the Shore, she was on her scooter and I was armed with a long stick, at her request. We meandered along to a place we could feed the ducks and splash with said stick in the water. We played and sang along the way, and back. The simplicity of the walk was truly joyful. The sounds of the birds, the water, and our own chatter. The small things in life are often the most precious. 

Newcastle, England, ML

ML wrote: I cycled to Jesmond Dene, still early. The sound of the burn and birdsong. No idea what birds were – made mental note to learn. Of all the Buddhist teachings I’ve studied over the years, the most simple is the most profound; present moment, wonderful moment. A beagle sits refusing to budge not even when a spaniel pup offers him a game of chase.

Just back from a walk through Jesmond Dene then back home via the streets of suburban Newcastle upon Tyne. I forgot to do the 5 mins note taking but recorded 1 minute of sound.

Shenandoah National Park, USA, Nathalie Meyer
Daisies, England, JT

JT wrote: A blustery, wonderfully warm Spring day in my local park. Lovely to hear the wind in the trees 🌳 🌲 Berries are out … Berry Hill Primary School closed for the foreseeable future 😔 … so Schools out – possibly ‘Schools out for summer’ 🧒 👶 I’m sure there’s a song budding there 🎶 🎤 🏫… 💃 Her video on Facebook is here

Granton Beach, Edinburgh, LS

LS wrote: We set off from the house at about 1635. We headed down the hill to the sea making a new friend en route, and bumping into old ones. It was strange keeping a distance and not giving them a hug. (Sorry it would have been rude not to chat!). We chose a circular route; gentle walk down to the seafront and back up the steep steps to our road. It was interesting to see the groups of people on the beach keeping their distance and many more people walking along the quayside than normal. I wondered if all the groups were from the same household, or whether they had arranged to meet friends at the sea front. There were four people stripping off for a swim and I wondered if they were from the wild swimming club? I admired their bravery; the sea looked cold even though it has been a very mild day. I took a photograph of the quay from above because it made an interesting geometric shape into the sea. The terraced garden enchanted me because it is an achievement to create something so attractive from scratch on such a steep embankment. The colours of the car matched the Fisherman’s cottage and made me think of the limited palette used by the artist Whistler. Most of these Fishermans cottages have screens or net curtains at the window to prevent prying eyes. I was delighted by this display, carefully arranged, inviting people to pause and look in. A reminder of Spring and hope for all of us. The woman strode out into the surf, but it was the dog who had second thoughts. It’s usually the other way round! 

West Lothian, Scotland, TH

TH wrote: Yesterday I walked from my front door down to the River Almond along to the Union Canal where I followed the path towards Ratho, rejoined the road at Clifton cottage and walked back round to Lins Mill where I retraced the river walk to complete my loop on a cloudy, but bright day. So many birds around chirruping, calling or singing mellifluously – various tits, magpies, chiff chaffs, blackbirds, wood pigeons, pheasants, a robin, a thrush, a woodpecker tapping away….babbling brooks and the rush of river water contrasting with the silence and stillness of the canal.  I’ve never seen so many roe deer as close to home before – a cluster of four stood staring at me through the trees for a good while, before bolting away. So many hosts of golden daffodils in varied hues. A few folk about, everyone greets each other these days even if just with a smile – we’re all in this together. Her video is here on Facebook

Edinburgh, MS

MS wrote: Short walk around Duddingston Golf Course today, around 40 minutes, left approximately 12 noon.  Warm overcast day, took a few cuttings while I was out. His video is on Facebook here

London, MG

MG wrote:  17.07 to 17.57 on April 04, 3.6 kms through Bishops Park, Fulham, London, England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 I usually walk in the morning and around the bridges in the weekends (7kms), but that was before the lockdown…I thought it would be less busy at tea time as Hammersmith & Fulham reopened parks (and had dozens of volunteers help the park patrol avoid big gatherings). I enjoyed walking in the middle of the street as no one is taking their cars anymore. I sat on a bench facing the sunset, closed my eyes and enjoyed a little breeze and the warmth of the sun on my face, knees and shinbones… listening to a big variety of birds 🐦 🦅 🦢 wishing I could name them… my sense of smell is not impressed as I haven’t recorded any smell in my notes despite taking loads of pictures of blooming trees…plan for next time to try and smell more… As I listen to the birds there is suddenly an airplane ✈️ loosing speed above us, I remember the « nextdoor » chat the other day saying we « only » had 120 airplanes that day instead of the common 1200…we are on one of Heathrow landing paths! Walking back I pass a house with 2 families having an informal gathering (with respect to the two meters rule between the two groups), and I smile as our neighbours have had a few of these meetings today already… enjoy your weekend! ☯️💖 

Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, DO

DO wrote: I left my flat at 5.45pm and walked to Brighton Park in Portobello, Edinburgh. The street is quiet. I take a few photos along the way and a video of me running away from someone who is coughing loudly. At 5.50pm, all is quiet in the park except for the sound of buses on Brighton Place. Today feels like a layer of grief and sadness has been lifted. I was meditating earlier and I felt Earth’s heart. In the park, I felt Earth saying, “Thank you.” Joy and sadness. Joy at the sound of Spring: birds and a palpable sense of hope that we are entering a new phase of existence. Sadness at the irony of being enclosed indoors during a time of renewal. Feeling my feet on the ground. Grateful for this moment. And I love old trees, they have seen a lot. I miss Hampstead Heath. At 6.00pm, the church clock from the Catholic church chimed. It was very touching. Awaken, it seemed to say, we are being called to tune in to our inner being, a new tempo. 🙏 

Love in Hebrew, Israel, SG

SG wrote: My route began in midday as I stepped out of my home in Tel Aviv, Israel. I started in the front lawn of the building and continued onwards across the road, weaving through the neighbouring buildings. I listened and recorded the peaceful sounds of nature and the chirping birds overwhelming the atmosphere with their beauty. We are not allowed to venture out that much, only up to 100 meters. My walk was not very long, nonetheless it was meaningful. I took a few photos of what caught my attention: a bicycle ( a passion of mine), a tire filled with plants, a blank sign and a guitar (music and nature which I can’t live without)… The blank sign, I felt, was very much like a path of uncertainty and acceptance. I accept that life has a route for each one of us and we don’t hold the reins for the most part, so we might as well walk with acceptance 🙂 I discovered a tree stump and it automatically took me to a fovourite of mine,  Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” which has always been such a profound impact in my life. Most noticeably, I took a moment to breath in and observe my surroundings. A hedgehog accompanied me, which reminded me that this place called earth is not only my home. A photo of a sign in Hebrew that said love which always resonates within me.  I feel it is best to end with “And the tree was happy”. Thank you, be humble and be safe. 🙏 

Icefloes, Iceland, RV

RV wrote: Location: Eastern Fjords, Iceland. Town called Neskaupstadur. Walked 40 minutes, between 15:35, finished 16:15. Weather: south-western, strong winds, but sun. We had a metre of snow yesterday but today’s winds and 10 degrees has melted it all. Walked from the harbour, past the small boat harbour to the estuary where the glacial river enters the sea. Today there were icefloes in the harbour, the river has broken her icy shakkles at last. The black volcanic sand beach had heaps of snow and jagged ice, the river itself running dark grey and loud between the narrows. We walk here five or so times a week, it is never the same walk. Different boats in the harbour; trawlers, freight carriers of frozen fish, oil tankers, small boats. They have started the Lumpsucker roe season, dragging the nets weekly, but the weekend’s storm made the takings light. Migratory birds coming back. The black helmeted seagull, orange legged oyster catchers, eider ducks, black backed gulls. The Faroese say Spring comes when the oyster catchers return. The Icelanders welcome Spring with the Golden Plover. We heard the Oyster catchers “peep peep” and the “hum umm” of the eider ducks, the wind constantly in our ears. Not many cars, people walking, children, dogs, but everyone cautious, wary.

Grande Randonee / Camino de Santiago de Compostella, Montpellier, France, CD

CD wrote: A walk yesterday in my neighbourhood of Castelnau-le-Lez, very close to Montpellier, but very quick to be in nature. 🙏 It is also a stop on the Compostella road. I like to stroll through the streets looking in the gardens, all the different trees : laurel, olive, palm, lilac, roses, pin parasols (a type of oak), thyme, rosemary, iris, wild orchids. I walk to the top of a hill where I can see the sea – so close, but too far for now. It’s the feeling of containment that give that little, but very present, pressure of not being able to … this brings energy to a point that helps good transformation of what needs to transform in the moment. In fact, it’s a present, une “aubaine” as we say it in French (a boon in English). Then enjoying space lying down in the sun in the grass full of little herbs and flowers. So good. Her videos are on Facebook here about which she wrote: No words needed 😁🙏

Sunset, Pribyslav, Czech republic, VS

VS wrote: Lovely walk on fields. Keep coming back daily to watch a sunset.So beautiful yet diferent every day. Pics were captured 19:21-19:26, a shorg video at 19:24. Her video is here on Facebook

Here, now, is the full video of the sounds which were collected by the people above, for you to watch when / if you are stuck inside, or if you would like to hear what it sounds like in different parts of the world.

Featured photo of the hedgehog by Shera Geller.

Walk This Weekend

#walkgoesviral March 2020 (This event has now taken place)

A virus is a tiny particle and needs a host cell to be able to live and spread. If each of us takes a short walk this weekend; if we all listen and record the sounds around us and the feelings which go with them; within a 2 km / 1 mile radius; and if I host a platform for collating these – then we can co-create a record of our extraordinary times. For those who cannot leave the house or hospital, we will collect the sounds of the outside for them to hear indoors.

Share
  • You might take a circular walk or a there-and-back one. On foot, in a wheelchair or buggy. 
  • For children and adults, dogs and tortoises.
  • Aim to be silent throughout – don’t speak (although don’t be rude. If you do have to talk, make a note of why and when) 

You have 5 tasks to complete

You will need a basic smartphone – nothing fancy. If you don’t have a sound recorder or video option on your phone, simply listen and record on paper:

  1. Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
  2. Stop at another spot and listen for 5 minutes – write down what you hear at the time (or you can record yourself speaking on your phone and write it down when you get home) – you can make a list or be creative 
  3. Take 1-5 photos at any stage of the route. Write down when and why you took them. (I do not recommend that you take a photo of yourself or your house, for privacy reasons) 
  4. When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form.
  5. Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Listen

Please note these things when you share:

  • Time: Start and end time, recorded sound at… Sat down, listened and wrote at… Took photos at… 
  • Location: My route began and ended at home / where I am staying or living now (give general location). I went this way …. (list route or places or make another sort of record of it)…  

Here is an example:

I walked between 5 and 5.30pm; recorded sound at minutes 7-8; sat, listened and wrote at minutes 24-28; took photos at minute 4 (because it was pretty),14 (because she reminded me of my mum), 24 (because that’s my favourite cafe) and 28 (because I was interested in the shadows); My route began and ended where I am staying now in Yalding, Kent, England. I went across the road, through Kinton Lane, around the field, through the gate at the far side…. … And ended back where I started (or I might draw a picture of my route or use my phone technology to digitally produce my route etc. You choose) 

Note down anything else you think is interesting eg if you take your donkey with you, please note this down as well. 

What is the point of doing this? 

  • To take a walk, focus on your environment and how it makes you feel 
  • To notice how the area has changed since we have been in ‘lockdown’ and again, if repeated, how these things change over time 
  • To know that when you will be walking with other people who are doing the same thing in different locations around the world, thereby creating a walking community at this time of separation 
  • For fun / exercise / to boost your immune system / be more grounded
  • To see what happens 
  • To create a record of this event for posterity 
  • You can probably think of more reasons – please tell each other 
Walk (2 m or 6 feet apart)

Social Media

Facebook group called Walk This Weekend

Twitter/Instagram #walkgoesviral

I will use my twitter for sharing info @walknodonkey 

Once you have shared, I will 

  • Collate the data and share in a blog
  • Record how many people walked and where
  • I will make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help appreciated as I am an amateur) 

Privacy

I will not reveal or use any personal information or data (if you do share your email with me for the purposes of sending recordings etc, I will keep it only for that purpose and delete after. It will never be shared with anyone else) 

The future

Hopefully, we can each repeat the same walk the following week so that changes in you, in nature, and in your environment during that time can be noted. 

Please share with others you think may be interested. This is a Walking Without a Donkey event. Please feel free to comment below.

Yalding Walks – Giving Service

A 3 hour round walk, to and from Yalding High Street. March 2020

At this time, when we are not allowed to leave the house more than once a day unless there’s an emergency, and should only be doing it for the purposes of exercise, my awareness of the connections between nature and our situation is alive in my mind as I walk.

Thatched cottage on the left and tiled on the right of the lane behind the wooden bench. (Photo taken in the evening of another day)

There’s a little lane off Yalding High Street, between the white-boarded, thatched house and the pale daffodil-yellow brick one with matching tiles (on the same side as St Peter’s and St Paul’s church). It takes you past the churchyard and through a gate which is now propped open with a sign saying it’s because of the corona virus. (It took me a while to work out why, but I think it’s so that you don’t have to touch the wood and possibly leave or catch germs). The cemetery with H’s grave and the rifle range are almost facing each other and you can see the controversial new builds and the rubble which has been left over. The Kintons is a well-used sports and dog-walking patch of grass with a children’s play area.

The Kintons

In the far left hand corner, past the bluebell woods, is a track which darts straight ahead – a field was being mowed to the right, a rather portly little dog scampering behind; and scrubby woods, with the back entrance to a grand mansion, are opposite. A woman was coming towards me and she couldn’t avoid being closer than two metres due to the narrowness of the track, but she awkwardly tilted her upper body away from me. I had a lot of bible teaching when I was a child and these stories often pop into my mind even though I am no longer a practicing Christian. So, I had been thinking about the image from the Good Samaritan bible story of people crossing over to avoid having to help the injured and needy. Nowadays, we are taking care of each other by doing just that: by-passing on the street. Equally, many of us are going out of our way to look out for others – the phone and the doorbell ring approximately seven times a day at my mother’s house where I am currently staying, with folk from near and far checking if she is OK because she usually lives alone and is over 80 years old.

Crossing Vicarage Lane at a slight angle, I clambered over the stile, sleeve pulled down over my supporting hand to avoid skin contact, tromped through the grass, crossed an access road, and followed the footpath signs (you do not have the Right to Roam in England as we do in Scotland).

There are little streams and waterways everywhere, often almost hidden by overhanging undergrowth, Kent

Water weaves through this landscape at the best of times. It floods regularly, inundating the copses and arable lands; contrastingly, it is often so dry that great fissures appear and hose pipes are banned. Locals are constantly reminded of what is vital to life, forced to focus on conserving it and appreciating it when it is in balance. This virus we are now dealing with, is, maybe unwittingly, protecting our landscape (yesterday drones were spying on the Yorkshire moors to even stop hikers (for different reasons)). Although many fear that we have damaged it for good, we do also know how resilient nature can be.

Wide expanses of sandy coloured, cracked earth, Kent

The earth was bright in the sun, hardening and whitening every day now Spring is here. Often so solid and unyielding in the south east of England, there are still sodden patches and the odd sinkhole of wetness left from Winter and you might not be so safe if you stepped there. I reflected that it is change, especially unforseen changes, which challenge our sense of security. Although we want to trust that we will one day be able to plan and move around the world again, we do not know when that will be. In fact, we know deep down that nothing will be exactly the same; we understand that this is serious enough to bring about a new order. We don’t yet know what shape that will take. because, metaphorically speaking, the ground underneath us has shifted. This is why walking, even when we have to watch our footing, is such a reassuring activity – we still get from a to b and survive the experience. I could feel myself becoming grounded, and then I sighed and felt a movement in my heart area. (Chinese medicine practitioners: in the Five Phases, when the child’s happy (Earth), so is the mum (Fire)).

Contrasting colours – the yellow green of the tree with its new vestments and the blue of the lakelet and sky, Cheveney, Kent
Banks of Lady Smock around the water, Cheveney, Kent

Walking towards Grove Lane, there is an almost imperceptible gap on the left which opens out to a small lake. It looked grand. Skirting it, I admired the wild flowers. What a beautiful setting on such a day, with the cool wind causing mini waves and turning the surface a myriad of shades of blue.

I am used to giving wildlife a wide berth, but this time I startled the flock of geese who were grazing on the grass a long way ahead. They made ‘We are very disturbed noises’
Seed heads from last winter

I crouched down to watch a bee collecting from between delicate mauve petals. He was only just about holding his own way in the breeze, but he kept on, goal clear. I admired the water birds and the Daisies with their sunshine faces. Bird’s Eye nestled at their feet, making another stunning combination of hues. There were sharply serrated Nettles and whorls of Thistles. Neon orange lifebelts hung at either end, and the whole was chicken-wire-edged so that I made an entire cycle before exiting precisely where I entered, stepping over the fallen fence.

These polythene tunnels are from another farm nearby, but you can see the silver-looking straps hanging down which attach to the plants. 10 days ago the old plants were on them, the next day they had been removed, now they are being replaced for the coming season

Doubling back on myself by the lane which curves around the lake, my attention was attracted by men’s voices, the first of several groups I passed during the morning, working away hard in close proximity. They were setting the strawberry plants onto the stands under the plastic hoods.

Trees in unseen communion
Coot on Cheveney Mill pond. They are also inhabitants of the upper lake I visited on this walk


I heard the coots before I saw them and I suspect that they were born here, that their life has been, and will continue to be, spent in this pond, (according to the RSPB they are resident here all year round), just as the trees in the wood next to it have stood in the same place for 100s of years. Other waterfowl return to their homes, well to their second homes every winter like Brits on the Costa Brava.

Witness the staying power of trees!

Witness the staying power of trees! There they are, in one spot, come month, come year. And what do they do while they’re standing there? It turns out they are very quietly, and probably slowly, fostering their community through their roots, just as so many of us are only now starting to do.

The word ‘Foster’ is associated with the Old English ‘fostrian‘ meaning to supply food, nourish and support.

Kentish footpath

At the same time as processing the CO2 (carbon dioxide) for us, looking beautiful and smelling divine, trees offer a home to insects, birds and other creatures. And yet, so many humans were living and suffering alone before this crisis and are now even more isolated. This can be an unnatural, even a dangerous situation for certain people. Questions arise: What can we do to make sure that those who want it can get support and companionship? How can we plan in advance for the next virus? Trees will grow taller and straighter, needing less pruning, if they are planted close to each other in the way that they naturally reseed in a woodland area. What a lot we have to learn! What a lot we are learning right now, thanks to the Covid-19.

Sunken tyre
Discarded farm machinery

The path took me around a corner where some old equipment was half buried and put out to pasture. Wide open fields were flattish, a gentle rise in the distance and the wind from the north was chilly except when sheltered by the hedgerows.

Looking uphill in the direction of West Farleigh, Kent
Dad’s gravestone at St Mary’s Parish Church, Hunton, Kent

I took the Permissive Path (that is, not a public Right of Way, but one which is permitted by the landowner) over a tiny, planked bridge to West Street and stopped at Hunton St Mary’s church to visit my father’s grave. I took a quick photo of the Village Hall to send to my sister – she got married there – and then crossed back over, past the Engineering Works and went right. I wandered beside more agricultural land until I reached the junction between Barn Hill and the wonderfully named Lughorse Lane.

Manure for sale
Mare’s Tail or Horse Tail (thanks to Mick Summersgill; and in Icelandic it translates as Claw Lightening (thanks to Robyn Vilhjalmsson). Equisetum arvense

Clumps of proud daffodils with orange trumpets kept their eyes on me as I passed. There were also some plants which resembled long and upright poos, or if I am to be less disgusting, vertical pine cones in the deep grass (see above).

Stick to the footpaths!

Before long there was a footpath off to the right and I started to climb quite steeply. It was peaceful. This was my exercise (in case any(official)one is reading this). There was stubble from what appeared to be bamboo on my right, but I doubt it; more likely wheat. There were mostly Magpies, Pigeons and Crows around although I did see a Jay a few days ago which was exciting. I spied a raptor nearer the top, most likely a buzzard, sailing on outstreched wings, but the photo was too indistinct to reproduce it here.

Buston Manor – disused oasthouses without their cowls, the white oparts with a sail which move with the wind
The Elizabethan chimneys of Buston Manor
Capacious barn and other red brick outbuildings at Buston Manor, Kent
Flowering Currant looking bonny against the clear sky
A dinosaur of a trunk with scales

Although a dogwalker took the private road uphill on the right, I turned left on the official way and walked through the Buston Manor yard. First a jogger and then a proper walker with a staff who wore headphones, came towards me. But I was drawn aside by the gardens, architecture and tree bark design, never mind the extensive walled garden. I was told, later, that it is often used for filming TV and features.

Right at the end of the walled garden, Buston Manor, Kent (they obviously dump their garden waste over the wall!)

Up again and a little sit-down to eat my satsuma, wind in my ears and at the back of my neck. We have to be careful of that as an acupoint GB20, aptly named Wind Pool, where Wind can enter causing headaches or worse (flu), certainly making us vulnerable. My (and my grandmother’s) advice – wear a scarf!

Once more at the top, she and her dog went one way, I another
Call that a footpath! Kent

Through a metal gate, I went left onto a farm track of very dark loam, ploughed by machinery wheels and criss-crossed with tree shadows and sunshine-saturated grass. Steeply down now, until I unfortunately spied a Public Footpath stone and so took a right up a slight bank and out into the open again where there was one of the ‘footpaths’ I have walked the length of before in this area. This narrow enclosure drew me along and then, suddenly ending in a field, it showed me up to the right (where admittedly the vibrant green of ground-spreading chamomile was growing alongside left-over broad bean seedlings) and, without realising where I was heading, I was through another metal gate and onto Yalding Hill.

Yalding Hill is to be avoided at all costs if you are on foot as it is a very busy, narrow road with no pavements. Being very familiar with such situations, I was brazen and made sure every vehicle speeding towards me knew I was there (waving my arms, making eye contact, thanking them afterwards), but many were going too fast and several times I had to flatten myself against a bank. Had I known this in advance, I would have turned back.

Tip: Do turn back if you find yourself on Yalding Hill. Find another, safer way down.

Towards the bottom, where the village starts, are some very attractive gardens, the Walnut Tree pub and Village tearooms (both now closed of course), and the war memorial. The Greensand Way is off to the left

I walked through the garden gate three hours to the minute from when I left – good timing!

Best selling book – The Hidden Life of Trees

Human beings can adapt to anything.

Winnifred via elizabeth_gilbert_write on Instagram

Have you been having any thoughts about nature and the virus? Please do share them with us in the comments below – I would love to hear from you.