Seven days in the fells, simply, walking. No roof but the sky, air always fresh, bodies engaged, minds on the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other and the gentle but necessary concentration that comes with that – walking on uneven paths with a heavy load requires a focused mind. When we rested, our minds were focused on what was around and in front of us. We looked closely at trees. We marvelled at small bugs. At the variety of grasses. At the shapes and movements of clouds and the long views taking in ridges of hills, lakes, woodlands. And we were tuned into our bodies, particularly feet, knees, back, shoulders. Such a calm and single focus is incredibly lightening so that even when we were carrying loads and going up hill and our footfall was heavy, our minds were light.
The exception to this was on day two when we walked through heavy rain and were very weary from the first day (at 34km this first day was the longest walk either of us had ever done). When we were huddled in our tent, rain on canvas as our sound track, we considered the possibility that we might decide not to continue. But we slept, we woke the next day (still raining) and we dug deep and resolved to carry on. It takes a while to get set when you’re doing a long walk, and particularly when you’re getting used to carrying a load. By the end of day two we knew we could keep going. We were set.
Our walk allowed us to enter slow time: slow walking, finding our pace depending on the nature of the path and the gradient of the land, adapting as we went. Our perseverance was like the perseverance of trees, particularly the trees we have chosen to feature in The Long View. We took a steady approach, adapting and coping, moment by moment, reacting to wind, reacting to rain, reacting to sun and reacting to our own emotions – some held quiet and allowed to settle and then pass, like rings marking seasons inside a tree, and some released, like leaves into bud, or seeds into air.
We had planned the walk to span the solstice. On Midsummer’s day we were on top of Helvellyn, the second highest peak in England, being buffeted by a fierce, cold wind that took temperatures down to 2 or 3 degrees centigrade. The valleys, though, were hot, and the long days meant we were released of pressure to rush between trees. It didn’t get properly dark for more than a couple of hours a night. And while for the most part our attention was on walking, we stopped when we were drawn to photograph and write, and we had our daily discipline of stopping at midday, wherever we happened to be. We have emerged with a set of midday photographs and writing, which we will be sharing in a sequence of the Light Walk blogs, reflecting on one day at a time.
Having walked from the Little Asby Hawthorn in the east, two hours beyond Orton, all the way to the Wasdale Oak in the west, we have deepened our sense of the land that lies between the seven Long View trees – over 125km of land if you’re measuring paths, but a great deal more than that if you take into account what we saw as we went along.
I have held the spaces between the trees in my mind with the visual aid of a map and the partial knowledge of the paths around them, but now we have encountered these interstices. We read the route as we went as a pallet of textures, gradients and colours (some greens indicate bog, for sure, which is best avoided if possible). From east to west, over hills, crossing geological boundaries, walking through different hefts, fording rivers, passing through woodland, noting individual trees: everything is connected. And there is a kind of magnetism – each day we felt the draw of the tree ahead and the presence of the tree we had left.
There is a connection now between the seven trees, a connection that is registered in our bodies and in our minds. We can now retrace our steps and contemplate particular rocks, certain views, turns in the path. We can recall the sense of distance between the trees, measured in footfall and gradients, birdsong, weather and views, and in our energy, our bodies, our feelings, and the conversations and thoughts we’ve had a long the way.
Trees often serve as waymarkers and as holders of personal stories and memories. Traditionally these are trees at threshold places, such as the entrance to villages or towns, but our trees, settled each into their own very specific location, have become waymarkers for us and points of connection in a stunning landscape.
As our week unfolded we felt perhaps more than ever the value of a landscape that has the protection that is granted by national park status. Every day was full of beauty and at every turn there were views to be celebrated. And heritage too – the sheep folds and sheep washes we saw are part of the long history of hill farming, and the stones they are built out of, found in the valleys around them, are relics of a glacial age. Old mines and quarries have left their spilled stone on the hills. Packhorse bridges that have stood for hundreds of years are still being used today. Each tree was also a cause for celebration, particularly those that huddle in steep gorges – typically rowans, hollies, birches – and give shade and sanctuary to birds in an otherwise bare upland landscape. We walked through meadows, rich with yellow rattle, clover, buttercups and daisies; we walked through wetland strewn with orchids as freely as if snow had fallen there; butterflies rose from grass when we strolled through Troutbeck; we ambled beneath the shade of old oaks and sycamores near Hartsop; and we toiled up bald felltops to be rewarded with 360-degree views taking in the Irish Sea, Scotland, the Pennines, Morecambe Bay, and all that’s in between. Oh, and there were midges, lots of them, descending on us at dusk. And at each of The Long View trees we watched the light change at the end and the beginning of the day, and witnessed the tree simply getting on with being a tree.
Now that we’re back, we are beginning to process the notes and photographs we took and will share these in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. For now, I wanted to share some noon notes. This stream of consciousness is from Day 6, written at a height of around 400 metres on the path between the Under Helm Sycamore and the Langstrath Birch.
A Long Walk
there are some who wonder why we’d do this
think only of hardship, heavy bags, sore feet
overlook or just don’t know
the way some things make me
feel alive feel awake feel calm
discovering the truth of rock and bog
and wind that cannot be told in maps
lose sense of time and self
find a rhythm inside that is shaped by land
the pleasure of warm simple food
two cups of tea from the day’s one teabag
all things paired down
there is no room for wanting
when you know you have just enough
and find in the absence of wanting more
the simple presence of being here
(This and other notes and poems are shared on our Poems page.)
However much it’s tempting to get lost in the beauty of a walk like this, none of it is possible without practicalities. This is what we took with us:
– Boots (perhaps the most essential item!): We both wore Meindl Softlines
– not that we wanted to look identical but they are a perfect fit for both of us and easily withstood a daily pounding, keeping our feet dry and even blister free (couldn’t quite believe this would be the case when we set out, but it’s true).
– Bags: Old and Trusted Rucksacs – 1 MacPac (15 years old) and one Gregory (less than 10 years old) for our main bags. Harriet also carried her LARK (Landscape-Reaction-Kit), a Millican bag just the right size to carry camera, microphone, notebook, pens, phone and spare hat. Coincidentally Millican, who name all their bags after people they know (and like!) have called this bag Rob.
– Tent: MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person tent. Weighs less than 2kg (thank goodness) and is a doddle to put up.
– Sleeping bags: old ones that are warm and have travelled the world with us, but way too heavy! PHD we are lusting after your lightweight bags now.
– Guilly’s paniers: Ruffwear Pallisade Pack to carry his food for the day.
– Trangia stove – Rob has had it for 25 years now and although it is bashed about it still does the job perfectly well.
– One cup each
Camping Food: Beyond the Beaten Track : Meals in bags heated up on the Trangia. Breakfasts great, main meals great, puddings not so great.
– Energy Bars: Chia Chia bars and Cliff Bars for those moments when we just needed a boost
– Clothes: One set spare clothes each; sun hats, warm hats and head scarves
– First Aid Kit Just in case.
– Water bottles and purifying tablets
– Camera kit: Nikon …. Large Format Horseman … Olympus Tough … Fuji Instax for instant images … tripod
– Watercolour kit (left behind on day 4)
– Notebooks & smart phone for notemaking
Weight, approx: Harriet 15kg, Rob 25kg
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