Tag Archives: walking

First estuary walk

New home. So amazing to have a new home. Overwhelming also. Life hasn’t made it very easy either, we’ve been traveling up and down and around for work, so we’ve only had two proper walks from our front door, though we’ve been here now almost 2 months.

This is the Severn estuary, and all the glorious sense of emptiness and space to breathe that I could ask for. Mark mostly saw the mud, but that’s all right. This was our first walk of what I am sure will be many.

Mai Dun Castle and South Dorset Ridgeway

We walked from Dorchester to Abbotsbury, first heading out to see Maiden Castle and then down to meet the South Dorset Ridgeway.

It was, to be honest, a very long walk.

Seems in Hardy’s time Maiden Castle was still known as Mai Dun, or big hill. Or perhaps he was just showing off.

Two miles out, a quarter of a mile from the highway, was the prehistoric fort called Mai Dun, of huge dimensions and many ramparts, within or upon whose enclosures a human being as seen from the road, was but an insignificant speck. Hitherward Henchard often resorted, glass in hand, and scanned the hedgeless Via—for it was the original track laid out by the legions of the Empire—to a distance of two or three miles…
Mayor of Casterbridge

It was big, extraordinary, everything promised by English Heritage and one of the few hill forts still in use when the Romans arrived here and conquered it in 43 BC.

Maiden Castle in Dorset is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hillforts in Europe – the size of 50 football pitches. Its huge multiple ramparts, mostly built in the 1st century BC, once protected hundreds of residents. When it was first built, the gleaming white chalk ramparts would have towered over the surrounding landscape.

Excavations here have revealed much about Maiden Castle’s history, such as a Neolithic enclosure from about 3500 BC and a Roman temple built in the 4th century AD. The archaeologists also found evidence of a late Iron Age cemetery, where many of those buried had suffered horrific injuries.

We continued on to the South Dorset Ridgeway. The photographs show the beauty of it, but hardly do justice to the weight and feeling of both Mai Dun and the many barrows that cluster here as you stand and look out across the landscape. In the camera views, they are barely visible. Even Mai Dun, which circles the whole of the hill in the first few pictures hardly seems there, far less so the mounds of earth and chalk weathered now, and covered with grass and wildflowers.

Yet many barrows sit along the ridgeway. It is thought that perhaps this liminal space of the journey grew in its importance to the Bronze age people who lived here, connected as it may have been to the movement from life to death and resulting in the many barrows that line this ancient track as they do that around Avebury. But barrows are everywhere, along the tops of many hills, and down in the middle of fields… it is a sacred landscape that is hard to capture through a lens.

An incredible place to walk however. Mai Dun remains visible on the horizon for a long time, and the many barrows appear and then fall away with more always ahead.

We even found a handy barrow guide at the Hardy monument–not built for the author but for Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

I’m not sure how many times Mark said ‘kiss me Hardy’.

I was only there for the barrows. For the Hell Stone (a completely misguided Victorian creation using ancient stones, but still, ancient stones) and the Hampton stone circle (so overgrown you can barely see any of the stones, and that we would have missed without the OS map).

But I do know Abbotsbury never looked so beautiful, and not just due to hunger and sore feet. Coming down from the Ridgeway it is stunning, settled as it is at the base of the hill with Chesil Beach and the sea behind it.

Ripon Cathedral

We saw the cathedral long before we reached Ripon the first day. We emerged from our visit to Fountains Abbey and the water gardens up to the long road out of the estate. The cathedral massed there straight ahead of us on the horizon, a shining presence of stone.

It looked like we could walk straight there, I wanted to. Signs warned against this however. Private road, private property. We had to turn left. We never got to see the cathedral quite like this again.

But in our short time in Ripon we saw it countless times, from many angles. It stands tall on its hill, an oddly solid weight of stone trying to soar. Staring up at the great main face of it praised by Pevsner, it feels almost like a different building altogether. Razed to the ground several times over its 1300 years of history, the power of kings and church rebuilt it reincorporating old patterns–built it higher, bigger, but never finished it. No flying buttresses support its rising. A beautiful wood roof arches over the nave and quire in a still immense echoing of cathedral space that made my heart sing.

Continue reading Ripon Cathedral

Fountains Abbey

A small group of riotous monks moved to this valley of the Ure, expelled from the Benedictine abbey of York in 1132. Joining the Cistercian order shortly thereafter, they built the abbey low and sheltered in these hills, folding their religious beliefs into the stones and their humility before God into the landscape. It lies almost invisible until you are directly upon it.

I don’t think you can really see this aspect of it unless you walk there, as others did long ago. Even from How Hill, once a Saxon pilgrimage spot itself and now a substantial sort of folly, the abbey’s great tower is all that can be seen and looks simply like a parish church. I did not believe what I saw could possibly be the abbey. I have no picture in that direction, preferring the light playing across the rounded hills to the east, and the flocks of birds white against the dark earth being ploughed.

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I Would Walk 828 Miles…

Found this quote in Patrick Baker’s The Cairngorms. William MacGillivray has transformed my understanding of both being a walker, and the value of the British Museum.

MacGillivray’s commitment to life as a field naturalist was whole-hearted, and as a result he became a prodigious walker. At the age of 23 he decided to visit the British Museum in London, walking a circuitous route from his home in Aberdeen, covering a remarkable distance of 828 miles in just eight weeks, an average of almost 15 miles every day.

Raised on Harris, MacGillivray (1796-1852) was rather extraordinary, not just as an ornithologist and writer of natural history, but maybe possibly one of the first professors to undertake field trips. Awesome. Read the riverofthings blog, there are way more fun facts, like there is a hooded crow named after him because he kicked it with James Audobon and more. Much more. As you’d expect from anyone who walked 828 miles to the British Library.

Baker, Patrick (2021) The Cairngorms: A Secret History. Birlinn: Edinburgh.

A New Year’s Light across Ingleborough Pavements

We saw many sides of Ingleborough, but the slopes closest to Horton in Ribblesdale we walked twice. The pavements of Moughton scar are incredible in both mist and sun, the first day the clouds and mist dropped down on us as we picked our way across the limestone of Moughton edge.

But on the this first day of 2022 we went walking higher up Ingleborough and the sun emerged now and then to light up stone and grass and sky. It was a day of wonder. May the sun continue to light up this year of changes and beginnings.

So glorious.

Equally glorious, the millions of years of ice, water, sand and seismic activity that created this place, that brought us here. My geology book had a most lovely illustration.

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The Ingleton Waterfalls

Our final day of 2021, a hard year, long year, covid year but also a year that brought great change for 2022 and many good things. The day dawned wet, with low cloud. It has been raining heavily. Water thundered down with wild force enough to take the soul and cast it up into the air light as foam.

I can still hear it in my ears.

Continue reading The Ingleton Waterfalls

Christmas Eve Walk: New Houses

I miss going to Arizona to spend Christmas with my mum, but this lovely cottage, Fawber Cottage, in the Yorkshire Dales is a good second best. Just released from Covid quarantine — I caught the stupid virus at our Christmas lunch, which was also doubling as my going away lunch.

The irony is not lost on me.

So I was stuck home until Christmas Eve, and even with trains cancelled and delayed, managed to get to New Houses to meet Mark in time for a walk. Just up the road from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, it is beautiful here. We walked further up the dale, up to Sell Gill where the stream pours into the earth, swalled up by the cave beneath the limestone.

The wind has surely been wuthering though.

Continue reading Christmas Eve Walk: New Houses

A Classic Bristol Story

The weekend was golden, skies smiled blue. This was a while ago now, times have been busy. We were walking into town.

Coming towards us ever so slowly and creakily down the middle of the road, a woman rode her bicycle. Her left hand rested on a handle bar, her right hand pressed her phone into her ear.

As we watched, she slowed even more. Then slowly, so slowly, she toppled over to one side.

Just.

Toppled.

Over.

Without a move to save herself or break her fall.

The strangest slow motion accident I have ever seen.

She wasn’t so old, but not so young either. She lay there on her right side, unconcerned and still straddling the bike, its wheels slowly spinning. Her right arm bent beneath her still held her phone to her ear, and she continued talking as though nothing at all had happened.

We hurried to her side, asking if she was alright. As we stood there, she looked up at us, told the person on the phone she needed to go, but she’d call back. She hung up. Seemed to notice she was lying on the ground.

We helped her sit up. She insisted she was ok and didn’t need any help. We weren’t all that sure.

A white, middle-aged and highly-lycraed man pulled up on his own bike. We thought he was there to help. His beard made him look like more of an adult than us. He stood there straddling his bike in manly stance, looking down at her.

‘You see this?’ he asked her, tapping his helmet. ‘Never leave home without it. It’s dangerous out there. Your head can crack like an egg. You should never cycle without a helmet.’

You see this?’ he asked, tapping his leg. ‘A pocket for my phone. That phone never leaves my pocket while I’m cycling, never. It stays in there at all times. You need to keep your phone in your pocket. Someone calls me? I pull to the side of the road to answer.’

‘It’s all about road safety’. He said, smiling, his teeth white.

She smiled back, nodding. We all nodded.

He rode away. We stared after him.

We helped her stand up, walked her bike over to the little grassy bank for her. She sat down, refused any further help. Said she’d be ok and asked us not to call anyone. She repeated this several times, and told us she just needed to sit for a bit. So right or wrong, we didn’t. We continued our walk, though with some misgivings. She sat on the bank a while, talking on her phone again. In our last view of her, she had restarted her wobbly ride, on a sidewalk this time.