Every Picture Tells a Story

I’m an inveterate recorder. Before GPS and heart rate monitors were glints in their inventors’ eyes I was measuring maps, calculating ascent and logging walk details. I’m now addicted to all the lovely data my Polar watch provides and snap photographs for that same split second record. But I still love to record journeys by hand, be that as a handwritten account or a sketch. Taking time to look and sketch adds so much interest to a walk.

Whilst looking for inspiration and new ways of organising my sketchbooks Jo Beal’s four week online Art Journaling course https://www.jobeal.net/online-workshops popped up on Twitter. I thought that might be just what I needed. I’d been looking for some CPD as a precursor to an exciting new project lurking on the horizon and this course was perfect for my needs. Jo is an excellent teacher and motivator and the course is suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced artists.

One of the sessions looked at ways to incorporate maps into a record of a walk. It’s lovely to begin a page in this way as sketching the map creates a framework to hold together the drawings. Words and writing can be used to mask any lack of technical drawing skills and add interest to the page. Drawings and lettering can be layered onto each other to great effect and even the most tentative beginner can create a wonderful personal record of a day’s walk.

Because this was a prescribed task it was completed in my studio over the course of a few days in between other chores. I had headed out for a run along a nearby route in preparation for the workshop, snapping photos as I ran. The route begins near the lovely Hampshire market town of Alresford and follows ancient chalk trackways through the foothills of the South Downs. In autumn the hedgerows are wreathed in fluffy Old Man’s Beard, laden with blackberries and jewelled with blood red White Bryony berries. There are purple sloes and crimson hawthorn berries laced with rose hips. The paths are edged with creamy white yarrow and the occasional red splash of a late poppy.

Back at the studio during the workshop we looked at examples of artists maps and considered ways of creating a sketchbook page to incorporate a ‘map’, from a simple floor plan of a building to a more elaborate and precise route map for a guidebook. We all have our own way of creating art and I find that if I’m given plenty of time I’m very precise and ordered, but if I have less time my work is looser and flows more freely. I like the finished products of both approaches but it’s always the process that is most enjoyable. This piece was going to give me plenty of time to think through the design and layout so would be quite controlled and tight but future sketches ‘in the wild’ would be able to take this practice and develop it at speed.

I began with a very rough scribble in an ideas sketchbook then drew out a map of the route using an OS map for reference. I’m fascinated by old signposts so the one at the halfway point was always going to be a key feature. Over this I drew in pencil the images I wanted to incorporate – grapes and a vine leaf to denote the vineyard at the start, the picturesque cottage I always admire, a poppy for a splash of colour. Paint was added later as the page developed. As this was recording a run I wanted to place myself onto the page, but as a background rather than a main feature so I drew in a ‘ghost’ outline behind the signpost, enjoying playing with the scale. If I were to do this again I would not draw over the sign and I would dilute the ink to be paler so the drawing fades more into the background.

Despite being quite a controlled and planned sketchbook page it did evolve as each element was added. The rose hips were added to balance out the strong colour of the poppy and the blackberries were included to fill a blank space that felt too empty. I now think they are too dark and feel diluting the ink would have made them less prominent.

The path from my starting point is part of the Wayfarers Walk, a 70 mile long distance trail from Inkpen Beacon in the north to Emsworth by the sea in the south https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryside/walking/wayfarerswalk. One of the lanes is part of an ancient trackway known as the Ox Drove Way, an old drove road https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryside/cycling/theoxdrove which passes through the abandoned Medieval village of Abbotstone with its intriguing humps and bumps in the pasture. I labelled these as important locations and waymarks.

Finally lettering recording some of the flora seen en route was added to create a frame around the whole page, completing the piece. I’m really very pleased with it and looking forward to my next walk when I can try out some of the ideas buzzing around my brain.

Walking the Wolds Way

Harvest was well underway in the dying days of August 2021 when I set out to walk the Yorkshire Wolds Way. The late summer weather had settled into a bleak humid grey which leached all colour from water and sky and dulled the gold and emerald fields to a pale beige and dusty green. Rarely was I engulfed in the restful silence of the deep countryside; instead my walk was accompanied by the roar of the combine and the hum of the granaries drying the crops after the wet summer. Late August and early September are probably not the best times to walk the Wolds Way as the chalk plateau of Yorkshire’s East Riding is perfect for cereal crops which leads to a monoculture landscape broken only by the deep and verdant dales.

But this walk was not about wilderness and the peaceful silence of more remote places. For over a year the recurrence of an old injury had hobbled me and this was a test walk to see whether a long distance trail was still possible. I’d decided to carry very little and rely on my long suffering husband for drop-offs and pick-ups. The 80 mile Wolds Way was perfect for this as it describes an arc inland from Hessle on the banks of the Humber, looping round to the North Sea at Filey. A base halfway allowed for easy access without long drives and gave the possibility of a ‘rescue’ if pain halted me. It turned out to be the perfect route.

The elegant sweep of the Humber Bridge filled the view from the somewhat underwhelming start of the route. I picked my way through roadworks caused by the EU funded Tidal Defence Scheme, passing under the bridge and walking past a disused windmill in a country park. The windmill was black, painted with pitch to waterproof the bricks and prevent the grain and flour becoming damp. Beyond the park the path petered out into a choice between the beach and suburban roads. The beach is only accessible at low tide, and the tide was almost at its height, but I was sure it was ebbing and thought I could scramble the short distance to the bridleway beyond. Halfway I did wonder whether the loosely heaped rocks of the tidal defences would tumble into the sea carrying me with them, but I survived to reach the wooded track that led inland.

I was headed for South Cave and en route discovered a delightful church at Welton, perched above, and reflected in, a village pond which must have been dammed as it was higher than the village houses below. Opposite was a community cafe with the best lemon curd muffin I’ve ever tasted. Sadly the tea was served in a takeaway cup – I’ll be glad when crockery is back in regular use. Beyond the village the path entered Welton Dale, one of the many winding dry valleys gouged out of the chalk during the ice ages. In spring and early summer they must be filled with a riot of colourful wild flowers but few now remained. Above them lie the rolling wolds, low hills similar to the southern downs but less distinct and much lower. They, too, were once equally colourful meadows but are now given over to large arable farms.

Impressive churches are a feature of the area and Brantlingham church was particularly pleasant, placed some way beyond the village. It was the perfect lunch spot. The villages are mostly unremarkable and not chocolate box pretty. Most are brick built and surprisingly utilitarian compared to the brick and flint thatched cottages of other chalk landscapes such as Wiltshire and Hampshire. Perhaps the lack of flint contributed to this or maybe the now long gone industrial wealth of the region encouraged the building of new houses for farm workers, whereas the relative poverty of the south during the same period unintentionally preserved the older cottages in villages. Certainly this area is not now as prosperous as the southern counties, but it has its own charm.

By South Cave I realised that I was walking well and reluctant to stop, so continued to an obscure crossroads amongst rolling fields, some seventeen miles from the Humber. The following day an early start took me north along broad dales filled with sheep, past wind farms and fields of wheat and barley stubble with the occasional clump of vibrant wild flowers, a welcome punctuation amidst the rather tedious beige. I was surprised at my speedy progress given how uncomfortable my low back had been even recently. After a year of working with osteopaths, physios and a personal trainer I was wondering whether I would ever recover but careful management of my posture and gait were allowing me to walk well. The easy ground and gentle inclines definitely helped and I would recommend this route as an easy introduction to long distance walking.

The pub at the well kept village of Goodmanham served an excellent pot of tea and a rather dry slab of cake for a morning snack. Shortly after Goodmanham the path passed through Londesborough Park with its delightful little estate village and church. This was the prettiest village along the route although other nearby estate villages such as the one close to Sledmere House were also attractive.

Although the weather was overcast it had remained dry until the outskirts of Nunburnholme where the skies suddenly darkened and another old church gave me lunchtime shelter from a brief squall. Inside the church there was a tall intricately carved Anglo-Saxon cross shaft with later Viking carved additions which I studied as I ate my butties. Beyond the church the trail crossed more of the deeply incised dales. They are very distinctive, writhing like green snakes between the rolling fields of the plateau. Often there were cattle or sheep grazing the fertile slopes as once there would have been in the fields above. This region grew rich and powerful in Medieval times off the proceeds of the sheep trade.

Yet again I was walking faster and further than anticipated. Close to Huggate, my intended finish, I made the decision to continue on to Fridaythorpe, pushing on into the late afternoon and racing the rain. Nearly twenty five miles after I set out from a bleak and windswept crossroads I reached the main road and the welcome sight of a familiar car. I was amazed and concerned in equal measure: would I be able to continue walking the following day? The answer was yes, but a half day seemed sensible so nine miles along and above Thixendale, the most attractive of all the dales, brought me to the abandoned Medieval village of Wharram Percy with its picturesque ruined church. The villagers were evicted in the 16th century to make way for sheep as happened in the Scottish Highlands. That afternoon we visited the Minster town of Beverley where the profits from the sheep could be seen in the fabulous Minster church, the ornate market cross and the large town houses. Sleepy rural Beverley was once the tenth largest town in England and one of the richest.

By now all the fields were beginning to blur into one. Leaving Wharram-le-Street the next day the trail led me along broad chalk tracks past dusty stubble, scrubby woodland and windswept farms with massive barns. The grey skies and humidity shrouded distant views in a murky haze. There was little of much interest to draw the gaze although the decommissioned church at Wintringham was worth a wander inside for the strange Biblical quotations painted on its walls and the ancient bier with a wooden handle and iron wheels. There were green men and dragons carved on the choir stalls. The day became a bit of an eighteen mile drudge trudge along the top of a north facing escarpment above a broad flat valley. Had there been clear skies and distant views it could have been lovely but the day was enlivened only by a steep and slippery climb up to a beautiful gate close to a disappointing sculpture, and a very unexpected funfair beside a maize maze where I bought a snack and welcome cuppa. I was very ready to be collected from the verge when I reached the road at Staxton Wold Farm. However it was now only a half day’s walk to reach the sea.

Staxton Wold is the site of RAF Staxton (Remote Radar Head Staxton Wold). From as early as 3AD the site has been used for warning beacons and in 1937 it was chosen as the location for the first radar station. It is still in operation today. The trail passes its steel towers and razor wire fences then crosses harebell filled dales, descending and ascending rather than following along them. This made for some steep little climbs until finally I could see the cliffs of Flamborough Head and the sea. After the village of Muston and a long road stretch through suburban streets I reached the shabbily attractive sea front at Filey. The clouds had parted and blue skies appeared to celebrate the end of the walk. I wandered along the promenade and onto the beach to dip my toes in the sea before climbing up to the cliff top and strolling along Filey Brigg. It was a delightful end to a good walk. Three and two half days to cover eighty miles proved that recovery was possible despite the time it had taken. Maybe I’m learning patience at last.

This is definitely not a rugged route. The gentle slopes and easy ground were perfect terrain to test myself on. Navigation is not a problem as the trail is well signposted but it does feel remote inasmuch as there are few habitations along the way. I saw very few people after the first day despite it being the Bank Holiday week. One local dog walker complained that too many people were walking the trail since the start of the pandemic but I rarely saw a soul. I enjoyed it, particularly the chance to see a new area after the restrictions of the pandemic, but I don’t feel the need to return.

Rain and Pain

This year has been very strange. I can think of no other year quite so odd. It started with so much promise. I’d planned walking trips and entered running events. All was going so well. Then COVID-19 arrived with a vengeance, followed by Lockdown One and those lovely long peaceful walks and runs of March, April and May.

In June I walked thirty or so miles to meet a friend for a socially distanced picnic, admittedly carrying more than those early walks where a bumbag had sufficed. But a week later I could feel a tightness in my right hip that intensified to pain. That pain has stayed with me, off and on, throughout the summer. At times the discomfort has been so great that I’ve not wanted to walk: pain can destroy the pleasure of even the shortest and easiest of walks. I had been plotting another long backpacking trip and a trip to the Alps but these were on hold because of COVID-19. The concern about the virus helped with dialling back the running and walking to stay as pain free as possible, although never fully escaping the discomfort in my hip.

This situation is not unusual. A minor scoliosis of my spine causes my pelvis to hitch up at one side unless I work tirelessly to lengthen and strengthen the supporting muscles. As a Pilates teacher I can usually manage this but as the summer passed it became increasingly clear that my usual exercise regime was not having the desired effect. It was as if my body was a stranger, although one I had met before and moved on from. It always amazes me how long I can avoid facing up to the reality of needing outside help. Because the severe pain was intermittent and my exercise regime helping up to a point, I would head out for another run or walk feeling fine and then suffer later. Finally, determined to prove that I was ‘just imagining it’, I set out to run the ten miles round the perimeter of Thirlmere.

The circuit of Thirlmere is the perfect low level route for a wet and windy Lakeland day. October is a superb month for colour and the wind had not yet taken all the leaves from the trees so the trail glowed yellow and orange in the changing light. High winds had been forecast for the fells but the lakeside was much calmer and there was even sunshine for a short while. Very few people were about but plenty of water rushed and gushed in broad rapids and waterfalls down from Armboth Fell and High Tove. Halfway along the wooded western side of the lake a red squirrel darted across my path to scurry up an oak tree where it sat chattering a warning with a twitching fluffed up tail and tufted russet ears. When it disappeared into the canopy I ran on, splashing through the peat black puddles left by recent rain and slithering on wet roots that webbed the narrow path, with the choppy silver waters of the lake to my right. By the time I reached the dam across the northern end I was congratulating myself on managing to hold the pain at bay, and marvelling at the skill and ingenuity of the Victorian engineers. The commemorative plaque gives the names of all the dignitaries, the Aldermen and Councillors of Manchester Corporation Waterworks, but only the chief engineer is mentioned, and the other workers who put their vision into action are conspicuous only by their absence.

On the east side of the dam a small trod winds its way up round the base of Great How. I had planned to climb to the top for the views down the lake but the skies were darkening to the south and I was suddenly aware of the ache in my hip making its presence felt. In the time it took to eat a muesli bar the first squall of rain hit me full in the face and it was time to head back. The eastern path wove below the main road to begin with, then an underpass led to ascending forest tracks high above the road. The majority of the ascent is on this side, and the majority of the wild weather hit me here. In spite of the increasing pain and rain I could still run strongly and it was fun battling the ascent and the elements on easy tracks. The route through these woods below Helvellyn Screes reveals tantalising glimpses of the water below, and veils of mist and rain opened and closed to reveal and conceal the fells above Dunmail Raise. Sometimes I think wet weather is more fun than the perfect sunny day, although had the day been fine and the pain less I would have dropped down from the path to explore the tiny Wythburn Church, and discover what the intriguingly named Straining Well was. I was certainly feeling the strain by the final descent to the waterfalls below Willie Wife Moor (the names here are wonderful) where the permissive path turns back on itself to come down to the main road. The final obstacle was a tall locked forest gate, probably bolted during the first Lockdown and not yet reopened. There had been no advance warning of this, and there was no way I was running back round the lake, so I climbed over, struggling to lift my right leg over the top. By now the whole of my right hip and around the top of my right leg was seizing up so the final kilometre was very slow. Two painful walks over Loughrigg in the days that followed convinced me that either I would never be able to walk or run again, or I needed to seek help.

Fortunately this second Lockdown allows osteopaths to continue working and a fellow Pilates teacher recommended a local practitioner. She is now working to put my bones back into better alignment. Over the years I’ve had so many injuries, always the same pattern: left ankle, right hip, left shoulder. All these can be traced back to the slight twist and tilt in my spine. It may take a village to raise a child but it seems to take a team to maintain an adult. I recently read Running the Red Line by Julie Carter (https://www.mindfell.co.uk/books/running-the-red-line) and was struck by how she managed to keep running competitively despite far more severe spinal issues than mine. Her insights into the need to allow the body and mind to recover, and the need to let go and accept help are inspiring.

After the first session with the osteopath I feel as if I’ve been put back into my body. It’s not perfect yet but I’m back in touch with how it can move. It transpired that I had taught Pilates to her when covering a class so the work she is doing with me is very much a collaboration. Her release of ‘stuck’ muscles and realignment of my pelvis means I can actually do my stretching and strengthening exercises fully, not just because the bones are in a better place but because my mind is. I’ve also realised what precipitated the problem. That long walk back in June necessitated a small rucksack for a picnic and plenty of water. The pack is not one I use often or particularly like as it pulls on my shoulders and the hip belt is not in a good position. When I used it again recently those failings worsened the hip pain. I don’t think it’s time yet to hang up my boots and trainers, but it’s definitely time the pack was retired.

‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’ – Lockdown Diaries

“Well you don’t know, do you?”

“It’s in Leeds and Bradford now”

“They should keep those cruise ships down there. They shouldn’t let them back up here”

“You have to do that hand washing – all between t’fingers and everything”

“‘Owd folk have been told t’stay indoors. Well you can’t do that, can you?”

This conversation between two elderly people in a Skipton cafe was recorded in my sketchbook at the beginning of March, the start of one of the strangest periods of my life. Continue reading “‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’ – Lockdown Diaries”

Walking round Wales – Part Two, time with friends and family

As Robbie Burns so aptly put it: ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’. My scheme was to complete the Wales Coast Path this summer, but once again, life has intervened to halt me in my tracks. Luckily the reasons are positive ones, but it does mean that I won’t complete the trail this summer (although I may complete it before the year is out). Continue reading “Walking round Wales – Part Two, time with friends and family”

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