Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 37
Brixham to Teignmouth 12 miles

Took the ferry from Brixham to Torquay this morning, thus eliminating much of the road walk into Torquay and getting us out onto and along what could be acceptable urban sprawl. There were many points along the way today where one would never know that you were surrounded by such activity as the coastal path weaves in and around the edges of the worst of it. Some rather enchanting spots too where urban residents can spread their wings a bit and walk. Made me contemplate Thoreau’s advise to ruminate while walking (“Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.”), but not in any dreamy sense. One’s feet should always be where one’s head is, and not drifting away upon some obscure reverie where the ‘living is easy’! Every day brings opportunity, and for us the day was one of easy walking and writing, ending once again with these wonderful ferry connections between the different points of land.

 

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Walking the Southwest Coast Path

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Day 36
Stoke Fleming to Brixham 15 miles

Got an early start out of Stoke Fleming this morning and made it to Dartmouth where we took the ferry over to Kingswear. The Castle at Dartmouth brought up the ever familiar sense that we get here for the rich history that exemplifies this entire coastline, and the depth of connection that the British have with the sea. It is one of the gifts that comes with walking, and having the landscape’s story enter into your very being. It is a relationship of importance worth cultivating in respect to our moral sensibilities, and palpably felt for us this day. It is all about stories of course, and stories have the capacity to not only inform and entertain, but to heal as well; making us hail, hearty, and whole!


Upon entering Brixham this evening at the days end, and having settled in for the nights reflection and rumination, I game across an article on The Exercise Cure by Jordan Metzl MD. Considering that Thoreau would never see walking as merely taking exercise, the article captured my attention enough to explore it further, and to be ultimately struct by its premise that too much sitting is not good for us. Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, has been studying the down side of sedentary life for the last 15 years and claims that sitting is the new smoking for todays generation. This juxtaposition of human behaviors struck my educator’s eye and caused me to wonder; if smoking is illegal for youth, and banned in all schools, should sitting be likewise? We sure have them doing a lot of it, and perhaps we’re even killing them over time! Twelve, sixteen, and for some, even eighteen to twenty years are dedicated to this venerable enterprise we call education. Perhaps the pedagogical benefits of walking, or the peripatetic schools of ancient times, needs be reinstating for the power of reconnecting us to the very ground we walk upon, where the power of story may heal us in hail, hearty, and whole ways. Worth a deep ponder as where I have come to the opinion and conclusion, after 30 years of being an educator, that well over half our time in school is wasted, I must now ask if the other half is actually a health risk?

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 35
Salcombe to Stoke Fleming 16 miles

Started another day with a quick ferry ride across a tidal harbor, but within minutes we were once again under our own steam. Today was a bit of a throwback to summer as the temperatures got high enough where we just had to stop and take a swim! Passed some ancient field systems used agriculturally for over 3,500 years, along with the ‘hollow ways’ (protected enclosed pathway) utilized for bringing sea kelp to them for fertilizer. A fair bit or road walking toward Slapton Sands but some heavy World War II connections to the area as it was fundamental in preparations for the Normandy invasion.

 

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 34
Buckland to Salcombe 12.5 miles

Doing ones’s thinking.
That is what the morning hours allowed this day. We were off early and the walk was pretty spectacular on multiple levels; the morning light, the cool air and gentle breezes, along with the sights, sounds, and smell of the sea all touching one’s sense of life while bathing one internally in a calmness that matched and resonated with the beauty, and vastness, of the external environment we were moving through. One of those days.

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Such a leisure that allows one to hear the thoughts entering, and out of the still point backtrack or follow their course into the dawns light. For Thoreau, the dawning hour was synonymous with his “awakening” hours, when he was most awake inwardly, and thus most alive! A rare gift which can come from a walk when one possesses the requisite capital of leisure, freedom, and independence.

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This following, or tracking, of thought is what Native Americans infer when they speak about ‘doing one’s thinking’, and is something which they feel is vital to learning; if all true education is self education. It was one of those days, like today, where the discipline can get deeply rooted if we attend to it.

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Days that youth need dearly too, for I often question, and ask, when they are allowed to hear, let alone think, their own thoughts. Little time is given to go deeply into such needed discipline within the harried nature of institutional learning, and echoes of Gatto’s claim of ‘dumbing them down’ are not far off the mark if they truly can’t hear the call. The mythical call to adventure.

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

 

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Day 33
Wembury to Buckland 15 miles

The order of the day was definitely ferry crossings. There having been three crossings to do where all were either tidal dependent or seasonal in nature, our only option was to put our heads down and walk. Not much time to stop and smell the flowers, but it felt good to just kick it into high gear and go!

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Getting across the River Erme was tidal dependent so, where the tide was in, we were unfortunately taxed with having to take a taxi (£30!!), thus avoiding a 8 mile detour inland and missing the ferry crossing for the River Avon which only ran for an hour this day. All played out well though and even though we felt like we were back into a scheduled lifestyle, the day was one to treasure. Buckland feels, and looks, like something right out of Tolkien’s Shire, and the ferry crossing fit right in perfectly.

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Walking the Southwest Coast Path

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Day 32
Plymouth to Wembury 10 miles

As we ferried out of Plymouth this morning, and begin the final phase of our long walk, I found my thoughts drifting back to Thoreau’s essay Walking. This is something I have found myself doing religiously for years now, and even after hundreds of careful readings I marvel at the depths of possibilities there are yet to plumb there!
Very early on, in his foundational positioning for why taking walks (mythic journey’s) are key toward human development, he makes the following statements:

“I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, ay, and years almost together.”
and, shortly further along
“So staying in the house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and smoothness, not to say thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased sensibility to certain impressions.”

In reading these two passages I was struck by the connections and relevance they have toward education, especially after having spent my professional life as an educator, and the fact that culturally we do indeed confine our youth to institutional classrooms for days, weeks, months, and years. Their best years! This then likewise begs the questions of what moral insensibilities we thus inculcate, and what actual impressions we are increasing their sensibility toward? Given that my wife Andrea and I are working upon a book about why taking long walks, and embarking upon them in the spirit of mythic adventure, are critical needs within educational endeavors and rites-of-passage work, we are looking to see if through social media we can reach out and connect to all the friends, students, and fellow adventurers who have undertaken long walks and outdoor adventures with us over the years. Our question, relative to these remarks by Thoreau, is what these experiences did for you? The same question goes to any and all who likewise share the interest and passion for taking walks, and rites-of-passage for youth. You could send your comments to kbadgertrack@gmail.com, where we would delight in taking up the conversation further with you. We hope that all who read this will share this and spread it with friends so that the net gets cast far and wide, reaping a response that echoes loudly.
It is in wildness that the world will be preserved!

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 31
Crafthole to Plymouth 12 miles

The walking into Plymouth was much nicer than the approach to its outskirts yesterday. The Mount Edgcumbe Country Park at Cremyll made for a rather beautiful departure from Cornwall, yet it was  very different from the wildness that we had come to experience from the Cornish landscape. We are back in England, as the Cornish would have it. Interesting how they connected themselves more with the Celtic lands of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany than with jolly ole England itself!

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 29 & 30
Fowey to Polperro 8 miles
Polperro to Crafthole 14 miles

We had a half day off in Polperro to spend a bit of extra time in this small port village which many claim to be one of the most beautiful villages in England, and to visit the museum there on Fishing and Smuggling; themes that dominate much of this coastal region, and walk. It also marks what is close to the 2/3rd way-mark for this walk (400 miles), and our passage, as of tomorrow, out of Cornwall where we have been walking its entire 280 miles of coastline. We will also begin the last third (15 days) of our trip, moving back into the southern part of Devon’s coastline and finishing in Dorset. So, for us, we’re into a whole new phase of the walk which will play heavily into what we eventually hope to relate and relay to youth!
The trails out of Polperro were mini waterways due to the heavy downpours throughout the night so one can easily imagine the erosional power of the ocean upon these coastal regions. With that in mind, much of today’s walk took us inland as the coastal path has experienced a number of land slips along this part of its route. We were often on the older, and more original, coastal trackways dating back

over hundreds of years which have what Andrea calls “living walls”; rock walls sometimes over 10 feet tall on both sides of the track which are covered in moss, Ivy, and every sort of vegetation taking a fancy to them. In other spots the roads had significant detours due to housing development, most of which we could see and feel upon our approach toward Plymouth. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from drifting back into dark corners where judgement comes to the fore though, but tacking those down are part and parcel of the daily task of walking. While giving due blessings once again to the Ramblers, Right to Roam, and Open Space folks who fight to preserve these pathways (and god bless the National Trust who I forgot to send thanks to the other day!), I had to also consider the needs of people, in an increasing world population, who need places to live and call home.


Regular people who just need simple places that they can afford right? And then it became clear to me, once again, why travel itself becomes an education unparalleled compared to merely sitting in the same box all day. To experience is key to taking in the world of all other, without which we are left with little to transform. Sitting all day enclosed within the four walls of institutional halls of learning is a little bit like hoping that the advertisement for a Big Mac watched on a screen will provide the nourishment you need today. A malnourishment of mind though does have its effect upon the landscapes of everyday experience, and clearly visible during our walk today.

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 28
Mevagissey to Fowey 14 miles

It was a hard slog this morning as we wound our way up and out of Mevagissey. Squalls and the ubiquitous English shower plagued our forward progress and I was starting to resent the coastal path! We were passing some rather beautiful grassy headlands but the coastal path was confined to narrow pathways that were no more than eight inch troughs of muddy slip & slides hemmed in by barbed wire fences on one side, and gorse, bramble, and nettle hedges on the other. As I looked to my left, where lovely grass covered, no access, slopes were within easy access to all well intentioned walkers, my more creative energies were being ill spent on such colorful internal dialog such as “wtf, why has this god forsaken farmer got it our for me? Confining me to the narrowest, and most undesirable path around this coastline that belongs to everyone, while even the freakin cows have better access to roaming!?” And that was where all my energy was going; not physical energy, as the walking wasn’t challenging in that sense, but my emotional energy. It was pure judgement day.
But then the “dawning hour” as Thoreau expresses it, or an internal awakening, occurs and you see yourself through the imagery of myth and stories where all those ‘thoughts a thinking you’ are just the same as the ghosts, devils, and demons that thwart the hero or heroine upon their mythic adventures. There is no leisure, freedom, or independence within these moments, and there can be no Walker, or Knight Errant, sauntering off to the Holy Lands, for the requisite capital for all Walkers who wish to take a true walk are leisure, freedom, and independence. Leisure, derived from the Latin licere to ‘be allowed’, isn’t so much for me the capacity to do whatever one wishes whenever one wants, as much as it is the inner stillness of the mind that enables one to be free and independent in the moment. Thoreau claims that it comes only by the grace of God and that it requires a direct dispensation from Heaven.
And I must agree for I came to see the error of my ways, and had a change of thinking. Rather than the judgement, there was an actual gratitude for all the Ramblers, Rite to Roam, and Open Space people who worked selflessly over time to insure that I could be walking this path in this moment. And as if by magic, right before my very awakening eyes were the most lushest, overladen blackberry bushes which poured blackberries into my outstretched fingers at the slightest touch. The choice was then mine; I could either dwell in an eight inch mental muddy rut, or digestively partake in the fruit and bounty of the land! Blackberries at this time of year are never better. And good stories always serve one well if we but listen to them.

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 27
Portloe to Mevagissey 11.5 miles

It was a rainy morning, accompanied by the first touch of autumnal weather, that led us out of Portloe this day. It is always exciting to depart upon a days march with a wee bit foul weather to help quicken your step, yet we found Portloe to be such a beautiful little port village that we were saddened nonetheless to leave it behind. Our Air B&B host Carol was one of the sweetest hosts we’ve been blessed with, and it turned out that she is a true born and bred Cornish woman who had lived her whole life in this part of Cornwall, where the house she presently lives in belonged to her grandparents. A rare thing these days as many of the homes in the village are now holiday lets, or vacation retreats for those who can afford them.
The afternoon skies opened themselves to some sun as we wound our way in and out of, and over and under the coastal path to Mevagissey where our accommodations for the evening find us gazing out over its harbor, taking in an imagining the working life upon the sea.