Saving Our Ancient Tracks

So true John! And yes, Macfarlane’s The Old Ways is a gem.

Freedom to Roam

Have you noticed how fashionable our ancient tracks have become?A Lake District Corpse Road 014.JPG

Those lovely old paths which may have been used by drovers and pilgrims, marching armies or industrial workers. Or even the local footpaths which people used to get to church or market.

Our ancient tracks are as important to our history as the stone circles, the henges and hill-forts beloved by antiquaries. They should be cherished and protected. Lose them and we lose much of our history.

But, they have certainly become fashionable: the current issue of Country Walking magazine devotes much of its pages to walking ancient trackways: Tony Robinson has a Channel 4 television series where he walks ancient tracks: Robert Macfarlane has a best-selling book, The Old Ways, on the subject. I commend them all to you.

How the world has changed over the past few years…

Not so long ago, those of us campaigning to…

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 44 & 45
Lulsworth Cove to Swanage 12 miles
Swanage to South Haven Point 8 miles

The End

The Royal Armoured Corps Gunnery School, on the Lulworth Ranges, was our chief pedestrian obstacle yesterday upon the day’s start. It turns out that the coastal pathway past the Cove is shut off completely during the week in order to let the tanks turn their craft, so the day became a walking detour of the first magnitude. But walking is why we are here, so we walked, and walked. It was somewhat surreal coming into, and leaving Swanage today though; realizing quite suddenly that we are at the end of this magnificent walk!
Someone once quoted (I believe Kerouac) that “when you reach the top of the mountain, keep on climbing” (aka elevated thought), so we have the same question relative to doing a long walk. What do you do when you reach the end of its trail? And the answer is, for us of course, to keep moving. Moving in particular to the long thinking that goes side by side with a long walk, and tracking down the mythic significance of why such adventures are so vital to our youth. Our aim, upon beginning this walk, was to ponder this question deeply while reflecting upon all the wisdom gained from two long standing careers within education, working closely with youth, and recognizing that something very vital is missing today within the industrial model schooling them. Time for us to digest much of that grist, and work; working to put pen to paper and setting some words upon an elevated track, and story, that may serve youth in hale, whole, and hearty ways.
And so we ended our walk along the Southwest Coastal Path of England. Forty five days of walking that have blessed us with many rich experiences, and shown us a picture of a land, and its people, that will keep the internal fires burning within us for quite some time!

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 43
Ferry Bridge to Lulsworth Cove 14.5 miles

The weather has cleared somewhat but the humidity and clouds still obscure much of the view that we had today. Better than yesterday though, and there was rain in the forecast for the later part of the day, which didn’t impact us as we were well into our evening digs before it decided to play its hand. Some beautiful walking here along the Dorset coast, with some stunning coves and cliffs to mark the way, all coupled to some ‘sea of green’ rolling fields where agriculture reigns supreme.
We were happy to be away from Weymouth, and leave the tarmac and holiday parks behind us. There is certainly an interesting history to Weymouth from the holiday getaway side of things, but the impact of unbridled growth and expansion leaves one with a decidedly different sense of the story today. It is good to retain some of the wild lands as they are the places where the wild within finds resonance with a higher law, and the stories that breathe deeper meaning into the tracks we follow. The Great Dance! When these wild places are lost, broken up, and partitioned off, we lose something of ourselves as well, for the memories become fragmented too, and it becomes easier for future generations to become lost. Perhaps it is part of the problem we face today? And why it becomes ever more important to keep these connections and pathways open!

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 41 & 42
Abbotsbury to Ferry Bridge 11.5 miles; Isle of Portland

A very meandering morning walk through pastoral inland pathways before the coastal path reunited with a parallel track along the Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon. Chesil Beach is considered to be one of the finest storm leaches in the world, protecting the Weymouth lowlands and the Fleet Lagoon, and is pretty remarkable that we’ve been walking alongside of it since yesterday. Better views today, and it continues to feel more like summer than fall!

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A day off from the normal pace today to take in the Isle of Portland, along with Weymouth itself, and to make a few needed reservations with our itinerary after we finish in a few more days. A sweet day all around but another day where visibility was near zero due to humidity and haze.

 

Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 41
Chideock to Abbotsbury 13 miles

Other than a bit up coastal up and down to start the day, the days walk was mostly straight out, and in the fog! A misty day followed us the rest of the way to Abbotsbury, with occasional crossings with other long distance foot trails like the Hardy Way (after Thomas Hardy), and lots of time looking at pebbled beach front pathways. Soothing to the ear, and soothing to the soul.

Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 40
Seaton to Chideock 15 miles

Spent the first half of the day traversing the Axemouth- Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. An area of land that has “slipped” away from its foundations and slid toward, and into, the sea. Interesting to ponder as the world appears to be headed in the same direction!
Happy to reemerge in the later part of the day to follow some wonderful National Trust paths and holdings into Seatown and Chideock.

Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 39
East Budleigh to Seaton 15 miles

We woke to a beautiful South Devon morning where the view from our hosts backyard looked like something out of a Constable painting. The early walking proved no different as it was difficult to move forward at times because the scenes laid out before us were so captivating. At one point we sat for the longest time taking in one view where a slight turn of the head provided either an enchanting pastoral view of countryside, or a seascape view demanding complete attention. Someone, of

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course, was kind enough to make certain that a lovely bench was so appropriately placed there; a penchant that we find the British have a most exquisite aptitude for.
As we passed out of summer and into autumn this day, we likewise prepare for passing out of Devon and into Dorset tomorrow; the final phase of this remarkable walk where, out of the 630 miles of this longest of UK National Trails, 70% of the path is within Designated Heritage Coasts, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, or National Parks, with 95 of those miles designated as a World Heritage Site. A remarkable representation of the will of the British people to protect and preserve the land, and a very different approach to living with the land from the USA, where the National Parks and public lands have more of a bent toward wilderness and a human-nature dichotomy.

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Walking the Southwest Coastal Path

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Day 38
Teignmouth to East Budleigh 14.8 miles

It wasn’t until we were 8+ miles along the way today when our feet first touched a verge of grass. Hard miles on the feet, but some intriguing moments nonetheless walking along sea walls, promenades, and outlying seaside areas. Southern Devon is very different from its northern counterpart, and very much reflective of the human attraction for the seaside life here. Interesting to pass seas of modern holiday park trailers sitting side by side to some of the oldest geological wonders like the Jurassic Coast. Many may consider these eye sores upon the landscape I am sure, but people are out enjoying what they have here, and the influence of such connections and relationships upon people far outweigh any objection I was capable of conjuring in the moment.
The weather continues to hold as we ended the last full day of summer!

 

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.

 

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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