SINGING THE WAY
Recently I walked the Pennine Way national trail – a 253* mile footpath that runs from Edale Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. It follows, roughly, the spine of England – the Pennine Hills – into the Cheviots, and crosses three national parks: the Peak District, the Yorkshire Moors, and the Northumberland national park, as well as the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I walked it solo (except for a couple of days when a dear friend joined me) over 18 days, with a couple of half-day rest-stops in Haworth and on Hadrian’s Wall. I wasn’t attempting to break any records or myself – it was my summer vacation ‘wind-down’, a detox from all things digital and academic, and I wanted to allow myself time to stand and stare, or sit and sketch, wild swim or wander lonely as a cloud, as the mood took me. To keep myself going over wild stretches of moorland, dusty tracks, or hot hillsides, I sang. This is the fourth long-distance path in which I’ve found singing has really helped me to ‘keep on keeping on’ – putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile, hour after hour, day after day, and, more, it really enriches the experience. Each day I chose a song – either learning it on the hoof, or drawing it from my repertoire. If it was a new song, I would sing each verse until I had committed it to memory, then moved on to the next, and so on, until ‘the form [had] patterned in my head’ (as the memorable poem, ‘Real Property’ by Harold Monro goes). Then I would sing it over a few times, finding my way into the song, finding the right voice for it. Often the song’s content, its mood, its message, would chime with the morning, with the landscape I was moving through, in synchronous and profound ways. It sometimes felt like a way of ‘giving thanks’ for the day, for reciprocating what I was experiencing – a praise song and a focalisation of my phenomenological interface with place and its ontological layers, or, to put it more simply: grooving on the genius loci.
Here are the songs I sang, in order (they represent the main ‘song of the day’ although others came and went organically). I selected songs that were thematically-apt or simply ‘jaunty’, amusing and morale-lifting.
Day 1, Edale to Torside: Mist-covered Mountains adapted from the Gaelic by Malcolm MacFarlane, version by Chantelle Smith.
Day 2, Torside to Standedge: Ramblin’ Man by Hank Williams.
Day 3, Standedge to Mankinholes: John Ball by Sydney Carter.
Day 4, Mankinholes to Haworth: The Skye Boat Song by Sir Harold Boulton.
Day 5, Haworth to Ickornshaw: The Boatman by The Levellers.
Day 6, Ickornshaw to Malham: Above (plus ‘Pendle Song’ shared by Anthony Nanson).
Day 7, Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale: The Manchester Rambler by Ewan MacColl (plus ‘Scout Song’ by Anthony Nanson).
Day 8, Horton to Hawes: Green Grow the Rushes by Robert Burns.
Day 9: Hawes to Keld: Crooked Jack by Dominic Behan.
Day 10, Keld to Baldersdale: Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan.
Day 11, Baldersdale to Langdon Beck: A Place called England by Maggie Holland.
Day 12, Langdon Beck to Dufton: Wayfaring Stranger (Norma Waterson version)
Day 13, Dufton to Alston: Pilgrim on the Pennine Way by Pete Coe.
Day 14, Alston to Greenhead: This Land is Our Land by Woody Guthrie.
Day 15, Greenhead to The Sill: King of the Road by Roger Miller.
Day 16, The Sill to Bellingham: Carrick Fergus (Marko Gallaidhe version)
Day 17, Bellingham to Byrness: Man of Constant Sorrow (based upon a song by Dick Burnett) John Allen / Victor Carrera / Scott Mills.
Day 18, Byrness to Kirk Yetholm: Caledonia by Dougie Maclean; Both Sides o’ Tweed by Dick Gaughan.
I would highly recommend this way of experiencing the landscape**. To start the day with a song in your heart lends wings to your feet. It is also is very liberating for the voice. In the middle of nature you can sing your heart out, without fear of criticism or ridicule. It hyper-sensitised my hearing whenever I fell silent (which was often for long stretches of time). And time and time again I found it created interesting encounters with animals. Song changes our relationship to nature – it plugs us into the grid of Creation. Many traditions talk of ‘divine utterance’ and the way the world was sung into being. In some small way, by songwalking, one feels part of this choir – both singing praise to the world and singing the world into being as each step reveals new wonders to our reawakened senses.
Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2 August 2018
*The route can vary between 253 and 268 miles depending on optional routes, and distances of accommodation at the end of each day!
**If you are interested in songwalking get in touch. I would be fascinated to hear of your experiences, and would love to share a walk with you. Wayfarers of all abilities (poets, storytellers, artists, musicians, sound artists, etc) welcome!