Category Archives: walking

Belly to the Earth

Inspired by my recent wild-camping experiences on the Wessex Ridgeway, I consider how can we live a more soulful, sustainable life.

Wild camping on the Wessex Ridgeway

How can we live a more soulful, sustainable life? This is perhaps the most important question to address in the present age. Certainly, it is one that I find myself dwelling upon – an undertow to my days as I get caught up in the endless (and often vexating and trivial) ‘to do’ list of life. It is so easy to become enmired in Maya, or Samsara – the illusion of the world, and forget why we are really here. I see this ‘illusion’ not as some do: a world of matter to be rejected, denying corporeality, the body, and this good Earth — but as the surface of things. To be fully alive is to live deeply and fully – to be awake in the moment, to be present in one’s body, in one’s life. To revel in the bountiful sensorium of it all, its vivid, messy actuality. To be grounded and real. And by doing so, tapping into the ‘immanent moment’ (as I termed it in one of my poetry collections) and to realise how every embodied experience on this Earth has many levels, and can be an opportunity to awaken consciousness – to pierce beyond the veil of things (like the Arthurian fool-knight, Perceval/Parsifal, who ‘pierces the veil’ with his pure heart and cleansed perceptions and achieves the Holy Grail). To see things as they truly are: ‘infinite’, as Blake puts it, exhorting a cleansing of the doors of perception. Or as William Stafford expresses it in his poem, ‘Bi-focal’:

So, the world happens twice—
once what we see it as;
second it legends itself
deep, the way it is.

Sometimes we have to go down into the mud to see the stars, and so it was the week I spent walking the Wessex Ridgeway, a 127 mile long-distance footpath, which runs from Marlborough in Wiltshire to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. As this runs by my back-door I’ve been considering walking it for a while — it sat there expectantly, like a dog with a lead in its mouth, ready for walkies. I liked the idea of walking to the sea from my doorstep – and after the most challenging academic year in living memory I, like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, heard the call of the ‘Grey Havens’. I wanted to change my skyline. The clean line of the chalk downs of Wiltshire are soothing, but there is nothing like seeing the horizon where the sea meets the sky to get a perspective on things. And so, with a full pack on my back, I set off. Carrying one’s home on one’s back certainly makes one feel snail-like, and that was pretty much the pace at times — especially on the uphill sections (which in Dorset were quite frequent). Yet slowing down, and noticing the details is part of the experience of exploring the world at walking pace

Resting my poor old pinkies

The highlight of my week of walking was the day I woke up at dawn in a peaceful flower meadow, and walked all day to finally arrive (with a lot of huffing and puffing up its steep flanks) to a spectacular hillfort, where I also wild-camped, watching the sunset as I savoured my simple but satisfying camp meal.  Although I was at one of the highest spots on the south coast, there was not a breath of wind. It was pleasantly mild, and I had the most peaceful night’s sleep, feeling like a king to be sleeping in such a place by myself.  That night I had a vivid dream, which was sufficiently stirring to wake me up and make me write it down. I dreamt of being part of an Iron Age tribe, no doubt influenced by sleeping in a hillfort (before turning in, I walked the impressive ramparts with their commanding view, and got a strong sense of what it must have felt like to have dwelled there, to call such a place ‘home’, and to wish to defend it – and your loved ones within – to your dying breath). Faced with the prospect of moving yet again (such is the life of the modern academic), thoughts of home have been at the forefront of my mind. And, having been carrying my humble little home all week, it was perhaps not surprising that my vision upon the hill related to notions of home, community, and belonging. The details of it seem less relevant than the messages I received from it, which I summarise below.

  • The importance of community – a reciprocal ‘ecosystem’, an entangled, resilient, co-supportive network.
  • The importance of leadership – of stepping into your power, drawing upon the authority of experience and self-reflexive insight. Creating and guiding, not controlling and censuring. This could manifest, for example, by running a space for the sharing of wisdom and mutual empowerment.
  • The importance of embodied ‘beingness’ – listening to the body, listening to the earth. Rejoicing in tactile, sensual, human touch.
  • The importance of living an ethical life, and showing the courage of one’s convictions – of ‘stepping up’, of speaking truth to power. Of being unafraid of being seen, heard, known for what one believes, what one knows is a ‘core truth’ – beyond the playacting, and posturing of much of modern life, the neurotic concern for status, approval, and ‘fitting in’.
  • The importance of place – of being ‘rooted’ in where you live, making a commitment to your community and digging in. Of belonging. And this is the essence of my phrase, ‘belly to the earth’ – an act of vulnerability and connection. Are you able to live somewhere so intimately, so lightly, that it is as though you are literally sleeping on the ground like a small child laying on Mother Earth? (try it – lay down on the grass, and feel the earth beneath you as you breathe upon it: simultaneously held and holding).
Sunrise on the hill-fort

I awoke at dawn, and with a precious mug of tea (the last of my water) watched the full orb of the sun break free of its pall of cloud. Feeling shiveringly alive, I quickly struck camp and set off on my way, keen to not forget my dream on the hill. How to manifest it felt less important at that moment than bringing it down from the heights and sharing it. Perhaps it will inspire you to consider how you can live with your ‘belly to the earth’?

Kevan Manwaring, 11th July 2021

Road Ballad of a Vagabond King

Road Ballad of a Vagabond King

sleeping_king_1 David Wood art

Sleeping King, David Wood FFI: http://davidwoodart.com/

Arthur stretched out

his scratched and golden limbs,

matted head of wheat

pillowed upon the Polden Hills,

the Levels below

a damp cloak steaming.

Leaking boots drain into the Sedgemoor.

Fallen rain runs down the rhynes

of his ribs.

Cattle habitually give him

a lockdown haircut.

A king on the road,

footsore and boneweary,

long has he journeyed

the obscure ways of myths,

the hollow lanes of legend,

wearing the oak-leaf crown of his belief –

a fool on the wend,

stepping out of the way

of drivers rushing nowhere.

He has slept in the bleak leeward

of niches facing down

the grey gauntleted

fist of Tintagel,

the fastness of the forest perilous,

the moon-furnished margins of the Tamar.

St Bridget’s Well is off limits,

only bus stops and church porches

offer shelter to the vagabond king.

Lonely as a bedraggled buzzard

sitting on a stump in drizzle,

eyes in the back of his head,

a shiver of feathers

his rain dance.

He lugs his broken

kingdom on his back,

hoping somewhere he will

be able to unroll it and

raise it again.

Grey and hard are the roads,

his blister-scalloped feet prefer the verge,

the scratch choir of birdsong from

the eavesdropping hedgerows

to the rumble and hiss of passing machines.

He avoids the drilling gaze of curious drivers,

except to acknowledge when one acknowledges him

for stepping in – hedge backwards amid the nettles.

Sometimes, he sings as he goes

or walks for hours in brooding

silence. On greener byways,

sun-buntinged, river-garlanded,

a friendly stranger

receives a smile, a blessing, or

cheerful greeting. For we

are all on our way –

moving inexorably in one direction,

the universal terminus.

What we do with each step,

each moment, is the constant

fork in the path we should

ponder and savour, delaying

the need to be anywhere

else but here.

 

Inspired by walking the King Arthur Way 

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Awakening the King

Walking the King Arthur Way

20200715_143918

Completing the King Arthur Way – made it to Glastonbury Tor, July 2020

In 2017 I conceived of a long-distance trail connecting Tintagel in Cornwall (conception place of King Arthur Pendragon, according to legend) with Glastonbury in Somerset (site of Arthur and Guinevere’s ‘graves’, and the Isle of Avalon to some). I intended it as a pilgrimage route, enabling walkers to experience the Arthurian legend in an embodied way, while at the same time reflecting upon, and possibly awakening, their own inner sovereignty – whether king, queen, or other noble archetype. In a world which suffers from many bad leaders, I saw it as a way of empowering positive leadership qualities in oneself. However esoteric or optimistic those goals may seem, I have actualised elements of that in the creation and completion of the King Arthur Way: in its initial vision, research, planning, and instigation. By physically walking the route – with a full forty pound pack, semi-wild-camping along the way – I have led by example. Literally, walked my talk. I know now it can be done. We’re not talking the north-west passage here, of course, but it good to check whether a route is not only viable, but enjoyable – with clearly-marked and passable footpaths, stimulatingly varied terrain, interesting landmarks, fascinating folklore and local history, and practical infrastructure (shops, pubs, campsites, transport links). As with any worthwhile project there was fine-tuning needed. In my first reconnaissance of the Cornish section of the route in late summer 2017, I discovered that trying to include too much was too ambitious. Then I walked from the north to the south coast of Cornwall, covering 60 miles. I found it a slog, with a lot of road-walking and miserable weather. So, I recalibrated the route, generally heading upcountry, in a north-easterly direction – this I found to be ‘easier’ (still an effort, with a full pack, especially on a hot day). I made good progress until a day of relentless rain and hard-walking (roads, urban areas, and the suitably-named Granite Way) gave me a badly-blistered foot. Fortunately, a friend lived nearby and so I appealed to her hospitality and allowed myself a rest day. I hobbled about, and realised trying to complete the rest of the route would be unrealistic. I was faced with a choice: I could abort, and complete it another time; soldier on; or compromise with a shorter version of the route – taking a train between Crediton and Taunton where I had been unable to book a campsite (many had closed for good, or were only taking caravans and motorhomes). I opted for the latter. The prospect of 3 more days wild camping without hot shower, or even a pub to hole up in did not appeal in my weakened state – so skipping those sections was a good idea. Also I booked a lovely airbnb for one night, which was a wonderful halfway ‘treat’. This was, after all, meant to be my holiday – not a SAS training ordeal. Having already walked 60 miles of (an early version of) the route in 2017, plus another 60 ‘extension’ (from my home, near Marlborough to Glastonbury) in June this year, I more than covered the ‘missing’ 40 miles and then some: by the end of the walk I completed 110 miles of the route – with the 2 other sections (60+60), 230 miles, a folkloric wildlife corridor connecting Tintagel to my home in Wiltshire.

There were, as on any long-distance walks, days of real challenge and days of reward. I am still recovering and processing my experience, but some of the highlights include:

  • Waking up on the coast overlooking Tintagel.
  • Stumbling upon the ancient rock-cut mazes in Rocky Valley.
  • St Nectan’s Glen.
  • Brent Tor.
  • Wild-swimming in the Tamar, Dart, and Shilley Pool.
  • Castle Drogo.
  • Burrow Mump.
  • Walking to Glastonbury across the Somerset Levels.

I intend to write up the route with accompanying notes, which I may make available as a paperback or pdf download (or both), but for now I have charted the route, so that others may also walk the King Arthur Way if they wish.

KING ARTHUR WAY

Section 1: Tintagel to Wilsey Down (13.66 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116595

Section 2: Wilsey Down to Greystone Bridge (17.07 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116617

Section 3: Greystone Bridge to Lydford (12.96 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116626

Section 4: Lydford to South Zeal (13.04 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116634

Section 5: South Zeal to Crockernwell (12.46 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116643

Section 6: Crockernwell to Sandford (11.87 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116651

Section 7: Sandford to Bickleigh (14.13 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116698

Section 8: Bickleigh to Sampford Peverell (11.91 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116704

Section 9: Sampford Peverell to Taunton (17.36 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116715

Section 10: Taunton to Meare Green*  (8.15 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116658

Section 11: Meare Green to High Ham (10 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116663

Section 12: High Ham to Glastonbury (10.87 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116669

Section 13 *alternative across Blackdown Hills, avoiding Taunton  (18.97 miles)

https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_5116718

20200704_201405

The start of the King Arthur Way:  Tintagel – with the stunning new footbridge,                          K. Manwaring July 2020

Happy Walking!

Kevan

PS this walk was intended as a group pilgrimage this year, but Covid-19 put paid to that – however, I may lead one in the future if there is sufficient interest.

 

King Arthur Way Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 17 July 2020

Pilgrim of Light

Kevan on Solstice Pilgrimage June 2020

On my way! Solstice Pilgrimage, June 2020

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.

‘The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage,’ Sir Walter Raleigh

I have just returned from a week-long pilgrimage to Glastonbury for the summer solstice – wild-camping along the way and staying with friends. Walking in glorious sunlight (at least for the first couple of days) and holding vigil for the sunrise on the Tor I had plenty of time to think about why I was undertaking such a walk and why the solstice means so much to so many (over 3 million watched the summer solstice sunset and sunrise from Stonehenge online). We live in dark times, and having spent 3 months in lockdown I was desperately in need of a change of scene, and to feel like it was actually summer. I had also finished my teaching for the (very intensive) academic year, and needed a break to mark its end — a hiatus to avoid the relentless monotony that recent weeks have become. However peaceful and pleasant (and productive) the enforced home-stay has been in many ways (especially where I am fortunate to live) the lack of variation in rhythm, in texture, was beginning to feel stultifying. To celebrate the longest day of the year, the joy that summer (usually) brings, and the minor miracle of being (and staying) alive seems like all good reasons to make the effort to witness what of course happens every single day. I have been waking up at dawn lately, and every single time I do and get to eavesdrop upon the dawn chorus and witness the rising of the sun I feel blessed.

Pilgrimage is an act of intentionality, and stopping in a porch in Oakhill to shelter from the heavy rain I was asked by the vicar there, Rev. Richard Priestley, who was just locking up, what was undertaking mine for. I found it hard to articulate at the time, being soaked and exhausted, but it was, I realised, a journey to the light — a physical prayer to help bring ‘light’ (goodness, peace, kindness, truth) back into the endarkened world. This is not to deny the shadow — we’ve had plenty of opportunity to consider that lately — but to kindle the light that seems so fragile at the moment. On all sides we see how hard-won liberties, and humane values are being torn away or challenged by a disturbing neo-fascist discourse. Those craving power are determined to demonise the marginalised and drive a wedge between communities. It feels like the 1930s all over again. I must admit to being sick to death of social media and the news – I needed a break from it.

IMG-20190623-WA0000The End! Walking the Coast-to-Coast in ‘reverse’ from Robin Hood’s Bay to St Bee’s, Cumbria, Midsummer 2019

Every year around this time I go for a long walk and have a ‘digital detox’. I have walked many of the long-distance national trails in Britain. Last year I walked the 192 mile Coast-to-Coast (or ‘Wainwright Way’) in the north of England, and ended up on an accidental pilgrimage.* That experience made me realise I no longer wanted to do just secular geographical walks — however satisfying they can be — but to have a spiritualised experience. Having a focus, like St Bee’s on the Cumbrian coast (the monastery there celebrates its 900th anniversary this year), with its Midsummer associations (the 9th Century Irish St Bega landed there on Midsummer Eve) transformed my walk into something meaningful. And it was there I decided that this year I wanted to walk a route I had devised in 2017 connecting Tintagel to Glastonbury, a legendary trail in the ‘footsteps’ of King Arthur from the place of his conception to his grave. It felt more powerful to do synchronise this with the summer solstice – as I found that build-up of energy over two weeks really powerful and motivational. It gave one a tangible ‘deadline’ — as though one was racing the sun. Over the winter I planned the route and prepared my pack meticulously. Of course, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, as John Lennon wisely sang. Lockdown happened, and even with some easing, all the campsites and pubs remain closed. I was prepared to wild-camp but having nowhere to get a hot shower, charge a phone, or fill up my water bottle (or treat myself to a hot meal and a pint now and then) would make the whole thing more like a SAS training challenge — far too hard-core. It was meant to be my holiday as well, and it is hard to feel very spiritual when you are soaked, chilled, hungry, and exhausted: all you can think about is getting dry, warm, fed, and rested. Also, I didn’t want to risk a 4-5 hour train journey at present. And so I decided to postpone that until it was more viable, and opt for a compromise – a ‘shorter’ walk (1 week, rather than 2) from my doorstep  near Marlborough to Glastonbury. It felt like a practical solution that also allowed me to honour the solstice, and scratch my pilgrimage itch.

Kevan on Wearyall Hill Summer Solstice 2020

Arrival! Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury, Summer Solstice 2020

I have put together this podcast to capture the spirit of my pilgrimage, and to evoke this beautiful time of year. I hope you enjoy it.

The Golden Room episode 12 track-listing

  1. Sunrise Praise – Kevan Manwaring
  2. Reverie pt1 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
  3.  The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage – Sir Walter Raleigh
  4. Reverie pt2 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
  5. In the Name of the Sun – Kevan Manwaring
  6. Reverie pt3 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
  7. Ascension Day – Henry Vaughan
  8. Reverie pt4 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
  9. Adlestrop – Edward Thomas
  10. Drifting By – Fly Yeti Fly (from ‘Shine a Light in the Dark’)
  11. The Green Rooad – Edward Thomas
  12. Serendipity – Simon Andrews
  13. A Midsummer Summoning – Kevan Manwaring
  14. King of the Fairies (trad.) – Shenanigans
  15. The Haymaker’s Song – anon.
  16. The Corn King – Jehanne Mehta
  17. In Love, at Stonehenge – Coventry Patmore
  18. Summertime – Simon Andrews
  19. Praise Song for St Bega – Kevan Manwaring
  20. The Rollright Stones – Jehanne Mehta
  21. Praise Song for a Lost Festival – Kevan Manwaring
  22. Stonehenge – Shenanigans
  23. Pilgrim’s Way – Kevan Manwaring
  24. The Sun – Jay Ramsay & Rosemary Duxbury, from ‘Thread of Light’
  25. A Pilgrim’s Joy – Kevan Manwaring
  26. The Faery Beam Upon You – Ben Johnson

Compiled by Kevan Manwaring, 21 June 2020

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

*My full account of walking the Coast-to-Coast to St Bee’s,’The Accidental Pilgrim’, features in issue 3 of The Pilgrim, available here: https://www.thepilgrim.org.uk/shop

Striding Edge

Striding Edge

Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Cumbria, K. Manwaring, 2019

Striding Edge

To walk in the light

after hours, years,

of effort.

The view from up here

is vertiginous,

the visceral kick

a real high,

as long as you hold

your nerve.

Stay straight and true,

make each foot fall

count.

Every step up here

counts for hundreds

below.

And then, heart pounding,

you are on the other side,

and can look back

full of pride and relief,

before you turn to the

cliff that awaits

to be climbed.

 

Kevan Manwaring

The Moon as Muse

Moon-547x364

I have long been fascinated by the moon. It has inspired many poems by writers over the centuries, and looking back through my own work, I realise I have written a fair few myself…

Here’s one I wrote during a long walk – the West Highland Way – after a particularly memorable wild camping pitch.

 

Full Moon, Bridge of Orchy
All is still
after a twenty miles of rain
as fierce as the Battle of Ardrigh
falling like swords into a lochan.

The seething shadows
making it impossible to linger.
Up here, the air bites you.

But on arrival, the errant sun
breaks the spell like a knight
making a dramatic entrance.

A dizzying stillness after a day’s march,
an ale in the bar, afterglow of achievement,
ramblers’ banter, measuring our folly
in tall tales, modest boasts, blisters.

Wild pitch by the knuckle of bridge.
Making my way on the Way.

Here I make stance,
a road-weary drover,
numb limbs cooling like cattle
cropping the sward.

The river sings its perpetual song –
a complex skein of sound.
Countless rivulets negotiate
the tongue of rock,
the sounding chamber of these hills,
the twin peaks of bard-praised Beinn Dorain
and Beinn an Dòthaidh.

A cry of nature in the crease of the night.

The July moon illumines
a Samuel Palmer landscape.
Peace, deep as peat,
settles.

 

From The Immanent Moment by Kevan Manwaring from Awen

Diary of a Viva Ninja: Day 4

20180712_130347.jpg

Staying the distance. Me on High Cup Nick, on the Pennine Way. July 2018

Undertaking a PhD is a long-haul and to complete the 3-4 years of research one of the key qualities you need is stamina: staying power; tenacity – call it what you like. As long as it gets the job done. I’ve honed my stamina through by running and long-distance walking – because both of these requires tremendous mental (as well as physical) stamina. Each summer I’ve walked a long distance path, starting in 2014 with Hadrian’s Wall (84 miles) and increasing the distance each year: 2015: West Highland Way (96 miles); 2016: Offa’s Dyke (177 ml); 2017: Southern Upland Way (212 ml); and this year, the Pennine Way (255 miles). Even those these are my vacations (designed for R&R!) and, coming at the end of term, a form of ‘academic detox’ (post-exam marking period etc), each time I’ve tried to push myself a little bit further. This last one in particular, falling as it did straight after I submitted my 80,000 word Thesis (plus 75,000 word Appendices) ended up being not just ‘the Great Escape’ (by that point, after months of intense effort I really needed to cut loose) but also a kind of extended metaphor of the PhD journey. This was not something I thought about a lot until the final day, but the trek did seem to neatly break down into my four year experience, with each fifty miles representing a year and its landmarks: Year 1 – research, 1st draft; Year 2 – more research, 2nd draft; Year 3 – consolidation of research, 3rd draft; Year 4 – commentary and editing. But the ‘crunch’ time came, appropriately on the last day of my walk when I had to walk 26 miles, over 7 peaks straddling the English-Scottish border, with a full forty pound pack. I worked towards this – (extending the daily distance, resting, planning, etc), and by that point, I was ready to really push myself, as I didn’t have to hold anything back. There were about a dozen of us roughly walking the whole route over the same 2-3 week period, but everyone else broke the last day, by either having the guest house pick them up and drop them back the next morning, or by staying over in one of the two mountain huts. But I decided to go for it. It is interesting to push oneself now and then, to see what you can accomplish, and to see how you can cope. What was really resonant about this last day was – I saw it as a micro-metaphor for the Viva. By Byrness, the penultimate stop on the way, it really feels liked you’ve pretty much nailed the walk – a bit like the feeling of submission – but oh no, the big push is yet to come. I awoke at 4am in my tiny bivvy-shelter and was on my way by 5am. I saw the sunrise as I breached the brow of Byrness Knowe; and by 9am I had reached Ravens Knowe – which had spectacular views over the Scottish Borders. Riding on adrenalin I pushed myself to reach the summit (highest point of the walk) by 11am – 13 miles I had broken the back of the walk, and uncannily at the very moment I reached Windy Ridge I received an email notification telling me my thesis had been sent to the examiners (the Doctoral College take a while to process things, and it was huge relief to know it had been sent off). Reaching that summit felt like the day of the viva itself – a massive effort to prepare, to reach it; and then the almost vertiginous feeling of achieving it. I savoured the well-earned view as I ate my sandwiches and sipped some precious water. But then, critically, there was still an exhausting 12.5 miles to go, over several more peaks, with blistered feet and aching limbs – and this I saw as a sobering metaphor for: revisions (minor or major). It was a visceral, embodied way of preparing myself mentally for that extra effort. It is incautious to assume the Viva will be the end: it may just be the ‘beginning of the end’. That is the key thing to bear in mind. The Viva is ‘Windy Ridge’ (13 miles in); not Kirk Yetholm (the end of the 250+ miles of the Pennine Way). That’s the critical difference. Basically, don’t peak too soon. Save something in reserve for that final effort, if it is required (to undertake major or minor revisions, etc). Those last 12.5 miles were a real challenge as fatigue kicked in (cumulative, from 17 days of serious hiking), the temperature increased, water ran low, and blisters go worse. But I did it. Walking into Kirk Yetholm, to be greeted (unexpectedly) by the cheers of my fellow walkers sitting outside the Borders Hotel, was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. I had accomplished what I had set out to do – by sheer determination and grit. Thousands of people finish the Pennine Way every year (although only a fraction do it all in one go), and many achieve their doctorates too – but this was my accomplishment, my day. And it had taught me a valuable lesson about ‘keeping something in reserve’ for that post-Viva final push, just in case it is needed. By succeeding in completing that last epic day I felt encouraged that, if it came down to it, I would be mentally prepared for whatever the examiners decide. They may say: ‘Congratulations! You have reached the finishing line!’ or they may say: ‘You have passed! But … you have another three or six months of effort still to do!’ Of course there could be other outcomes too. But walking a long-distance route in extreme conditions (a heatwave in my case, with fires on the moors, etc) inculcates resilience, and I will be ready.

VivaNinjadoodlebyKevan Manwaring.jpeg

Songwalker

20180715_122408

Going for a song. Hadrian’s Wall, K. Manwaring July 2018

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

20180718_053721.jpg

Cairn above Byrness, dawn of final day. Only 26 miles to go: songs don’t fail me now! K. Manwaring, July 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!

Walking with a Friend

Anthony on Mynydd Du by KM.jpg

Anthony on Mynydd Du by K. Manwaring 2018

 

Going for a stroll with a friend – an amicable amble, as it were – is one of life’s great pleasures. With a good friend the logistics of the day (if it is a long hike) do not become an effort: there is an organic, spontaneous feel to things. Even if a general itinerary has been agreed upon (a rough loop around a valley, a hope to reach a certain interesting landmark) in-the-moment diversions may be taken, arborescent pathways, roads-less-taken, echoing the digressional quality of the conversation, which has a free-ranging spirit. Anything may be discussed –the profane to the profound, the intimate to the trivial, heretical thoughts and transgressive reflections. Nothing is beyond the pale of conversation’s wilderness garden. Nothing is judged weedish and inappropriate. There is no harsh judgement, cultural approbation, twitter-storm, or trigger-happy ‘outraged’ waiting to descend upon you if you say something that is not in line with the popularity morality (or perceived performance thereof).  You can enjoy a hashtag free dialogue for once, nuanced by non-verbal communication – embodied and ensouled in the actuality of the moment, not in some virtual sphere of imagined connection. Beyond the reductive dualism of the binary there is a prismatic spectrum. Bumbling along in our ‘meat-suits’ (as those who spend too long on line call them), at home in our bodies in the true eco-system of things, we ‘arrive in time’ (as Laurie Lee put it). Immersed in the world of the  senses, colours, shapes, textures, smells, sounds explode around you. You struggle up a slippery, muddy path – little more than stream bed – to emerge breathless above the tree-line, onto hoar-frosted heathland, blinding in its brilliance beneath the sharp winter sun in the naked sky. Talking clouds in the frozen air, you pause for a cuppa at a stile. Enjoy the Ice Age view and the burn in the limbs. Share tunnocks and jelly-beans. Ideas and feelings. Stand and stare in an animal state of beingness, like a wild horse on a hillside. And this is enough. With a good friend there are comfortable lacuna in the colloquy, companionable silences. These interstices, when you may walk ‘apart together’ are just as important as the moments of intersection. Critically, they allow us to expand our awareness beyond the anthropocentric, the human bubble, to our surroundings. In silent communion with a landscape, in time, we experience ‘heath-mind’ or ‘wood-mind’, ‘stream-mind’ or ‘rock-mind’. In an encounter with another form of life – a bird on a gate-post, a cow in a field, a butterfly on the breeze, a seal in the surf – our consciousness may flip for a moment. In a flash of fith-fath we may find ourselves experiencing the world from a non-human paradigm. As we walk along, alone, by ourselves, together, we may feel something start to stir, the presentiment of an idea, preparing to be born, given sufficient time and space. We may not be able to articulate it yet, but we know it is there. We incubate it deep inside, beneath layers of woolly hats, waterproofs, thermals, thick socks. Our winter plumage. The Spring in us, waiting in the wings. Too much talk, too much company, can cast these fledgling thoughts out of the nest too soon.  Inspiration needs space to grow. A good friend knows this, notices when you need a moment by yourself. In the same way that they don’t just talk about them self but allow you to respond, and show genuine curiousity and emotional engagement about your own life, so they know when you don’t wish to respond, when you would prefer to be peaceful for a while. Walking with a friend there is a leaning-out as well as a leaning-in. This mutuality, and ease of decision that goes with it, are the destressors of the day alongside the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, having a bit of exercise and getting away from it all. The Japanese notion of ‘forest therapy’ (“shinrin yoku,” literally “forest bathing”) walks hand-in-hand with ‘friend therapy’. A friend allows you to be yourself. With a good friend you can drop down into the deep well of your own being – without trying to be anything or prove anything, you are more fully yourself. They invite us to shake hands with our soul. We are reminded of who we truly are, of slumbering potentials and forgotten promises to ourselves. The voices and wishes we thought we’d honour – which once rang out but have been drowned by the clamour of the world, until, in a forest clearing, or by a glittering brook, we hear them again. And they were always there, patiently waiting for us.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2018

With many thanks to Anthony Nanson (& to Kirsty Hartsiotis, for the lovely meal upon our return and further scintillating conversation).

Hitting the Wall

 

London-Marathon-2017-thumb-960x540

Sometimes you need a little help to make it through …

Anyone who has ever undertaken something difficult will know that there often comes a time when you really feel like you can’t go on. You’ve given it your best. You’ve done all the right things.

And you’ve got nothing left.

You hope you’ve reached the brow of the hill (one that has been one hell of a slog to get up), and can coast for a while – perhaps even race down to the finish line, euphoric at your accomplishment. But then, looming before you, is another summit, another hurdle, another bloody hoop to jump through. Obstacles bar your way, obstructing your line of desire – that wished-for completion — or maybe it’s just the realization of the sheer distance left to go, the gulf between your vision and the reality.

These reality checks, if they’ve been brought to your attention by allies (those with critical, constructive perspective, but ultimately rooting for you — rather than envious threshold guardians acting out their own issues) can be an essential part of the process.

Yet they’re still a pain in the arse.

Sometimes these critical slam-downs can even be devastating – completely knocking the wind from your sails, your confidence; your belief in your vision or craft; even your whole identity. If you’re feeling low anyway then the effect can be irredeemably crushing with sometimes catastrophic consequences. As this scenario is all too common in academe, there is major student support in place at universities these days – Wellbeing Services offering counselling and advice. Safety nets, tea and sympathy. I can sympathise as this week I experienced just this level of ‘knockback’ – I don’t want to go into the gory details, but suffice to say it was gutting. I was down and seriously considering some extreme options (in terms of my current PhD project). Things looked pretty bleak at the beginning of the week.

But a couple of things really helped me.

The first was running. Any physical exercise would be good – especially the cardio-vascular kind, as raising a sweat releases endorphins and blasts out any negativity. I found this to be exactly the case when I did a long training run – afterwards I felt in a far better place. More resilient, more able to cope with the ‘bad news’. Able to roll with the punch and come out fighting. Time and time again I’ve experienced the well-being effects of running, cycling or a good hike. And within these, if you’re undertaking a physical challenge like a half-marathon – then sooner or later you encounter ‘the wall’, as it’s referred to, familiar with marathon-runners all over the world. This is the moment when your body starts to shut down – you’re exhausted – and you really have to dig deep to keep going, sometimes running, cycling, hiking, etc, through the pain. I had to do just this mid-week, on my 13.5 mile training run. Those last 5 miles were tough, but I paused, refuelled, and girded my loins. It really all comes down to attitude, to mental stamina. Getting your head around what it is you’re facing, and soldiering on.

At the beginning of the week I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead of me and I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel. Then I stepped back from it – went for the run – and looked at it all again.

What really helped me to ‘reframe’ the seemingly insurmountable challenge was talking about it – with my partner and with my supervisor.

After a thorough session at the end of the week with my supervisor I was willing to accept that I just have to knuckle down and get it finished. That the project wasn’t dead in the water – in fact, it is on track, and this ‘big push’ is merely the expected final stage, one that makes the difference between something being good and being excellent. I could accept the way my craft is now, or, keep going, and attempt to raise it to the next level.

To work through ‘the wall’. This is where the long-distance running has really helped me in facing this test of stamina and will. I will dig deep and I will keep going, and I will finish this thing.

Anything worth achieving is down to the difficulty involved. If it was easy, then accomplishing it would mean little (although of course we all have our own mountains to climb, and what is a minor hurdle for one person is a massive achievement for someone else). I have set myself a tough challenge – a creative and intellectual one – and I only have myself to blame! But while my heart and mind is set on this quest, then I shall endeavour to see it through properly to the end.

Whether I succeed or fail I shall at least I know that I gave it my very best shot, and didn’t give up at this critical stage.

Adjust your mental furniture and it’s amazing what you can achieve: you can even walk through walls.