Treading the spaces in between

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Posted on July 4, 2018

There’s an instant slowing down of my steps. I’m not used to carrying a load this heavy, so taking it slowly isn’t a choice, it's a necessity. But the slowing down of my mind is much more gradual. And it comes in phases. One hour in, there is a settling into a new pace, the beginning of the retreat of certain chores and obligations that have been occupying my mind. Two, three, four hours in, and I’m shifting my focus from what’s on my To-Do list to what’s in front of me and what’s under my feet: where the next wall crossing is, the shape of the ground, the stability of stones, the depth of bog, the branches that reach out at eye level on a narrow path. And my attention is also on my body - the way the bag sits on my hips, back and shoulders – my body in the context of the land I’m passing through.

Heading away from treefold:east, where the oak and the rowan are doing well

Last year, we created three treefolds in Cumbria; three stone circles, each five foot high and with a seven-foot internal diameter, that enclose and protect trees and offer a place to pause with the trees year after year. Around the outer side of each treefold words carved into stones form a short verse, and when joined together, the three segments form a complete poem. I say complete, but that’s not exactly true – the treefolds stand many miles apart from one another. In writing the words I held in my mind that the land in between them as an integral part of the poem, speaking for itself. Walking between the three treefolds was a way for us to explore the spaces in between the words, and in the slow treading of paths through a greenscape made up of fields, woods, fell tops, rivers and villages, to pick up the wordless element of this poem.


Collecting water

In the seven days outside, always in the fresh air, we walked on many paths we’d never followed before. We discovered and pondered stories of place that are revealed by fells, valleys, rocks, rivers and lakes, by walls, paths, afforestation and deforestation, by the absence of people, the presence of people, by roads, animals and ruins. We watched the coming rain gather itself in bruised clouds, we became damp in the spaces between soaking bogs and falling rain, we were seared by a hot sun, and we traced the angle of the rising moon. We also followed trains of thought about the way we connect to place, the challenges of sustainability, the impact of walking, day after day, and the meeting points of walking, art and environment. We’ll be sharing our thoughts about these things, and other random stuff that emerged, in some future blogs.

Morning at our hilltop camp, day 3

Looking into the tree-guard in treefold:centre. The little aspen is doing well.

Moonrise and the coming of rain, midsummer's eve

Gaining height, climbing to Grisedale Tarn, midsummer's day

I talk about the hours it takes to ‘let go’ and find a new pace, but in fact, it’s days. Two, three, or maybe four, before all of my body feels set, my bag and I have found a mutual agreement of posture and angle, and the thoughts that had been crammed into my mind have dropped away. Views across the landscape open up. Lakes, trees, fells. Some vistas stretch for a scores of miles, an endless sky above the knuckled ridges of the Lakeland fells and the rock-dark snakes of rivers in the valleys. Other views stretch no more than 20 or 30 metres, but fill this space with abundance. In woodlands we are bathed in green, the earth is covered with plants, every stone and fallen trunk is mossed, and the collective canopy of hundreds of trees becomes the mottled-green sky. Day by day my mind responds to the coming and going of greens, blues, leaf shapes, birdsong, rocks, mud, flowers, livestock; as I walk through a colourscape, a scentscape, a soundscape, my mind relaxes; there’s an unhurried and unconscious processing of what I see and sense and of ideas that have been waiting for this kind of moment to work themselves out.

Each morning started by shaking out the house before packing up

In planning our route, following the flow of the poem, we needed to start at treefold:east and head west to treefold:centre, then walk to treefold:north, and continue to the Blencathra Field Studies Centre, where we had comitted to giving a talk about the experience as part of the Royal Geographical Society's lecture series. We wanted to walk for seven days, as we had during the Light Walk in 2016, which linked the seven trees of The Long View, so we planned the route accordingly, giving ourselves achievable distances to cover between areas where we knew we would find a spot to lay our tent for the night. Here's the overview:

Day 1: treefold:east on Little Asby Hawthorn to High Borrowdale
Day 2: High Borrowdale to Black Crags, above Staveley
Day 3: Staveley to Grizedale Forest (crossing Windermere on a boat)
Day 4: Grizedale Forest and treefold:centre to Silver How, near Grasmere.
Day 5: Silver How to Grisedale Valley
Day 6: Grisedale Valley to Threlkeld Common
Day 7: Threlkeld Common to the Blencathra Field Studies Centre

 Total distance: 124.58Km

At treefold:north, pondering the walked-completion of the poem

The gear that helped keep us comfortable and safe

Managing - and enjoying - a multi-day walk with wild camps depends not only on a state of mind; the quality of kit is vital, beginning with the feet and including what's needed to have a good sleep.

Boots We are both Ambassadors of Meindl boots UK. Rob has been wearing Meindl boots and shoes for nigh on thirty years on treks to mountains, deserts, jungles and plains all over the planet, and they've always served him well. Just before setting off we were each given a new pair of boots to help us along the way.

Rob chose the Montalin GTX (not available in the UK yet) and Harriet the Kansas Lady. Considering they were new and we were both carrying large packs, we were delighted that both pairs instantly felt as if they'd been moulded to our feet over months or years. And they did their job well - even after two hours walking through bog, in the rain, Harriet's feet were bone dry. Rob's were a little damp (his boots are more 'summery') but were still comfortable, and the boots dried out really quickly in the sun.

Food We have stowed away the Trangia that has been with Rob for a few decades and we moved into the world of light-weight small stoves with an Optimus Polaris Optifuel stove. After a few teething problems we were totally sold on it. Light-weight, very fuel efficient, and easy to use. As for food, in terms of weight and tastiness, the Firepot meals won out over everything else. Delicious (especially the dal, spinach and rice).

Sleep & Shelter We have had out MSR Hubba Hubba for a couple of years now it it still amazes us that it can keep us dry and sheltered from pretty bad weather and yet only tips the kitchen scales at 1.6 kilos. It's cosy but miraculously fits us both in, with our gear, and Guilly even gets enough space to curl up at our feet.

We each recently bought an AlpineDream 800 Hydrophobic sleeping bag to replace older and weighter bags that Rob bought in Nepal a decade ago. Not sure how they will fare in the depths of winter yet but they were plenty warm enough for our (drizzly) week in the summer fells, and incredibly cosy. New mattresses too. Out with the old Thermarests and in with beautiful, comfortable and so light Exped Synmat Ultras. Coupled with the bags we actually felt we had a dose of luxury.

Water We borrowed a Katadyn Pocket Filter from Lyon Equipment to test it out it. Traditionally we have used tablets to purify our drinking water but wanted to see if using the filter was a feasible alternative. It was easy to use and portable, weighs the same as a litre of water, and did its job well. It has a hefty price tag though (although each single filter is enough to filter 20,000 litres before it needs replacing, so it would pay over time).

The final night's camping spot with the next day's destination, Blencathra, in the background


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