Sunday, 3 January 2016

A Walk with Silence

A bright and sunny day, after several days of cleaning, shopping, cooking, eating then recovering. I pull out maps and look at possible trails to follow. Just to step outside into sunshine feels like a liberation. And there are so many wooden signposts I come across that I change my plan and follow a different path. From the Flamingo Bridge (aka Leaderfoot Viaduct, which you can see here) near the Eildon Hills I follow an uphill track. 

This view of red earth and the pointy hill and the long shadows of the trees has an 'elsewhere' feel to it, so it seems to me. It reminds me of somewhere else, and I often find this with landscape, one place resembling in some way or evoking in another way, a different place, perhaps a distant place, encountered in some other time or story. These days I enjoy these linking feelings, connecting different places and experiences, continuing the narrative that we both create and discover, and mixing it with a sense of anticipation. 

Further on, a line of planted beech trees lean into the slope of the hill. 

Near the end of the track I take a narrow downhill path, which I haven't explored before. It has turned into a little river, from the recent rains. 

It ends at a main road, with an underpass, and then becomes the sedate and level path of a former railway.


On another longer walk, after a short bus ride I take a path along a huge and swollen river. It has wandered out into fields, a river that seems to have lost its sense of direction, spreading out to cover the roots of trees, that stand now oddly stranded, surrounded by water, bare branches waving, trees turned into islands, gesturing to other island trees.

The path then comes out onto the main road, and runs alongside it, for a couple of miles. Between the path and the hill, new ponds surround and reflect the trees. 

There's been quite a bit of traffic until I reach a small village, with a shop (closed) and a pub/hotel. I pushed at the door. It was stiff, but it opened. There were no other customers inside. I asked for a coffee, to sit outside, in the sunlight. A fire glowed in the fireplace, surrounded by tiles. I asked for a flat white and received a large mug, topped with deep foam. But I felt lucky to get any kind of coffee at all, and especially lucky to be able to sit at a bench outside in the sunshine.

From there, I took a narrow back road, where only an occasional car passed and the sense of silence was welcome.  The road went uphill. Little rivers seeped out from the grass verges and ran alongside them. When a car passed, I either had to walk through the rivers or go onto the verges. I think about the assumptions that car drivers seem to have, that they have the right to take up space on the road. You do not see a car pulling in to the side of the road because a pedestrian takes up space. If I'm on a bicycle, car drivers can be considerate and slow down. But a pedestrian? Usually cars sweep past without slackening speed.

When the road crests the hill, the rivers vanish. A view out over the next valley and the next series of hills, includes a hillside of windmills. It's when I'm walking downhill that the silence takes on substance, wraps itself around the landscape and me, like a cloak. I walk downhill, astonished at the sensuous and tangible nature of this silence. When a car goes past, the silence is not erased, only thinned out, or it retreats a little, it is still present, and thickens again around me, like foliage which has been parted and once it is let go, it springs back into its original position. I think about the nature of silence, and it is not something I often think about, perhaps because it is so rare an experience and even then, transient and fleeting. Usually. But today I re-encounter the strength of it, its muscularity and – in a sense, its purity. Even though it might contain some distant birdsong or some murmur of flowing water, that is still silence. 

The most  profound silence I ever experienced was in the south of Albania, on a pot-holed road with no cars, with mountains all around and only the occasional sound of goat bells, which carried in the still, clear air. Perhaps silence is not the right word. It is more a vibration of the air that is not distorted by any mechanical sounds, no low humming of electrical pylons or masts, nothing but the quivering of growing things, grass, bushes and trees, the pulsing of the mountains, their stones and bushes, all being warmed by spring sunshine, the sap glimmering in buds, the pushing of leaves and blossoms against branch and twig and bud all of which looks so delicate in its unfolding yet is a force that transforms valleys and hillsides and trees, and gives us the scent of orange blossom, lime, acacia, jasmine. Or at least, in Albania it does.


Dhermis, southern Albania

I was intending to follow this back road to where it joined up with the main one where I could then get a bus home. But before reaching the end, a wooden signpost pointed to a path going in the other direction, which would bring me back more or less to where I started.

So I followed this, with a view over the delta'd river, before it bordered a wood of Scots pines and spruces. It then emerged into a more tailored path. At the side of a metal 5 barred gate, there was a wooden fence with a very narrow gap which I took to be a kind of stile for slim people. But when I tried to climb this, I decided it was more likely to be for dogs to jump over. In the end I climbed over the gate. A little further on, I came to a surfaced path which was clearly very close to the path where I had started. Instead of following the path, I went on through the trees, thinking it would be a short cut. And so it would have been, except that there was a high wall between me and the path. But there was a fence, with a fence post close to the wall. The last obstacle consisted of thorn bushes draped over the fence. Once I'd negotiated these, and stood on the fence post, I cleared the wall and jumped over the other side, back onto the riverside path. And just a mile or so further on, I walked back up the track to the main road, just in time to catch a bus back home.


Forest Dream Weaver said...

Thanks for sharing your walk.
The reflections image is beautiful!

Happy New year!

dritanje said...

Thanks Ruby, these recent walks in sunshine have felt particularly good. And Happy New Year to you too! xx

The Solitary Walker said...

On certain roads without pavements on the Via Francigena I had to be ever vigilant. Vehicles would come towards me at high speed and only swerve out of the way at the last moment. I often nearly ended up in a ditch or pressed flat against a wall. It seemed as if they were trying to scare me, to teach me a lesson that I shouldn't be walking along the road. But sometimes there was no choice as it was the guide book route and there was no alternative. Luckily these sections never lasted very long.

dritanje said...

Italian drivers in particular can be - shall we say - particularly macho! Many years ago in Tirana city centre cars (not many of them) and pedestrians shared the road quite easily, car drivers automatically made way for pedestrians. But only a few years later, road surfaces were improved, traffic moved faster, drivers began to pay attention to traffic lights, and the roads now belonged to them (apart from regulated pedestrian crossings). Drivers feel powerful in cars!