I’m posting this in the event that you may have advice for me — or that you may wish to join me for part of this coming month of May in the south of England.
I’m a retired Canadian outdoor educator (which in Brit-speak means that I’m considered more as a field-studies type). I spent a wonderful year with my young family, teaching at Yenworthy Centre up on Exmoor back in 1993–94, and quite fell in love with rural Britain. I’m coming over to England to dance at the Rochester Sweeps next May Day, and will be staying on by myself until nearly the end of May to wander some parts of southern England.
I’ve been totally bewitched for the last year by the thought of four weeks in Southern England. I’ve been reading English history up to the Renaissance and beyond, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, books on English walks, English landscape interpretation, Gilbert White, Charles Darwin, and so many other strands. The one dead-tree book I’ll be carrying is my beloved English flower guide. As a naturalist, my favourite position is the ‘Botanist’s Number-7’, bent over at the waist with my eye pressed up to my magnifier.
I’ve been a wilderness paddler and guide for over 50 years, and have recently transitioned to backpacking. My only serious hike has been along the Bruce Trail which runs almost through my backyard, going 900 km over 45 days from Niagara Falls northwards along the Niagara Escarpment to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula that sticks northward into Lake Huron. (The latest entry of my trail blog is https://brucetraillium.blog/2019/10/16/out-and-home/) When hiking in Ontario, I use a hammock (including bug net, tarp, top quilt, and underquilt), though I’ll be coming prepared to ‘go to ground’ by pitching my abode directly on English soil. I’ll be carrying this home on my back for the month of May.
My present thoughts are along the lines of three ‘pilgrimages’.
The first would be a week or so hiking / backpacking / tramping along part of the Old Way pilgrimage, going south and west from the tomb of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury perhaps as far as Hastings and Battle. I’m thinking of this not so much as a religious walk, but instead as a contemplative ramble, immersing myself in the living English landscape. How far I get is determined by … how much I wander off the beaten path … I am capable of well over 20 km a day, though it’s hard to see how or why I’d go that pace day after day. My usual hiking style is early to rise, and in camp before sunset, with lots of stops along the way.
The Power of Movement … (in thinking)
I’m treating the second portion of my hiking as an ecological pilgrimage. I’m aiming to spend a couple of days in Gilbert White’s parish, exploring the area he came to love so well as he wrote his foundational work of ecology, The Natural History of Selborne. Along the way, I’d like to spend a couple of days at Knepp Castle, that fine example of process-based re-wilding. (Are you aware of our local example here in Ontario, the www.haliburtonforest.com, a more directed but also stunning example of a whole ecosystems approach?) I’ll then end up with a couple of days at Charles Darwin’s Down House, to worship on his Sandwalk. (Regrettably, this second pilgrimage will likely be more transit-based than riding ‘shank’s mare’.)
“a person from Porlock”
My ending pilgrimage takes me back to Exmoor, where I lived and taught for that glorious year on Exmoor. I’m planning a week backpacking along the South West Coast Path, beginning at Minehead, with my first night in Porlock where we lived. I want to camp amongst the ancient coppiced oak stools of Embelle and Culbone Woods near Yenworthy — and not be interrupted by “a person on business from Porlock”! I’m booking the ferry out to Lundy Island, having only looked at it from Baggy Point. I may get as far as Braunton before my English time comes to a close.
My England experiences will end by a visit with a special niece living in west London, before taking a plane back here to Orangeville, northwest of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and reuniting with my wife.
Thoughts? Comments? Advice? Please!