Friday, December 30, 2016

Being outside

Being outside. Those words have defined my life for good and ill. They reflect my preference for place over people and the resulting separateness. As a child it was a physical longing, more than that, a necessity to be out of doors, away from the cage that family life often formed. The sense of liberation and free choice is intimately connected for me with open space, with air and sky. I have come to see my definition and sense of identity in a connection with landscape. Place before people, expansion before confinement. I don’t function well within physical limits.

Looking back, my life is speckled with moments of profound identification with my environment, and the course of my own career and development has been an irresistible, if wavy, line drawing me along the pathway of freedom and belonging. The journey began in Gloucestershire, found meaning in leaving that manicured terrain far behind, was inspired by the Brecon Beacons, and matured in the south Wales of my parental roots. It floundered in the relentless urbanity of London and revived in the relenting rurality of Somerset. There I began to understand the nature of spiritual pilgrimage and the value of landscape in life. My wayfaring has been equally fired by the Tatra mountains of southern Poland and the misty sweep of Exmoor,before being finally fixed in the granite of Brittany, where the moment of arrival was an awakening.
Here's to being outside in 2017...

Monday, December 12, 2016


Walking is our most natural pace. The moderate speed allows us to gain the greatest appreciation of what we pass. Early man needed to assess signs and sounds of danger and to spy out sources of food and water, all of which required a level of examination of the terrain he passed through that can only be achieved by pacing or striding. Jogging and running, cycling and horseback riding separate us from the detail of landscape by speed or height. By those methods we notice less: screeds of bluebells but not the first violets; a beautiful old stone wall but not the little heads of stoats peeping out of the cracks; a fish jumping from the river but not the tracks of otters on the bank. The detail needs time and deliberate searching by eye, and it’s the detail that raises the level of experience and a sense of connection with the other inhabitants of the earth as well as nature’s manifests.
The same is true of walking in an urban environment. We need our senses to be alert but also our movement to be slow enough to separate a blur of buildings or a flash of green space. Driving through a town in a car or riding a bike requires attention to be focused on the travel itself for safety. Stopping and starting may provide moments of observation but these are hardly leisured and the flow of traffic usually dictates the pace of passage. It’s possible to admire a street of medieval half-timbered houses, to get a sense of historic atmosphere through glimpses of architecture, but you have to walk to access the minutiae of decorative art. You also have to walk to appreciate fully the development of settlement patterns, the relationship between older and newer elements, the changing demands of society in an urban environment.
The complexity of landscape we have created can only be appreciated through the simplest of movements.