Experiencing landscape is a full on sensory activity, engaging everything you’ve got that you can work with. For me, it’s all about walking, but anything that allows you to be present and slow enough to see things should also work. Sitting, cycling, other kinds of wheels. I think car driving is too fast, and too insulated, as are trains.
The physical shape of the land impacts on you as you try and move through it. There’s a huge visual impact to landscape, which for me is important in terms of shifting and widening my perspective. However, the sounds, smells and feels of a place are also intense and significant. On the hills, the wind buffets. Down in the valley, in a sheltered lane with the rain falling yesterday, I could not hear any traffic noise at all. In these encounters, the world comes alive to us, and we to it.
I am convinced that something happens biologically when I walk for hours. I think the rhythm of walking affects how my mind works, and tends to sooth and stabilise me. I know walking has good effects on things like cartilage repair, and no doubt there are endorphins from the exercise. Beyond that, a really long walk leaves me with a feeling of peace, and cleanliness, as though something has been washed out of my body. I’ve poked around in some online science, there are some studies suggesting walking affects biochemistry, but that’s about as far as I’ve got. It’s like a reset button for my mind; if I do it for long enough, out of kilter things click back into place. If I do it through beautiful landscapes, my soul is soothed, and I am inspired, and uplifted. It’s reliable, so long as I am well enough to walk.
There is always more going on than I can pay attention to. The sky and the distance views, birdsong, skittering undergrowth, fossils and quartz in the soil… the more alert I am to one thing, the more risk I’ll miss something else. This is one reason for not walking alone – with alert and likeminded walkers, you see more, because they see differently. I like that sharing process, too. Finding out what inspires someone else, what they notice and want to direct me to. I tend to have a much richer experience walking with people who are also keen.
Then there’s what comes of moving through the land. Recollections and stories sparked by locations and things witnessed. Speculation – reasonable and fantastical as the fancy takes. The sharing of knowledge and insight (what kind of bird was it, what sort of toadstool, is that berry edible…). If you keep walking the same landscape in different ways, you see familiar things from different angles, which is enlightening, you find new paths to walk… remember when we came here last time and went left? Let’s go right today… and so the walking of the land makes a story that connects to other stories you’ve walked, and to stories you tell, and knowledge stories and mad speculative what would happen if there was a bear stories.
I’m inspired in this by Robert McFarlane’s awesome book ‘The Old Ways’ and by the epic team effort that is ‘Story Telling for a Greener World’. To me it seems intensely Druidic, this weaving together of place, knowledge, inspiration and through that making new things, in community.