Walking, stories and landscape

I experience the landscape around me in a way that is full of story. At this point, these stories are a mix of local folklore, history, personal experience and fiction.

If I walk from my home to the top of Selsley Hill, I go through a tunnel where I once had a rather magical encounter with a fox. I pass a corner where there was a slowworm one time. I walk past a community garden where I used to be involved. There is a pub, which has a few personal stories associated with it. Then I walk past the field where the were-aurochs first transformed in my Wherefore stories. I will tend to remember the first time going up over the grassy part of the hill and saying there was a chance we’d find orchids and then being blown away by how many orchids there were. There is a path where the bee orchids grow, and I remember who I’ve taken to see them in previous years. There is a signpost that gave me a strange experience once in the mist. Finally, there is the barrow, and all that I’ve done there. And all the other points in the landscape visible from the hilltop and all the stories that connect to those.

Each re-visit adds layers to the story of my relationship with this landscape. Over time, some of the personal experiences turn out to be more enduring than others. The fictional stories build alongside this.

Part of the reason my relationship with the land is like this, is that I walk. At walking speed, there is time for memories of a place to come to the surface. There is time to share a story or a bit of folklore. At walking speed, the landscape becomes much bigger because we have more time in it, and that allows room in all kinds of ways.

The car is a rather new thing in terms of human history. Our ancestors walked, for the greater part. There were no road signs. Finding your way through a landscape may well have been a matter of having a narrative map in your head. We know that some early mapping – like establishing the boundaries of a parish, was a narrative that you walked in order to reinforce it. If you can tell a walk as a story, you can teach it to someone who has never been there. Stories make a journey more entertaining and can help you keep going in rough conditions – I’ve certainly used them in that way. Stories help us place ourselves in the landscape – as individuals, as communities, as people with a tradition of being in the landscape.

I don’t have that unbroken lineage that traditional peoples have living in deeply storied landscapes. But, my people have been here a long time, and I have a feeling of rootedness. Most of what I have, I’ve put together for myself, from the local oral tradition, from folklore books, from history, and shared experience. This kind of relationship with a landscape is available to anyone, anywhere – sometimes you have to mostly work with your own material, but that’s fine. Every tradition starts somewhere.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Walking, stories and landscape

  • bish

    Yes, absolutely, and the mapping thing from walk to locality to distance was a story more fully understood when i visited the Michelin museum in Clemont Ferrand. As someone who travels slowly on delightful walks and also ‘makes good progress’ on two wheels I would add a facet to the story that you don’t get as strongly on foot. Smells. Riding at speed through the countryside with an open face helmet, one encounters blast after blast after amazing blast of smells, each with its own story of origination, generation and spread. Hops, rape, blackberries, horses, (industry) and all the rest. On foot the smells merge and can be overlooked; on a bike they smack you full in the nose! As such, particular roads have stories, based around the activities on either side of them. Not in cars of course, or trains, or buses… just a tangential waffle.

  • Sheila Murrey

    I love this! Yes! “Our ancestors walked, for the greater part.” And this is why I love walking in moccasins. It reconnects me with my ancestors. ❤️🦋🌀🙏

  • Christopher Blackwell

    My cat had been outside, but came in just before I got ready to open the shop. As I went outside, I understood why. We had a small herd of cattle,about five I believe, including a couple of young bulls. I went in the opposite direction to open up the north gate, giving them time to make their way through my land. My little pie pans of water would have to put back in proper position. Cow tongues move them around. I had to put out another four gallons of water for the rest of the critters that I share my land and then put out the18 pounds of seed for them as well.

  • lornasmithers

    I experience this too and I think this is why I’ve barely moved from the place I lived since I was 4 years old although my relationship with the land has deepened much more since I started to honour it consciously and learn its lore.

    Like Bish I also like travelling the landscape at various speeds – dawdling, walking, jogging, running, cycling, and each lends itself to a slightly different experience. With cycling the wind in your face with running racing the river and with the adrenaline buzz gifting its blessings back to the land beneath my feet.

  • earthseastar

    Walks being shared as stories is still a living in some parts of Australia. Most people know them as ‘songlines,’ a narrative about an ancestor spirit who travelled across country and usually became either a feature of the landscape, or flew up to become a star. Songlines have all different mediums, like design, dance, song, and story. Retelling keeps the way. I’m about to retrace a forgotten one myself as a reconciliation walk. An old colonial track that would have been made along an Aboriginal songline thousands and thousands of years old. Disturbed by English colonists, the local culture has been fragmented and the track neglected. Hopefully walking it will revive stories and songs of place!

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