When the Eagles wrote Hotel California I think they had Barbados firmly in mind. You know the bit where the night man explains that,
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave.
Well, that is Bim.
Never assume that traveling a few thousand miles to a hamlet comprising three toothless hags and five straggly sheep, on a lake in northern Cumbria, means you have checked out of island life. On day three of our stay the owner of our delightful, small hotel asked if we lived in Barbados and was The Husband in finance.
‘Why are you asking me this?’ I demanded with more than a little suspicion.
‘Well it’s just that I overheard your boys talking about Barbados. I have a friend from Barbados and I think you know each other.’
Of course it turns out that a Bajan acquaintance comes to the very hamlet every summer to get away from it all.
We managed to respect each others privacy but only just because whenever the rain ceased we were out walking. Our most memorable walk was to the summit of Cat Bells, on the western shore of Derwentwater Lake. It is described in the definitive Wainright’s guide as a walk for ‘grannies and toddlers’. What he must have meant was that granny and toddler mountain goats would find it a stroll. Those of the ‘two legs good’ species had to use both hands and feet to negotiate the craggy outcrops and muddy paths.
But making it to the summit was worth the ache I felt in both knees that night. Cat Bells is only 1479 feet high but yields panoramic views across the lake. There is also this wonderful camaraderie at the top. A couple gave the twins orange squash and tips for an easier descent. Complete strangers, bonded by the shared experience of conquering this little peak, chatted like old friends and wondered aloud about walks they might attempt another day when the sky was as blue and cloudless. Others sat eating their sandwiches staring out at the overwhelming perfection of nature. I lay on the grass high on pure mountain air.
Walking is a way of being still. It is the control of movement at your own pace on your own strength. Indeed, the most centred person I know, a man who exudes calm confidence, lives by turns in the Swiss or French Alps so that walking and climbing can be a routine part of his life. He is up a mountain at every opportunity and in every kind of weather. The attraction he says, apart from the beauty, is the peace that comes from a completely focused mind. And then there is the eerie quiet of being in these vast, empty spaces. Pushing his body to new heights of endurance is also part of the fascination. Since he is the humanist equivalent of a ‘godfather’ to our boys I am hoping some of his character and love of nature rubs off on them.
And on the theme of walking the artist Richard Long has a retrospective on at Tate Britain which you still have time to see if you are on this small rock. Long’s art is based entirely on walks he has made everywhere - from his home in Bristol to places like Mongolia, Peru, the Canadian prairies and Australia. In the gallery space we see formal sculptures of rocks collected, photos taken of small interventions (or even no interventions) into the landscapes of his walks all accompanied by explanatory text. For example there is a picture of rocks barely visible through thick fog and across the bottom of the photo are the words,
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
FOUR DAY WALK ON DARTMOOR 2009
In another work we have a photo of a white line of rocks made in a valley between snowcaped mountains with text that reads,
A LINE IN THE HIMALAYAS
Sometimes the only ‘evidence’ of the walk is text like the piece that states,
WALKING TO A LUNAR ECLIPSE
FROM MIDDAY HIGH TIDE AT AVONMOUTH
A WALK OF 366 MILES IN 8 DAYS
ENDING AT A MIDNIGHT TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE FULL MOON
A LEAP YEAR WALK IN ENGLAND 1996
Walking as sculpture and poetry in motion. If this exhibition does not make you get off your sorry arse and go for a walk nothing ever will.