What an enormously frustratingly long day! There were so many wonderful things in the day that were in the end overshadowed by walking ankle deep in mud for most of it! The clearest message for me was the disempowerment I felt by being unable to roam at will, by being forced to either walk along a designated pathway hemmed in by hedge, or barbed wire, and contribute to the total destruction of the path by it having so much traffic, or having to walk along a road where footpaths are not included.
Both ways only served to highlight how narrow sighted our culture is – designed to serve individuals en- masse, rather than the rather elegant Whole working with our environment that we truly are. So if we are not driving along in our protective metal boxes we are at their mercy, vulnerable flesh against unfeeling metal, and if we choose to walk the designated pathways instead, they become trampled to quagmires by so many people in heavy boots. Not a single living thing could possibly survive that onslaught of heavy soled footwear that churned up the earth.
I am sure by now you are aware of my state of mind having walked the so called wonderful SW coastal path for a day. Not pleasurable in the slightest, just a reminder that we are being herded. I walked most of it in bare feet the earth having turned into mud and ankle deep puddles. The rain , I hear you say, caused this. Well….no, not exactly, when I got to a permissable footpath (who ever coined that phrase, I wonder?) across farmland after I had gone inland to the road for a reprieve from the mud the path there was exposed earth too ….but no mud….easy to walk along, no one else had walked that way that day. I noticed that my flip flop protected feet left no mark in the ground behind me.
My feet are very tired today, and had I been able to choose to walk across the land wherever I pleased they would not have been, and my barefooted feet would have caused no damage. I mused, as I walked, on the way our ancestors must have roamed, how free they must have felt, and how constrained we are today in that even when we choose to walk for leisure as many folk did yesterday, for the Good Friday holiday, we must stick to the path, following one another, single file, like so many lambs to the slaughter.
The highlight of the walk for me was coming away from the coastal path because the river estuary Ottery (did you know that otter was the Saxon word for water?), got in the way! What a delightful walk that was! Following the river up stream, it was still muddy in some places due to holiday walkers, but I was fascinated by the history laid out before me. There are several informational plaques along the way and places to stop and admire the abundant birdlife. The path, in parts at least, was built by Napoleonic prisoners of war to create water meadow on either side of it, reclaiming some of the land from the estuary, so not an ancient walkway, but one illustrating the need to grow more food as the population grew.
One plaque told of the impact of climate on the landscape. In the 15th century the estuary was navigable by ships. Then came a storm in the 16th century which silted up the river, preventing ships from ever navigating it again. It had been a major trading route taking wool, salt and fish out to Spain & the Mediterranean, making wealth for Medieval England. How quickly fortune turns.
Further up the river, the gorgeous village of Otterton, and a working mill, in almost ceaseless operation for 1000 years. They make the best hot cross buns I have tasted since my childhood in Lancashire and their bread and cakes are made from the flour they grind themselves using the old millstones and machinery, powered by water. It felt like such a treasure, such a testament to the ingenuity of our species after a morning on a rat run.
It was with great reluctance that I left and headed back towards the coast. But what of the views, I hear you ask, aren’t they just spectacular, making it all worth while? To be honest , when you are ankle deep in mud it ‘s one foot in front of the other that you see. Mindful walking I call it when I am out in my flipflops, toeful tentativeness was the phrase Jane Habermehl, my TT Exmouth host coined!
We had a lovely chat as we picked our way through the mud. Met a couple of women who said they had a friend who would only walk in flip flops too (may the number multiply!).Learnt all manner of things about one another we never would have had time for if we hadn’t had the luxury of a morning ‘s walking together. I loved hearing the story of her name “have grain” and it felt fitting that she told me of the mill that I determinedly went off route to see after she had turned back for Exmouth. Talked of children, and education, and health and safety constraints. I look forward to developing some training for teachers together with Jane on my return.
Landed finally in Sidmouth around 7,30. Calculating arrival times was not something I had done for this walk and proabably just as well! Was met by Kerry of TT Sidmouth, and a bit further on by Julie, and I’ll save the riches of my time with them for the next blog…