I am on a comparatively walk free day, with just a handful of miles to the historic village of Dufton and the youth hostel to do later, enjoying the sunshine in Appleby town centre, listening to Paul Weller’s “Wild Wood” in a cafe, and remembering a very dear travelling friend.
This is a beautiful, friendly town, one I could easily imagine living in, and I’m curious about the phenomena of the annual horse fair (which takes place in early June) when the small town feels itself beseiged by travellers, and how difficult that is for the inhabitants and I reflect again on how we polarize one another; in this case the calm staid settlers and the dynamic roving travellers. Such different ways of life, and yet I see the delight in both; and the challenge. The drunken freedom -in- the- moment lack of awareness of the settlers’ peaceful idyll, and the stuck patterns and unchanging assumptions of those for whom life goes on pretty much the same for generations; both have much to learn from one another if they could only find a point of contact.
There is freedom on the road, security in the town; we all need both for a healthy balance. Perhaps if we had that balance; travellers welcome to rest in settlements whenever they needed it, settlers feeling free to specify basic acceptable conduct in their town and have it respected, then we would all be able to settle and travel at will, when our personal journey led us to explore one or other way of life.
My sense is that this is how it has always been; this tension between those who are content with their hometown or have already found their home, and those who wander still, looking for the sense of place which would bring them to a home. It strikes me the tension might be aggravated by those many who are settled but have not really considered deeply if this is the place where they could realise their potential, but simply follow tradition blindly, and also that there are those that wander not through choice but who have been displaced from their homes through personal or social unrest, either current or through their ancestry.
It is an edge that has creative potential for a very bright future if both were eager for increased self awareness; why have my ancestors remained here for generations, why were my ancestors displaced; why do I stay here, why have I been displaced. What are my choices, what would I do with “my one wild and precious life”* if I knew, understood, and honoured my roots, but did not feel constrained by them. What contribution would I make to our society if I could see this bigger picture?
I pass the day pleasantly enough, but spending more than I ever have on internet use; my host last night had no internet access and I cannot guarantee that a youth hostel on the edge of the moors will have it either. For 2 hours online I end up spending £7.00. I suppose the inhabitants here need to make sure that visitors leave a substantial contribution to the local economy. I am surprised at having to pay for my hour in the library though; even the librarian doesn’t understand why Cumbria county council charge for this service. To add insult to injury the connection is so slow it does not support google so I am unable to respond to my e mails.
I upload my blog which I have spent a leisurely lunchtime in the cafe writing until it closes forcing me to the library where they are not allowed to let me plug my laptop in and I have to pay to use their computer and then cannot re- read my work to edit it as my time runs out.
I am glad my rest and write up days have not been so challenging in other places. I do not feel irritated for long; my surroundings are so agreeable and the sun is warm as I go back outside.
I set off to walk to Dufton (Dove town as the tourist leaflets inform me), nestling between the Eden valley and the moors. I pass Gallows Hill where the horse fair takes place; it is hard to imagine it full of caravans and Romanies. I made the conscious decision not to be here for horse fair week as I find it totally overwhelming to be in company that is drunk, and I have been warned that they drink a lot at this fair, yet a part of me is sorry I did not get the opportunity to meet this fascinating tribe. I remember the Romanies who came to the Transition Exeter media training I attended earlier in the year and how desperate they were to have their people understood and accepted. I wonder how much the drinking and related issues are related to constantly having to face hostility for generations. It cannot be an easy life to have to justify your way of being to others simply because it is different from theirs.
On the road out of Appleby I am passed by quite a lot of traffic that feels fast compared to the empty roads of yesterday yet after a couple of miles it disappears and I wonder where it has gone to and where it came from; the road has narrowed to a lane that looks like cars rarely use it. It is not the only mystery of the area; all the signposts in Appleby say that Dufton is 8 miles away. It isn’t, it’s 3 and a half, I know that from my map, and the fact that I walk it in an hour and twenty minutes; the hostel owners are puzzled too, locals have told them there used to be an older road but there are no signs of it and the present road looks old enough.
As I near the village I see we are close to the volcanic conical hill I have seen on the horizon practically since leaving Morland. It is strange to realise I am seeing the landscape in a very different way from before setting out on this journey; I am no longer seeing rivers as unique special things in their own right but rather as transient features on the earth’s surface, and am much more aware of their origin, and I see the hills as the remnants of the Ice Age as it melted and left its debris behind. It is a strange feeling, as if I am seeing everything on the planet as a temporary resident, aware of the transitory nature of all things. My fondness for settlements that have been in existence for a long time increases in my desire to feel rooted in this landscape.
I think back to the Bojangles, the cafe where I wrote my blog earlier, and the warm sense of community there. It is a modern cafe, almost incongruous in the traditionality of the town, yet it seems that it is here that everyone goes to find out about everyone else’s business; I hear about the new baby girl that was born at 5.30 this morning and how they all knew it would be a girl even though the new mum had thought it would be a boy, and I hear two friends putting the world to rights, and trying in vain to make sense of the antisocial behaviour of a mutual acquaintance. I hear an older woman talk to a whole variety of friends and neighbours, men, women and children, she doesn’t do holidays I hear, but she does know the intimate details of every person she talks to. Others talk to the friendly young serving girls about their experiences on recent holidays to foreign parts. This is such a hub of community life I cannot help but think what a marvellous place it would be to talk about transition issues; this group is so close knit they would have no trouble in pulling together in a crisis.
I arrive in Dufton and see the village children playing together on the green, practising their cartwheels down a slope. A dog out for a walk with his owner comes over and licks my bare leg, and a middle aged man getting into his car with his wife calls out a cheery hello, and I see that in the Eden Valley I am in the heart of real community. Post Oil England will not change quality of life so drastically for these folk; they have not lost the things that really matter, and if things get tough they will support one another just as they always have from the times when the wild Scottish raiders regularly came and burnt down their homes.
I arrive at the youth hostel and find myself amongst real walkers; who have done proper walks in the moors today; children and adults alike. I remember how very different a walk mine is; so much more about people and place than about facing challenge in nature. It is strange to meet this other sort of walker. I reflect on how different a life I am living this summer, and how much I am appreciating the opportunity to form ideas and to write about them. A writer, I think, and this feels good.
From “Wild Geese” a poem by Mary Oliver