The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His withered cheek and tresses gray
Seemed to have known a better day;
The Harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.
(From The Lay of the The Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott 1805)
I wander through a hushed mid-winter woodland. The snow is falling hard. A single crisp white sheet spread out over the scene. Myriad flakes blur the edges of my vision. I am captured in the snowfall, wrapped in the magical deep-time of the forest. I am lost amongst the aged oaks, snowbound amid a dormant wild-wood.
The magnificent silence is broken only by my breathing and the scritch from fresh snow compressed under my boot. Unseen and away in the forest came occasional muted thuds of snow upon snow when over-ladened boughs surrender to the increasing weight of their blanket.
As I tramp, trapped in my own thoughts and memory I think. All outdoors journey gentlemen and gentlewomen do. We dream, we imagine, we plot and we plan. I will laugh and titter and be uplifted by the day, or be tearful and overcome with some melancholia. My moodiness never lasts amongst the glories of the out-doors lifestyle.
At these times I ask myself the question, why do I wander? I will give it a try to explain.
You should repeat this exercise for yourself and see where you are.
Find a quiet place to be immersed into the landscape. As far away from the hustle-bustle as you can manage. Close your eyes, begin to absorb the sounds around. Listen hard. Perhaps you hear the rough and tumble of flooded hillside streamlets or the mighty splash and clatter as a mountain torrent makes its impression upon the landscape. Hear the winds. Sweet-tempered and blowy amongst the rocks and tops or better, as a roaring gale through the high forest canopy. Now slowly sink, like snowflakes, or autumn leaves floating to the forest floor, back into the memory of the forest. Down and down, into the deep-time, then ask yourself the question, why do I wander?
Let me take you to that place and recount what others I admire have said there. It will perhaps give you a start.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet and philosopher expressed it well. He said that he walked the hills to ‘escape from an ordinary routine’ and for ‘the health giving exercise a good tramp brought’. It allowed him to ‘explore and stimulate his innermost spirit’. These expressions I confess, are close to my heart.
William Hazlitt, who I much admire for his 19th century writings and essays, declared that ‘the idea of walking to find solitude also had a dimension of therapy’. He said that ‘to leave the rush and tear of the streets and to find perfect silence away from all humanity atop a vast hill miles even from the nearest village seems soothing, refreshing and natural’.
Another personal hero of mine, Canon Arthur Neville Cooper, the Vicar of Filey, North Yorkshire from 1880 to 1935, widely known as a prolific tramper and long distance walker described the exercise he derives simply as ‘a joy’. ‘The open air’, he said ‘was his elixir of life’ and that he was fully persuaded that his good health was largely due to his long walks. I can only agree.
So ask yourselves this question. Why do I wander? I am sure discovering your answer will be of advantage.
Ockle Head Mountain Inn