Tag Archives: walking

Walking with Awareness in Wales

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Borrowing my daughter’s tent (meaning I won’t have to sleep in the car for 3 nights – still not sure which is preferable), I set off for a ‘Walking with Awareness‘ weekend in Manorbier, on the South Pembrokeshire coast.  Driving into Wales on the M4 over the Severn Bridge brings back long-lost memories and I’m enjoying the SatNav’s attempt to splutter out the Welsh place names.

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we could do with this sort of clear signage in Cornwall!

She successfully navigates me to the closed gates of an MOD compound at Old Castle Head before she abandons me to venture further down the lane to the Manorbier Youth Hostel, a strange bunkerish shape in the landscape which began life as part of the nearby MOD unit.

deep gully leading to the sea

deep gully leading to the sea

The workshop is run by Fiona Wright and Simone Kenyon, both independent artists with shared backgrounds in performance and visual arts and both currently training as practitioners in the Feldenkrais Method.  If you are wondering what the Feldenkrais Method is, here is a 10 minute video to explain a little of the mysteries of Awareness Through Movement that Feldenkrais advocates.

Of course, Fiona and Simone guide us through their own version of ‘body awareness’ based on their individual experience of somatic practices.  In the community room I dub the Happy Birthday room on account of the frieze left over from a child’s party, our facilitators take us through a variety of ‘experiments’ to get us in touch with our physicality, either in a horizontal position lying flat on the floor, or through vertical body movement on two feet such as: finding where our bodies (bones) make contact points with the ground surface (something I can practice in my sleeping bag); alternating between an exaggerated ‘cat walk’ walk and same-shoulder-same-foot walking (difficult, you try it); making moving star shapes as a graceful way of bringing our bodies from a lying position up to a sitting posture (would like to have had an aerial view of this one) and working with the body as a ‘bag o’ bones‘.

our dawn walk in silence - breathtaking.

our dawn walk in silence – breathtaking.

This last experiment with bones particularly resonates with me.  Apart from the fact that I have always referred to my whippets as a ‘bag o’ bones’ (and they will be wondering why I am feeling their bodies in a new way), the bag o’ bones experiment is the one I feel least prepared for because it is an experiment that involves working with other group members using the whole body, the idea being to bring a ‘dead-weight’ person from lying to standing with just two people using their whole bodies as levers to push and pull to bring about this complicated manoeuvre.  To most of the crew this comes quite naturally because they are all performers, but to a mere visual artist, it is the one where I am left feeling lost and inadequate.  Thus it becomes my own light-bulb moment, and turns my thinking completely upside down.  I begin to appreciate that (as an artist) rather than viewing my hands (painting, making, healing), feet (walking), and eyes (observing, analysing) as being merely extensions of my body, my body is – in essence – an extension of my limbs, and my senses.  It is the very centre of my being, a resonating chamber that nurtures all the essential ingredients for the functioning of that being.  This is the ‘awareness’ I have travelled 300 miles to Wales to understand.  A sobering moment of reflection between the internal and external influences on our bodies, and the realization that – up to this point – I have only been using a small proportion of the potential awareness of my body in my practice.  I am beginning to understand the true meaning of embodied.

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love these flowing grasses and the wind-blown tree in the background reminds me of the one I used for my blog picture

And more than ever, I am aware that moving with attention (walking) through nature is a means of finding metaphors for living.  It is part of my practice to look for signs and signals in the landscape and this one below makes me smile……is it implying that the walking is always uphill?

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We spend time on the beaches, some of us choosing to swim or just paddle in the shallows.  This is a rocky coastline and beach pebbles here are slashed by quartz veins.   I resist the temptation to fill my pockets, choosing to photograph them instead.

quartz veins - here a wonderfully clear horizontal line in the cliff face

quartz veins – here a wonderfully clear horizontal line in the cliff face

You can see more pictures of Manorbier and this extraordinary vertical rock strata here or  more geological information about the Old Red Sandstone of SW Wales here.

vertical sandstone strata

vertical sandstone strata

These two pictures above reflect the vertical and horizontal body positions we have been working with.

The only pebble I do pick up and carry away with me is this strange pock-marked one I found on Manobier beach where we sat and had an impromptu picnic.

Do I detect a gentle heart shape?

do I detect a gentle heart shape?

Maybe a fragment that has been broken off from this strange anomaly on the beach at Church Doors, below the YH, (different from the more usual vertical sandstones) and in the same way a reminder that we too are also part of the larger mass of humanity and not the only pebble on the beach.

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Only later do I realise why I have picked up this pebble, over and above all the possible ones I could have chosen to keep.  It resembles bone tissue, connecting deeply with what we have been doing in the Happy Birthday room.   It also gives me a visible connection to the bed-rock of the local landscape – as the bones of the earth – to the bones of my own body (and a slightly decaying one at that).  I will take it home, treasure it and meditate on it to remind me of the lessons I have learned here and grateful for this poetic endorsement of my learning.

a rather crude reminder of the amount of steps on the steep climb on the 'dawn' walk

a rather crude reminder of the amount of steps cut into the hillside on the ‘dawn’ walk

And what about the walking?  Although walking cliff paths is familiar to me, lets face it, the landscape here is the real star of the show.  We explore the notion of ‘edges’, and plenty abound: sea to land to sky to air to body and how pressures on our lungs, bones, mental processes might help to keep us safe;

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group walking in silence as a collective experience of going on a journey together.  Fiona has nick-named us the Meerkat Group on account of our habit of stopping at viewing points to scan the horizon.

The 'meerkat' group looking out towards Caldey Island (just out of view on the right), home to a community of Cistercian monks.

The ‘meerkat’ group looking out towards Caldey Island (just out of view on the right), home to a community of Cistercian monks.

From the beginning, it soon becomes clear that as a group we have gelled, and I feel surprisingly emotional when the time comes for us to say our goodbyes.   Thinking about it, we have not done very much at all, yet it feels like we have been here for a week.  These past 3 days have been packed with exploration, laughter, shared experiences and plenty of space for contemplation and reflection.  More like a retreat than I had expected.   Shrinkle Haven is indeed just that.

the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path symbol

the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park symbol.   Puffin or penguin?  According to metaphysics, the symbolic meaning of puffin is ‘abundance through prayer (meditation) and humour’.  For Penguin, lucid dreaming, astral projection.  I’ll take either.

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

Side-Tracked

Have you ever stopped to think how many of our most used ‘sayings’ come from the activity of walking?  Phrases such as: off the beaten track; wrong-footed; beat a path; leave a footprint; on the right track, etc,.  How many more can you think of?

Track 4 (playfulness in the dunes)

Track 4 (playfulness in the dunes)

I wonder if this is the same in all languages?  After all, walking is a fundamental part of being human, as is eating and sleeping etc,.  We even celebrate being able to do it for the first time as a right of passage from crawling baby to upright toddler.  (So that’s what our ‘pins’ are for.)

But let’s not get side-tracked!  That’s the point.  As we all know, sometimes when on a mission, it is very easy to get side-tracked often ending up down a blind alley and wasting a lot of time in the process.  When I am out walking, I become increasingly aware of the little paths that suddenly shoot off the main track.  These unsolicited paths immediately pique my interest.  Why are they there?  If time permits, my inclination is to follow the side-track to discover the reason for it.  A bit like trying to discover what lies at the end of the rainbow.  The thinking is that there must be a jolly good reason for it to exist because so many people have ventured ‘off-piste’ that a new path has been forged in the process.

some have been worn to the bone

some have been worn to the bone

Maybe a search for the perfect viewpoint; a track into a secret coven; a lover’s dell, a detour to avoid a boggy patch or a ‘comfort break’ bush!   Maybe it is an animal track or simply a short cut to crop the corner off an approved path.  I love this sort of anarchy.  Although in extreme circumstances such as a war zone, I wouldn’t recommend taking this line of action for fear of stepping on a land mine or coming into someone’s line of fire.  War besides, it just proves that many of us are always willing to make our own diversions (because to us, it is the most obvious route) even when there is a clear sign saying ‘keep off the grass’.  There I go again…..another ‘path’ metaphor!

many undesignated and precarious tracks lead off this one to secret coves and beaches below.

many undesignated and precarious tracks lead off this one to secret coves and beaches along this stretch of the north Cornish coast.

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Filed under Nature / Nurture Project, Paths of Enlightenment, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape: A Circular Walk from Kestle Barton via Frenchman’s Creek

This week, I decided to take up WordPress’ weekly ‘photo challenge’ with the special subject, ‘escape‘ – and see if anyone notices!  My escape is walking: it costs nothing (except travel costs, perhaps), the exercise is great for clearing the cobwebs, its ideal space for ‘dreaming’, and the dogs are especially grateful.  An ocular feast for mind, body and soul, in the company of special canine friends who are soon lost in their search for squirrels / rabbits, and don’t need to be engaged in conversation!  What better escape from the normal demands of everyday life can there be?

A Circular Walk from Kestle Barton

Of course it’s not just one photo but a sequence of photos that follow the linear route of my walk.  I decided not to doctor them to make them look pretty but to keep them in tact as a ‘working’ document.  The most challenging thing about this particular ‘challenge’ was picking just 20 or so photos from the 136 that I took!

The Helford River taken from OS Explorer 8

The Helford River taken from OS Explorer 8

In the 13 years since I have lived in Cornwall I have never visited the village of Helford on the Lizard Peninsula.  I wanted to see Jessica Cooper‘s paintings that are currently showing at Kestle Barton and in the process discovered there was a 2 mile circular walk from Kestle that takes in a couple of coves along the Helford River.

IMG_9439Taking my very battered Lizard OS and the map that Ryya kindly gave me from the gallery at Kestle Barton, going clockwise, I began my descent into Frenchman’s Creek. Pretty soon we are into the woods that run down the valley.

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The smell of wild garlic is pervasive after a sudden hail storm.

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One of the National Trust signs. Not too sure what the ‘permissive’ means?

on the footpath now

on the footpath ‘proper’ now

a first exit into the creek itself.  It all feels very secretive and obviously a perfect setting for smugglers to ply their trade.

a first exit into the creek itself. It all feels very secretive and obviously a perfect setting for smugglers to ply their trade.

catching tantalising glimpses of the creek along the path.

catching tantalizing glimpses of the creek along the path.

Now this is getting interesting for me.  The path is so worn the roots of the trees are showing.

now this is getting interesting for me. The path is so worn the roots of the trees are showing.

The sun has just come out and the creek is sparkling.

the sun has just come out and the creek is sparkling.

but my focus has gone back to the roots

but my focus has gone back to the roots

and the steps they have created

and the steps they have created

in contrast to the man-made version - less hazardous, granted - but not as interesting

in contrast to the man-made version – less hazardous, granted – but not as interesting

coming out of the woods and away from the creek

coming out of the woods now and leaving the creek behind us

looking back the river looks small and the sky suddenly seems looming

looking back, the river estuary appears small and far away but the sky suddenly seems looming – must press on

reassuring to know we are on the right path

reassuring to know we are on the right track

coming into Penarvon Cove

coming into Penarvon Cove

well, this place is a well kept secret!

well, this place is a well-kept secret!  A place that time forgot

rejoin the path at the top of the beach where the upturned boats are stored

rejoining the path at the top of the beach where the upturned boats are stored

this would have been a little 'pop over' if i was on a horse.  Tempted to hula but manage to crouch underneath

this fallen branch would have been a little ‘pop over’ if I was on a horse. Tempted to hula but manage to crouch underneath

a sneaky peek through the window of the Shipright's Arms in Helston village reveals the creek beyond

taking a sneaky peek through the window of the Shipwright’s Arms in Helford village reveals the creek beyond

this place is so chocolate box I am spoilt for choice so home in on the thatch that abounds

this place is so ‘chocolate box’ I am spoilt for choice so home in on the thatch that abounds

I need to cross this bridge turn right and I'm back in the woods

I need to cross this bridge, turn right and I’m back in the woods

another right turn in the path and I will have completed the circuit

another right turn in the path and I will have completed the circuit

but not before I have stopped to enjoy the reflections in the stream

but not before pausing to enjoy the reflections in the stream

and the bluebells!

and the bluebells!

Writing this up, I suddenly realise I didn’t pass a single person on my walk.  Not even a smuggler going about his business.  I decide to add this walk to my list of favourites.

To see more responses to this week’s photo challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/photo-challenge-escape/

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Pan the Horizon

the watercolour palette inherited from my father

my old friend

Sometimes, in order to move forward, you need to take a look backwards.  So, as I am preparing to take my next leap forward, I have been feeling the urge to touch base and revisit my ‘landscape’ roots for a while.  Having just sold a few paintings, my materials fund is looking quite healthy just now.   With this in mind and in anticipation of some sketch action, I have got my watercolour palettes out of the drawer for a bit of an overhaul.  I’ve cleaned out the hard-baked or empty pans and made a note of what colours I need to replace.

Next, I venture forth for inspiration.  For me, there are three main ways of experiencing my environment – three quite separate ways of travelling through the landscape that I often do together or in isolation to one another depending on what is appropriate at the time.  Experiencing it physically / taking photos of it / making rapid drawings for studio work or more fully formed representations in front of the subject.  Firstly, I have to spend time in nature to make any sense of it at all.

BEING and SEEING

By walking through it – which I do a lot – I am also experiencing the landscape physically, and just looking.  I mean really looking, with intensity.  I know it sounds obvious but you have to be there to experience it, and it takes a lot of looking to be able to see!   It also gets everything going….legs pumping, vital oxygen flowing through your veins as well as those ‘happy’ neurons firing in the brain as this is the best ever mode for thinking.  I have a special ‘thinking’ hat and walking is a fantastic drugs-free remedy for anyone who has any sort of dilemma in their life that needs sorting out.   But I am also feeling my physicality in the space….feeling the wind tug my lapels as I squelch across boggy moors, or smell the damp, salty air as it whips my hair into strands about my face, or feel my ribs ache as my lungs gasp for air on reaching the summit of a steep climb.  Being prepared for anything the weather might throw at you is the key to ultimate enjoyment.  Absolutely nothing beats a blast in the elements for dispersing any sort of lethargy.

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Studio Practice, Walks