six

six

 
 

Six o'clock came and off we set. Seven people. Fourteen feet that moved us. An undrawn line lay ahead in the landscape. And on that line were unknown things. All we knew was that the line we'd draw would be a line through summer, a line through the onset of evening, a line by the sea.

The work day had ended. The weekend had not yet begun. In the space between the two we found ourselves. It was a quiet space. There were few cars on the road, few people in the street. The air was still and hung about us like a bell made of glass. Each sound was trapped by it, given brittle resonance.

At the sea, the promenade took us west. Far off, the sun fell beyond a lip of cloud to bruise the grey sky yellow. A lone jet ski buzzed and slapped across the water, disappeared down the coast. In its place, only the swoosh of the tide upon the shingle. Two silent gulls sailed overhead.

A barbecue smouldered. The horizon stretched out. We turned inland, slowly climbed up the cliff. At the top we were half way through our walk, and broke our silence for its remainder. Coversation bubbled. We talked about many things. About why we walk. About silence. About things we'd seen or heard, things we'd not normally have noticed.

It was pleasant to talk. And as is the way on a walk, strangers seemed at ease together. A walk gives us all something in common. A shared experience. Briefly we are a community. Not a community of nomads, though we travel, but something more pedestrian. We are just people. Just bodies in a shared landscape. We move through it in our own ways, but together. It may be as simple as that.

 

If you would like to join us for a silent walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Saturday 30th July. We meet outside the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 9.00am. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking

 

five

five

 

Unlike the previous four walks, our walk this time was not done in silence. Instead, it took place as part of Folkestone's annual festival of the brain, and we had naturalist Melanie Wrigley, and neurologist Dr Tim Rittman, along with us to provide interesting insights into both our inner and outer landscapes. We still read selections from In Praise of Walking, but spent less time being contemplative and more time being conversative than on prior occasions.

We must have been approaching twenty in number, and set off in our usual way. We began by reading two short poems, then walked ourselves slowly around the harbour and up the cliffs to the west. The weather was ideal – a late afternoon sun to buoy us, and a gentle breeze to keep us fresh. Each time that we paused to read poems, Melanie would follow with some wonderful flora folklore. Meanwhile, Tim mingled with the group, sharing neurological insights on an individual basis.

Some of the walk's highlights included Melanie's cultural history of the horse tail plant and Alexander's plant, which showed her incredible passion for, and deep knowledge of, the local landscape, not to mention her brief history of the formation of the Warren. And the one time Tim addressed the group as a whole was to talk about the evolution of the eye and how this had shaped our perception of the landscape through which we walked. When he explained that technicolour vision was a later evolutionary adaptation, enabling us to see the green of leaf and grass, one colour-blind member of the party stopped to ask whether they were perhaps less evolved than the rest of those present. No answer was forthcoming.

The mood on the walk was jovial and open. People who had never met before talked freely, and felt relaxed together. This seems to me one of walking's many great qualities: its ability to break people out of their shells, to help them let down their guards and be more fully with their companions.

The blog posts will revert to their more reflective nature again with the next instalment, as the walks themselves return to their more contemplative stance.

 

If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Friday 30th June. We meet outside the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 6.00pm. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking

 

four

four

 

For the fourth time – and so the fourth month – we gathered, ready to walk in silence. Until now, we'd walked in cold, under cloud, against wind, through wet. This time, for the first time, we had fine weather. A new season approached.

We started toward Wear Bay Road, via the outer harbour. Gulls fussed over white scallop shells left on the low-tide mud. There are seven or eight fishing boats that still work out of Folkestone harbour, and such traces of their work often lie upon its bed.

We passed behind The Stade (an old harbourside terrace) and climbed the long steps to the clifftop. Morning sun lit the world below head-on. Boats, people, houses, stood out like markers for their shadows. About us, sparrows chirped and rummaged leaves.

At the end of Wear Bay Road, with the Martello Tower above us, we were joined on the walk by some latecomers. Filled with the sun's warmth, we were somehow thrown from our silence. Perhaps it was a sort of human photosynthesis that we felt, an increased energy found in sun that sought expression. So, slowly, we broke into full conversation.

Our path passed the site of Folkestone East Battery, a Second World War defensive post. Two concrete shells that once housed large guns now rest empty on the sandstone head of Copt Point. Today they serve as shelter from weather, or as teenage hangouts, and are full of graffiti.

With our silence abandoned, we shared stories as we moved down the cliffs to the rocky shore below. One person told of a canoe trip they'd made on Romney Marsh the previous summer. After a two hour paddle, they'd dosed off, and the gentle current had taken them back to where they'd started.

At that moment, we seemed to be in a similar gentle current ourselves. It carried us along the shoreline, oblivious to time, as we scavenged fossils – time turned to stone. We scrambled over rocks and boulders round the headland shore, and decided none of us was in a hurry to end the walk. The last of the poems that we read that morning reflected:

Is there anything better than to be out, walking, in the clear air?

It seemed that for us, lost to time by the beauty of the day, and the pleasure of company, the answer was clear. We continued the walk until its natural end, a little late, with pockets of fossils.

 

 

If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Saturday 27th May. Unusually it will not be silent, and we will have naturalist Melanie Wrigley along to talk to us about the ecology and landscape that we encouter. This walk is being run as part of Normal? Festival of the Brain in Folkestone. We meet outside the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 4.30pm. The walk lasts for 1.5 hours and ends back where it begins. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking

 

three

three

 

It had rained not long before we set off. The road was slick. The pavement, the buildings, the bark of trees too. Everything was slick, as though new painted. Except for us. We were braced for wet, dressed for it, but mostly untouched by it. Our rain coats were dry, shineless, dull. Endless cloud turned the sky flat, sucked the depth from distance.

Bound for the Road of Remembrance, we passed the back of the True Britton by the harbour’s edge. Sedum spilled from its clogged gutters above us. Ahead, a man unloaded metal kegs from a lorry, rolled them up to the pub’s side door ready for the cellar. Later, they’d be drained into bellies, turned into laughter, cheer, a swung fist. The alchemy of digestion.

On we walked, past the chip shop, past the kebab shop. An old drinks cooler sat kerbside, its glass front smashed. And beyond that rose steeply the Road of Remembrance. Once called Slope Road, it was renamed for the several million soldiers who marched down it on their way to the harbour, bound for the Western Front in WWI. Today it is planted with rosemary – the herb of remembrance – up one side. The other side’s railings flower with hundreds of knitted red poppies, added to yearly, that endure the seasons.

At the top of the hill, under the memorial arch, we found ourselves behind a couple of young mothers. The wet weather had not deterred them. They each pushed a pram, and had a small boy of three or so in tow. He was bright with the freedom of space on the broad Leas. Here and there he tottered, then hid in fits of giggles. His joy reached into me infectiously. I couldn’t help but smile, and found the joy he gave to me lingered as we walked. With my attention free of conversation, it seemed content to rest upon that joy and felt it long after he was gone.

Wind blew strong at the clifftop. Just free of the treeline, a crow played on it – black wings spread, it worked to hover in one spot and ride out the buffeting gusts. Further along, bare winter branches held a pair of magpies. One for sorrow. Two for joy. They meant what I still felt inside.

We dropped down the zig zag cliff path towards the sea. Some way off, down on the front, we spotted the busy yellow of dump trucks and JCBs. For years now there’d been talk of a seafront development on the former site of the rotunda. Empty for so long, it had become part of the landscape: a wide patch of tarmac, desolate, yet somehow beautiful in the way it opened up the sea.

Heaped sand and mud now filled it, dredged from the outer harbour. For two years I’d lived opposite that site in Marine Crescent – the large Edwardian seafront building. Daily I’d looked out from my window onto its open space, and grown deeply attached. Stood there, as pneumatic arms heaved grit, sadness took me. Gone now would be that openness, gone the clear line of the horizon, the big sky, replaced with yet more buildings.

I felt the need to walk harder. The force of emotion inwardly sought balance with a force of motion outwardly. It seemed that as one burned itself out so might the other, and restore some kind of calm. But we walked together, at a steady pace, and that need remained suppressed. The joy I carried with me earlier was supplanted by this, and stayed with me just as long.

We ended our walk by the outer harbour. It was low tide; diggers dredged its bed. One poem we’d read aloud earlier went:

The line of a walk is articulate in itself, a kind of statement.

I wondered what kind of statement our walk had made, as it slowed down past the seafront developments and stopped to watch the dredging. It was a surprise to us all to witness these large scale changes, promised for so long, finally here. Later, with the day’s revelations still on my mind, I brought this up in conversation. “All things change, that’s progress” I was told.

 

 

If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Friday 7th April. We meet outside the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 8.30am. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking

 

two

two

 

As before, we set off in silence. But the street wasn’t silent. Metal clanged, hammer falls shot from scaffold boards. Men in boots and hard hats to-ed and fro-ed from doorway to truck. Perhaps the earlier sun brought with it earlier people. Not long risen, its cotton-yellow light hovered about us. Flaked paintwork stuck sharply out on the facades of aged buildings and the scent of fresh sawn wood rode the morning air.

We made our way under the red bricks of Fish Market arches, towards the outer harbour and Sunny Sands. The arches are part of the harbour viaduct, and have stood there since 1843. Back then the harbour was a busy gateway to Europe, with many passengers and much freight passing through. That morning, we were the only ones there. It was silent but for our footfall as we passed.

While our bodies moved freely, our words did not. In our shared silence there is often an unease at first. We are not used to it, and want to fill it with something – usually words, no matter how trivial. But we did not fill it. Instead, we faced the silence we made which, as John Cage observes, was really no silence at all. And into it, step by step, we went on.

Skirting the harbour eastward, we passed a group of men. They spoke together in French. Perhaps they worked at sea. On the horizon it is often possible to see the French coastline from where we were. As the crow flies it’s barely forty miles away. But there was no sign of it that day. We followed some steep steps up the cliff from the harbour, those French voices slowly lost to distance.

Higher up, the wind had some force. It tore at the surf and brought its rhythmic crash to our ears. Still, the tide was low. Boats in the harbour leant on their keels and Sunny Sands was paper-flat, scattered with walkers and dogs. At rest in the spindled hedges were sparrows. On the teasel, wind-shook, another small bird sat – just a silhouette. From its tiny beak came a spill of tones that moments later were returned in kind across the wind and tumbling seas.

Our uneasy un-silence grew more easy as we went. Through our quiet, the space usually taken by words was left clear. And in that clear space we met what was concrete: our breathing bodies, and the moving world of feather, metal, wheel, and wing, that holds them. Our attentions shifted. We no longer felt the absense of words, but the presence of ourselves as bodies in a shared world. In that shift the wordlessness that stranded us from each other, that felt so uneasy, could become a place in which we stood (and walked) together more fully.

In this way we went on, together in the wordless space we created. The night before our walk it had rained heavily. At Copt Point we found the path ahead too thick with mud and so turned back. Instead we climbed up to the Martello Tower just above us. Built in 1806, it is one of seventy-four that were constructed along the Kent and East Sussex coastline to defend against offshore invasion. Today its great round walls stand empty, a common passing place for walkers and their dogs. From where it sits high on the hill, you can see the harbour in the east right round to the tip of Dover in the west.

Looping back through Varne Place we broke our silence amid the houses to read two short poems, woven through with chatter from a lively bunch of sparrows. One poem spoke to our prior experience at the muddy impasse:

Wrong turnings, doubling back, pauses and digressions, all contribute to the dislocation of a persistent self-interest.

There seemed to be parallels between these words and my own experience of walking in this volunteered silence. Walking is an outward act – of moving through a landscape. But it can also be an inner act – of moving the attention from the mental world into the physical world. And when the latter occurs, that shift in attention, a shift also takes place in our mode of being.

The walk almost at an end, we found ourselves on the cliffs above the harbour. Steep steps took us down below the terraced roofline of The Stade, where one home’s back window hung open to the fresh morning air. The smell of bacon sarnies flowed out from it – a household preparing for the day. In the stillness, everything was in motion. In the silence, we walked more fully together. Back at last where we began, we felt ready to warm ourselves with food and tea.

 

 

If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Friday 3rd March. We meet in the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 8.30am. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking

 

one

one

 

At 8.30am on Friday 6th January, 2017, a handful of us set off from Folkestone Quarterhouse on the first of a series of silent walks. It was a cold morning, and cloudy. Tontine Street was still just waking; a scaffold stood empty, a single yellow truck clattered past, one or two people ambled slowly along in heavy jackets.

Heading seaward, we crossed the cobbled foot of the Old High Street. A herring gull stood watchfully to one side as we went. Walking as a group, it can take a bit of time to establish a pace that suits everyone. In silence, it seems to take even longer. You can’t ask if people are finding the pace okay. Instead you must go with your intuition, guided by each other’s body language and breathing.

Still finding our pace, we bore west across the large flatness of an empty car park that joined with the flatness of the sea beyond. In that space lies the Rotunda, a former fairground site on the seafront named for the round building it was once home to. It now stands empty, scattered with tufts of grass, sedum, sea kale, and other small plants that live there, in the openness, year round. We moved through it quietly, drawn further along the coast. A breeze bit at our ears and noses, the dry grass shivered.

Our pace finally began to settle as we took the promenade route by the sea. It’s a strange thing, walking in silence with others. It takes some getting used to. But it feels good. In my experience walking has a way of breaking down barriers, of opening us up. Often, this leads to free and easy conversation, even between relative strangers. But on a silent walk there is no conversation to be had.

Instead, perhaps, we open to each others presence, and the presence of what surrounds us. Together, we engage in a shared sense of space. Heading in from the promenade towards the cliff path we passed through the Coastal Park where we found a quote from H G Wells, once a local. It read: “It was one of those hot clear days that Folkestone sees so much of, every colour incredibly bright and every outline hard”.

We climbed the cliff path slowly, noticing several flowers in bloom on the way. At times we gestured to things we wished to share with others, at others we were content to enjoy them by ourselves. Without talk to occupy us, our attention goes elsewhere – outward or inward, or both. So together we walked, and our attention wandered with us.

There were punctuations in the silence. Some deliberate, others not. It’s hard not to return a “good morning” that comes from the occasional passerby. But we also set out knowing that, now and then, we’d pause to read a few brief poems. The poems we read all reflected on the act of walking, and came from the same collection: In Praise of Walking by Thomas A Clark.

As our walk drew to an end, we came to the harbour and paused one last time to read. Stood above the fishing boats on the edge of the harbour wall, we read aloud these final lines:


What I take with me, what I leave behind, are of less importance than what I discover along the way.

 

 

If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Friday 3rd February. We meet in the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 8.30am. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking