East Budleigh to Seaton 15 miles
We woke to a beautiful South Devon morning where the view from our hosts backyard looked like something out of a Constable painting. The early walking proved no different as it was difficult to move forward at times because the scenes laid out before us were so captivating. At one point we sat for the longest time taking in one view where a slight turn of the head provided either an enchanting pastoral view of countryside, or a seascape view demanding complete attention. Someone, of
course, was kind enough to make certain that a lovely bench was so appropriately placed there; a penchant that we find the British have a most exquisite aptitude for.
As we passed out of summer and into autumn this day, we likewise prepare for passing out of Devon and into Dorset tomorrow; the final phase of this remarkable walk where, out of the 630 miles of this longest of UK National Trails, 70% of the path is within Designated Heritage Coasts, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, or National Parks, with 95 of those miles designated as a World Heritage Site. A remarkable representation of the will of the British people to protect and preserve the land, and a very different approach to living with the land from the USA, where the National Parks and public lands have more of a bent toward wilderness and a human-nature dichotomy.
Teignmouth to East Budleigh 14.8 miles
It wasn’t until we were 8+ miles along the way today when our feet first touched a verge of grass. Hard miles on the feet, but some intriguing moments nonetheless walking along sea walls, promenades, and outlying seaside areas. Southern Devon is very different from its northern counterpart, and very much reflective of the human attraction for the seaside life here. Interesting to pass seas of modern holiday park trailers sitting side by side to some of the oldest geological wonders like the Jurassic Coast. Many may consider these eye sores upon the landscape I am sure, but people are out enjoying what they have here, and the influence of such connections and relationships upon people far outweigh any objection I was capable of conjuring in the moment.
The weather continues to hold as we ended the last full day of summer!
Brixham to Teignmouth 12 miles
Took the ferry from Brixham to Torquay this morning, thus eliminating much of the road walk into Torquay and getting us out onto and along what could be acceptable urban sprawl. There were many points along the way today where one would never know that you were surrounded by such activity as the coastal path weaves in and around the edges of the worst of it. Some rather enchanting spots too where urban residents can spread their wings a bit and walk. Made me contemplate Thoreau’s advise to ruminate while walking (“Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.”), but not in any dreamy sense. One’s feet should always be where one’s head is, and not drifting away upon some obscure reverie where the ‘living is easy’! Every day brings opportunity, and for us the day was one of easy walking and writing, ending once again with these wonderful ferry connections between the different points of land.
Stoke Fleming to Brixham 15 miles
Got an early start out of Stoke Fleming this morning and made it to Dartmouth where we took the ferry over to Kingswear. The Castle at Dartmouth brought up the ever familiar sense that we get here for the rich history that exemplifies this entire coastline, and the depth of connection that the British have with the sea. It is one of the gifts that comes with walking, and having the landscape’s story enter into your very being. It is a relationship of importance worth cultivating in respect to our moral sensibilities, and palpably felt for us this day. It is all about stories of course, and stories have the capacity to not only inform and entertain, but to heal as well; making us hail, hearty, and whole!
Upon entering Brixham this evening at the days end, and having settled in for the nights reflection and rumination, I game across an article on The Exercise Cure
by Jordan Metzl MD. Considering that Thoreau would never see walking as merely taking exercise, the article captured my attention enough to explore it further, and to be ultimately struct by its premise that too much sitting is not good for us. Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, has been studying the down side of sedentary life for the last 15 years and claims that sitting is the new smoking for todays generation. This juxtaposition of human behaviors struck my educator’s eye and caused me to wonder; if smoking is illegal for youth, and banned in all schools, should sitting be likewise? We sure have them doing a lot of it, and perhaps we’re even killing them over time! Twelve, sixteen, and for some, even eighteen to twenty years are dedicated to this venerable enterprise we call education. Perhaps the pedagogical benefits of walking, or the peripatetic schools of ancient times, needs be reinstating for the power of reconnecting us to the very ground we walk upon, where the power of story may heal us in hail, hearty, and whole ways. Worth a deep ponder as where I have come to the opinion and conclusion, after 30 years of being an educator, that well over half our time in school is wasted, I must now ask if the other half is actually a health risk?
Salcombe to Stoke Fleming 16 miles
Started another day with a quick ferry ride across a tidal harbor, but within minutes we were once again under our own steam. Today was a bit of a throwback to summer as the temperatures got high enough where we just had to stop and take a swim! Passed some ancient field systems used agriculturally for over 3,500 years, along with the ‘hollow ways’ (protected enclosed pathway) utilized for bringing sea kelp to them for fertilizer. A fair bit or road walking toward Slapton Sands but some heavy World War II connections to the area as it was fundamental in preparations for the Normandy invasion.
Buckland to Salcombe 12.5 miles
Doing ones’s thinking.
That is what the morning hours allowed this day. We were off early and the walk was pretty spectacular on multiple levels; the morning light, the cool air and gentle breezes, along with the sights, sounds, and smell of the sea all touching one’s sense of life while bathing one internally in a calmness that matched and resonated with the beauty, and vastness, of the external environment we were moving through. One of those days.
Such a leisure that allows one to hear the thoughts entering, and out of the still point backtrack or follow their course into the dawns light. For Thoreau, the dawning hour was synonymous with his “awakening” hours, when he was most awake inwardly, and thus most alive! A rare gift which can come from a walk when one possesses the requisite capital of leisure, freedom, and independence.
This following, or tracking, of thought is what Native Americans infer when they speak about ‘doing one’s thinking’, and is something which they feel is vital to learning; if all true education is self education. It was one of those days, like today, where the discipline can get deeply rooted if we attend to it.
Days that youth need dearly too, for I often question, and ask, when they are allowed to hear, let alone think, their own thoughts. Little time is given to go deeply into such needed discipline within the harried nature of institutional learning, and echoes of Gatto’s claim of ‘dumbing them down’ are not far off the mark if they truly can’t hear the call. The mythical call to adventure.
Wembury to Buckland 15 miles
The order of the day was definitely ferry crossings. There having been three crossings to do where all were either tidal dependent or seasonal in nature, our only option was to put our heads down and walk. Not much time to stop and smell the flowers, but it felt good to just kick it into high gear and go!
Getting across the River Erme was tidal dependent so, where the tide was in, we were unfortunately taxed with having to take a taxi (£30!!), thus avoiding a 8 mile detour inland and missing the ferry crossing for the River Avon which only ran for an hour this day. All played out well though and even though we felt like we were back into a scheduled lifestyle, the day was one to treasure. Buckland feels, and looks, like something right out of Tolkien’s Shire, and the ferry crossing fit right in perfectly.
Plymouth to Wembury 10 miles
As we ferried out of Plymouth this morning, and begin the final phase of our long walk, I found my thoughts drifting back to Thoreau’s essay Walking. This is something I have found myself doing religiously for years now, and even after hundreds of careful readings I marvel at the depths of possibilities there are yet to plumb there!
Very early on, in his foundational positioning for why taking walks (mythic journey’s) are key toward human development, he makes the following statements:
“I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, ay, and years almost together.”
and, shortly further along
“So staying in the house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and smoothness, not to say thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased sensibility to certain impressions.”
In reading these two passages I was struck by the connections and relevance they have toward education, especially after having spent my professional life as an educator, and the fact that culturally we do indeed confine our youth to institutional classrooms for days, weeks, months, and years. Their best years! This then likewise begs the questions of what moral insensibilities we thus inculcate, and what actual impressions we are increasing their sensibility toward? Given that my wife Andrea and I are working upon a book about why taking long walks, and embarking upon them in the spirit of mythic adventure, are critical needs within educational endeavors and rites-of-passage work, we are looking to see if through social media we can reach out and connect to all the friends, students, and fellow adventurers who have undertaken long walks and outdoor adventures with us over the years. Our question, relative to these remarks by Thoreau, is what these experiences did for you? The same question goes to any and all who likewise share the interest and passion for taking walks, and rites-of-passage for youth. You could send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, where we would delight in taking up the conversation further with you. We hope that all who read this will share this and spread it with friends so that the net gets cast far and wide, reaping a response that echoes loudly.
It is in wildness that the world will be preserved!
Crafthole to Plymouth 12 miles
The walking into Plymouth was much nicer than the approach to its outskirts yesterday. The Mount Edgcumbe Country Park at Cremyll made for a rather beautiful departure from Cornwall, yet it was very different from the wildness that we had come to experience from the Cornish landscape. We are back in England, as the Cornish would have it. Interesting how they connected themselves more with the Celtic lands of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany than with jolly ole England itself!
Day 29 & 30
Fowey to Polperro 8 miles
Polperro to Crafthole 14 miles
We had a half day off in Polperro to spend a bit of extra time in this small port village which many claim to be one of the most beautiful villages in England, and to visit the museum there on Fishing and Smuggling; themes that dominate much of this coastal region, and walk. It also marks what is close to the 2/3rd way-mark for this walk (400 miles), and our passage, as of tomorrow, out of Cornwall where we have been walking its entire 280 miles of coastline. We will also begin the last third (15 days) of our trip, moving back into the southern part of Devon’s coastline and finishing in Dorset. So, for us, we’re into a whole new phase of the walk which will play heavily into what we eventually hope to relate and relay to youth!
The trails out of Polperro were mini waterways due to the heavy downpours throughout the night so one can easily imagine the erosional power of the ocean upon these coastal regions. With that in mind, much of today’s walk took us inland as the coastal path has experienced a number of land slips along this part of its route. We were often on the older, and more original, coastal trackways dating back
over hundreds of years which have what Andrea calls “living walls”; rock walls sometimes over 10 feet tall on both sides of the track which are covered in moss, Ivy, and every sort of vegetation taking a fancy to them. In other spots the roads had significant detours due to housing development, most of which we could see and feel upon our approach toward Plymouth. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from drifting back into dark corners where judgement comes to the fore though, but tacking those down are part and parcel of the daily task of walking. While giving due blessings once again to the Ramblers, Right to Roam, and Open Space folks who fight to preserve these pathways (and god bless the National Trust who I forgot to send thanks to the other day!), I had to also consider the needs of people, in an increasing world population, who need places to live and call home.
Regular people who just need simple places that they can afford right? And then it became clear to me, once again, why travel itself becomes an education unparalleled compared to merely sitting in the same box all day. To experience is key to taking in the world of all other, without which we are left with little to transform. Sitting all day enclosed within the four walls of institutional halls of learning is a little bit like hoping that the advertisement for a Big Mac watched on a screen will provide the nourishment you need today. A malnourishment of mind though does have its effect upon the landscapes of everyday experience, and clearly visible during our walk today.