Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Out of Date Tour: how the landscape is not as timeless as it may seem

After having spent the last 5 months in Beijing, working on a tour in rural Dorset is quite a change of gear. One thing that is quite certain, my lungs are appreciating the fresh air, I don't think I knew what fresh air was until I went to Beijing and got a good chance to experience its lack.

The cricket pitch was being used this time round so I talked to the batting team to find out about cricket tours. Unfortunately they were the home team, it was the fielding team who were the visitors coming from 'up North'. The pitch is quite idyllic, indeed it has been famously painted by David Inshaw

I realised the church deserved greater attention than I had previously given it and so I started in the church yard with the stones which are said to be on a ley line, at least that is the story I get from a book on Dorset stones and Earth Mysteries that finds significance in every stone.

The visitor's book proved to be very interesting as it is a record of people's visits to the village. Some come to remember a lost relative, other to discover one: there was a note from a Canadian family looking for their roots. I noticed a pilgrimage thrown in there too: a  bike ride to Canterbury. I remember making long bike rides before and doing so with a very different frame of reference, such as a trip from London to Sizewell nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast. I could try and call it a nuclear pilgrimage but I would be stretching a point as I basically wanted to ride and was looking for a destination to give the trip a sense of purpose. It is also good to remember that not all pilgrimages are deep spiritual experiences, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales reads as a more worldly holiday with a light religious packaging. 

My favourite entry was from one of the cricketer's who must have popping in while visiting the village for a match. I actually saw the team and so could understand his visit.

I then set off on a walk that I found in a 1983 guidebook to South Dorset. The book's directions got me going out of the village but the walk took an unexpected turn when I came across a couple of Danish students who had lost their way and were looking for the South Dorset Ridgeway (SDR). I was heading that way so could guide them and at the same time ask them all about their trip and how they ended up in Littlebredy. It seems as if it was a mistake that brought them there. They had been given a lift from a motorist and were dropped off not on the coast path but nearer the inland route (SDR). Following my out of date guidebook, I too would get lost as the signs were decayed and information out of date. Fortunately I had a proper map, too, that got us out of the village and them to the their path.

After many questions about their trip, I put them on the path and took a highly circuitous route to these stones. The guidebook was interesting in that it was written as if there was a set route but then the writer said that he could not find it so took an alternative. His route was therefore already somewhat improvised back in 1983; mine much more so 30 years later. Not finding a direct path to these stones added hours to my journey. Arriving was an anti-climax as there was little to see, though I later read in my book on Earth Mysteries, there is rumoured to have been concealed, within the burial mound, a solid gold coffin.

The route then took me to the next stone circle that is flat but nonetheless clearly laid out. I'm currently reading a book that suggests these stones have a site-memory and may be instrumental in saving the planet at a future point in time. I find that a little hard to swallow, but then again, my experience was coloured by having to climb over barbed wire fence to approach them as my guidebook was so vague and out of date. The fact that the book was obsolete was at first frustrating, but I have come to see potential in this as it leaves a gap between what is described and what is seen and in the gap something interesting can happen.

Also on my mind as I was tramping up and down was the state of my feet. I have been taking a Chinese remedy to burn off a wart on my toe, the red patch in the picture. It seems to be working but it is a slow and grizzly process that doesn't combine well with camping and hiking. Still, fixing my feet seems like an important thing to do and I was very happy to discover a specialist foot clinic just before I left Beijing that said they could remove the growth. Quiet and undercover, these things remain significant in how I experience a place, that's why they are not quiet and undercover here on the blog. A challenge for me in constructing a route for Littlebredy will be introduce a wart like element, as all the existing dimensions are really quite attractive. That is not to say I want to see problems where they don't exist, but rather, that there must be some depth to the work and hidden processes that can be made visible through constructing a tour.

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