A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Zen And The Art Of Walking

Apart from a few local walks, and a walk in Sherwood Forest, I haven't been out walking much this year. But a few weeks ago I did take a trip to the Derbyshire Peak District. I parked the car in Miller's Dale (OS Outdoor Leisure Map 24, Map Reference 142733). I went under the old railway, now a walkers' and cyclists' path called the Monsal Trail (1st pic), passed these terraced cottages (2nd pic) and turned up the riverside path by the bridge (3rd pic).

The river Wye was in spate. The going was slippery and needed concentration. In the limestone gorge of Cheedale the valley narrowed and the rocks closed in. The path disappeared beneath the water. So I scrambled steeply up the northern bank along a vague track which became fainter and fainter - then petered out. I was now high above the gorge. The lip at the top, just below a drystone wall and some farmers' fields, was the steepest bit - and treacherous too. I slipped and slid muddily on last year's leaves. I was forced to grasp branches, roots and rocks in order to pull myself up to the wall. I skirted the edge of the gorge for a while along the merest hint of a path. Reverberating explosions came from the limestone quarry in Great Rocks Dale nearby. Weary of having to concentrate so hard to prevent myself falling over, I followed a field edge which took me to a proper track and public right of way at Mosley Farm. Immediately an old pony track zigzagged back down into Cheedale.

I trudged for a time along part of the old railway trackbed of the Monsal Trail, then down to the river itself - but once again the path proved impassable. The stepping stones you would normally skip over at the foot of a hollowed-out limestone cliff were completely submerged - and I didn't fancy wet feet and legs on this cold day. I changed plan and headed south-east out of the valley towards the hamlet of Blackwell - steeply at first, then more gently. Suddenly I relaxed and started to enjoy the walk properly for the first time. The weather had been dull, cold and grey. But it hadn't rained - and now, in the early afternoon, it was even brightening up a little. I thought not for the first time how the enjoyment of a walk is really just an attitude of mind. The frustrations I'd encountered, I realized, were essential prerequisites for my enjoyment now. If you can overcome negative thoughts about dismal weather, the annoyance at having to change your route plans, tumbling over in the mud and so on, a window in your mind can suddenly open, and you may enjoy things much more than you would have thought possible on such an unpromising day. Zen and the Art of Walking?

Anyway I sailed back down to my starting point. The last section followed the minor road through Blackwell Dale. This was an easy finish - though not as easy as you might expect, as cars and vans sped by a little too close for comfort. I also noted with sadness how much litter, thrown from car windows, lay strewn by the roadside.

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