I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Beginning And End Of The Viking Way

Country road as rubbish dump.

The walk did not start well. Leaving Barnetby and the roar of the M180 behind me, I took a minor road north and found that someone had dumped mounds of rubbish by the track. As a walker you come upon this sort of thing disturbingly often. At first it used to enrage me; now I just feel a kind of hopeless despair. How do human beings deserve to live on this beautiful planet if they engage in such filthy, mindless and selfish activity? So many roads — usually the main roads — in England and Spain are lined with the sweet wrappers, crisp packets and juice cartons people have thrown from their cars. A lot of this stuff never seems to get cleared up. I wrote about the 50 types of rubbish I found by a Spanish roadside here

For hours I crossed montonous chalk farmland. The landscape was flat and featureless — huge fields of four-inch high wheat shoots, purple sprouting broccoli, and very little else. It was so uninteresting that eating an apple from my packed lunch became a major event. I pined for a picturesque ruin or pretty village. But at least the paths were soft and firm and easy on the foot — mostly grassy bridleways along field boundaries. They were dry too, as rainwater is quickly absorbed by the porous chalk.

Birds were the saving grace — especially in the few isolated pockets of woodland which miraculously survived. It's the spring migration season and lots of birds were on the move. I saw flocks of fieldfares bound for Scandinavia, and heard chiffchaffs newly arrived from the Mediterranean and North Africa. But the bird that accompanied me for most of the walk was the skylark. These were either invisible or tiny specks high up in the blue, singing their hearts out over the cornfields. Skylarks were under threat at one time, but here they are plentiful.     

After the forecasted promise of mild weather, a chill Siberian breeze had blown in from the North Sea and, with no obstacle before it, swept across Lincolnshire's northernmost chalk plateau, cutting straight through my fleece, polypropylene shirt and merino wool vest. The temperature was more like winter. Despite a few recent balmy days, spring was still holding back. 

Dropping with relief into the more sheltered Humber valley, I followed a hedged byway to South Ferriby. The views north towards the Humber estuary (and west to the steel works of Scunthorpe!) would have been impressive had conditions been clearer, but the day remained hazy, with an intermittent sun.

The estuary was muddy and opaque, the same muddy brown as the North Sea into which it flowed. I could barely make out the far side through the haze. Taking the path along the southern bank, I passed a couple of cliffs, then deviated through Far Ings nature reserve — the true path had been closed because of flooding. The Humber Bridge swung into view out of the murk. I remember Queen Elizabeth opening the bridge in 1981. It was then the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world, but now it's been demoted to seventh-longest.

Footsore, I stumbled into the Humber Bridge viewing area car park at Barton, the official start (or end, depending on which direction you're travelling) of the Viking Way. I'd been hiking this route on and off for nearly three years. (I started in May 2011 — here's my first blog entry about it.) Although it's 147 miles long, I'd covered more than that, as I'd walked some there-and-back stages twice. It had been a piecemeal, jigsaw-like affair — sometimes I'd gone north to south, sometimes south to north. However, I'd finally reached the end — or the start. And it really was the beginning in yet another sense: over the bridge beckoned the first stretch of another long-distance trail, the Yorkshire Wolds Way.

Slowly I walked the half mile into Barton-upon-Humber's town centre. It was late Saturday afternoon and the place was practically closed except for some raucous pubs. I didn't fancy going in. Young kids screamed about on bikes and in bus shelters. Men in hoodies nursed beer cans. It was bitterly cold. If you weren't feeling suicidal before, a trip round Barton could have tipped you over the edge. For me, at that moment, it seemed a wretchedly miserable backcountry town, and I made for the railway station, eager to leave. (I say 'railway station': it comprised just one track, one platform, and five bucket seats occupied by some of Barton's yelping youth.) The train came in on time. I boarded, warmed myself by the heater, and headed for home.          

Sheltered bridleway to South Ferriby.

Remarkably straight furrows.

Sheep graze by the Humber.

The wide Humber estuary — muddy and opaque.

Another consequence of Britain's recent severe weather.

Willow tree on the diverted path through Far Ings nature reserve.

The Humber Bridge.

The beginning (or in my case the end) of the Viking Way. A little anticlimactic that it ended in a car park on a cold and dismal afternoon.
Walking to Barton railway station by a reed-fringed watercourse.

18 comments:

Ruth Mowry said...

It all sounds quite miserable, but you've written about it very engagingly. The sheep "littering" the grass look sweet.

Jean said...

I like this bare landscape very much - makes me feel calm and open.

George said...

It doesn't sound like one of your most enjoyable walks, but I agree with Ruth that you've written about it engagingly. One of the great joys of walking is that one seldom knows what one will discover. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised; other times we are sorely disappointed. It's a perfect metaphor for life.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for the comments about the writing, Ruth and George. Another thing that happened, which I didn't want to mention in the piece, as it would have made things even bleaker, was that halfway through the walk I got a phone call to say that an old friend and ex-work colleague had died at the age of 57. She'd gone into a diabetic coma and hadn't come out of it. So probably my untypical gloom had a lot to do with this.

Jean — I often do like flat and open landscapes (the Spanish meseta, for instance), but this part of Lincolnshire seemed particularly nondescript to me yesterday. Appreciation of landscape depends very much on mood, and I just wasn't in the mood.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Don't get me started on rubbish Robert - it litters our lane and every now and then I go out with a bin bag to pick up polystyrene containers which have held curry or something, beer cans, bottles - the list is endless.
Love your photographs - brought back manymemories - although the last time I went to Barton it was a bit of a dump I must say.

Jean said...

Yes, I like the Spanish meseta too...

It's kind of nice that, although you weren't in the mood to appreciate it, your beautiful photos have made me want to visit this part of the country, which I never have.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, one is hardly aware of all that detritus when driving, Pat — when one is cocooned and desensitised behind the wheel. It's the walker who sees, records and laments all these thoughtlessly thrown away by-products of our car-based 'civilisation'.

The Solitary Walker said...

Jean, if you're interested you may want to take a look at more words and pix about Lincolnshire and the Viking Way here: http://solitary-walker.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Viking%20Way

dritanje said...

Well done for having completed the whole length of the Viking Way, (and more) in various excursions. I agree that one's mood can colour everything. The past weekend has been very cold here too, and with a constant mist, so the sun has never broken through, as you say, it's like winter. As for rubbish, which I've also noticed accumulating at the side of roads, I've come to the conclusion that when people in cars throw rubbish from the windows they are not aware that they are throwing it into a PLACE because THEY are passing through and so it is not real to them. Nothing for it but to get people out of their cars to get them to SEE what is really there and what will be there long after we have gone.
But yes, these are lovely images, and very straight furrows! Apparently there are competitions for who can make the straightest furrows and I think this person would win a prize!

Susan Scheid said...

So sorry about your friend George! All the more remarkable that, as others have said, you've written in a clear-eyed, engaging way about the walk and, in the bargain, offered some lovely photographs despite it all.

Rubye Jack said...

This is sad. Things just are not the same anymore. I used to be able to go to isolated beaches alone but now no longer feel safe doing so. I've started looking at trash as more than what it literally is and more as the product of minds that know no better due to lack of education or as a kind of forget it all attitude due to one form of oppression or another. In other words, signs of the times and evidence of apathy and anger. Mad Maxness.

Regardless, I agree that your writing and description of the walk is enlightening in many ways.

The Solitary Walker said...

Susan — George is fine, as far as I know (if you ignore the ferrets), and I'm Robert, so I think there's a crossed wire somewhere! Thanks for your kind comment on my writing and pictures.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I agree, Rubye — apathy, anger and just plain laziness and ignorance.

Go back, say, to the time of the native Americans, or the hunter-gatherers, or the early societies, those first farmers who stayed put instead of being nomadic, grew crops, formed settlements — and words like 'litter' and 'pollution' would not have existed: humans lived in relative harmony with nature and had a working, 'ecological' relationship with it. Not that such ideas would have crossed their minds.

Cut to the time of the Industrial Revolution, mechanisation, factory farming, conveyor-belt production lines, population growth, the huge expansion of cities — and we can clearly see the causes of the disaffection and alienation in today's world. As you say, 'signs of the times'. All we can do is promote education about biodiversity and eco-matters, about the preservation of the world's uniquely-evolved beauty and natural workability, before it's too late (thank God this is happening now, to some extent).

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Dritanje, for your fine comment! Yes, I think people become cut off from their environment, alienated, less than human in cars. It's as though the world beyond the windscreen is an illusion, moving pictures that flash by and have no substantial reality. So why does it matter if you chick an empty can into the void?

Ploughing the straightest furrow competitons! I used to go to these in my home village, where shire horses were involved. They still do this once a year at the village show in the place I live now.

Susan Scheid said...

Robert: Crossed wires indeed. Don't know where that "George" came from, but can only say the condolences about your colleague were sincere.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much Susan. My friend who died was only 57 — that's 3 years younger than me. It makes you take stock.

Martin said...

Congratulations on finishing the Viking Way. Sometimes we have to go through the less inspiring walks, though I usually find afterwards that the little lovely things stay in my mind and I largely forget the rest.

What's your next big walk then?

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Martin. Just been catching up on your own blog and reading about your Pyrenean trip. Lovely pictures!

Yes, you're right — we tend to minimise the tedious bits and maximise the nice bits.

Thought I might continue over the Humber Bridge on to the Yorkshire Wolds Way or start another local walk, the Robin Hood Way...