Tunes for a Monday Morning
Mastering the craft

The Gentle Art of Tramping


Robert Macfarlane wandered all across the British Isles before writing such fine books as Holloway, The Old Ways, and The Wild Places; and in this passage from the latter, he pays tribute to a kindred spirit, the Scottish writer Stephen Graham:

"Graham, who died in 1975 at the age of ninety, was one of the most famous walkers of his age. He walked across America once, Russia twice and Britain several times, and his 1923 book, The Gentle Art of Tramping, was a hymn to the wilderness of the British Isles. 'One is inclined,' wrote Graham, 'to think of England as a network of motor roads interspersed with public-houses, placarded by petrol advertisements, and broken by smoky industrial towns.' What he tried to prove with The Gentle Art, however, was that wildness was still ubiquitous.

Scottish author Stephen Graham

"Graham devoted his life to escaping what he called 'the curbed ways and the tarred roads,' and he did so by walking, exploring, swimming, climbing, sleeping out, trespassing, and 'vagabonding' -- his verb -- round the world. He came at landscape diagonally, always trying to find new ways to move through them.

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" 'Tramping is straying from the obvious,' he wrote, 'even the crookedest road is sometimes too straight.' In Britain and Ireland, 'straying from the obvious' brought him into contact with landscapes that were, as he put it, 'unnamed -- wild, woody, marshy.' In The Gentle Art, he described how he drew up a 'fairy-tale' map of the glades, fields and forests he reached: its networld of little-known wild places.

'There was an Edwardian innocence about Graham -- an innocence, not a blitheness -- which appealed deeply to me. Anyone who could sincerely observe that  'There are thrills unspeakable in Rutland, more perhaps than on the road to Khiva' was, in my opinion, to be cherished.

"Graham was also one one among a line of pedestrians who saw that wandering and wondering have long gone together; that their kinship as activities extended beyond their half-rhyme. And his book was a hymn to the subversive power of pedestrianism: its ability to make a stale world seem fresh, surprising and wondrous again, to discover astonishment on the terrain of the familiar."

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'The adventure," Graham insisted, "is the not getting there, it is the on-the-way. It is not the expected; it is the surprise; not the fulfillment of prophecy but the providence of something better than prophesied. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but are giving the world an even chance to see you."

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In her beautiful book Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit looks at the history of walking through the lens of philosophy, sociology, environmental science, politics, literature and other arts:

"Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors," she observes, "disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it."


When I look at the way that Tilly takes in the world, "inside" and "outside" are alike to her, with only the annoyance of human doors between them. Nattadon Hill is home to Tilly . . . and I mean all of the hill, from top to bottom: its Commons, its woods, its tumbling streams, the brown bracken slopes, the green farmers' fields, and our warm little house on the woodland's edge. It's all home to her, both the land that is "ours" and the larger landscape that is not.

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And perhaps I'm not so different from Tilly. The whole hill has become my home ground too. The concept of "home" is complex for me (being the woman that I am, with the history that I have), but the wind and rain and snow of the hill is paring that concept down to essentials:

Home is a house that I share with my loved ones. It's a landscape walked with a good black dog. It's a hill that knows my particular footsteps, and a wood where the trees all know my name. It's as simple and as solid as the earth below...but also fragile, ephemeral, therefore all the more precious. Like life itself.

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I'm down with flu right now and can't manage to write a new post today, so I was reminded of this one (from 2013)  while listening to "Old Shoes," the lovely Salt House song about walkers and wanderers in yesterday's post.

Words: The passages above are from The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane (Granta, 2008), The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham (Holmes Press reprint edition, 2011), and Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin, 2001); all rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: Tilly at the bottom gate to Nattadon Commons.


Taking It Slow, Learning to Speak

"If I could not walk far and fast, I think that I
I should explode and perish." --Charles Dickens

I have camped by the Colorado River, dogsledded in Alaska, lost my fencing foil in Grand Central Station,
watched multicolored fish swim across my feet,
walked the Highland roads to gaze over purple heather
where the wildest of deer graze.

But now near eighty, I count a stroll
by a small Scottish burn adventure enough.
Nature is not a language but a dialect,
I may not understand each phrase
But am learning the grammar.

I no longer tune out the chittering squirrel,
but take time to see him, with his umbrella tail.
I take apart the infinite embroidery of spiders
with my eyes, picking out individual strands.
Time the slug as he winds along his slippery road.

I who once outran the wind, walking fast and fit
through the world, dashing along boardwalks,
across borders, on a mission, and missing
far too much, now take the marvels slowly
learning to speak them one wonder at a time.

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

"I who once outran the wind ... now take the marvels slowly learning to speak them ..." Yes, how beautiful those words. The way.

Thank you,Jane.

Thanks, Mokihana--I wrote it once here, lost it before saving it, wrote it again (which is what is now here, though I liked the lost one better. . . (sigh) and now have gone on and revised it twice more. It's now tighter, stronger. So it goes.

"Poems are never finished but abandoned"--Paul Valery,later on John Ciardi.


How true Jane. And what a beautiful way to say it...thank you.
Truly love this post Terri. Rest and get well soon .

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

For more on walking, I recommend this lovely article:

"The Sacred Art of Dog Walking" by Chris La Tray

Glad you are back with us, dearling.


What great words, from all of you! I love coming into the conversation and having so many writers sharing! (Don't claim to be one, just a reader!)

I love walking; I could watch people doing it all day. Give me an armchair, a pint of something refreshing and I'm sure I could witness a marathon with no difficulty at all.

I feel the same as you and Tilly about "home". A few years ago I lived in a house I disliked, in a neighbourhood which I thought at the time was dreary (but now see as beautiful since it at least had trees and hedges). I used to tell myself that the sea by which I spent many of my days, and the grassy hill on which I spent many other days, were different rooms of my home, and although it took an effort to get my brain to expand around the concept, it really did help.

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