Crossing the river in sturdy boots was easier than barefoot, which I did the previous time to save myself a soaking.
The rain passes, the ground is damp and the clay soil surface is slippery. We head upstream to see where best to tackle the steep bit from. Following a tributary, a clearing opens up. We stop and stare, reminded of a scene from prehistory – no sign of buildings or even that people had been there. Fallen trees are strewn around the river bed and there are no signs of the careful intervention of humans as large, horizontal tree carcasses lay roughly stacked to head height against the trunks of those trees still standing around the river bed, conjuring up scenes of deadly torrents, like a false memory that feels real.
At first this brings on an idea of neglect, as if people aren’t looking after it properly. The ‘mess’ makes me think about how we like to control; clearing and cleaning. Keeping our interests unclogged and free flowing. After a while it dawns on me that this is the natural state of things, that not everything is manicured and controlled in order to flow the way we want. The river makes its own course.
When we find the way up to where the rocky scramble begins we’re excited, the river’s chuckle dies away, we pick our way up through the rocks, one behind the other. It’s pretty obvious that this is rarely traversed by any large creature; chunky rocks, delicately balanced, tumble down the hill with the slightest tug. We quickly change formation from line to side by side to avoid broken bones. These loose rocks feel unusual, almost as if the landscape is falling apart. They are lumpy, volcanic rock, ready to roll. I begin to feel our presence as a disturbance, a form of vandalism, but then the feeling that we are witnessing something beautiful begins to fade into view in my mind and take over.
Movement is apparent, the rocks are on the go. I get a sense of drift, different to anything I could measure; the slow work going on here in nature. The rocks flow. All is motion and by dislodging these delicately poised rocks a story is released. It takes seconds for a single rock to roll, dislodged down the slope but for that rock to take a more natural course could take hundreds of years. The land imparts its idea of time, taking great care to show us what’s possible. To me this is slowness and purposelessness; pure potential. Anything could happen. The slow journey of the scree is full of wisdom, something to tune into, to learn from.
We come across an old, overgrown settlement. A still visible road, now tree lined and crossed, tails off away from where we’re going. The forest feels homely and serene, mosses absorbing our words, giving the place a comforting, indoor feel. Tall young ash trees take our eyes straight up to the newly leaved canopy. A soft green roof and a cushy carpet invite us to talk about camping out.
Time speeds up again and we’re at the next challenge. Picking our way though crumbling rock faces, heavy walking boots and rain soaked cliffs a slippery combination, so we choose a less vertical place to ascend. Then we climb and suddenly the going is steep with nothing but clumpy grass and a few rocks to hold on to. One way up so we’re in line, me at the front. I’m suddenly hit with the seriousness of leading, especially with so many loose rocks around. My focus increases to a point where I am 100% cautious; each hand and foothold has to be certain, every rock tested thoroughly. As we reach the top, taking a wild boar track through bushes and under branches for the last part, thoughts start to return. The feeling of how focus clears the mind of unnecessary thoughts makes me want more as we reach the treeline and start to chat again, with a bit of a new buzz, now walking through an open field and back towards the trees.