These posts are contributed by a variety of people in celebration of John Muir as part of sharing our John Muir Award activity. To find out more see the About page. You can sign up to follow us by email to be notified of new posts.
And we’re off!
We did it. We did much more!
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out ‘till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir.
We did it. We did much more – 26 John Muir Trust staff and Trustees set off for a cumulative 1000 mile walk and undertook 275 walks covering 2017 miles!
At least that’s one way of looking at it. Perhaps what we really did was get out from behind our desks, out of our offices and houses, get outdoors and notice, enjoy, look and think about what we found. Part of what we found collectively was great variety. We did things differently and in doing so maybe we inspired each other to think a little more, see further, breathe a little deeper. Would you walk as Muir through the mountains? What would John Muir have thought?
Was that an outing or an ‘in-ing’ we just had to our National Park? In this Year of Natural Scotland we wanted to celebrate John Muir and his journeys, and to take that beyond Scotland to the rest of the UK and further, after all his legacy is worldwide.
We’ve enjoyed some amazing observation through photography,
and encountered some wonderful biodiversity.
There have been epic mountain journeys on the Isle of Rum and further afield in the Pyrenees.
As well as local journeys to and from work in Leith.
We’ve reflected on the place of technology in our enjoyment of the countryside. Sometimes been reluctant to get out but happy, and thankful, that we have done so.
We’ve followed rivers, walked with friends. Explored with family, helped save our soil and written songs in celebration.
We’ve drawn inspiration from John Muir but also looked to the recent past in Tom Weir, and to those exploring in the present day – Alastair Humphreys with his micro-adventures.
Perhaps we’ve even inspired some contemporary explorers.
“I’ve been following with admiration the various new initiatives of the John Muir Trust – not least the variants on the 1000-mile-walk that have appeared (including that guy who went the full Muir beard-and-costume distance)!” Robert Macfarlane.
Despite being spread around the UK our walks, and the sharing of them, has been a great communal undertaking across our organisation. An experience which has both connected us to nature and to each other. Now you can pick up the baton. In 2014 we celebrate the centenary of Muir’s passing. What can you and your group do to mark his life of exploration and adventure? We have already heard from groups planning on walking parts of the new John Muir Way and outdoor centres who are accumulating their own 1000 mile journeys.
Staff from the Outward Bound Trust’s Loch Eil centre have taken up their own collective 1000 mile walk this winter with visiting schools from North Lanarkshire Council.
“It is a great way to celebrate John Muir, and engage the visiting groups with adventure, walking, map reading and measuring. It should also be quite an impressive collective achievement too!” Emma Pearce, The Outward Bound Trust, Loch Eil, Scotland.
Let us know your plans.
Where will you go? When will you go?
“My days in the wilderness will live with me always. Everything there was so alive and familiar. Whoever gains the blessings of one mountain day is rich forever.” John Muir.
For more ideas see www.discoverjohnmuir.com/muir-activities
Wild wet west!
Posted by Mel Nicoll, Pitlochry.
As a family we walk many miles regularly – to and from school and the village as we go about our daily routine, as well as regular hillwalks away at weekends. My contribution to the 1000 mile walk is a short walk we did this past weekend, a weekend where we ended up in the wettest and dreichest part of Scotland, whilst others basked in the late summer sun!
Having spent Saturday largely indoors at the climbing wall (my arms have recovered enough to type today!) we were in serious need of fresh air and “persuaded” the children how much better they would feel after a blast up a hill … We picked Meall a’Bhuiridh, the Munro on which the Glencoe ski area is built. You get a 1000 foot headstart on this hill from the ski centre car park and Grahame thought the low cloud would nicely mask the ski lifts, tracks etc, making it a good choice for a fairly foul day, whilst rainbows en route suggested we might get lucky with the weather…
It was a somewhat surreal outing. The first part of the walk was a steep pull up underneath the chair lift to Coire Pollach, carefully avoiding the downhill mountain bike track in case someone came hurtling towards us out of the mist. There was a stop en route in the shelter of one of the ski buildings for an early lunch. Surprisingly – or perhaps not (they’re not likely to be overrun half way up the hill) – the ladies toilets were not only open but also heated! The first time I have encountered such facilities on a hill walk … As we climbed higher up the final slopes we picked our way over and around the various machinery, fences and tracks that makes up the ski area. Not a pretty site without snow cover. At one point when we stopped for a snack Laura accidentally let a bit of rubbish from her snack fly away. As we (successfully) chased it down she was heard to say (to my relief definitely tongue-in-cheek) “not that it matters, it’s such a mess here anyway!” Cue a discussion on the need to respect and care for our environment regardless of the state you find it in… Two out of the four of us in our family quite like downhill skiing but recognise its impacts, both visually and in wider terms – seeing a snow machine made us talk about whether it can be right in an age of global warming to use energy (and water) to make artificial snow; we clearly saw how erosion increases once the soft ground is damaged by vehicle tracks; we talked too about the jobs that the ski centre brings to an area where there are few jobs.
We pressed on up into the swirling mists, across slippery scree and squelchy moss, now battling into the wind and getting increasingly damp. There was a tantalising moment when the cloud looked as if it would roll right back and grant us that elusive view but no, just enough of a window opened to get our bearings in relation to the neighbouring hill Creise, before it closed right back in. I reflected on how although the hill has taken a beating and probably doesn’t rank high on the list of “best Scottish peaks” we were still experiencing something special – a sense of being up high and in a wild place, especially with the weather factored in.
A few moments on the summit and a bit of exploring around the top lift station, before an easy descent down one of the pistes, following snow fences and ski tow wires and, with the effort of going uphill now over, the kids lapsed into happy and relaxed conversation on a broad range of topics, one of the special things about walking together as a family.
About 2.5 miles distance covered, and 2000 feet of ascent.
500 miles across the Pyrenees
Posted by Chris Goodman.
Not content with having walked hundreds of kilometres in the last year surveying paths and undertaking site visits across JMT properties, I thought I would spend my summer walking the entire length of the Pyrenees, 800km from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
When you’ve got 50 days in a row of ascending and descending 1,000m and walking for 7 to 8 hours each day with a heavy pack in hot weather you can’t help but ask yourself ‘why?’
I’ve discussed this with friends and when I asked a good hill walking buddy why he goes into the hills he simply said, ‘because it makes me a better person’. When he gets back to Glasgow after a weekend in high places he has more tolerance and patience, is happier and more at peace and more able to deal with the stresses of work and city life. As he said, he feels ‘purified’.
I understand what he means. After spending time alone in wild places, particularly high mountains, something changes inside. The background ‘grey noise’ of hassles and stresses goes quiet and an all pervading sense of acceptance and peace slowly emerges.
Having returned to the man-made world I am still haunted by memories of sunrises from high Pyrenean summits where low mist separated endless ridges as far as it was possible to see. I am called back to these high places by these memories where I walked free and lived by nature’s laws and only hope that I too am made a better person because of this.
1000 Mile Walk inspired songs
Posted by Katrina Martin, Cumbernauld.
Since I started my 1000 mile walk contributions I have written two songs, largely influenced by my wanderings through Scottish wild places. Probably no surprises that one is about the Cumbernauld Glen bluebells! I started writing it during the same walk I wrote my “Secrets of a Bluebell Woodland” blog entry, but have only recently finished it after several tweaks.
The other is very John Muir Award influenced and is a culmination of a variety of experiences I have had since I first got involved with the Award over two years ago; the lyrics of which just happened to materialise during one of those rare moments when I was strumming a random tune on my guitar and it all just came together with very little effort or thought.
Although song-writing is a very personal experience for me, and I appreciate this won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, I like the thought of sharing my lyrics to finish off my blog contributions. Plus it makes a change from millions of photographs!
The Bluebell Song
Blackbird sings at first light
Open those sleepy eyes
Float down through the trees (where hoverflies dance)
Reaching to touch drops of dew
Clinging to petals
I tiptoe through ringing
Bells of blue
Dancing so freely
In spring breezes
That carry sweet subtle scents
I remember so well
Inhale them deeply
I am home
Sit down in the shade of a tree
Next to sleepy bee
Not yet warmed and ready
To do her hard days graft
Where the wild deer roam
Watching over their blue gold
Close my eyes and listen
As the old oak whispers so soft
In ancient tongue long forgot
While the small stream trickles, babbles and gossips
To the bells about what’s been and gone
And they nod their flower heads and laugh
I watch them basking
In the glory of spring sunshine
But soon the woodland will stand sobbing
In the late June rain
Washing the last of the magic away
And when the last of my days does come
I hope it is in early June when you are standing strong
Inhaling sweet perfume-infused air
Tired eyes will close
As last breath passes
Frail smiling lips
All signs of life fading
Travelling away on the breeze
To become one with the wise words
Whispered by the trees
Have you ever
Run barefoot through a meadow
Have you ever
Played in a rain storm getting soaked through
Have you ever
Tasted sun sweet berries
Straight from the bramble bush
Have you ever
Felt this free
Can we please go outside today
Release our cares
Watch them float away
With these simple pleasures
Have you ever
Tried to get a worms-eye view of the world
Crawling through wet grass
Sparkling dew drops clinging to every blade
Looking up and feeling so small
But being a big part of it all
And have you ever closed your eyes
And felt the bark of a tree (really felt it)
Explored the cracks and crevices
With blind fingertips
Like the sun breaking through dark clouds
After a thunderstorm
Trees and the birds and the bees
As they emerge and carry on
Let’s break free
You and me
Enjoying simple pleasures
Journey from my garden gate
Posted by Rebecca Logsdon, Pitlochry.
When I moved to my new house in Perthshire, a good friend encouraged me to explore the 100 metres from garden gate before setting further afield, to really get to know what is on my doorstep. So for the last 5 years I’ve have spent my time looking closely at what I have nearby. Through the help of my son’s childhood eyes I have met the same tree in all seasons, given them a name, visited the same nettle leaf every day for a month, watched the sky change from the same spot, made dens and learnt which plants to eat when.
I now feel I have permission to go further, to the tops of the mountains I have spotted from a distance, to walk to the woods, see the lochs and bothies that others have told me about in my local area. What makes it happen is having childcare and two Wild Days from the John Muir Trust!
I’ve been inspired through my work with the John Muir Award, where groups are connecting to wild places on their doorsteps. In particular, hearing from Alastair Humphreys of the joys of a micro adventure (trips that are close to home, affordable, easy to organise, that may be small, but still encapsulate Adventure) http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-2/
So my adventure begins with a sense of excitement packing, whittling down what you definitely need to take, the simplicity and pride in self-sufficiency. Far from John Muir’s pack ‘as light as a squirrel tail’, I set off from my back gate into the woods beyond. Although still very familiar, with a pack on my back I’m now seeing with a sense of adventure, through new eyes. I leave in mist, a sea harr that has come inland. The feel of a rainforest, the wetness, the diversity and the denseness.
I’m reading ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot – that likens Scotland’s west coast woodlands to rainforest and I can certainly see a likeness in my east coast woods. With ‘Rewilding’ being discussed throughout the book it becomes a theme for reflections on my journey. How much of the wild I see is truly wild? Are these really dynamic environments? I can’t help but think that they are missing something without the keystone species (wolves, beavers…).
The wildness on my walk – the ancient oaks and some diversity, with Birch and Rowan, but I’m seeing the Sycamore coming to dominate this stretch of woodland and no understory of young trees due to deer browsing. I’m reminded of pupils from the New School of Butterstone doing their John Muir Award in these very woods removing sycamore samplings and that I must get in touch to offer my help.
Coming up into the open moorland, I’m sad to be saying good bye to what I think will be the last tree for a while.
My surprise to come into a fenced area where young trees are growing (Scots Pine, Rowan, Oak, Birch) filled with birdsong. Hope and reminder that ‘Rewilding’ is happening on my doorstep and that there will be an opportunity to visit again to experience this young wood at a different stage, having witnessed its early beginnings. The fence makes me wonder though what else is being stopped from coming in to the enclosure? To be truly dynamic we wouldn’t need fenced off areas but the introduction of natural deer predators such as wolves. Our idea of the wilds doesn’t really take into account things that we aren’t so comfortable with. Would I feel so happy to bivvy out for the night with wolves roaming?
On my way up I fall naturally into ‘Act like a Victorian’ naming the plants that I see- Mission:Explore Muir Mission http://www.jmt.org/jmaward-mission-explore-john-muir.asp . It works really well as something to tune into whilst walking. I don’t recognise everything but find it reassuring and fun to come up with my own names: Prickly globes/ purple jaggy giants (Thistles); starry night flower (Eyebright), torn pinks (Ragged Robin), firework plant (Bog Asphodel), old man’s beard or Muir’s beard (Bog Cotton). It reminds me though of the distance we have travelled from our ancestors who would have been really connected to this landscape and its flora and fauna. They would have passed on the common names of plants, their uses and observed characters. It seems somehow so much poorer to describe through colours and shapes, as an observer in the landscape rather than as part of it.
Feeling like I have earned a pause on top of Deuchary hill and amazed to find a bowl like shape between the peak that I had so often viewed from afar. I’m a little sorry I don’t have the top to myself as I’m joined by three other walkers but we end up talking about our connections to wild places and whether this has continued with our own children. People are so much more open in an open landscape.
The views take in the wild landscape and glen up to Pitlochry but I decide that my place to stay the night would be somewhere I couldn’t hear or see the road. The itching feeling of wanting to keep on the move- I had to make tea to keep me enjoying the top for a while (a tip from Muir himself).
And then to searching for a bivvy site, an art indeed- near water, shelter or sense of enclosure, off the main track but in a windy enough site to keep the midges off (my bivvy has no midge net). I chose the edge of a small woodland overlooking a loch, enjoying the sun and watching the wind in the trees, moving over the loch.
A wild swim in the lochan, which was warm and clear. I’m reminded of how this landscape is in the winter time when the lochan would be frozen over and it would be hard to stop for even a short while.
How did people fair in this landscape? So far I’ve had two wild strawberries and three not so ripe blueberries. I fall asleep looking at a view between the trees of Schiehallion. Lots of tossing and turning in the night to get comfortable, the strange call of the woodcock and deer barking waking me up. The sense that it is just not getting very dark, and finally a view of stars at some waking point in the night.
I’m greeted in the morning to a light dew and spiders webs now visible all around me. The grass is swaying loaded with dew drops. The joy of eating breakfast, alone and already in the hills, looking over a loch with the excitement of another days walk. Packing up has a kind of harmony too with things now finding a place. I leave the small Lochan and head down to Loch Ordie to a path again that I have seen but never taken. I was saddened to see deer in the enclosure of young trees and lots of browsing evident. They must have got in during the winter, the snow helping them to get over the fence. With the wolf gone, I wonder if anyone is managing them?
I follow some well-built tracks and bridges (I later learnt these were built in the 1800’s for Larch timber extraction), through a heather clad landscape with a few remaining trees. Passing an old ruined house I wonder who managed to make a living here, it seems so barren, even in high summer (I later learnt that this is Jock’s Bothy, inhabited until the 1940’s, children of the house used to walk over the moor to get to school- now that’s active travel!)
Lots of Golden Ringed Dragonflies on the wing, a pair mating, and another skelping up and down a burn I stopped at to boil water. I watch one catch a meal and eat it and l can’t quite get the sound of its jaws cracking out of my mind. Definitely a highlight and one of those mind images that live on.
Coming round the corner to see a bothy tucked into the trees was a delight. My heart drops though on seeing the sight of a pair of red socks hanging outside as I had come to hope for the bothy all to myself. But even a well kitted out bothy is not enough to tempt me, for my second night I choose to bivvy out under the trees – Muir’s words ‘ going out is coming in’ pop into my head. First there is a chance for another wild loch swim and time to sit under some trees, listening to a willow warbler getting closer and closer. Then to finding places for my things in the wood, removing twigs to lies down on a soft moss bed. It’s soothing to see the wind still blowing the grass to keep the midges away. I’m woken early by trampling and barking of a deer, very curious about this purple object lying down in his woods. It felt like a special meeting that I really was in his place.
I’m up and away early on the return walk home, following the Buckney Burn all the way. Something magical about following it from its source in the mountains, that I will now feel more connected to these mountains as I know where the water that flows past my back gate springs from. After the Duke’s planted area, I come back to barren heath and a few lone trees and disappointment that land owners vary so much in what they are doing to help regeneration.
With my feet edging closer my mind turns to home and my boys welcoming me there. I make them a small offering from nature, a few found feathers and flowers to share some of the beauty I have seen.
I reflect on how I now feel 2 days and nights in the wilds on my own, physically tired, renewed mentally, excited about my natural finds. The words from poet laureate, that I have taken on my travels pop into my mind “what will you do with the gift of your life left?” I know that I will make sure to have lots more adventures in the wilds, to share these with others. I am also thankful to have a job that helps peoples make these connections on a daily basis.
For a great selection of books to inspire your own adventures visit the John Muir Trust Wild Space http://www.jmt.org/wildspace.asp
Beauty as well as bread.
Posted by Graham Watson, Cumbria
Our lives are predominantly lived in boxes. I live in a box shaped house, go to work in a tin box, sit at a box shaped desk and earn my crust on an electronic box. I get out of one box and travel to meet other people in another box. Somewhere in all this I need to be creative but it doesn’t always come. Sometimes I need to escape the boxes.
Recently I found myself in Edinburgh for work and following 2 days of meetings I really needed to get out and give my body and mind some space. And what a great city to do this! Not only are there parks and the botanical gardens but there’s even a mountain practically in the city. Even better they have hills aplenty within a stones throw and, as I was travelling South, I took the opportunity to explore the Pentlands.
Unless I have all day my preferred mode of exploration is to don fell running shoes and set off at a steady run (you may well mistake this for a walk or a stagger on the uphill but I can assure you it feels like a run to me!). Some might feel this is a bit hasty for savouring the hills but I enjoy the exercise, the challenge and the sense of journeying and travel with changing views that comes from covering more ground.
It requires quickness of foot and quickness of thought on unfamiliar ground, keeping track of the map but also picking the best, most runnable line.
Alongside the freedom to run I find a freedom to think. That living in boxes seems to make me think in boxes, whereas once into the rythym of running on the hills my thoughts become more reflective, more creative. Solutions form, problems diminish. Ideas pop into my head, preconceptions are challenged. Opportunities emerge. Is this what we need to ‘think out of the box’.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir.
90 minutes running round the Pentlands and I’m refreshed, re-charged and ready for what life throws at me.
Another 6 miles along the way 🙂
Posted by David Lintern, Leith.
As my last contribution to the 1000miles attempted by John Muir Trust staff and Trustees, I wanted to say something about landscape and the way I and we sometimes interact with that.
Moving through big, airy non built spaces has a powerful effect on us. I have no skills in ecology, botany or geology but I think I understand that the John Muir Trust has thousands of members who feel like this. I work at the people ‘end’ of the Trust and am reminded daily of the significance that members, supporters and Award providers and participants give to their outside experiences. I value that very much indeed. It’s an honour to work in an organisation that has at its heart an open acknowledgment of what these places mean to people.
I was reminded of this ecology of the Trust recently when I met the originator of the Ramsay Round, Charlie Ramsay. The Ramsey Round includes all the high mountains around Glen Nevis plus another few around Loch Treig. In 1978 Charlie became the first person to run 24 Munros in 24 hours. Charlie helped pace Chris Brasher in his first attempt of the Bob Graham Round in the Cumbrian fells. Chris had to pull out, leaving Charlie to complete the round successfully. Charlie remembered Chris fondly for goading him to push his own boundaries, include those Loch Treig Munros and extend the Tranter round from 19 summits to 24. As some will know, Chris Brasher is a powerful early presence in the formation of the Trust also, purposefully challenging like minded souls to ‘do something for wildness and make the mountains glad’.
As Muir, Brasher and Charlie understood and understand, mountains are part of our culture, part of who we are. They and we aren’t separate. Over half the world’s population live in cities, and 80% of us in the UK do the same, but that cultural memory is still strong, and when we go, it feels like going home. And the people who know that feeling, and share that passion, are people that formed and now support the Trust.
What is it about this experience that is so significant? One cliche is that it’s a break from our civilised selves, the complexity of modern life. Yes, for many of us – permission not to think, good exercise and concentrating on something that is not just about my self/interactions seems intuitively like a healthy thing. Like a hobby or any form of meditation, its good to refocus the mind outside ourselves for a while.
But it’s not all going out: rest and relaxation, time out of mind, getting away from it all. It’s also going in: exploring, understanding, learning more about the world we live in, as well as ourselves.
Scale is another and connected aspect to being ‘out of doors’ – a doorway or a window is human scaled, a ridge, river or meadow is not. An expanded horizon, the airiness of the sky above and no roof! And scale extends into four dimensions too. Hutton’s ‘deep time’ is more apparent than in the world of concrete and glass – we are here for a blink of an eye, those rocks for just a few millennia more. Twice over, we’re reminded that we aren’t at the centre of the universe. A friend wrote recently that this atomisation also absolves us of responsibility, but I wonder if the longer term solution for Trust folk has been to realise our responsibility even more fully and try to put something back, day to day. A fine balance, of course: If we can’t ‘build’ wilderness, we can and do try to nurture it.
For me there is also a sympathy with symmetry, which again is something I bring to the mountain, a cultural facet. I look for and appreciate certain shapes and forms in the landscape. Siting myself in the landscape allows me to perceive the shifts of plate tectonics and movement of water and ice, how what I’m walking on is built by forces beyond my control. It’s equal parts aesthetics, and trying to understand the processes at work in the world. A cliche here might be that we are hunting order, but again I don’t think it’s as simple as that. It’s actually symbolic: about making sense, location, direction, and finding a fit. Often a disorderly and chaotic process. It’s not all rose tinted sunsets and wild flowers.
Lastly, moving through places under our own steam that are not human scaled like a building, means there is time for acknowledging the rest of life here with us in the world. I’m not religious but there is a sort of quiet sanctity about many of these experiences. Barry Lopez in Arctic Dreams describes finding himself ‘bowing’ to a horned lark on the Alaskan Plateau as a way of showing respect. Crucially, he discovers he disturbs the birds less by moving this way. I have found myself talking to plants, animals, even nodding at rocks and thanking streams and patches of grass for refreshment and a good night’s sleep. Admittedly, this tends to happen after a few days on my own! I’m not a naturalist, but I even make simple decisions based on these relationships. I might keep to burnside ridge lines to avoid startling deer, or sit motionless near partly shaded watering holes to spend time with dragon flies and common blues. This silent acknowledgment of a shared space and connections made can be profoundly moving, but it’s also practical.
In these ways and many more, it seems to me that practising humility is at the centre of many of our experiences of wild land and wild places. Even if we don’t always succeed without hiccups, humility seems to be the aim. Trying to figure out how to go softly, with grace – learning how to dovetail. That is a truly amazing thing to have at the heart of an organisation, and something I cherish.
I tried the Ramsay Round myself after I met Charlie. That’s where these photos are from. I didn’t make it, Tranter’s round plus two glens more was enough for me in the time I had. I also didn’t do anything to conserve this environment that I’m waxing lyrical about, and thereby work towards my own John Muir Award. But on the way to ‘failing’, I met lots of people doing what I was doing – going home. The mountains weren’t empty, they were full! I was happy to share my experience of these transformative places, I had enough space on my own to collect my thoughts at camp. The mountains for me, and it seems many others, dissolve the notional boundary between people and place, nurture and nature. We aren’t tourists, this is where we find a fit. It’s our home.
for more info, see http://www.ramsaysround.com
Is screen time really that bad?
Posted by Toby Clark, Clydebank
1000 mile walk, 2miles at Pollok Park.
As part of our collective 1000 mile journey to help celebrate the 175th anniversary of John Muir’s birth I took my phone out for a walk.
Why? Well, I love nature and I haven’t got a dog. I also quite like creative use of technology, and – like 30.9 million other UK residents – I have a smart phone. So why did I feel bad about this?
Recently, an exciting and reasonably high profile nature campaign has been encouraging people (especially kids) to swap screen time with wild time, Project Wild Thing.
“In recent years the rapid spread of screen technology is also keeping our kids (and us) a little, er distracted.” Project Wild Thing
A Study by the Children’s Society reinforces the view of Project Wild Thing and others. It suggests that screen time limits opportunities for physical activity and face-to-face social interaction with friends and family, and can lead to anxiety and depression.
“The greater the time spent in front of the screen, the greater the negative impact on both behavioural and emotional issues relating to the child’s development,” Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England
I’ve also just (rather brutally) been introduced to the term ‘Phubbing’ – the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention.
We may recognise Phubbing in ourselves, our loved ones, and others – I know I do – and it is a worry. I have a nagging suspicion that I do spend too much time in front of screens – at work, at home, in the pub – rather than doing other things.
And so all this ‘handwringing’ (no mobile device pun intended) led me to reflect on my experiences of going for walks in nature with my 3G enabled phone – you can see some of the stuff I’ve done below.
But here is the thing, I quite enjoy it. I do not feel worse for using my smart phone – in fact I have fun, I get (a bit) creative, and I feel that I can help put something back too.
So maybe this isn’t as black or white as the findings above suggest. Perhaps there are benefits to embracing technology in the wilds?
In his thought-provoking blog ‘Tech Time vs. Wild Time for Kids’ guerrilla geographer, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Dan Raven-Ellison recognises that ‘wild and screen time are often pitched against each other’. Dan argues that this can be too simplistic. Whilst nature and technology can conflict, they can also ‘complement, supplement and/or converge in a multitude of different ways’.
“How we use technology not only changes how we make sense of and record places but also how we create them, experience them and construct them in our minds. When we pick the technologies to research, navigate and share places this inevitably shapes and filters how we sense and process the places we are discovering.”
Dan suggests that the debate shouldn’t be wild time vs. screen time, but more about encouraging skills and confidence to pick ‘appropriate technologies and using them in moderation’.
Other educators seem to agree. The recently revised General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) Professional Standards – the stuff that is expected from anyone wishing to teach in a Scottish school – clearly supports a mix of teaching strategies and resources, stating:
“Registered teachers: skilfully deploy a wide variety of innovative resources and teaching approaches, including digital technologies and, where appropriate, actively seeking outdoor learning opportunities” GTCS Revised Professional Standards
Nature conservation and research organisations are also realising the potential digital technology resource that lie in pockets or bags of over 30 million people in the UK. Citizen Science is the involvement of volunteers in science. Recently, there has been a growth in phone and tablet apps, websites and teaching learning guides that encourage public involvement in monitoring the natural environment.
“Not only does citizen science help our understanding of Scotland’s environment, it is also great fun!” Scotland’s Environment Web
Many citizen science projects are designed to be user-friendly, don’t require specialist knowledge, and actively encourage awareness-raising. All are free.
My own (generalised) experience of teachers, leaders and youth workers is that those who embrace new technology (the innovators) are more likely/willing to embrace a variety of learning and teaching approaches – such as outdoor learning. This is a good thing.
Now, I feel more confident in combining technology and screen time with time spent in nature. If John Muir were alive today I’m sure he would be writing, gathering data, documenting adventures, creating ideas, and sharing inspiration through any current technology available – why wouldn’t he?
However, my walk in nature has helped me reflect on some considerations (helpful pointers or common sense) when engaging in screen time outside:
- Moderation – is use of technology designed to enhance rather than distract from time spent in nature?
- Purposeful – are you clear as to why you are using technology (fun and play are valid reasons)?
- Appropriate – what’s the best form of technology that helps get the best out of an outdoor experience?
- Shared – can you seek opportunities to engage with technology collectively (with real people in real time) rather than singularly (solely on-line and insular)?
Here are half a dozen apps that have I’ve found useful and freely available to download from the App Store, give them a go or discover and share your own favourites:
Finding your way – the Sustrans National Cycle Network app
A favourite of mine for when I’m out and about both on foot or on a bike, other localised walking apps are also available.
Scotland’s Big 5 App – Scottish Natural Heritage
Packed with great images, videos, sounds and facts about Scotland’s Big 5 animals as chosen for Year of Natural Scotland (also includes where to go and how to spot them).
Vine – little windows into the people, settings, ideas and objects that make up your life…
It is fun and very easy to use. Here is one from me: The Pollok Beech, Pollok Park, Glasgow. Cursed by witches?
Wordfoto (0.69p) – an app that turns your photos and words into amazing typographic works of art (or you can see my effort here).
– explore the largest community of artists, bands, podcasters and creators of music & audio. Simple and effective ways to record and share sounds around you.
Here is a song thrush I recorded earlier in this spring.
iRecord Ladybirds – an app to help record ladybirds and contribute to the UK Ladybird Survey. Help build a better picture of our current ladybirds, and monitor the troublesome invasive Harlequin ladybird.
Still discovering Cumbernauld!
Posted by Katrina Martin, Cumbernauld.
Since I moved to Cumbernauld over three years ago I have been keen to find and explore the town’s greenspaces. Growing up in the Norfolk countryside, it has been difficult adjusting to an urban environment and having refuges to escape from busy town life has been an important aspect for me. Luckily this isn’t difficult in Cumbernauld due to the myriad of nature reserves and greenspaces available and easily accessible. Many of my miles walked so far within the town have been to such places that I know extremely well; Cumbernauld Glen being the prime example, with regular visits to my bluebell friends in May and June; to walk the bee transect I have set up to contribute to species counts for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Scottish Wildlife Trust; and as an easily accessible green refuge, being only five minutes’ walk from my house!
I thought I was aware of all local wildlife pockets in the area, each with their own unique qualities and beauty. But a few weeks ago I found out about St Maurice’s Pond through the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Cumbernauld Living Landscape project. So I made a beeline for the location and what a fantastic habitat it is. A large pond sits in the centre, immediately surrounded by areas of boggy ground. Large wildflower meadows buzz with life on higher grounds and woodland fringes a large part of the perimeter. It’s been the perfect time of year to explore, with an abundance of dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, bees, wasps… the list goes on! Needless to say I spent some quality time with my macro lens and have revisited since to get some early morning shots.
It is a testament to the rich diversity of wild places to be found around the town that I am still discovering amazing places in Cumbernauld. And I love the fact that I still feel there are many secrets left to discover. So at the end of this blog, all that remains to be said – with great enthusiasm – is “What’s it called…”!
Walks in the Chilterns – Goring and Streatley
Posted by Sheila Wren, London
Earlier in the year I fell into conversation with a lady called Vanessa at a lecture on the Green Belt around London. It turned out she had worked on the Campaign for National Parks’ Mosaic project, through which she had explored the South Downs National Park. I confessed I had never been there and we talked about how close we were in the middle of London to beautiful open spaces, but seldom thought of visiting them. I pass through them without stopping at weekends because I’m usually in a rush to get as far away from the city as I can. But Vanessa said many people don’t explore them because they don’t know that they are there for them to enjoy. They simply don’t know how to access them or where to go for a walk.
So in late spring, when everything was bursting into life, we decided to do our own exploring in the Oxfordshire Chilterns, just a short train journey from Marylebone. City soon gave way to countryside and after a slight false start when we missed our stop (due to talking too much!) we arrived at Goring station where we met up with Vanessa’s friend Anne.
We stepped off the train into another world. There was no sound, apart from the retreating train and rooks calling in the trees, no rush, few people and a great feeling of stillness.
We needed to look at the route, and the fact we’d kept Anne waiting was an excuse for making a beeline for the nearest coffee shop. This set the tone for the day and I wasn’t objecting! We’d already discussed things that discourage some people from venturing into the outdoors, such as the thought they’ll be weighted down with kit, frogmarched though mud and rain in ill-fitting cagoules and presented with too many rules and regulations. We agreed that the way to introduce people to the outdoors was to make sure the experience was enjoyable; that way they’d hopefully come back and bring their friends and families. Food, Vanessa emphasised, was also an effective incentive, and not being one to turn down the opportunity for cake, I agreed!
Having made the world a better place, and left one of our bags with the obliging coffee-shop owner, we eventually set off at 11am, in the direction of Streatley. We followed a route recommended by the Chilterns Society (www.chilternssociety.org.uk ) which promised picturesque views of the Thames and wildflower meadows. Shaped by ice age melt waters, this is chalk and flint country, and it characterises both landscape and architecture. The village looks like a set from ‘Miss Marple’, with pretty gardens, an abundance of lavender, clematis and wisteria, and cottages with leaded lights and flint-studded walls.
Since Celtic times, the guide says, Goring has been a major crossing point of the Thames. From the current bridge we looked down onto an arrangement of locks and weirs, coping with a gentle traffic of barges and pleasure boats. A number of boats moored along the pathway looked as though they had been there a while, but some were getting a spot of varnish here and there and folk were stopping to chat.
After the bridge the walk skirted people’s back gardens as we passed through Streatley, but soon we were in our first stretch of chalk grassland, which is notable for its colourful wild flowers in spring and early summer and rich insect life. As with many other habitats, a great deal of chalk grassland has been lost, but here conservation groups work with farmers to try and preserve what is left. The grass is grazed in autumn and winter to reduce the quantity of more aggressive plants, and bushes and trees are kept at bay. In our first sweep of meadow there were thousands of cowslips which looked like yellow dust in the distance.
Shortly after this picture was taken Poppy rolled in something disgusting and had to be dunked in a water trough.
At the top of the water meadow, which was the brow of a hill, we passed into mixed woodland and suddenly it really felt as though we had got away from it all. In every direction all we looked down on were trees and all we could hear were birds. Here and there the trees thinned into clearings and in one there was a group of youngsters just running about having fun with no grownups in sight, which was great to see.
There was an abundance of bluebells along the woodland path which were just starting to turn, and then we were crossing a road into Lardon Chase. This is an SSSI managed by the National Trust and ‘conserved for its unimproved chalk, grassland and associated insects and butterflies’ which includes the Chalk Hill Blue. At this point we stopped and took a picture by the sign to prove we’d been there!
Just inside the SSSI there is a low-branched tree which is neither an oak nor an apple, but the way it framed the view before it, reminded me of some lines from William Barnes’ ‘Linden Lea’ ‘within the woodlands, flow’ry gladed, by the oak tree’s mossy moot’. Funny how at least some things learned in school stay in your head.
At this point the dogs were put on leads so as not to disturb anything, including some impressive-looking cattle. They didn’t seem the least bit interested in us though as they didn’t even bother to stand up and carried on munching lazily as we passed by. They looked ancient, as though nothing had changed for centuries. Perhaps they were ghosts.
At the top of the Chase, before the hill dips back down, you can go through a gate which opens up views across Oxfordshire. These were dominated that day by bright fields of rape – not my favourite I have to say but cheery in its own way. In the other direction, having almost come full circle, we looked down onto the villages of Goring and Streatley, nestling-there is no other word for it-in the valley. Lies from another ‘school ‘poem, by Rupert Brooke, came to mind ‘Standsthe Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?’ Too sentimental? Maybe, but for many, including me, the idea of some places remaining unchanged, as far as possible, is hugely important.
As we walked down the hill and back to Streatley, it seems a lot of effort has gone into preserving the character of the place. Cynics might say ‘well they would wouldn’t they’, it’s a rich area full of commuters and people will be very protective of their ‘back yards’. Certainly there is a lot of money here, but it’s probably because of that, and the expertise and ability to influence that often accompanies it, that the beauty of the area has remained intact. In 2011 the local community actually purchased land next to the church in the middle of the village to stop it being developed and to conserve it as an open space for all. Traditional grazing has been reintroduced and the sign as you go in describes it as ‘an oasis of wildness once widespread in the surrounding countryside’. Well we can argue forever and a day about what ‘wildness’ means, but in this context it is about the special plants and wildlife that used to be widespread in the area. Everyone is invited to explore the meadows, but to ‘leave only footprints.’
Back in Goring, it was time for a late lunch and welcome glass of cider, followed by a walk alongside the Thames. Willow trees dipped low into the water and it was clear from the debris clinging to some of their higher branches that floodwater had been high hereabouts.
This was certainly ‘Wind in the Willows’ country, with little boathouses tucked into the banks and more pretty cottages. It’s hard not to feel envious of those with lawns sweeping down to the water and their own moorings – one home even had a sort of summer house suspended over the river on stilts – but then again fancy having to cut all that grass…
But very quickly as we walked along the path the houses petered out again and walking through the lush meadows it soon felt as though we were away from it all, and that nothing much had changed here for a very long time.
The river flowed slowly by and with only swans, and the occasional fish breaking the surface of the water, we talked a bit about why places like this are important and what we get from them. The stillness and peacefulness put everything into proportion. Vanessa said simply that ‘there’s magic in the green’
When I did the walk on my own I did another loop which climbed a bit higher and afforded some lovely views over the Chilterns. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first one as it was less wooded and much of the route passed through managed farmland. However, I saw plenty of Red Kites and also visited Hartlosck Nature Reserve where again, careful grazing ad scrub management have enabled a huge variety of plant species to thrive. The information board says over 2100 have been counted so far, including monkey orchids. Again we are invited to ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints and kill only time.’
Of course the Chilterns is not a wilderness, or even particularly wild. You don’t walk very far without meeting somebody. But away from the roads, in the early summer when everything is bursting forth, I felt swallowed up by the greenness of it all. Things that usually crowd in were banished for a while, or at least put in proportion. For those unable to escape easily to majestic mountains and moorlands, a little bit of time at the end of a short train ride in a lovely place like this might just help keep them sane.
What did I discover? New friendships, and it seems a liking for poetry, which has been buried somewhere for a long, long time! Oh, and the Chilterns Society has a lot of conservation projects going that they are always looking for help with….
Total distance : 10 miles
Advocacy Officer, John Muir Trust