White Ribbon Walk
16th March 2017
A walk from my home to The Rodd to hear Chris Drury talk
I had wanted to walk to the Rodd from my home since the beginning of Lines in the Landscape. Chris Drury was to give a talk at 6pm and my intention was to walk to the Rodd, rest a little, listen to the talk and then walk home. I estimated the route would be 5 hours either way and planned to leave home about 11.30am and return approximately 12 hours later. I decided to tie white cotton tape on to branches as I walked so that, on the route home, in a ‘breadcrumbs in a fairytale’ sort of way, my head torch might illuminate them. I packed a shawl that my brother had brought back from the Annapurna mountains over 20 years ago, a torch he had left behind when he visited (the last time I saw him) at Christmas 2015 and a large, leaf shaped piece of felt that had been made from the fleece of his sheep to be placed on his coffin. I thought these things would be useful if I became too tired and had to lie down in the forest to rest.
As I was tying a piece of white ribbon on to a twig in the forest, a man, a woman and a dog named Bo walked by and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I am walking to Presteigne,’ announced I with a flourish, ‘and I will be walking back in the dark and this white ribbon will illuminate my way.’ Afterwards it occurred to me that it may have been foolish to have shared such information with a total stranger, but I pushed the thought from my mind.
It was an uneventful and pleasant walk to the Rodd, although the second half was less enjoyable. The flat land below Byton was overgrazed and felt defiled, the meandering Lugg had undercut its banks and lengths of fence, posts still attached, bobbed in the water. At first the route was unclear; I strayed too close to the marsh between the river and Coombes Moor and the ground sucked menacingly at my boots. After I left the Lugg I attempted to follow a path through a large farm but new, industrial buildings blocked my way and I had to detour across the main road.
I was not scared of walking alone at night but I did not want to take avoidable risks so, because of the dangers in the second half of the route I decided, on the walk home, to accept a lift from The Rodd to the Limebrook turning on the Lingen road. This meant that my walk in the dark would be almost entirely cross country, with only tiny stretches on single track lanes. The arc of my headtorch was reassuringly wide as I walked down the gated lane to Limebrook. I was surprised to find the gates had been padlocked since I passed through earlier, so had to climb them. The cottage windows glowed warm and I wondered what the inhabitants would think should they look out and see my figure skulking by.
I crossed the stream and, following its course, walked a narrow strip of meadow that formed a channel through steep woodland on either side. I came upon my first white ribbon and broke off the twig to carry as a talisman. The night was quiet and the mizzle had cleared. When I reached the lane to Deerfold I sat under the stars on a yellow grit box, poured coffee from my flask and (courtesy of the Rodd) ate little parcels of brie wrapped in salami. It was comforting to see the tiny specks of white ribbon emerging from the black and I had gathered quite a bouquet of twigs by the time I had reached the outskirts of the forest. I carried my brother’s torch in my coat pocket and switched it on intermittently; it still worked but the head torch was far more practical.
I walked the track through the forest. Twigs snapped and leaves rustled; animals watched, but all I could see were pairs of retinas reflecting red. Tawny owls talked over me and one crossed my path, his underbelly illuminated. As I approached the stretch where I had met the man, the woman and a dog named Bo I became nervous. What if ‘man with Bo’ had said to his wife, ‘I think I’ll just take Bo out for a late night walk,’ and he was there, waiting next to one of my white ribbons? I was ashamed of myself; imagining that ‘man with Bo’ was capable of such a crime. How could I think such a thing? The noise of movement in the forest became louder; a small herd of roe deer maybe? I tried to steady my heartbeat and swept the arc of my torch across the path behind me and towards the noise; simultaneously scolding myself for such an unfair accusation and forming an escape plan should he attack. The crunch of footsteps through the forest was very close to me now. Should I switch off my torch?
My brother emerged from the scrub at the edge of the track wearing an old brown gilet over a Guernsey, moleskin trousers, socks and crocs. In his right hand he held one of his yew bows and in his left, dangling from their feet, were two dead rabbits. ‘There you are,’ he said, ‘I wondered when you’d turn up.’ And he walked alongside me.
‘My place is just over there,’ said Tim, lifting the dead rabbits to gesture towards a clearing in the trees. I saw a bell tent, its canvas doorway rolled up to reveal a lamp-lit interior. A kettle sat steaming on top of a little black stove. Tim made a cut with his knife in the belly of one rabbit, inserted his fingers either side and peeled back its fur, revealing the net curtain of connective tissue between muscle and skin. A little bird flew down from one of the bent hazel sticks that supported the canvas to sit on his shoulder; it was a one legged siskin. ‘No way!’ I said, ‘Is that Peg-leg?’ and Tim smiled and nodded.
There was a basket of new spring leaves; hedge mustard, wood sorrel, nettle tops; and some early St George’s mushrooms. ‘The last month has been a bit sparse,’ said Tim, ‘but things are starting to grow now.’ And he told me of his plans to slaughter a deer and smoke it in strips over oak chippings to make a kind of jerky; of how he was capturing wild yeast to make beer flavoured with Burdock roots and pine shoots. He lifted wooden lids in the floor of his home to reveal baked-clay lined holes where dried food could be stored for next winter.
My phone hiccupped; a Whatsapp from Andrew. ‘Stupid Google’ was typed below a map showing my location some 15 miles north of where he thought I was. ‘Can I come and see you again, Tim?’ I asked. My brother shrugged noncommittedly and avoided my gaze; he never was a good communicator. Reluctantly, I left him gutting his rabbits and stepped out of a landscape where anything was possible.