Wednesday, October 17, 2007

'I'll never walk the same again!'

That is what one of the participants said after last week's 'walking and writing' workshop at the Drovers' Tryst walking festival. On a golden October day we walked a figure of eight around Innerpeffray near Crieff. It's an appropriate place to play with words, being Scotland's oldest free public lending library, and still housing a fascinating antiquarian book collection. A place redolent of history, education, religion, where earls and Highland chiefs lie under your feet as you walk in the chapel, it was described as 'a jewel inlaid in the fields of Perthshire' by Robert Crawford in his recent poem 'The Digital Library, St Andrews' written for National Poetry Day.

We tuned into the rhythms of our feet, talked about how you describe sunlight on the river without cliche. We made notes, made our own lines through the land, drew maps, found metaphors and made up names for places. An early exercise to experience the environment without sight sharpened our other senses so that feelings, smells and sounds were scribbled in our notebooks for the remainder of the walk. The flowers of the Himalayan Balsam brought their sickly reminder of my childhood garden. Birds haunted us - the squabble of geese in a nearby field, cormorants splashing from the River Earn, and the wings of pheasants thrown up from long grass by our feet near the Castle thudded and throbbed like the starting up of old British motorbikes.

Participants were a mixture of writers and walkers.What became clear was that the process of sharpening senses and looking for metaphor whilst on a walk can enhance the experience. But also that walking is an effective meditation for good writing - giving access to the unconscious, to rhythms, and to the immediacy of outdoor experience.

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