Wednesday, April 30, 2008

working pathways

This set of steps, built in 1792 into a vertical 250 foot cliff face at Whaligoe, seven miles south of Wick in Caithness, has seen hard service. With a step for every day of the year, they zig-zag down to an otherwise inaccessible fishing station. Women carried the catch up the steps in baskets, for removal on foot to the markets of Wick, or it was cured below and collected by schooner. They returned down the steps to thread the bait, or to bring bottles of hot tea for a crew that had to go straight out again, or to collect cargo. Luckily they were sturdy, and said to be as strong as the men.
One of my favourite stories about the women of Whaligoe concerns a Dunbeath crew left in bitterly cold water after their boat hit rocks in 1870. Rescued in the final stages of hypothermia by a Whaligoe boat, the men were carried into the salt house. The women who had been waiting there for their own boats, revived every man by stripping them of their wet clothes, taking off their own, and laying with them.
Having recently tackled cliff steps on the Cornish coast path which seemed designed for a giant only able to move in a straight line, I found these steps remarkable for their moderate sashays to and fro which made climbing and descending a breeze. It seems that when paths are made for working as well as walking, such as the Spanish Mozarabic trails designed for loaded farmers, they are both durable and kind on your body.

Here's another one - a mule path through the extraordinary rock sculpture park that nature has made between Piana and Ota in Corsica. A delight to walk.

1 comment:

The Solitary Walker said...

Your recent posts bring to mind Gary Snyder's poem 'Riprap' for some reason - I think the combination of paths, stones, words and the textures of nature.

Coincidentally I wrote about a rocky stairway myself a few days ago - The Roman Steps in West Wales.