20 Missions 7: Walking in Nature

Mission 7: Walking in Nature

Walking through the land or ‘journeying’ was an essential part of life in times gone by. Before roads and cars, before fences, before ‘agriculture’, before ownership, people’s relationship with land was very different.

an ancient carving of a maze, or journey at Rocky Valley

Journeys were important because in ancient times, and in many other cultures still, the true purpose of a ‘sacred journey’ is to awaken one’s own consciousness. The outer journey is symbolic of the journey within. Walking in quiet places away from cars or other modern pollutants creates a special relationship with the land. One that is becoming harder to find even where I live in Cornwall as they invade every inch with their noise and stink.

There are still places here where you can suddenly find yourself in a land that could be ‘any time’ in history and you are able to shift, to become independent of time. Simply a walker alone in the landscape, you become one with the land about you.

It is ironic that Cornwall gets more popular for this very reason. Increasingly accessible due to new infrastructure, the influx of more than half a million people in the tourist season is destroying the very thing they come for. For example, last summer, I was told about fights breaking out between local and visiting surfers, usually the most laid-back of people, over possession of the waves.

Because of Cornwall’s geographic isolation to the ‘foot’ of Britain, it only started to integrate into England with the West Saxon King Athelstan in the 10th Century. Even in the 17th Century a land trip from Cornwall to London on ‘Russell’s Wagon’ would take two weeks and it was compulsory to write a will before leaving. A colloquial expression ‘As big as Russell’s Wagon’ still exists in Cornish recorded history as it was the biggest moving thing ever seen by locals. To journey by sea was the preferred way in and out of Cornwall before roads got down this far.

Cornwall still suffers from this geographic isolation in economic terms. One advantage of this traditional isolation though, is that Cornwall still has a few secret places. I feel grateful that megalithic projects like the famous Eden Project nearby actually keep tourists out of the woods and away from them. Places like Druid’s Hill or Restormel Castle, places like Helman Tor or the few quiet rural footpaths and lanes that still exist are getting harder to find.

The Australian Aborigines might call some of these ancient ways ‘song lines’ and still have a living tradition that follows them. In order to find your way through the landscape, you need to know ‘the right song’ and call the land into being before you. Because Celtic tradition was oral rather than written, much of the Celtic past we have now is lost or presumed. It is easy to imagine songs of journeys existing before maps, following landmarks or churches. With an oral rather than written tradition in Ancient Celtic Cornwall, these journeys through land might be made into stories or songs, a kind of ancient A-Z, if you learned the songs.

So this week’s mission is: if you can find isolated lanes or footpaths, away from cars and noise, for this mission I invite you to undertake a silent walk alone in nature.