Outlook Issue 27 Spring 2019
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Walking the Way
Before the advent of the motor car and unless one was rich, the only way to travel was by walking. Pilgrims and pedlars, farmers and foresters, shepherds and seafarers, walked. Roads were merely watery lanes or dusty tracks, depending on the weather. Our countryside is a huge latticed-crossing of ancient paths, there through traditional usage or by law. Increased leisure time, especially in the last century, gave people the opportunity to walk for pleasure. And it was pressure and spirited action which eventually gave greater access to the open countryside, especially moorland. Most rural counties, in order to maintain and regulate footpaths, bridleways, green lanes and other rustic walkways, keep definitive maps and employ a footpath officer. Footpaths are often disputed. Some landowners have fenced across legal footpaths. Some footpaths are waymarked, with signposts. It is possible to walk great distances over attractive, flower-rich countryside, following official Long Distance Footpaths, such as the Pedder’s Way, leading from Suffolk to North Norfolk, and, nearer home, the Suffolk Heritage Coast Footpath. Other examples are Offa’s Dyke, and the Ridgeway (pictured), an ancient walkway over the Downs. During their prime usage, footpaths accorded access to towns from villages – and goods for sale were carried by packmen and dealers. In Victorian times, with emigration and the growth of industry, footpaths enabled aspiring families and individuals to walk to railway stations or to the docks. Only in the inter-war years did working families begin to purchase cars. Creative walkers Footpaths feature in our culture, in paintings, in prose and in poetry. Hardy, Edward Thomas, and John Clare were keen walkers; William Wordsworth, it was said, walked 180,000 miles in his lifetime. These and other creative walkers put down on paper and canvas their thoughts and observations. Most landscape painters worked en plein air. The Dorset poet, William Barnes, wrote a poem about a lane, with ‘The geate a-vallen to’ (‘gate closing’). Richard Jeffries writes about the white chalk of his native Downs, and D H Lawrence, in Sons and Lovers, describes ‘a wet, red track’. Many artists painted the rural scene, and some returned again and again to a specific landscape, as did Eric Ravilious to his beloved South Downs. And once, on a Lenten pilgrimage to Walsingham, we met a lady artist who loved footpaths. She used the local soil of various paths to create paints for her landscape paintings. We admired her artistic integrity, working for truth in her art; it matched our thoughts that day: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’. Michael Stagg