Trail Magic – dreaming of the Appalachian Trail and the PCT

Wild Cheryl Strayed

In these dark winter days thoughts return to long summer walks. At night I watch videos made by hikers on America’s Appalachian Trail  – with the hiking season kicking off in April it’s at this time of year that people reflect on their thru-hikes and others start to plan their epic trek along the 2000 mile trail.

I’ve just started watching videos from the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2659-mile long path that stretches along the western spine of the US from California to Oregon and Washington – skirting the Mojave Desert, crossing the Sierra Nevada, and scaling the Cascade Mountains, through desert, snow and forest. The nearest I get to Sierra Nevada is through a bottle of the delicious Pale Ale bearing its name that I buy from the corner shop.

The longest trail we have in Britain is the South West Coast Path at 630 miles. We’ll have to wait for the completion of the England Coast Path in 2020 before we have a challenge on the scale of the AT. Locked into the domestic routine of a stay-at-home Dad the idea of life on the trail is amplified by how distant the possibility of spending 6 months walking actually is – a distance I can measure in years rather than miles. In the meantime I satisfy my wanderlust with my excursions around London, in themselves a hangover from my twenties backpacking years, and nightly binges on YouTube hiking videos.

I have also just opened Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, an account of her PCT trek (my discovery of the AT came after reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods bought at the end of a walk to Ilford in the howling wind). A guide to the Ridgeway sits on my desk as well that sings to me at night. There are a few more winter months to while away, day-walking, watching, reading, plotting, and then … who knows what the summer will bring.


 

Here are 5 of my favourite YouTube Hiking Channels – in no particular order

Hiker Trash VideoSeven out chasing Hikers and ‘safety material’ on the AT

John Zahorian – beautifully produced videos with stunning vistas and practical advice on ultra-light long-distance hiking

Homemade Wanderlust – Jessica (Dixie) is a great guide to life on and off the trail and a good source of practical information. Also love that she hiked the AT with her dog

Will Wood – hiking everywhere across the US, always on the trail. Zpacks team member

Neemor’s World – there’s a gentleness to Neemor’s videos out on the PCT and the AT and also some good gear reviews and tips.

 

 

Will Self on “under-imagined” landscapes and “embracing the liminal”

Earlier in the year I dug out this unused footage from the interview I shot with Will Self for The London Perambulator in December 2008. He talks about his airport walks – one of which features in the film when I rendezvoused with him and Nick Papadimitriou on the canal near Wormword Scrubs and followed them along the towpath to Perivale, an episode that crops up in Will’s book Walking to Hollywood.

He also mentions some of the walks he’d taken in the past with Nick Papadimitriou –  “bisecting the Ridgeway at the concrete works near Princess Risborough and walking up into hills there, your stamping ground in fact John” – referencing the area around where I grew up and carried out a psychogeography project with my sister between 2004-05.

The walks out to the Isle of Grain, were part of “extending that idea of the liminal out into landscapes, topographies that are under-imagined in that way – the Grain for me was the great under-imagined place even though of course it features in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it features in Celine’s Mort a Credit, even though it features in Dickens it’s the opening of Great Expectations, not actually on Grain but on the marshes between Gravesend and the Isle of Grain”.

He describes these as Interzonal Walks.

The lure of such interzones is “our willingness to abandon romantic conceptions of both the urban and the rural and to embrace the liminal …. is a sign of that we are prepared to engage with the totality of our environment”.

 

 

A chat with Iain Sinclair in the basement of the London Review Bookshop

Iain Sinclair was launching his latest book, 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films so I got the opportunity to interview the great London magus in the basement of the London Review Bookshop. This was the second time I’d interviewed Sinclair, the first was for my documentary, The London Perambulator in his Hackney home 6 years ago almost to the day.

On that occasion we’d talked off camera about Iain’s elusive film collaborations with Chris Petit that had been originally broadcast on Channel 4 – The Cardinal and the Corpse and The Falconer, now impossible to find on DVD or YouTube and Iain had invited me to watch them with him there and then on VHS. But I’d had to pass up this golden opportunity as the strong painkillers I was taking following knee surgery were making me dizzy and nauseous and it had been a massive effort to get through the interview without passing out on his floor.

Those Petit collaborations had eventually been screened in the 70×70 season put together by King Mob to celebrate Iain’s 70th birthday – a year of 70 films which had been mentioned in Sinclair’s books, and screened in venues both obscure and grand, some of them joining the ranks of the disappeared before the season had been completed.

The 70 x 70 book is more than just a record of this filmic dérive around London, it is a repertory cinema season on paper, the SCALA brought back to life in print; a revival of the world of wall-charts peppered with classics by Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk, Godard, unheralded oddities, all-nighters interrupted at 4am by a punk band to keep you awake. But it is also a form of autobiography, weaving a path through Sinclair’s life and work as he discusses the background to each selection, or “an accidental novel”, as he describes it.

So we chatted not just about the book. We spoke about Iain’s early years in London as a film student and eager cineaste, the Paul Tickell film for BBC’s Late Show that captured the world of Downriver when it was still provisionally titled Vessels of Wrath. This rare 20-minute gem included memorable scenes of Sinclair reading aloud in the still semi-derelict Princelet Street Synagogue and the notorious bookdealer Driffield scavenging for rare tomes in Gravesend and Tilbury.

He discussed his collaborations with Chris Petit and Andrew Kotting. It led us to the subject of John Clare and the idea of ‘fugue’ walking, “… to do it purposefully, if that’s not a contradiction, seems quite an important way of dealing with a city that is a series of defended grids and official permeable ways that you can drift through that lead you to the next supermarket”.  Walking, Sinclair told me is “absolute”; “The silence of just moving, hearing your own footfall, listening to the city, watching the city, drinking it through your pores”.

The interview came to a natural conclusion as the camera battery ran out just after Sinclair had recounted a pavement confrontation in Hollywood with a Warren Oates lookalike. The event organiser seized their moment and moved in as went to my bag for a spare. I could have kept asking him questions all night and Iain is so amiable and tolerant you sense he’d sit there patiently answering, but upstairs Chris Petit, Gareth Evans and Susan Stenger were waiting sat before a packed audience for the 70×70 launch event.

70×70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in Film is published by King Mob

This article was originally published on 3:AM magazine

Roger Deakin quote from Waterlog

“Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things.”

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Birmingham wander

Headed up to Birmingham yesterday to show my two Solstice Walk super 8 short films in the Still Walking Festival – a screening organised by Magic Cinema and Video Strolls.

Rathayatra festival Birmingham

Leaving London can feel strange sometimes, my wanderings around and within the city occasionally breaking the borders into Essex or Middlesex feel transformative enough, so coursing through the open countryside on a Virgin train is like traveling to another country, leaving the City State for that mythical isle – ENGLAND.

Rathayatra Birmingham

After navigating a few of the city centre hills and valleys I followed the sounds of music into Victoria Square where devotees of Krishna were celebrating Rathayatra. Hindus always seem to look so happy – they clearly have something going on. I bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and chatted to the lady on the stall. I told her that I wanted a copy because I have an audio book by David Lynch where he keeps mentioning it, talking about meditation in that David Lynch voice of his but then digressing into an anecdote about Blue Velvet or Eraserhead. The lady on the stall looked slightly nonplussed.

I had about 2 hours for a wander and just followed my nose, through China Town then the Gay district. I have a pretty awful sense of direction at the best of times but Birmingham seemed to completely fry my navigational circuits sending me in large loops around rubble strewn car parks and wholesale markets. Andy from Magic Cinema said this was the effect of the city’s ‘concrete collar’, the asphalt noose formed by a series of ring roads.

The wide open roads and vacant lots put me in mind of the edge of Downtown Los Angeles. In fact it was Digbeth. I was told later that the area is full of artists’ studios and hidden galleries. It was here on Floodgate Street that I should have picked up the River Rea and followed it to Calthorpe Park, but somehow I missed it. Later at the screening I saw a film about a raft race on the Rea in the Digbeth Olympics, I now vow to go back and complete this walk.

I got sucked into The Custard Factory, and they mean ‘THE’ custard factory – Birds Custard, the only custard that matters unless you’re one of those ponces who does the Jamie Oliver recipe. Typhoo Tea was also round here, the essential tastes of England within a single block.

Birmingham is a Ruin Porn Paradise of which I only caught a glimpse. With every corner of London being magicked into luxury buy-to-leave apartments for offshore oligarchs to dump their ill-gotten gains, it was uplifting to see large parts of a city seemingly left to its own devices. Birmingham offers hope, for now at least, although god knows what effect HS2 will have.

The screening was in a fantastic space – Ort Cafe which had the vibe of the kind of place you imagine you’d find in San Francisco and reminded me of Glebe in Sydney. They made a cracking veggie burger which I complimented with a bottle of local Pale Ale. Ort is next door to the old Moseley School of Art, opened in 1900, closed in 1976 doing an Edwardian glamour contest with the public baths opposite.

IMG_0255

While I waited for the No.50 back to New Street Station, Dennis gave me many of the snippets of local knowledge I’ve briefly (mis)remembered here. He told me about the Tolkien link, how Birmingham is Middle Earth, Two Towers, Mordor and all. There’s even a Middle Earth Festival.

The No.50 in the opposite direction terminates at Druids Heath.

Best to watch this with the ‘HD’ turned on up to 1080


 

Have a look at this video by Andy Howlett searching for the River Rea and giving you some interesting info about Birmingham’s past

Walk along the Paddington Arm from Kensal Green to Northolt

Click  photos to enlarge

I haven’t been keen on canal walks recently – finding the towpath restricting my desire to drift and wander, the negation of a chance find at the end of a random sequence of turns. But yesterday I found the removal of choice liberating, locking myself onto the path at Kensal Green then chuntering along like a rickety barge till sunset and my need for beer and food got the better of me – which was around 4 hours later at Northolt, where I stumbled upon the beauties of Belvue Park and found a table at the back of the village pub across the green from St. Mary’s Church.

This branch of the Grand Union Canal offers a scenic slideshow of what remains of the ‘West London Industrial Belt’ – a zone that once employed around a quarter of million workers.
Delicious chocolate odors drift over the water from the United Biscuits factory at Harlesdon. Joggers, cyclists, and fisherman populated the canalside till I passed through Perivale then the people melted away and it was just the swans, ducks and cormorants.