I took a walk a couple of weeks ago along the undulating cliffs of Dorset. Not having walked further than the local shop for many months, I was uncertain how far I could go before my legs seized and I was morbidly curious to know when and how obviously the crash might happen. The sun beating down on the pastures, woods and pathways of the chalky terrain pushed the world into a drowsy, contented dimension, a cider-with-rosie dream of past and present fused by the buzz of insects and the unifying swish of the breeze in the twigs and grasses. I felt as if I were dissolving into the warmth and thrilled to the regular feel of step after after step through the chalk and turf of the undercliff.
On reaching the beach, briefly, and scrambling onto the rocks at water’s edge, the route, the challenge, the almost tangible motion of the world was not, I felt, up onto the downs where I had planned to walk, but along the switchback high and low rolls of the coastal path. As I gazed at the map and terrain together, a sense of possibility lit me up. There was only one option when this mood takes hold and that is outward, away from home, fervently, and with what the great walker John Hillaby called ‘ambulatory overdrive’ – the rhythm and drive that takes one beyond merely stepping and into a realm where mind, body and land all move together with apparent effortlessness. Although I had set out with no ambitions of walking far, I was gripped with the desire to just keeping going as if possessed by some previously unseen will. The chalk arch of Durdle Door drew me as if on a pilgrimage to a world apart, a place of wonder, beautiful in its hidden fold miles away.
I set out with the intention of making just one exposure on arrival and then immediately returning but I suffered a momentary lack of confidence. Thirteen miles of walking seemed a large stake to chance on what might result in a failed paper negative. A guessed exposure using a relatively untried pinhole camera in bright conditions (paper can be terribly fickle in such light) would be unlikely to be perfect first time and I bowed to the fear of returning empty-handed by making five or six exposures from the same spot. As always seems to happen, the first exposure served merely as an ‘unsticking’ event, doing little more than allowing me to tune in to the scene in a subtler way, with greater feeling than the smash and grab mentality of the conquistador. Having made this and fiddled hotly in the changing bag to reload a fresh sheet of paper, I began to see things more clearly in my mind’s eye. Ideas and feelings began to flow and I ended up making this unusually high number of exposures from one position.
The return journey proved just as fascinating as I wandered past cruising peregrines and hunting kestrels. I bowled along filled with a sense of a having made a real pilgrimage to a place of wonder and of having paid some homage to the ability of being able to walk unfettered and strong at long last; a sense of being able to use freedoms so often taken for granted.