Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

From north to north

27th June 2020

As a western European with a liking for cool temperate conditions, the sweltering temperatures we got on Wednesday and Thursday did not suit me so much and hot nights did my sleep little favours. One saving grace is that these did not stay around that long and today though is cooler if rainier. It would be better to have it dry too but I will more than make do with lower temperatures.

One thing that strikes me is my wanderings often take me northwards. Scotland was a favoured haven for many years and Scandinavia also retains my favour. Of course, we cannot travel so far at the moment and Swedes are even more restricted given their management of the pandemic. In any event, it is either Norway, Iceland or even the Faroe Islands that would lure me their way.

All of that is for the future right now so I am sating my wanderlust through my reading. This often takes me north and that especially has been the case with Gavin Francis’ True North, Malachy Tallack’s 60 Degrees North and Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North. The first of these featured much of Scandinavian Sagas with the second being much more like a journey of personal discovery.

The last of the three is even more literary than the others and conflates British thinking on the north along with that in other more obvious places around Europe, North America and Asia. To me, it feels like a bifurcation even if some British authors and painters did venture to Iceland and Greenland themselves. It may be that the point happens to be that there is no universal feeling towards the northern reaches of our planet.

After all, it might be that what draws me north sends others south and that could apply to reading choices like anything else. As it happens, there is quite a canon of northern reading in my e-book collection. The list also includes Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, John McPhee’s Coming into the Country and Sara Wheeler’s The Magnetic North. It may be that the spareness of the empty landscapes is what allows the creation of more meticulous prose or that the stories are about how insignificant humankind is in such places and is that which draws me. After all, my idea of a good walk is one that includes plenty of solitude.

A growing collection of Scottish could be added here too but for there then being too many lists in one blog entry. Still, there might be something to the explanation being the attraction of emptier lands. Nevertheless, many account feature stories of people too so there may be the sort of tension in my reading that Peter Davidson includes in The Idea of North.

When I went checking to ensure there was no title repetition, I met up with a post from 2014 written after I completed Paul Morely’s The North. That was a peopled tome and included England’s north-west that I read largely on buses and trains during a testing bunch of years when family bereavements turned over my life. Reading my own words now feels a bit like reading those written by another author. All it took was the passing of a few years to do the separation.

We all are going through testing times at the moment so you only can dream of long distance travel even if you see airlines restarting some of their routes. Until I go from north to north in reality, there could be more virtual travelling via accounts written by others. Some will be adventurous enough to start roaming soon enough but I reckon that it is better to see what their experiences are before doing the same myself. The pandemic journey is not over quite yet.

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