Wednesday, 4 November 2009

a 5 day journey

Robert Macfarlane again, this time every night this week on Radio 3 in a series entitled the essay - a 5 day journey "walking the length of the South Downs, exploring its chalk path and its ghosts".

The BBC's blurb is thus:

Walking the Hampshire miles of the South Downs, in monsoon rain and sunshine, Robert reflects on the relationship between paths and stories, and how old paths were imagined in 19th-and early 20th-century England as ghostly spaces of time-warp and spectres. He considers how paths might be thought of as sculptures, a kind of democratic art form; and he meets a man who has been on the road for seven years, since the death of his wife.

Walking the Downs on the Sussex-Hampshire border, Robert explores poet Edward Thomas' love affair with paths and tracks. For 20 years, Thomas walked what he called 'the long white roads' and 'frail tracks' of England's chalk country. Then in 1916, he enlisted and was sent as an officer to the chalk landscape of Arras in Northern France, with its far more dangerous paths. He was killed on Easter Monday, 1917.

Crossing from Bramber Bank to Kingston Down, in the company of writer Rod Mengham, Robert considers the Australian Aborigine concept of the songline, whereby walking, wayfaring, singing and folk memory become aligned. He explores some of the ways that landscapes can be sung into being - or 'en-chanted' - and embarrasses a number of passers-by with his own performances.

The Downs have often prompted dreams of flight. Reaching the Cuckmere Valley and the Seven Sisters, Robert re-imagines the life of artist Eric Ravilious, who was fascinated by the 'pure design' of the South Downs - their paths, ridges and light. Ravilious's passion for aerial landscapes eventually led him northwards, to Norway and Iceland. He disappeared off the coast of Iceland in September 1942 while on a rescue flight.  

Walking the final miles of the South Downs with artist Chris Drury, Robert explores the sometimes eerie relationship between walking, collecting and creation. Vladimir Nabokov, Iris Murdoch, Hugh MacDiarmid, Bruce Chatwin and Drury's own land-art sculptures feature, as does the life and death of Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in the Sussex Ouse having slipped a single, heavy flint into her pocket.

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