Tuesday, September 3, 2019

From A.H. Sidgwick

Elaine and I were both struck by this passage, describing the look and feel of clothes and gear during and after a several-days walk:

Boots have grown limp: clothes have settled into natural skin-like rumples: the stick is warm and smooth to our touch: the map slips easily in and out of the pocket, lucubrated by dog’s-ears: every article in the knapsack has found its natural place, and the whole has settled on to our shoulders as its home. The equipment is no longer an external armour of which we are conscious: it is part of ourselves that has come through the combat with us, and is indissolubly linked with its memories. At the start this coat was a glorious thing to face the world in: now it is merely an outer skin. At the start this stick was mine: now it is myself.

When it is all over the coat will go back to the cupboard and the curved suspensor, and the shirts and stockings will go to the wash, to resume conventional form and texture, and take their place in the humdrum world. But the stick will stand in the corner unchanged, with mellowed memories of the miles we went together, with every dent upon it recalling the austerities of the high hills, and every tear in its bark reminding me of the rocks of the Gable and Bowfell. And in the darkest hours of urban depression I will sometimes take out that dog’s-eared map and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that once I was a free man on the hills, and sang the Seventh Symphony to the sheep on Wetherlam.

A.H. Sidgwick, “Walking Equipment,” in Walking Essays (London: Edward Arnold, 1912).
We found a shorter, carelessly transcribed version of this passage in Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking, ed. Duncan Minshull (Cumbria: Notting Hill Editions, 2018). That led us to the original, available from the Internet Archive.

Here is a brief biography of Arthur Hugh Sidgwick (1882–1917). And here is what Elaine has written about this passage.

Related reading
All OCA walking posts (Pinboard)

[“Curved suspensor”: my guess is a hanger. The Gable, Bowfell, Wetherlam: hills in England’s Lake District.]

comments: 4

The Crow said...

I hope you won't mind, Michael, that I sent a link for this post to a blogging friend in northern England. The title of his blog is ConradWalks, and as the title suggests, he walks all over England. The passage you posted above reminded me of some of Conrad's posts about his journeys and the perils and pleasures he's encountered.

I enjoyed the quoted passage very much, makes me want to read more.

Michael Leddy said...

Heck no, I don’t mind. :) I’ll look at his blog. Who knows — he might already know this book. It turns out that there’s quite a literature about walking, but I don’t know how well known Sidgwick is in it.

Richard Abbott said...

How lovely to read that!
Wetherlam is also a hill quite near the Gable and Bowfell - technically here in the UK all three are hills rather than mountains as they are under 3000'. Wetherlam is about 5 miles from where I sit right now, Bowfell about 7, Gable about 9. Wetherlam and Bowfell are at different points off the many-branched Langdale Valley, while the Gable is above Seathwaite.
There's also a common link in that all three are on approach routes to other destinations, as well as being grand in their own right. Bowfell and Gable are on two different routes up to Scafell (which is a mountain, and the highest in England :) ) while Wetherlam is on the way towards the Old Man of Coniston.
Wetherlam is also a brute of a hill when approaching from Langdale, and has defeated my ascent in the past (it is easier coming from the south). It's not especially high but the top quarter is steep and difficult, with apparent paths that lead you astray. Gable and Bowfell, though higher, are notably easier.

Michael Leddy said...

So great to read your comment, Richard, and to think about how close these places are to you as you’re reading.

I wonder why I didn’t think to look up Wetherlam. Probably because I overlooked on and thought in. Wikipedia calls all three mountains. I’m going to follow your cue and call them all hills.