Clare Balding’s Ramblings

Last updated: 5 August 2019. ! still listen – continues to cover many of my preoccupations, while being warm and familiar, if perhaps moving further into cosy corner over time. Ultimate Ramblings: Geoff Nicholson.

Ramblings is a BBC R4 programme hosted by national treasure Clare Balding, broadcast since 1999. It’s quintessential R4 and prone to well, rambling, as Clare gets into conversation with her fellow walkers. Specialised clothing is often a given, but it’s not all gruesome group hikes. Dogs often feature.

Back in 2013 I hurled the programme into my feedreader and in a Herculean effort listened to the entire archive of (then) 100+ podcasts in six months. Here are some which set me off on my own rambles:

  • In search of the old ways: a ‘linear walk’ with Robert Macfarlane; “you need to learn to love your place…we all have our heartlands”
  • Chilterns American Women’s Club hiking group: this was fun, being an ‘expat’ myself; the particular type of international women here were almost exclusively Anglo Saxon professional wives; note to self to look for DK expat walking groups to not join…
  • The Walking Book Group: Clare joins Emily’s Walking Book Club for their monthly meeting on Hampstead Heath, all very north London; from the group walk point of view, having a book to discuss meant there was no need for awkward small talk, while from the book club POV it felt more relaxed than a ‘sitting down’ club at someone’s house, which can be quite competitive, particularly regarding cakes. My main problem with book clubs is that they never discuss anything I want to read. Should I maybe try a three circle Venn diagram with Dogenhagen? That would be just me, you see.
  • Six miles (again) with Toyah and her dodgy hip and Litter picking with David  Sedaris

Back on Hampstead Heath, The Harrow Road walkers explored views from different vantage points around London and seeing things from different angles. This reminded me of my brother’s comment about “the queer folk” who live round the back of Arthur’s Seat. It’s just not right.

Ramblings 17, hosted by ‘passionate hiker’ Stuart Maconie, took this idea and ran with it, so to speak, in a series of city skyline walks. This included a fascinating account from Bath, where the National Trust’s Bath Skyline Walk, their most popular download with 9K a year, has even got its own Twitter account (@NTBathSkyline). See too Bill Aitchison’s account.

Bath, like Rome and a few other places, is built on seven hills, but is now known for its hen nights. Stuart’s walk (six mile circular, on a ridge) was in the company of the Bath Beat walking group: specialised equipment rating probably around 3. The walk took in a number of POIs (scroll!), such as the university, Solsbury Hill, the British Bobsleigh Track, Sham Castle and Smallcombe (hamlet, five mins from central Bath), ending up on Bathwick Hill with views inter alia of Bath Abbey, Kelston Tower House and Pulteney Bridge (one of four bridges in the world with shops across its full span on both sides).

Points of personal interest, aka even more curious facts corner:

  • Bath Dogs Home is one of the first UK dogs’ homes, opened in 1937, and pioneer of the no destory policy (currently houses 130 dogs)
  • mention of Street Pastors, never heard of these before I came across Natteravnene in Denmark
  • industrial heritage: the walk passed Bathampton Rocks, a limestone quarry, with deserted tramways used for transporting stone downhill to the Kennet and Avon Canal (mid 1700s)
  • Ralph Allen: became a postmaster at the age of 19, wanted the view of a castle from his home at Prior Park so built Sham Castle, a one wall facade complete with drawbridge and portcullis

More skylines:

  • Belfast: the perspective from the Belfast Hills, where you can’t see the murals or the peace walls, but on a clear day can see Galloway
  • Lancaster: traversed by both Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie, home to the Taj Mahal of the North
  • The Garth (nr Cardiff): the story of the Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain (plus 2008 re-run)
  • The Lickey Hills: overlooking Birmingham and its five (again) hills, one of which doesn’t really make it…the flat middle of England, no higher point between Beacon Hill and the Urals (that’s some viewshed); a train sponsored by Cadbury for the benefit of its workers used to run to the top; perfect for a Sunday constitutional or to get inner city types into the countryside – all very Living Streets and why not? “walking is still not really viewed as a valid form of physical activity”

And finally, the Manchester episode, with Simon Armitage. The lads take a ramble on Marsden Moor near Saddleworth, aka Posh Oldham. Update: Magnetic Field (2020) brings together all Armitage’s Marsden poems.

pboto credit: Guardian

Saddleworth is a bit schizophrenic, having been part of Yorkshire until 1974. The moors are the lungs of the north, while the Pennines are England’s spine, with a drop on one side to the North Sea and on the other to the Irish Sea. Views on this walk of Jodrell Bank and Beetham Tower at the end of Deansgate, the fourth tallest residential building in Europe. Fab.

Simon’s Walking home is a classic in the walking canon’s ‘challenge yourself’ sub-genre. Described as a ‘troubadour journey’ – Simon walked without a penny in his pocket, stopping along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms for bed and board. At one point he is in danger of bumping into Seamus Heaney, also undertaking a walking project.

Simon talks about how the logic of a walk keeps you going, you are in competition with it and have to win. It’s mentally hard work, a different sort of challenge from other stresses such as deadlines. Walking pace mimics a heartbeat, and also the iambic pentameter, say some…a process not a product.

The follow-up, Walking away, doing the South West Coast Path to Land’s End and beyond, rather spoiled things for me, with its sateliite events, extensive Gdn coverage and all. In the ‘meta-Armitage’ Bringing it all back home (from 2010’s Seeing Stars. included in Magnetic Field), complete with Simon Armitage Trail, our hero goes on a tour about him in disguise only to find that the tour guide doesn’t know much about him.

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