60 miles for 60 years: walk #1

See this post for details of why I’m walking sixty miles to raise money for the Sheffield Environmental Movement

Porter Brook waterfall

The first ten miles are done! This was a wonderful walk, a great example of how easy it is to get from a busy part of Sheffield right out into the countryside, completely on foot. A small group of us started from Endcliffe Park, posing for a photo under the remarkable weeping beech that is apparently Jarvis Cocker’s favourite tree. From there we walked up the Porter Valley, alongside an extremely full Porter Brook. Thank goodness for a break in the torrential rain of last week!

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Our socially distanced start in Endcliffe Park. 

If I’m honest, I’d been a bit anxious about how the walk would go, who would turn up and whether they’d have anything to talk about. Of course I shouldn’t have worried. Although none of my friends who came along had met each other before, there was a really friendly, open and relaxed atmosphere. I’m so grateful to Mark Hutchinson, a trustee of the Sheffield Environmental Movement for joining us for most of the walk and for telling us about some of the early days of the monthly walking group that is one of SEM’s core activities.

From the Porter Valley, we walked along Fulwood Lane and stopped at the Mayfield Alpacas for a takeaway coffee and some birthday cake (I’ve realised these walks are a great excuse for multiple birthday cakes – five more still to go!)

Mayfield Alpacas cake stop

Sue and Julia coffee

Then we crossed over to the top of the Limb Valley, cutting through a field close to where it is believed there was once a Roman road. That brought to mind the play Black Men Walking by Testament, which was inspired by the SEM walking group. The play makes a reference to the black Roman emperor Septimus Severus, who was born in Libya but died in York after an unsuccessful attempt to conquer Scotland. There’s a great bit where one of the characters, Thomas, says: ‘After Septimus’ death, his son made Eboracum – York – capital of the North of England. So really, if you think about it, it was an African that put the York in Yorkshire.’

After winding our way down through the Limb Valley, alongside the Limb Brook, which once formed part of the boundary between Yorkshire and Derbyshire, we crossed to a field on the edge of Ecclesall Woods, where we spotted a magnificent ash. It was a poignant contrast with the ash tree across the lane at the back of our flat that is slowly withering as a result of ash dieback, and is due to be felled any day now.

ash

In the same field as the ash, Sue showed us a hornbeam she had planted three years ago as part of the celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.

Sue with hornbeam

We stopped for lunch at the Ecclesall Woods Discovery Centre, and then had a short spell of road walking before getting to the top of Bingham Park and picking up the path alongside the Porter Brook again.

At breakfast the next day I came across this quotation from the Scottish mountaineer WH Murray: ‘In short withdrawals from the world there is to be had unfailing refreshment.’

I found it in Roger Deakin’s Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, and it had been sent to Deakin by the writer Robert Macfarlane. It seemed to sum up this walk. First because what I experienced there was itself  a deeply refreshing ’short withdrawal from the world’, despite being on the edge of one of Britain’s major cities. But also because the way these words of Murray’s had passed through other people on their roundabout route to my breakfast table mirrored the glimpse I had yesterday of how gently and creatively ideas can weave between a group of people who have no agenda other than to celebrate the quiet and uncomplicated pleasure of walking together in the countryside.

Jane and Julia

Walk 1 summary

Route: From Endcliffe Park up the Porter Valley, along Fulwood Lane, down the Limb Valley, across to Ecclesall Woods and back to Endcliffe Park via Trap Lane and Whiteley Woods.

Distance: 10 miles (approx)

Walkers: Mark, Jane, Julia, Sue, Julian and Jo

Cake: chocolate courgette

60 miles for 60 years

It turns out that reports of the death of this blog were somewhat exaggerated. I’ve missed having a place to post odd bits of news and pieces of writing, especially about the allotment. What’s really brought me back, though, is a new project that I started on my sixtieth birthday in July.

Given that it was such a landmark birthday, I was hoping to have a big party, preferably a ceilidh. And I wanted to use it to raise money for the Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM), which works to improve access to the countryside and environmental activities for people from BAMER (black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee) communities.

However, a ceilidh with lots of sweaty, breathless dancing was clearly never going to happen in a pandemic, and so I decided to raise money by walking instead.

On my GoFundMe page, I wrote this about why I chose to support SEM:

sadacca women

Women from the Sheffield & District African Caribbean Community Association (SADACCA) on a guided walk organised by SEM. Credit: SEM

I’m planning to walk 60 miles for the Sheffield Environmental Movement. Here’s why!

My brother, Simon, was just seven when he died in a road accident. For a long time after that, life for my family was very difficult.

Two things made a difference. One was walking in the Lake District, and the other was birdwatching. I will never forget the thrill of seeing one of only two marsh harriers that were living in England at that time. Or the exhilarating joy of striding out along a mountain ridge, huge sky arching above me, fells and lakes spreading out on all sides, literally as far as I could see.

I think nature saved us. My father in particular, who suffered from severe depression, was transformed when climbing a mountain or sitting in a hide, binoculars pressed to his eyes as he scanned the landscape for birds.

But what if we hadn’t been able to get out into the countryside? What if people had told us we didn’t ‘belong’ on those mountain ridges. What if those bird hides that we experienced as so still and peaceful had instead been places where we felt uncomfortable, unwelcome, judged?

That’s the reality of life for many people from BAMER (black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee) communities in Britain. The discrimination isn’t always overt but it is pervasive. For example, companies manufacturing outdoor equipment primarily target a white, middle-class audience. In terms of employment, the environmental sector is the second least diverse of all, second only to horticulture.

It’s not surprising that people from BAMER groups visit the natural environment sixty per cent less than the rest of the adult English population. This has knock-on effects for health, social inclusion and educational attainment.

The Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM) is an amazing organisation that does all kinds of things to make it easier for BAMER people to get involved in environmental activities. These include guided walks, outdoor education for children and young people, and academic research on access to the countryside. A core activity is the monthly Walk4Health group, which has been running since 2004 and inspired the acclaimed play Black Men Walking .

This year I will celebrate my sixtieth birthday, and over the next few months, I want to raise £600 for SEM by walking sixty miles, one for every year of my life. It’s also coming up to fifty years since my brother died, and I feel sure that he too would have been passionate about people having equal access to the countryside.

When we were children, the only thing we worried about when we went on walks was whether it would rain or not. That should be true for everyone.

*****

The response when I launched the campaign was so fantastic that I was able to double my original target of £600. I’m now hoping to raise £1,200 before my next birthday!