Scooting from East to West…

10.00 Monday 7 May
Leave Essex base and head for the open road, via fuel station for a top-up.

10.20
Adjust load – steering is very light, and I am carrying a heavy pack on my back – relocate to footboards between my feet. Payload successfully evenly distributed and I’m away again.

11.06
Pull up in Colchester, a mere 12 miles from base. I need to use SAT NAV, without any doubt, if I am to make it out of the county. I plug in Bluetooth headset and set Googlemaps for my first scheduled stopping place. And on I go.

Things certainly got easier from that point and I began to make good time. I started to get a feel for the road and confidence built, mile after mile. It was not an easy journey by any means, but I reached my first night’s stopover with time to spare. What happened over the 110 miles from Colchester opened my mind and my heart. It also made me a far better rider. I’ll be writing about it in more detail when I return to Essex in a week’s time.

Fifty hours after leaving Essex, I rode into Montgomeryshire – Home. I stopped to take a photograph to prove it, then enjoyed every single mile further into my home patch, arriving at my final destination less than an hour later.

 

This was my first solo journey of more than twelve miles from base, a grand total of 330 miles travelled, and in another week, I’ll be leaving Wales behind for a while and travelling back to Essex. On the way I’m going to be making a stopover at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye. It’s one of those ‘Bucket List’ things. In all the years I lived in Wales, I never managed to get to the festival, so now is my chance. More on my return about my adventures in Hay.

Hiraeth and returning to Wales

Hiraeth – a Welsh word with no analogue English equivalent, is a concept akin to the longing of homesickness and the deep desire to be home, coupled with both sadness and the joy of remembering. Hiraeth is an emotion that has haunted me throughout the time I have been living away from Wales – over twenty years. Each time I go back, I feel the wellspring of energy from the mountains fill me up, and when I have to leave again, I feel it draining from me and in its place is hiraeth.

Tomorrow, I’m starting a journey – a journey home. At this moment I am full of many conflicting sensations and emotions, not least that of the heightening of hiraeth which happens when I’m going home. I feel a little anxious. I feel excited. I feel joyous. By Wednesday when I cross the border from England to Wales, I am pretty sure I’ll be flying. The purpose of the journey is to attend a conference and to do field work in connection with my PhD project. I’ll be interviewing folk far and wide, and writing lots too.

Next Sunday morning I’ll be reading from my writing on Hiraeth to the annual conference of AWWE (The Association of Welsh Writing in English) at Gregynog Hall, near Newtown in Powys.

You can follow my journey on my Instagram and on Twitter feed by following @writingwalking on either. I’ll be attempting to update this blog each day during my journey, wifi willing.

Starting out is taking some time.

The first three weeks of life as a postgraduate research student have flown by; so quickly I must have blinked and missed them!

I’ve spent much of my time filling out forms, attending ‘Welcome’ events and meetings, and finding my feet in my department and with my funding body. I have also been attending seminars for an undergraduate module in Writing Dreaming and an MA module in Writing, Poetry,  and Performance. I thought it might be a good idea to help me to get back into the flow of study again, to attend one or two classes. Overall, it has been good, but I am now wondering whether to continue. I am also taking a course for PhD students, on the PhD Writing Process, which I hope will walk me through the beginnings of my PhD journey.

I have had my first meeting with my supervisor who is encouraging me to ‘just write’, but I am finding it difficult to break that white space. I’m writing notes, scenes, vignettes, but nothing that feels concrete yet, but I guess at only three weeks in, that’s allowed.

My funding body has a Student Advisory Group and I have joined the group, hoping to gain some insight into how CHASE works and how I can make it work for me as well as my colleagues. We are involved in the organisation of the bi-annual conference that will be attended by the entire CHASE cohort, this time to be held at my home institution – the University of Essex.

Over the summer, I have been fortunate to have been commissioned to undertake a series of walks in my local area, as a walker and Pscyhogeographer, for a project called New Geographies, which hopes to re-map the East of England with places that mean something to the people who live here. To publicise the project and to encourage people to nominate their favourite places, I was one of a small band of people to take part in events organised by the Art Exchange at the University of Essex. Dr James Canton led a walk in which we searched for lost Roman roadways. Professor Alison Rowlands gave a talk about the Essex Witch Trials. Local historian, Norman Jacobs, gave a talk about the Pavilion in Clacton on Sea, and I led walks around the Roman town walls in Colchester, the beach at Jaywick, and around the Tree Trail at the University of Essex. This has helped to generate almost 300 nominates of places to the project, a map if which can be seen at the New Geographies website HERE. I have met some interesting people along these walks and hope to keep in touch with many of them.

Walking is such a large part of my process, so being limited in the distances I can walk at the moment is a source of deep frustration, but there is a light on the horizon – meet Black Betty – with whom I am in the process of forming a deep and meaningful working relationship.

Betty arrived around ten days ago and we have been getting to know one another carefully. My son has been coaching me and making a terrific job of it. I’m sure we will very soon be roaming the roads not just in Essex, but in Lincolnshire, in Wales and around the UK – in the name of research. I will share photos from our travels too, so keep your eyes peeled. For anyone interested, Black Betty is a Sinnis Vista 125cc, 2013. I have not ridden a motorcycle since my misspent teenage years, so this is one huge adventure.  Betty will also be one of the narrative devices in my writing. I think she deserves pride of place too!