Counter-tourism memories

Malbork Castle in Poland, built in the mediaeval period by the Teutonic Knights, is the largest castle in the world by surface area, and the largest brick building in Europe. I visited with a friend in 1992, when we were inter-railing around eastern Europe after finishing our MSc.

Although the Iron Curtain had been drawn back for a few years, its full ‘tourism potential’ had not yet been exploited. The tour was through a series of rooms. In the interest of full-employment and limiting our freedom of expression, every room had a presence, a babushka / secret service cross.

One room had a huge walk-in fireplace, and I noticed an iron bar running across inside, above the level of the lintel. So while my friend was distracting the KGB-babushka, I channelled my primary school persona, rolled up onto the bar, and disappeared from view. She was so cross and concerned when she thought she’d lost me, and when I finally emerged, I got a real scolding.

Later in the tour, we got through a door we probably shouldn’t, and found ourselves in a wonderland of secret brick passageways. I presume they were the real castle, the walkways the defending knights would have used. They were very narrow – the defenders must have been small and couldn’t have been clad in bulky plate armour – giving a thrill of mild claustrophobia. And we had no idea where we were going, and whether we’d be caught and thrown out. But there was no-one to be seen, and eventually we emerged into a small courtyard and back onto the tour.

Counter-tourism is about a playful engagement with sites that might otherwise by overly controlled and interpreted. Since 1997, Malbork Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Smash and grab

I cycled to the dog-walkers’ field above Ludwell Valley Park. I found blackberries. I picked blackberries. I cycled home. I made blackberry water ice.

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Mythogeography – a response

Smith, Phil (2010) Mythogeography: a Guide to Walking Sideways. Axminster: Triarchy Press.

“Those familiar with the exhausted history of the arcane will pretty quickly identify the structure of the book” (Preface, p.9). Those unfamiliar may like me think WTF! as they flick through it to try and get an idea of the contents.

There are introductory notes, footnotes, endnotes, appendices, a panography (bibliography extended beyond books to, well, anything of significance), a legend and even a contents page.

And yet… it is Heath Robinson, Stockhausen, late Kandinsky in book form.

Purporting to be by “The Central Committee”, questioned as a jest by the first of many publishers’ and editors’ notes scattered throughout, it is nevertheless dominated by the two narratives of AJ Salmon and the Crab Man.

The former, entitled “The E – – – – – Walking Cult” (yes, Mythogeography contains many such coy dashes; this one is easily identifiable as Exeter, others are given away elsewhere in the text), is not only split in two, beginning the main section of the book and forming Appendix 1, but immediately directs the reader to an endnote in the middle, which serves only to undermine the text.

The latter is the Crab Man’s description of his walk in the footsteps of C – – – – – – H – – – – (Charles Hurst) as he crossed England from M – – – – – – – – – (Manchester) to M – – – – – – (Morcott) planting acorns; his digressions and meanderings of thought and step; and his creative encounters along the way.

The Preface advises “those less than thrilled by literary intrigues … to avoid [these] narratives”.

The rest of the book comprises: “What is Mythogeography?” – presented as more of a toolkit, given that mythogeography “must always be a mixture of thoughts and actions, and not so much a theory, but a series of approaches, a set of modest survival strategies, a bran tub of prefigurative behaviours…” (p.110), and drawing on the Situationists’ practice of the dérive or drift; extracts from the handbooks of various walking cults; an impassioned insert by a Nomad about women walking and pirates; an Orrery – the ur document of these handbooks (think Q, the reconstructed source of the bits of Luke and Matthew which were not lifted from Mark); and another impassioned insert by the publisher who hates the Orrery.

One particular tool of note, Khlestakovian Inscrutability: “when you next want to get in somewhere, say as little as possible … staying physically very present but not overbearing. Given the general human discomfort with gaps and pauses, otherwise obstructive guards, porters, janitors and concierges may fill the void with an invitation.” (p.154).

If not for the occasional flash of recognition (Richard Long, John Cheever, Gaston Bachelard), I would think this was a huge, marvellous, nose-thumbing prank. As it is, I am left feeling straight-laced, like a tag-along to a well-marked route, and verging on overwhelmed by the already vast corpus… but conscious that there is always going to be room for more.

Some people think I’m bonkers
But I just think I’m free…
(Dizzy Rascal)

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The not-knowing

Sometimes the mystery and the not-knowing are more satisfying and enjoyable than solution.

There is a Lethbridge Road just off Woodwater Lane. It’s not on the 1938 Land Utilisation Survey, but is on the 1945 OS map, as is Peryam Crescent, which replaced the junction of Woodwater Lane and Salter’s Road.

Lethbridge Road also crosses the Wonford Brook, and I entertained thoughts that the name derived from Lethe Bridge, Lethe being one of the five rivers of Hades, the river of forgetfulness. A romantic classical connection. However, there are Peryams and a Lethbridge among the list of Exeter mayors during Tudor and Stuart times, so there is probably no need to look further back than that.

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Olympic mythogeography

I’ve always had a problem with buses. Mythogeography tells me to get on a random bus, and see where it takes me for a set number of stops. But I’m able to end up here there and everywhere, even when I’m just trying to get home. There are two bus routes near my home – the D, which is more direct and stops just outside, and the H, which wends and stops a little way down the hill. I had a couple of bags of heavy shopping and was waiting in town for the D. Except that I was paying more attention to the BBC Olympics text feed, and thought I might as well get on the H when it arrived first, and forgot that every other H terminates at the hospital.

Two bags of heavy shopping and 1.5 miles to walk, a new Olympic sport. I had had years of training, not to mention my secret marginal gain – learning to relax when hanging from my fingertips from the rowing club spiral stairs 24 years ago, now channelled towards keeping my fingers from cramping and the bags from battering my legs. The rain had moved off, so I had perfect cool and relatively dry conditions as I pushed for home. The cheering crowds had sensibly stayed inside with their Sunday lunch, but I was spurred on by the red, white and blue lining the route – the bunting on the Flying Horse, and one or two flags on poles or draped out of windows. I had a minor wobbly on the lower reaches of Woodwater Lane, and needed a quick pit-stop and meta-carpal flex in the shelter of the bus-stop. Then as I neared the finishing line, and a restorative cup of tea, I developed a blister on my ankle, but I didn’t allow this injury to deflect me from achieving what must have been a searing personal best, had I only timed it. Someone tell the Post Office that the post box on Woodwater Lane needs a good lick of gold paint.

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Summer fruits

I was away from Exeter for a couple of weeks, and when I returned (though I returned) I remained absent. It was several days before I remembered it was ‘high summer’ and there was free fruit to be had in Ludwell Valley Park and along the suburban margins.

Or there should have been, but the cherry trees were bare, and the brambles tight-fisted. There were few red berries, and even fewer black, and those few were acid and anhydrous on the tongue. I picked a pound or so nevertheless, and will try jam. In amongst the brambles and nettles I came across a surprise raspberry cane, just reachable keeping the stomach drawn tight over the barbed wire.

There’s a solitary quince tree on the business park side of Ludwell, which I must visit soon. Quinces are coming in the municipal planting between the playground and Woodwater Lane, though short-commons and still hard green. The trees above may also produce an unusual fruit come autumn, but for the time being, the boomerang remains hidden, caught in their upper branches.

Ludwell does seem to have a reasonable crop of hazelnuts, not yet ripe but some already hard to crack between the teeth and producing tiny milky nuts nestled in white rind. There’s a fine line to be drawn between allowing them to come to ripeness, and allowing the grey squirrels to snaffle them all.

Maybe that’s where the cherries have all gone – to the canny neighbours who keep watch over ‘their’ trees. And the quinces could go the same way. And I’m glad of it. There aren’t enough people engaging with the seasons, and natural gluts and famines, instead of the false bounty of supermarket shelves.

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Stone of St Loye’s Chapel

Much of the stone looks as though it came from Heavitree Quarry, but there were many other types of stone there, including a smoother red stone, harder grey stone, white stone used in edging window interiors and slate to fill gaps. There is a lot of cement, a bad repair job on the pointing.

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