Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Northumbrian Beauty

When I tap "beauty" into the Google search box for my photo collection, I get a flood of too-easy, stereotypical beauty. There's enough sunsets and mountaintops to induce indigestion in even the most hardened tourist.

But the picture at the top of this post is top of the search results.

It's October 2015. I'm standing outside the Fenwick department store in Newcastle upon Tyne, north-east England. Instead of the usual merchandise or animatronic Christmas displays, the windows promote generic looks. In front, two strangers march in lockstep, neither likely to use the advertised products, at least not in public.

Clarty, Isn't It?

There's a local word: "clart": "a clot or daub of mud." I've been greeted with a cheerful "clarty, isn't it?" when I've walked the muddy trails of north-east England. I wish I could get that word out of my head when I look at the digitally airbrushed models, with their layers of foundation and concealer.

I was in England to finish my "Walk around Newcastle." I had a few dozen miles still to walk along the lovely Northumberland coastline from Bamburgh to Jarrow.
Ultimately, I made it as far as North Shields, just short of my goal. I could see Jarrow across the River Tyne, but the pedestrian and cyclist tunnel that would get me from here to there was closed for refurbishment. Wabi-sabi hiking, an imperfect conclusion.

The Northumberland coastline is beautiful with its broad vistas, rivers flowing into the sea, cliffs, ancient castles, quaint villages, piles of lobster pots on quaysides. Then there's the beauty of hiking: wind on my face, trail on my boots, a world in motion, companionship and aloneness, my mind floating freely.

A 12th Century Castle
I said goodbye to my brother and an old family friend who had stayed with me in a hotel in the village of Warkworth. I looked up at Warkworth Castle as I followed an estuary towards the North Sea.

A Long Beach
A man I'd seen a few minutes earlier poked a finger towards my GPS and said "not much use is it?"

Sand dune trails are like that, they take you in circles.

Unasked, he pointed out the shortest route, not understanding the point of my hike.
I'd never walked this far on a beach before: close to ten miles of firm sand underfoot, crashing waves, and late season low sun.

An Industrial Place
For several hours, my view was dominated by huge industrial silhouettes: abandoned chimneys and functioning wind turbines surrounded by farmland and sea.

The chimneys rose out of a shuttered aluminum smelter. The shapes moved relative to each other as I moved along a serpentine path towards, around, and beyond this postindustrial mix: rising and falling, eclipsing and revealing.

A welcome contrast to the easy beauty of a castle or estuary or beach.

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