Christopher Somerville’s A-Z of walking
N is for Notebook
– 387, 388, 389, and that’s it, till the next time I go walking. There they sit on their own special shelves, 389 of them so far – the little red-spined, black-jacketed notebooks that have tracked my walking life over the past 30 years. I know there are 389 of them because I numbered them myself, in thick black felt tip on the spine. They’re catalogued by content on my computer: 74, Henry Williamson’s Exmoor; 143, Barnacle geese at Caerlaverock; 264, Wattenmeer Mud Walk. What a resource; what a treasury of memories! Finding the very spot where Tarka fought the otter hounds; crouching by the moonlit Solway Firth as 3,000 geese flew overhead with a jet-engine roar; doing the cancan for sheer joie de vivre in long black stockings of Frisian Island mud.
I probably wouldn’t keep notebooks if I didn’t write for a living. All that mind food, all those people and places, would be so much compost in the memory garden. The little black books are useful when I want to check if scabious grows on Watership Down or whether it’s gritstone or limestone in Miller’s Dale. But most of them I never open once they’re full. I just like to have them there, that great weight of memories hanging on my study wall.
Anal annals? Well, you could say so. Should I lighten up and chuck some of the old ones away – No. 49, to take a random example? Probably should, yeah, let’s just check. Sligo and Westport, my first walk through Ireland. What have I scribbled here? It’s hard to read through the Guinness stains. “Reeled home at dawn, rain hammering down – sore lips from harmonica – all back to Olcan’s after the session – never laughed so much, can’t remember what about…”
Pure gold. And all mine.