I’m spangin’ upwards, following a waterfall to its birth lake below Cadair Idris mountain in Snowdonia, Wales. Spangin’ is a Scots word used by writer and explorer Nan Shepherd to mean walking vigorously. It’s a word she introduced me to in her beautiful book The Living Mountain (composed during the second world war) in which she writes about her long climbs into the Cairngorms.
I’m thinking about her today as I chase this gorge path like a creature on the run. I need to regain a sense of balance on a slightly tense family holiday with small children and I’m so elated by this simple act of walking (away) from everyone and upwards into hush forest which obscures me, my body is almost shaking. The recent heavy rain means that when the path flattens out it becomes pure bog and so I’m turning back on myself and treading the same walk again because I don’t want to stop moving.
I’m thinking of that word spangin’ with all its vigour, as my feet fall fast and firm on the ground. I’m definitely spangin’ because I’m seeking the gratification that comes from movement and speed. Nan would be telling me to slow down a pace, to redirect my attention to the lay of the forest floor, to the sounds of the water and the cool of the air and to the bright yellow wood warblers. I’m holding her close because I know I’m still learning how to do this: how to connect my attention, my being to the hills or the mountains themselves rather than to the effect they have upon me, upon my body.
In her slim and perfect book which is part memoir, part nature writing she says of her own journey into the hills and mountains, ‘At first I was only seeking sensuous gratification. As I grew older, and less self-sufficient, I began to discover the mountain in itself. Everything became good to me, its contours, its colours, its waters and rock, flowers and birds. This process has taken many years and is not complete…The thing to be known grows with the knowing.’ I’m conscious that for me walking as I am today - beyond the racket, the cries and the sulks - is less poetic than Nan Shepherd’s solitary, sensual journeys into the Cairngorms. But I’m also likely to be romanticizing now. Her use of that brisk word 'spangin’' is also tempered by another Scots word, ‘bydin’, which means to stay or remain in one place, to sit or stand or even sleep - on a plateau or next to a river. This is to know that, as she writes, 'I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am. To know Being, this is the final grace accorded by the mountain.’
And so I’m holding these words to me today, and Nan too, on my short walk into the Welsh hills with the inkling that to know Being as she tried to, is nothing short of a lifetime of spangin' and bydin'.
Sarah is a radio producer whose work has been broadcast across the BBC networks and on international strands. She also loves making podcasts and other creative audio adventures.
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