a ramble (before my preamble)

Before my proper preamble to my PhD season (where I’ll write about what exactly it is I am hoping to research and write about during this PhD season)…I want to first share about my first experience rambling.

rambling – walking in the countryside.

I am certain there is a better definition out there, but for now, suffice to say that “rambling” is the tradition of walking through the countryside that is particular to the England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and (of course) Scotland.  In Scotland in particular the “Rights of Way” and “Right to Roam” enhance the rambling experience.

  • According to Scottish National Heritage, a right of way “is a route along which the public have a right of passage. To be a right of way, a route must meet certain conditions. The main ones are that the route must have been used by the public for at least twenty years, it must connect two public places, and it must follow a more or less defined route.”
  • The Land Reform Act 2003 formalized Scotland’s tradition of free access to the open countryside.  This essentially means you are permitted to walk (ramble) just about anywhere (with a few exceptions like private gardens, railways, and airfields) as long as you don’t disturb the vegetation or harass livestock or wildlife.  This is quite different from where one is permitted to walk and hike in the States.

I’ll get into my research topic in a post to follow soon, but “rambling” is part of what I want to investigate for my PhD dissertation.  Although no boots-on-ground type of field work is required for a history PhD, field work is necessary to me and the way my mind works (even if just done in my free time).  When at all possible, I’d rather experience something I’m reading about, not just read about it.  So field work will be a regular part of my PhD season (if for nothing else than for my own sanity).

Fortunately for me, rambling was not something I would have to only read about. There is a local rambling group which I reached out to and they invited me to come ramble with them Saturday (a sort of test run to see if I waned to become a full member of the society…and believe me, I am going to sign up to become a full member after I finish this post).

One of the first comments I received when I showed up at the Madras College car park to meet the group and start the walk was “you’re going to bring our average age down by quite a margin” to which I replied “I do what I can.”  Most members are closer to retirement than I (or already in retirement) but I thought this would be the case coming into it, and honestly I felt quite at home in the group, they made me feel very welcome.  They felt like kindred spirits of a kind to me.

The walk consisted of a 9 mile loop through and along the local farms on the outskirts of St Andrews proper.  We started at 1030, had a tea break at 1100 (peppermint today), a lunch stop at 1300, and finished around 1500.  We walked through small tree-filled areas, past lovely dilapidated brick buildings, along the edges of fields (careful to avoid any vegetation), past cows and sheep, past hay bails, with sightings of house martens and a red kite, and snacking on some wild black berries.  We walked along a portion of the Fife Coastal path and got a great distant, elevated view of St Andrews from afar and from the coastline as well.

I was quite charmed by the experience and am looking forward to researching rambling in greater depth, and looking even more forward to participating in many more rambles to come as a full-fledged Rambler member.

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