Seriously? Snow?!

October 29, 2012

I know I’ve said it before, but I really love autumn, the time of year when the sky goes all grey and sombre but the colours on trees and bushes and suchlike just seem to go into overdrive…

This year, though, here in Vienna we were in for something of a special visual treat, the rare combination of the red and golden leaves of autumn with freshly fallen snow:

Now, I must admit that last week when the forecast promised snow for the weekend I remained sceptical – after all, it’s only October and we don’t usually get snow around here before November. Well, as it turned out, the forecast was right…

While there was only very little snow in the central parts of the city, things were looking decidedly more wintery in the Wienerwald hills just outside of town.

Even there, however, the snowfall hadn’t been all that intense and it looked more as if some heavenly being had sprinkled the land with powdered sugar overnight.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist therefore to take a Sunday morning walk in the Wienerwald woods yesterday, though I must say I was glad that most of the walk actually lead through the woods…

…where the trees provided shelter from the chilly wind.


Out in the open, unfortunately, the strong wind somewhat perturbed my enjoyment of the glorious views and proved a harsh reminder that winter’s pleasures come at the price of often annoyingly cold weather…

Not that I’m complaining, though… After all, there is such a thing as hand-knit sweaters to protect oneself from the cold, and the beauty of the autumn woods in the snow more than made up for any inconvenience the weather might have caused.

Exmoor by the book

October 16, 2012

So, we promised you’d see/read more from our trip to Exmoor National Park in September and, finally, here we go…

In a way, our first stop on the way to Exmoor was at Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street, London, back in July, long before the actual trip. Daunt is notable for preserving its beautiful Edwardian furnishings, and we visited it mostly as a kind of tourist attraction (yeah, as if we needed an excuse to visit a bookstore). But we ended up buying a walking guide of Exmoor there – which seemed only appropriate since Daunt Books is specialised in travel. Their amazingly wide selection is arranged by country, and the cool thing is that the respective sections not only include the usual guide books and travel writing but also works about a particular country’s history and works of fiction from or pertaining to that country. For instance, the section on Austria had a selection of books by Austrian writers like Robert Musil, Thomas Bernhard or Elfriede Jelinek, but also Graham Greene’s The Third Man or William Boyd’s recently published Waiting for Sunrise, both of which are (partly) set in Vienna.

Complementing a travel experience with a well-written work of fiction is of course right down our alley, so we were happy to find out that Exmoor too has its go-to book, R. D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, first published in 1869. Subtitled A Romance of Exmoor, this is basically a love story. It is, however, set in the tumultuous late 17th century when bloodshed and rebellion were very much the order of the day in southwestern England, so there is plenty of (melo)drama. And of course the fact that fair Lorna Doone’s family is a gang of notorious, bloodthirsty robbers doesn’t make things easier either…

In the heart of Lorna Doone country: The 17th-century packhorse bridge across the Badgworthy Water at Malmsmead

Having said that much about Lorna Doone, I have to confess that I’m only reading it now and that despite my interest in 19th century literature I wasn’t really aware of its existence before we went to Exmoor. In Exmoor, though, the novel and its characters are pretty much omnipresent because, as I now know, the story is rather famous and apparently the people on the local tourist boards have recognised its marketing potential… There even is a Lorna Doone walk which will take you along the Badgworthy Valley, to the church in Oare and other places which feature prominently in the book. While we didn’t go on that particular walk, we got close enough to at least get a glance at Badgworthy Valley, home of the thieving, robbing, murderous Doone family:

We did get a much closer look at the valley of the East Lynn River, though. In fact, we followed it all the way from its origin in Malmsmead – where it is formed by the confluence of the Oare Water and the Badgworthy Water – to Lynmouth where it flows into the sea or, more precisely, the Bristol Channel. This valley, too, features in the novel, and when you ‘hear’ the book’s first-person narrator, Jan Ridd, describe how he makes his way along the rocky bed of the East Lynn River, it makes for a particularly vivid reading experience when you walked along that same riverbed only a few weeks before:

Or take, for instance, Jan Ridd’s accounts of venturing across the lonesome moorland:

The fog came down upon the moors as thick as ever I saw it; and there was no sound of any sort, nor a breath of wind to guide us. The little stubby trees that stand here and there, like bushes with a wooden leg to them, were drizzled with a mess of wet, and hung their points with dropping. (p. 33)

I followed the track on the side of the hill, from the farm-yard, (…) and so up the hill and the moor beyond. The fog hung close all around me then, when I turned the crest of the highland, and the gorse both before and behind me looked like a man crouching down in ambush. But still there was a good cloud of daylight, being scarce three of the clock yet, and when a lead of red deer came across, I could tell them from sheep even now. (p. 118)*

Reading descriptions like these now conjures up quite precise images in my mind – just look at this photo taken on one of our walks on the moor just west of Badgworthy Valley:

Admittedly, what you see in the picture isn’t actually proper fog, rather just some haze and drizzle, but I believe it still provides a fairly good impression of what Jan Ridd might have experienced all those years ago. And although we didn’t have to fear men crouching down in ambush, walking on the moor with limited visibility like that and no trace of other human beings anywhere can get slightly eerie even in our own days. On the other hand, of course, it is pretty awesome and besides, after only a short while the haze cleared up and the drizzle stopped, leaving only small drops of waters lined up like pearls on spiders’ webs in the heather…

* Page numbers refer to the Penguin Classics edition: Richard Doddridge Blackmore, Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor, edited with an introduction and notes by R. D. Madison and Michelle Allen, London 2005.