Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Thursday, October 1, 2009
From This Issue
Volume 87 • Number 2
Fall 2009

Bright Lights, Big Ramble
A march through England provides intellectual rigor and plenty of blisters.
By Sherri Kimmel

Six London theatrical productions, five museums and 200 miles of coast-to-coast walking made summer learning memorable for three faculty members and a dozen students.

England: City-Country, Mind-Body gave students from an array of majors, including art history, psychology, neuroscience and theatre, a chance to acquire four credits—two humanities, two physical education—and lots of blisters.

“It was a diverse experience,” says George Fitting ’10, an English major from Salisbury, Conn., who made the 24-day journey. “If you were an English major, it made things much more real. If not, and you care about English culture, you experienced an amazing cross section of it.”

According to Jun Jiang ’12 of Shanghai, China, the class concerned “Englishness, including English art and literature, not to mention city gardens and the English countryside in general. Of course, what interested me most was the walking part of the course. That was an absolutely new and unforgettable experience.”

The idea for a course that incorporated the Coast-to-Coast Walk designed by Alfred Wainwright in the 1970s had been on the mind of theatre professor Todd Wronski for nearly a decade. Wronski developed the course with Les Poolman, director of athletics and a native of Southall, England. Marcus Key, professor of geology, joined the group for the walking portion of the class.

Their aim was to offer a triangulation of experiences—with intellectual rigor represented by readings the students completed before arriving in London, an aesthetic dimension provided by the London cultural hotspots, and a physical aspect—the route that took them, east to west, from Robin Hood’s Bay in north Yorkshire to St. Bees in the Lake District. The route uses public rights of way, footpaths, bridle paths, tracks and minor roads.

The timing was very intentional, says Poolman. “We wanted to do a summer program immediately after graduation and be back by June 19 so students could do internships or work.” The group arrived in London May 25 and began the walking portion of the course on June 4.

“The city was great, because we went to plays almost every day,” says Fitting. “It was culturally enriching, but the country was by far my favorite—walking through the expansive, bleak and beautiful moors. We’d come across a crumbling ruin or where a Roman road had been.”

Economics major Alex Baranick ’10 also preferred the walking portion but notes that a highlight of the London experience was hearing Rick Fisher ’76, who won a Tony Award for the lighting in Billy Elliott, talk about that production just hours before the Dickinson group saw it. “During all the shows I saw after that I paid more attention to the lighting and the dramatization of the plays,” says Baranick of Scarsdale, N.Y.

Another highlight was seeing the art that they studied at the Tate Britain in London come alive on the walk. “We’d been looking at paintings by Turner and Constable then were in that landscape,” says Fitting.

The different perspectives presented by the professors added to the diversity of the experience, he says. In London, “Todd would lead a class discussion on the plays and the art; Les would participate in the discussion and tell us things about British culture, local history and how things have changed since he lived there.” On the walk, “Marcus would tell us about geologic formations.”

During their 13 days of walking, the group averaged 18 miles a day, 24 on the longest. The shorter walks weren’t easier, though, says Baranick. “We would go straight up and straight down, and the day would be longer and more strenuous.”

“Everyone was surprised by the physical rigor,” Wronski confirms. “A lot of people have done a 15-to-20-mile walk, but they didn’t get up and do it again the next day.”

Blisters were the greatest impediment for the walkers. Fortunately, Baranick, an athletic trainer at Dickinson along with fellow traveler Cemre Eren ’10, and Poolman were along to help with any injuries. “Alex mended a lot of folks,” says Wronski.

While they found the natural beauty stunning, the students also enjoyed interacting with local residents. “My favorite part out in the wilderness was staying in other people’s homes,” Baranick says.

Fitting went native in other ways. “I liked to try whatever was unique on the menu. One day it was lamb’s liver in gravy. It was really tough. I also was the only one who ate the black pudding every morning. It’s a poor man’s sausage made out of cow blood. It looks like a little black hockey puck.” One nice surprise was “hanky-panky, a chocolate cake with syrups drizzled over it.”

Besides writing two papers during the London portion of the class, relating their readings to what they experienced in the art and plays, students kept a journal. Each day of the walk two students served as navigator and narrator, relaying historical or scenic tidbits. Students also created a final project “that encouraged them to bring clarity to their personal experience,” Wronski explains.

Fitting penned a nature poem (below), Jiang wrote a paper comparing Chinese nature poetry to Wordsworth’s poems, and Baranick produced a PowerPoint of photos. “I took photos and compared landscapes from the countryside to the city,” she says.

Reflecting on the class, Baranick adds, “Experiencing the culture, meeting new people and the walking were great. We loved it and were so glad we did it.”

To view snapshots and hear about the highlights from the 24-day, 200-mile, coast-to-coast hike through the English countryside, check out the Bright Lights, Big Ramble Audio Slideshow.

Below is Fitting's poem on the experience:

Codicil for Constable 

Rounded mountains rose
beneath the clinging gauze
of cloud shadows
Brown ground ground down
from peaked pertinence
by impermanent intrusions
of ice

Their bleakness brimmed
with brambles and burned
heather, beautiful
as an unrung bell
Broken limestone stretched
like bones around
a green enclosure

Inside
lambs worried
teats, bleated question
and reassurance
Their voices

So much clearer
than the last thin calls
of a stray now
sinking
into the bank of Grisedale Beck
where he’d wandered
after the others had left
him alone

We came upon him
there before the footbridge
his hooves
like candle stubs

Turned our heads
and crossed the quiet
water

The wind blew play-
fully and a little too hard
as we climbed
nearer 
the sky

—George Fitting ’10

 


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