Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Rosendale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rosendale. Show all posts

Friday, November 1, 2013


While I was in upstate New York I walked along the “extended Wallkill Valley Rail Trail,” in and around Rosendale.  I used to spend a lot of time in Rosendale because my girlfriend lived there, and we did often go walking around the area.  It was a while ago, and not all the routes are very clear in my memory anymore, and although I did remember walking along a former railroad line here and there, I certainly didn’t remember it ever being called the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, extended or not. 

I also remembered that on one of ours walks we found some ruins, decaying stone buildings, with the windows and half the roof missing, perhaps originally a site office or workshops, and nearby were various bits of abandoned machinery and pipes. These, like the railroad itself, were remnants of the golden days when Rosendale cement ruled the world, starting at the beginning of the nineteenth century, peaking around 1900, but still in production in a minor way even today.  Rosendale cement is in the Brooklyn Bridge and the base of the Statue of Liberty.  Consequently when walking around the woods you’d often suddenly come across the opening of a former mine, a big, dark mouth in the rock.

Back then you could walk right inside the mine openings, which actually looked very much like caves, and I did.  Being of sound mind I never went very far in, not least because most of them had flooded, but it was good to be able to go just far enough inside to scare yourself.  If anyone ever came to any harm in there I never heard about it.

Far more scary was an abandoned railway trestle that crossed the main street of Rosendale, some 150 feet above road and creek.  I never went up there because it was unfenced and it looked kind of lethal, and (I was told) it was a favorite spot with suicide jumpers, though I now suspect this may have been an urban, or I suppose, rural, myth.

Well it’s all different now.  The trestle is part of the rail trail, a pedestrian walkway.  It’s been tidied up and made very secure indeed.  I’d read an article in About Town magazine (a Mid-Hudson Valley Community Guide) by one Vivian Yess Wadlin that “the trestle has substantial railings that cradle you and yours in safety, actual and psychological.”  And when I got up there I saw it was absolutely true.  The handrail across the top was thick and broad, the uprights plentiful and close together: something with half the heft would be enough to stop you falling off, but its good to feel doubly secure when you’re 150 feet in the air.  They didn’t use to care so much about these things apparently:

It was cool walking up there, but the real task was to find those ruins and mine openings.  It was actually no trouble at all to find the mines, but – will it surprise you? – they’re now are all fenced off.

 And there are signs like this to keep you on the trail:

Now this strikes me as some sort of apotheosis of 21st Century priorities, authority and control.  First of all there’s the primacy of private property.  Then there’s some unctuous plea to protect the wildlife.  Then, as a bit of an afterthought, there’s some bogus health and safety concerns for the individual.  And finally there’s the threat of prosecution, to be shored up the evidence from electronic surveillance.  Authoritarian? You think?

I knew I would have to wander from the straight and narrow in order to find the ruins, and after a while I did find them, or at least some very like them.  In fact I can’t absolutely swear these were exactly the ruins I’d been before.  That tank and its extraneous bits and pieces didn’t look quite like the machinery I recalled. 

And this giant stone chimney, no longer attached to anything, and hemmed in my trees,  was far bigger and more impressive than anything I remembered.  I was pretty sure I was seeing this for the first time.  And I was impressed, and moved.

And I absolutely didn’t recall this vast, substantial, stone edifice.  In fact it contains a series of kilns, and presumably something pretty massive was needed to withstand the extremes of heat and chemical reactions, but surely they didn’t have to make it look so picturesque.

In fact from the back it was crenelated (crenelated!) so that it looked like a castle, English perhaps, though I think more likely to be Irish.   Since Rosendale is in Ulster County I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect there may have been a few Irishmen involved in the building trade around those parts.  Whether they knew it or not (and frankly I reckon they did) they managed to create something that a century and half down the line had turned into a very impressive, utterly convincing (if not in any sense genuine) ancient ruin.  I wanted to cheer.  I wanted to blub.

Eventually I got to the trailhead where another notice told me that the old kilns I’d just visited would be the site of the “future rail trail cafĂ©.”  I was ready to blub for quite different reasons.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


                                                                                                              Ed Ruscha

One of the small but significant pedestrian pleasures I sometimes have, is to walk through parking lots (for my American readers) or car parks (for my English ones).  Partly it’s because this is such a satisfyingly long way from being “good walking territory.”  Also because it sometimes feels like trespassing, and I suppose in some cases it actually is, though I can’t say I’ve ever been challenged while walking through a parking lot. 

When I’m driving and have to park in some giant open air lot, I always choose a  spot in a  far distant corner.  Partly because there’s usually more room and it’s easier to park there, and also because it ensures that I do a certain amount (OK an absolutely minute amount) of walking.  While others jockey for a place nearest to the mall or supermarket entrance, there I go striding across the lot, the flaneur of the tarmac.  Also, there’s always a chance of being run down by distracted drivers, which tends to put the walker on his mettle.

Recently I was in Ridgecrest, California, taking a pre-breakfast stroll around the town and came across the rather gorgeous expanse above.   To garble Raymond Chandler, few things look emptier than an empty parking lot.  Chandler said the same thing about swimming pools.  I couldn't resist walking across that wide open space.

When I lived in New York, I often went upstate at weekends, I became especially fond of a parking lot in Rosendale.  It belonged to one of the saddest supermarkets I’ve even seen, so sad that it featured in Martin Parr’s book Boring Postcards USA, where it looked like this:

As you may or may not be able to read, it then went by the name of the Rosendale Food Center.  When I was there it was Sunrise Farms, a pretty awful supermarket where there was always a good chance the meat was going to be off, still at least it was a local store.  And then it closed down.  It was a lot sadder then, and a lot more boring in one way, but at least you could walk across the parking lot without fear of getting run down.

And now I find, lurking on the internet, a picture of yours truly, in a car park in Brooklyn, in the rain, standing on one leg, thus:

Actually I suspect it’s been lurking there for years.  The image is to be found on the website of the Temporary Travel Office, “a quasi-fictional tourist agency” run by Ryan Griffis.  The picture is part of the documentation for an event called “Public Parking: a Tour of Parking Lots and Utopias: Brooklyn, NY.”  I actually mention this expedition in The Lost Art of Walking.  Ryan Griffis seems a thoroughly good man, and the Temporary Travel Office is obviously a Very Good Thing.  Is it just me, or is ironic tourism suddenly a big growth area? 

The Temporary Travel Office is here:

“Public Parking” is here: