I am often accused of the overuse and at times misuse of the word potter. Friends will often say to me, “But you don’t potter Mark, you walk quickly” or they’ll protest, “Pillar via the Shamrock Traverse is not a potter.” It’s true, I don’t deny, I have a tendency in conversation and on social media, more often than not, to use the term, “I enjoyed a good potter.”
I suppose it’s how we define potter. To move around without hurrying, and in a relaxed and pleasant way, would appear to be the common consensus. In the main, that’s exactly how I pass my time when walking. Whether that be on the hill, countryside and coastal walking, or in my other favourite environment, urban walking. I simply set out to pass the time enjoyably. To have a bit of a potter. Far too often I walk with my hands in my pockets and although my pace can at times be fast, I don’t in myself feel hurried, and believe me when out for a walk I am as relaxed as you’ll ever find me.
Phrases such as “We had an epic” or “We conquered” such and such, don’t really sit very comfortably with me. Even the common declaration “We did Helvellyn” rather than walked over Helvellyn troubles me a little. I confess I do at times use it myself but I’m never quite happy with myself for doing so. Also heroic tales of white-outs and 80 mile per hour winds seem all too often to me an exaggeration. But it’s for other folk themselves to describe their own adventures I suppose.
I think my pottering is derived from the intention. The intention is to go for a potter. Very often without a clear goal in mind other than to head off with a fairly vague idea of what, if anything, I’d like to achieve, and simply see where the day takes me. Some days that can be no further than along the riverbank, other days it can be the entire Scafell range and home over Allen Crags and Glaramara. The intention remains the same; to go for a look, have a wander around, perhaps even sit back and daydream for a while, and at any time happily change course or call it a day. Reaching the summit is not crucial and certainly isn’t integral to the success of the day.
My use of the word potter is in no way an effort to downplay my activities and my aim is certainly not to belittle the attempts, aspirations and achievements of others. There are many times I don’t potter and absolutely do not set out with the intention of pottering. Quite the opposite in fact. Very often I have a set goal and the task in hand is to get on with it. It’s worth mentioning here that distance or difficulty play no part in categorising any given walk a potter. For example, my decision to purposefully walk the Woolpack Round comprising; Harter Fell, Hard Knott, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Scafell Pike, Scafell and Slight Side was not a potter. Not for a single minute of the nine hours it took me. Likewise my decision to park up at Honister and make the relatively short trip directly onto Grey Knotts to photograph the setting sun was also by no means a potter. Even though it was only three quarters of an hour. The pace was hurried the intention was clear. By contrast however when I parked up at Fangs Brow Farm, got out and wandered off hoping to get a better view of Grasmoor only find myself on Burnbank Fell, Blake Fell and Carling Knott, that, certainly in my mind, remains a bit of a potter. Curiosity had got the better of me, I was relaxed, moving well, simply passing the time enjoyably and the inclination to see what lay over the side of the hill drew me onwards. The entire afternoon was spent with a happy heart and a smile on my face and crucially in the knowledge that at any point I might just call it a day and wander off back to the car.
The irony for me now as I sit here writing is that I’m not really too sure where this article is going. If anything it perhaps says to me, and hopefully to you, that walking is not necessarily about the summits, or completing the Walk of the Month with its predetermined route and multiple grid references, it’s more about the quiet places, the places in between, the places without a name. It’s also about the peacefulness of pottering. Not feeling pressured into completing the Coledale Round say, or the Newlands Horshoe, but rather finding enjoyment and contentment from wandering aimlessly.
I haven’t given up on challenging walks both here and further afield that do require planning and preparation but I find these days, particularly closer to home on relatively familiar ground, I do have a propensity to potter.