I’m writing this having now completed three full days walking. Two more days to go and I will have walked the whole length of the Kennet and Avon Canal, all the way through to Reading. I’m taking a break from it now – too much else I need to catch up with (garden, allotment, paid work, life in general) and also my feet could do with a break. I hope to fit in another two days in the next couple of weeks.
I’ll write more about where I went and what I saw in later posts, but for now I want to capture a different aspect of the walk, while it’s still clear in my head.
Much of the point of the walk is just to see what it feels like to have an end in mind and just walk, largely on my own. I have to say, so far it has lived up to every hope and expectation I had for it. I have never, ever done something like this on my own before. Malcolm and I have done all sorts of trips (cycling, camping, staying in self-catering accommodation), but these have always been planned and shared, and inevitably when you do things together there is an element of compromise. I don’t say that as a criticism or a bad thing, just an observation: the act of doing something with another or others must involve either dictatorship or compromise – of the two, give me compromise every time!
But this time around, well it’s been all about what I want to do, how I want to do it, when and where I want to do it. And it has felt good. Very, very good.
I enjoyed having Malcolm with me for the first half of Day 1, but I was also excited to say our goodbyes and walk on alone. Two and a half days in my own company, making my own decisions. Alone.
I’ve learnt over the years that I am someone who is ‘bien dans sa peau‘ (as the French have it – comfortable in my own skin). Or more accurately, I have learnt to be someone who is bien dans sa peau.
The walk has developed two complementary aspects. There is the walk itself – moving, looking, seeing, listening, hearing, and feeling. Plenty of that. And then there is the journey inside my head. The past few years (and indeed days) have provided more than enough ‘stuff’ to reflect on and think about.
The second day (Seend to Pewsey) fell on the third anniversary of my mum’s death. Had I been at home I would have lit a memorial candle to burn through the day (and night). But walking felt like a memorial all of its own.
Complicated, but I have long felt sad that she seemed to me someone for whom the good life was always going to be some time in the future (even when from the outside she had everything a person could want, and the freedom to do what she wanted). Then she developed dementia, and life went slowly but surely downhill. I helped support her through those years, and was with her during her last, oh so difficult few weeks days and minutes, including her death. I don’t regret her death – it was longed for by her, and a relief to her and the rest of us. I do however have many regrets about the manner of her dying, and I haven’t found it easy to move on from that.
But walking my own walk, making my own choices to enjoy life to the full, now and always, has been very healing.
We have walked close with death all too often these past few years. Our friend’s death in September was a good one, but far too soon. My mother-in-law’s death in February was a good one, but far too late.
We are still reeling from the shock of hearing last week that a very young friend has been told she probably only has weeks to live, at just 28. I have no way to make sense of that. Life and death can be so very cruel.
And then on a different level, I’ve been thinking about the personal and wider implications of the election results – how to respond to it, how to approach the next 5 years, what it means for me and others like me for whom the twin challenges of increasing inequality here and in the wider world, and climate change remain to be tackled.
Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t felt gloomy or downhearted at all during this walk. Far from it, I have felt alive and happy, and ready to take on anything.
Walking seems to have tired the body (boy have I slept well these past few nights – and I’ve had chronic insomnia for years!) but energised the mind.