Monday, March 19, 2007

Day 57 : Dornoch to Helmsdale

Monday 12th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 29.6 miles
Start Time: 8:52
End Time: 17:33
Elapsed Time: 8:41
Weather: Sunshine and showers
Distance walked so far: 1130.9 miles

Your heart gets broken and you think that you’ll never love again and then, when you try, you find that there’s not as much love to give anymore. Something has died inside and so you guard your heart in case it happens again and you’re left unable to feel anything at all.

I’m hoping it’s not the same with feet. These are my weapons of self-destruction. After weeks of merciless punishment, I now dread the moment when I have to squeeze into the boots, locking myself into position for another day of relentless hammering. And the A9 is an unfeeling host. A truly dreadful way to finish any walk. Such great work has been done in opening up areas of Britain for walkers, and so many fantastic (or at least well-intentioned) paths have been created, that it does seem incredible that so much of the coastline is not accessible to the public. It would make such a huge difference generally, but specifically to a walk like this.

For I’m truly now on the coast again. I’ve walked besides sea lochs and firths, but today really feels like the first day actually alongside the sea since I dragged myself away from the bay at Saint Michael’s Mount, fifty-five days ago. But, like fire or a pert breast, I don’t have to touch it to know that it’s real, preferring to take the inland road to Loch Fleet rather than walk across the sands and grass of Dornoch Links.

From here it’s back onto the A9, where the grass verge disappears and the dodging of the lorries becomes an all-encompassing exercise. Thankfully though, there are a few delightful detours along the way which salvage the day from painful drudgery. From the town of Golspie, a footpath along the coast passes behind the marvellously eccentric Dunrobin Castle, a fairytale palace with Disney-like spires shooting into the air. But the personal highlight is the walk along the amazing beach at Brora; orange sands below and a perfect blue sea beckoning, with just the seabirds and a gang of lazy seals for company. It’s only a mile and a half, but it restores my faith and confidence, acting as a sedative for the final burst, along the A9 to Helmsdale.

These last few miles of the Walk are the hardest of all. It is becoming a slog. I know I’m going to get there now, so mentally it’s as if there’s no point actually physically getting to the finish. Basically, I just want it to end. I long for rest, and days of lazy sunshine. I picture myself in Southern California, or driving down the Surf Highway in New Zealand, with the waves on the right, the mountains on the left, tunes on the stereo, blue sky, hot sun and a sweet heart by the side. The pain comes and goes. The discomfort is constant. The battle is in the mind.

If I had had a reason for doing this then I’m sure I would have stopped by now. I would have argued myself into submission and given up. It must be hellish for those with people depending on the success of their Walks, those with charitable donations weighing on their shoulders or who had been planning and dreaming of it for years, who have engineered their lives to give them the time and resources to try, and to then be put in a position where they might cave in.

I love the fact that it’s difficult. That there are huge sections, days sometimes, that I hate. I love the meaningless of it all. I have no reason to be doing this whatsoever and, for that reason alone, I continue.

Song of the day:

Belle & Sebastian
“Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie”

Wouldn’t you like to get away? /
Kerouac’s beckoning with open arms /
The open fields of eucalyptus /
Westward bound /
Wouldn’t you like to get away? /
Give yourself up to the allure of “Catcher in the Rye” /
The future’s draped in stars and stripes


AlisonK said...

Congratulations on completing your walk. I have been reading your blog since Stephen Merchant brought it to my attention on his programme. I know you have mixed feelings about that, and to be honest I sympathise, but I have enjoyed following your progress. I am so pleased you made it and I hope you will find whatever comes next to be enjoyable and rewarding.

DaveG said...

Thanks Alison. Yes, I have mixed feelings about Steve, but not the brief attention.