Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Day 58 : Helmsdale to Lybster

Tuesday 13th March 2007

View Larger Map

Distance Walked: 23.7 miles
Start Time: 8:27
End Time: 16:21
Elapsed Time: 7:54
Weather: Strong wind and sun. Occasional shower.
Distance walked so far: 1154.6 miles

There’s a phrase that is plastered throughout the popular walking areas of the country that says something like: “Take only memories; leave only footprints”. Often it feels like I’m incapable of doing either of these things, that this journey is so brief and negligible that its effects will fade with the light of each dying day. Sometimes I feel like I slide through the world so undemonstratively that I’m barely there at all.

There’s a permanent conflict between wanting to make the most of this opportunity, to cherish every moment of this rare liberation, and yet simultaneously to want to shed such pressures, to simply walk and enjoy the sensation of walking, without really caring about either the location or direction, or whether a brief chance of freedom in my life is being wasted.

It’s hard though. With each new landscape I’m beset with flashbacks of encountering a similar vista, and am shocked to recall that the related events were so recent, and that they occurred just a few weeks ago on this very Walk. It seems such a long time ago that it all began that I’m struggling to remember a time when I wasn’t doing this. The prospect of returning to a former life presses heavily upon me.

Yet, the structure of the Walk propels me forwards, and I’m grateful for it. It’s a windy, corrosive part of the world up here. Whatever isn’t secured, is lost to the elements. In the morning I leave the “Be.grave Hotel” in Helmsdale, and this afternoon walk past the “Inver House”. Somewhere in the North Sea, an L and an E are searching for a home.

What they’ve fled is the Ord of Caithness, the last real challenge of the Walk, and a bleak, blustery place it is too. The steep, coastal hills are something of a shock as the A9 climbs fiercely up the slopes out of Helmsdale, with the temperature dropping along with the clouds. This proximity to mountains and moorland evokes the spirit of the Highlands, but thankfully the wind is at my back and the sun emerges, and even the climb out of the steep Berriedale valley passes without incident. It has a fearsome reputation but, after so many miles and so many hills behind me, it barely registers, and certainly is not a factor in the rapidly increasing sensations of pain that fizz through the feet.

Maybe it’s the rare sunshine that does it, though it’s more likely to be the crushing tarmac, but the blisters on the heel can be felt as they form and spread, each step increasing the discomfort. If I didn’t have an artificial deadline now, the dilemma would be obvious. Would it be less painful to slow down and do fewer miles each day, but to therefore drag the pain out over more days, or to increase the pace to complete the task, but risk further damage? I try to calculate but I can’t do the sums. I don’t even know what the formula is.

Having treated myself to a pint at the Inver Arms in Dunbeath, a ramshackle portacabin of a pub containing a friendly bunch of ramshackle regulars, the final miles of the day merge into a stubborn relentlessness. The environment is increasingly desolate, with a succession of scattered farmhouses and disparate communities, clinging to the coastline. There are aspects of Cornwall here, but a Cornwall that has been stretched and decimated and denied investment. I pass villages that I presume have seen better days, though the concrete and tin structures seem timelessly tatty and the worrying procession of disbanded hotels ring the first note of panic, before The Portland Arms Hotel in Lybster comes to the rescue and I’m bathed and shiny again and ready to complete the job.

Song of the day:

“These Days”

I've stopped my rambling /
I don't do too much gambling these days /
These days I seem to think about /
How all the changes came about my ways /
And I wonder if I'll see another highway


MrB said...

Great Piccies - I like the one of the horny support crew

John Hee said...

In 3 weeks the good memories will be the one you think about, but what to do next when the constant movement onwards finally stop?

Nik - the forgotten support crew said...

You keep saying you walk was "unsupported" but seeing as I've driven the length of the country twice bring you jelly babies, pants and other life saving items you can't really class it as unsupported.
You're lying to your fans and yourself - shame on you