Thursday 15th March 2007
Distance Walked: 17.6 (+1.9) miles
Start Time: 6:01 (12:19)
End Time: 11:18 (12:53)
Elapsed Time: 5:17 (0:34)
Weather: Overcast and drizzly
Final Distance Walked: 1188 miles
Weekly Audio Update: Dave on The Steve Show - Day 60
“What do you think you’ll feel at the end of it?” said the guy in the pub back in Helmsdale.
“Overwhelming disappointment, probably” I replied.
“Oh, you’ll be overwhelmed, all right” he said, knowingly. “You won’t be able to hold back the tears”
We were both wrong. After an early start and a long, re-energised stomp through the final miles, I reach the small community of John o’Groats at the end of all the roads and the overriding feeling is relief. It’s over. The sadness and disorientation will come later. Now, it’s just pure relief. The fact that the deadline is hit and the minor celebrity’s pockets are briefly lightened is momentarily satisfying, but the sense of accomplishment is strangely absent. I don’t know what to do with myself.
As at Land’s End, the famous signpost is not in operation so I touch the battered stump, sign the book in the Groats Inn, and complete the final two miles along the coast to Duncansby Head, the true furthest point from the start back in Cornwall. It’s been a journey of 1188 miles through some of the most remote yet spectacular landscapes in Britain, taking sixty days to complete in a mild but challenging winter. Whatever else I haven’t done with my life, I’ve done this, and maybe, for now, that’s enough.
On the train home, it hits me. Passing the places I’ve spent days, weeks, walking through, it’s as if my heart has been nailed to the stump at the top and I’m being stretched away from it, with all the cares and worries that had unravelled during the trek being pulled back towards me, tighter and tighter, as the carriage drags me further away from the place that I’d struggled to reach for so long. The clarity of thought that this liberty provided drains away. Whatever dissatisfactions were present at the start, still remain.
What do you do when you realise that you’re not the person you imagined you would become? We can be so immersed in the daily struggle to maintain and improve our lives that it’s possible to lose sight of who we wanted to be, until we look up one day and realise that years have passed and the chance may be gone. And the comfort and ease that we may have created for ourselves through the years of hard work compels us to accept our fate, rather than risk losing everything by stepping away from it all.
I’ve realised, as the miles ticked by, that I wasn’t really looking for anything when I started this Walk, back in Cornwall. This has not been a metaphysical journey, an existential experience. The pain, the swellings, the blisters, the bleeding. It’s all real, and I welcomed it. I welcomed the rain and the snow and the darkness. The hardship and the discomfort and the frailties compelling me to stop, just as I welcomed the sunshine and the beauty and the urge to continue. I welcomed the meaninglessness of it, of doing something for its own sake.
No, I wasn’t looking for anything, but I wanted to see everything. It’s not clear if I’m now more connected to the country in which I live, or more displaced from it than ever, but there’s a certain understanding and appreciation that could not have been gained in any other way. I don’t know if the wanderlust that took hold of me was a love to wander or a search for wonder but, either way, the experience of the last sixty days has only increased its pull. Whether this is a way of embracing the world, or escaping from it, should not be a concern. As the pressing realities of the world close in, it’s the desire to keep moving that needs to be protected.
Song of the day:
Isobel Campbell & Marl Lanegan
Now after all /
Don’t feel like nothing /
Like walking away /
Like a mouth full of rain /
At twelve o’clock a bell starts ringing /
A dog starts barking /
And you’re still missing /
Still missing something /
You’ve never known what it was