For some time, I have wanted to push myself with a multi-day walking challenge. I have an idea that such a walk would be like a pilgrimage, a chance to escape the busy-ness of daily life for something more connected, creating space for consciousness. I was curious to find out where the mind goes when walking for days in solitude? I wanted to challenge my resilience and ability. So far, my health has always chased down my plans before they have got off the ground. CFS/ME is having more impact on my life now than ever before, I make small gains but seemingly bigger losses in energy and well-being. I am accepting that this is not a condition that is just going to pass, much as it came. There are times when I feel I am passively waiting to live, whilst my heart ticks off the beats. Rest or be restless is quickly turning into rest and be restless. After some soul searching, I came to the conclusion that life is now, I need to work with what I have, because tomorrow is never promised, and I am not getting any younger.
I made plans for a two-day walking trip, feeling this was challenging but realistic. My route would mean walking further than I knew was possible, but I had a plan B & C, in case I needed to make adjustments along the way. I was going to visit an area of the moor I have long wanted to see, between Erme Pits and Red Lake. It would fill a gap in a large area of land I have already visited. The remoteness, unpredictability and a certain fear of falling in a mire, created the conditions to feed my spirit for adventure. I arranged affordable, friendly bunkhouse accommodation (https://www.foxtorcafe.com/ ), to bed down and avoid the extra (unmanageable) weight of my camping gear. The weather was of force of its own, beyond my control, but I like to think we have a good relationship, even if it can have an odd sense of humour sometimes.
It has been an unprecedented year for heat. The land on the moor was unimaginably dry. I was British and couldn’t remember the last time it rained! A week or so before my trip the rain came. I had no clue how the dried peaty ground would respond to the downpours. Day one of my walk was the familiar route along Devonport Leat. I would take a bus to Yelverton and pick up the leat at Yennadon, destination Princetown. Wanting to gauge the lay of the freshly watered land, I took a relaxing reccy along the leat returning over Hingston Hill, which was my standby exit if fatigue set in after the first day. Let us just say, the reccy built confidence in navigating the route in thick fog. I got soaked through to the skin in the heavy showers and learnt that my wet weather gear was no longer worthy of the name; thankfully with time to acquire replacements. The experience did bring reassurance around the firmness of the ground. The rain had pooled but the earth was so parched the water had not penetrated far beneath its surface.
Early in this pre-walk, I experienced one of those heartfelt moments. I was walking in fogginess when Newleycombe Cross appeared from nowhere, like a beacon of faith. In less than a breath, my body tingled with a feeling of love, bringing a few tears with its reassurance that it was safe to trust and let go. I was reminded of the way Dartmoor has been a companion and a teacher. We have become somewhat estranged of late. In this magic moment, I knew I was not going on my trip alone, there would be a force also willing me to find my mojo.
The day before my adventure, I packed with rain lashing against the windows. Ever the pragmatist, I double bagged everything in my pack, a quarter of which was now wet weather gear; more than anything I did not want to be cold, wet and miserable. The rain contradicted the idyllic images I had created in my mind of how this experience would be. There was still hope as a forecast predicted the rain would pass.
I woke the following morning with a sinking heart. It was still raining!
I distracted my racing thoughts with random acts of housework; I was stalling. Did I really want to do this in the rain? What did this mean for day two, I was relying on good visibility?
Time was getting on and I needed to make a decision. I stared out into the garden hoping for answers. This year crows have not visited, however on this morning there were three crow-crowing with intent. I associate crows with watchful wisdom, considering them able to symbolically move through the veils of reality, which is why they are commonly associated with death. I have become rather fond of crows; they have commonly appeared with poignancy and hope. I did ponder whether their presence was a warning that I was to drown in a bog, but that was just my fear. My heart knew their message, it was time to venture beyond my limits in pursuit of my dream. It was time to have faith and get going.
I arrived in Yelverton to a beautiful blue sky. It was hard to believe it was the same day, barely an hour had gone by. I felt as if the early morning rain was a test of my commitment to the challenge; the sun a sign that I had passed. I felt like the Universe was supporting me, willing me on. I took this as a sign that my trip was blessed and somewhat meant to be. I left behind the early morning anxiety, and like a child, I discovered wonderment in the smallest of things. As I whimsically wandered off the track onto open ground, I took a deep breath, relishing the space and turning in circles elated by the freedom. Tension dispersed into the huge sky, and I felt like I was in another world.
By Raddick Hill the weight of my pack seemed to have doubled, I looked up at the climb with a nervous giggle; this was going to burn. I was aware of a couple having a picnic in direct eyeline of my ascent. Suddenly self-conscious, thoughts of taking a fatigue-induced dramatic stumble, specifically one landing me in the leat, consumed my mind. Sure, if this happened it would be good to have help at hand, but my ego would have a lasting bruise. Pride, it would appear, does not always lead to a fall. Just sometimes, it can power muscles to move up and over the brow of a hill with more vigour than deemed possible. It was only when out of sight that my legs became jelly.
I rested, whilst having lunch with the ponies by Newleycombe Cross. The fine weather this time allowed me to take in the views of Cramber Tor and the surrounding areas. It was a moment to rejoice in the way the day was moving along nicely. The sound of flowing water in the leat a symbol of vitality; giving life back to shrubs and grasses and offering relief to the animals who dwell here. There was a realness. A quality to life that is rather matter of fact, yet on closer inspection is magnificent. The messy and yet intricate, ever changing way nature manifests, performs and then transforms, in waves of wonder. Our ancestors seem to have understood and respected this elaborate lifeforce. Human progress may show we are an intelligent species, but we have discarded wisdom somewhere along our path.
I arrived in Princetown, relieved to put down my pack, which had become unbearable. I sat outside with my feet up and a chilled glass of lemonade in my hand. The evening sun soothed my aches as I relived the day with satisfaction. Today, in many ways was a warmup, tomorrow was my goal. I considered the challenge of the next day, visiting the long awaited, unknown middle section between Erme Pits and Red Lake. I had no idea what to expect, which excited me. My body was telling me I was tired, but more than that, there was a curious aliveness, willing me to put one foot in front the other with optimism.
There were synchronicities and connections in so many aspects of this walk, from the weather to the brief conversations with people along route. The associations with certain animals, and the vast views across the sky over land. They created more than a feeling of hope. There was a resonance to each interaction that purposely stirred thoughts and emotions in a nurturing way. There was freedom in having everything I needed but not much more. I was unburdened. It was truly enough just to be. The beauty of this ‘just being state’ is that you recognise you are but a small part in a vast universe, and so incredibly alive with the same lifeforce that animates the picture. In this state – life is inexplicably miraculous.
I shall (hopefully soon) post a blog of part two of my trip when I will disclose whether I did manage to go the distance and complete my challenge.
I end this blog with a quote from the book I went to sleep that night reading:
“…you need to keep finding yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull. He’s your instructor. You need to understand and practise him.”
Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.