walking home: walking alone
This is the story of my solo walk from West Ogwell to Frome.
Written in May 2018.
After a 4 month meditation retreat this winter at Gaia House, I decided to walk from West Ogwell back to Frome, around 100 miles, alone.
"Alone?" "Aren't you scared?" "Are you sure it's safe?" "Where will you sleep?" (etc etc).
Yes alone, yes i was a bit scared, I had no idea how safe it would be, and i didn't know where I would sleep (I had my bivi bag and tarp in my bag and a few friends to visit along the way)!
My first night sleeping up on Denbury hill, a local dog walking spot about 1 mile from the retreat center, I was terrified, I sat on the top of the hill surrounded by the forest and darkness, luckily I had 4 months of meditation practice at my back so I sat and felt the fear infiltrating my body, pulsating and tingling and driving my mind explore the world of scary men, rapists, ghosts, wild animals with sharp teeth and whatever else it tends to throw up in fear! I called my mum for a chat and pretended I was ok, then got in my bivi bag and went to sleep. That night I dreamt endlessly of rolling down steep hills in my sleeping bag, being woken up by strangers and land owners asking me to move on.
My first day full day of walking was intense, I went the wrong way quite a few times as i only had a rubbish map I printed out from the internet to get me to my friend Laurence's house (from there on I had OS maps), my bag was very heavy, i had totally over estimated how much food I would need. I ended up by a lake in a soggy field in the garden of a manor house, (my feet are soaked by now) I was definitely trespassing but had no idea where the footpath that was supposed to be around here (?!), i don't think it actually existed, i hopped a fence into someones garden that had about 50 sheep in it, they all decided that they were the shepherds and I the sheep, so they decided to chase me out of the field baaaing very loudly baring their sharp scary teeth and big tounges pink (yes they look cute in the picture but really they were evil). I stopped off at a mare and foal sanctuary for a cup of tea and watched small children riding around on sad looking ponies. I made it to my friends house in Berry Pomeroy that afternoon, after a slightly stressful but none the less adventurous day.
The next day I walked through Totnes and made it to Dartington, I had no idea where I was going to sleep, a friend who was working there said the security people were quite on it at stopping people sleeping in the grounds. So I was a bit apprehensive, but figured if I waited until dark they wouldn't spot me anyway, then it started pouring with rain. I hid my bag under an arch and went to check out if anything was on at the cinema, I thought that would keep me busy and dry until half 10, by then it would be dark. I went to watch Mary Magdalene, I spent the whole film crying (I am totally in love with Jesus, and Mary is super cool too). When I left the cinema I felt fresh and ready for bed, I walked into the formal gardens of Dartington, found some hidden bushes (at least they seemed hidden in the dark) and slept under a giant redwood tree among some camellia bushes, I woke in the night to owls hooting above me and light rain. When I woke at 6 in the morning to golden rays of sun I was covered in pink petals from the camellias.
From there I made my way to Buckfastleigh, where I spent the night in a beautiful meadow where I go to a buddhist camp in the summer, I slept by the holy brook and listened to it bubbling away all night.
The next day I went to visit Buckfast abbey, I spent hours in there meditating, and buying beautiful postcards made by christian nuns and monks. I met a chistian nun in brown robes and thought about being a nun again (I've been thinking about it for years now). I was meditating quite a lot throughout my walking days, normally around 3 hours a day, often sitting in beautiful fields or churches on my sleeping mat for comfort. Later that day I met my friend Matt and stayed with him for a day or two, we went walking on the moors, and tried to work out why crows kept trying to brake into his barn.
It found it interesting how visiting friends gave me a more solid confidence to bring to the solo walking and sleeping out, the few days after I had stayed with friends I always felt much braver and more care free than if I hadn't been with a friend.
I left Matt and walked up on to the moors, that night I had a magical night on Mel tor. The mist was so thick I could only see about 20-30 meters in front of me, the path was quite clear underfoot and I wasn't too far from civilisation, so I felt confident to continue, I definitely wouldn't have gone onto the moors in the mist if that hadn't been the case. I slept so so well that night, I had been to Mel tor before so I knew there was an incredible view behind the mist.
I woke up to rain drops at about 5am. My friend and weather forecaster Paul called me to let me know it was going to rain, we had a long conversation until I lost signal, and by then it was pouring. I had all of my waterproofs on, but the rain was so heavy, and my sleeping bag had been a bit wet from the night (It's really not a good idea to have a wet sleeping bag), and as I walked and got sweaty i ended up soaked from outside and in. By the time I arrived at Moretonhampstead, it was pretty cold, and I stopped walking to shelter and got very cold, I was slightly worried about getting hypothermia and dying then and there, so I knew I had to find a way to get dry and warm. It was a Sunday so nothing was open early (it was about 9am). I eventually found a small shop which sold tea, then went to look in the church, it was warmer in the church and I went and sat down to meditate but it was a bit too cold. I asked Jesus to help me get warm and dry and then I left to check on my things. By now I was really cold and it was still pouring, maybe I would have to ask someone for help. I thought the most sensible thing would be to go back to the church and get another cup of tea. I went back in and then I noticed in the church there were about 20 radiators, and they were all on! It was Sunday! I checked the board and the church service was starting at 10, I spread all of my things out on the radiators to dry, and when everyone arrived I joined the service, it was sweet, and they even had really warm blow dryers under the seats! I was given a cup of tea afterwards and I met a lovely woman called Marcia who lived in the village and asked all about my pilgrimage, the people there were very lovely and friendly and welcoming. I stayed in the church for about 6 hours, reading and writing and meditating and chatting to people until all of my things were dry and the sun had come out then i left! Thanks Jesus ;)
That night i slept in a beautiful beech forest up on a hill, I thought it best to put my tarp up so all of my things stayed dry... clever.
That morning I got to Chagford, and went for a well deserved fry up in a little wholefood cafe, I was sat reading the newspaper (I hadn't seen the news for nearly 6 months!) and a familiar face walked through the door! It was my lovely friend Andy! We had been on a LiC walk exactly a year before and had a fry up in the exact same place, he didn't even live in the area so it was quite magical that we met. We had a coffee and a catch up until he had to leave.
So by now I am getting quite speedy, I had gone from doing about 7km a day to about 20, my feet and shoulders were getting a bit sore but I was loving the walking. I walked through miles and miles of beautiful forests along the Teign river to my friend Chris's house, Chris was on the LiC walk in Sweden with us, and is a serious fire god, he can make a fire by clicking his fingers. As soon as i arrived I was offered a bath, and it was probably the best bath I had ever had in my life, and very much needed to soothe my sore feet and muscles, I slept in a very comfortable bed and was fed and watered and given lots of hugs from him and Simone and their two cats.
There were two times on the walk where I was really really scared, one was when I was walking out of a town (maybe Crediton?) and I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, I walked down this beautiful avenue of trees, and on my path were 3 men, two to the right, with 3 dogs, and one to the left, the one on the left was facing away from the path, rocking on a tree stump, and the other two were drinking, and had a few empty tinnies hanging around. I looked at them and said hi but they totally ignored me, it was the lack of connection that meant that I felt really uneasy, I didn't know what to do but just get the hell out of there, so I walked on fast feeling the adrenaline pumping in my body.
Another time was a similar situation, it was outside Tiverton on the canal, it was late afternoon and I needed somewhere to stop and camp as my feet were sore and I had been walking a lot that day, and there wasn't really anywhere. Two men with fishing rods were hanging around, the same thing happened as before, I said hi and they ignored me. What is it about the lack of connection that brings so much fear up in me? I guess if anything happened, if they tried to approach me or anything I would have nothing to work with, when there isn't connection, if there is just cold emotionlessness then how can you see someones humanity or allow them to see yours? How can you allow the vulnerability of each being to be seen and acknowledged? A part of me feels so sad that this was my response to these men. After that I spent my days practicing Metta (a befriending meditation practice) on everyone who walked by me. This really helped me to unfabricate the perceptions of fear I had, it built a perception of care and trust, everyone I met when I practised seemed to be incredibly friendly and helpful and caring. Interesting.
I was very grateful to all of the churches I passed on my walk, they were safe spaces, to shelter from pouring rain or hot hot sun, benches to sit on and cook, seats to meditate on, friendly people to talk to, beautiful imagery, artwork, and stain glass windows to look at.
As my walk came near to it's end I spent a day walking with another LiC friend, Karl, he had cycled down from Bridgewater, and decided he would carry my bag for me for the day, well that was very welcome! I even cycled his bike for a while so I could rest my feet which were quite heavily blistered by now. We walked very far that day, he was up for the challenge! Then as he left to cycle home to prepare for work the next day, I walked through a small village called Shapwick on the somerset levels. A woman stopped her car and poked her head out the window and asked if I wanted a lift, I had been offered a few lifts but always turned them down. I said "oh no thanks I am walking!" and she asked if I was staying near by, I said I would camp somewhere and she offered for me to camp in her garden in Shapwick. I told her I was on a pilgrimage and she said that sounded flaky (I thought this was funny as It didn't feel very flaky at all, more like hard work!) I gratefully accepted and when I arrived was offered a futon a cup of tea and eventually dinner, she shared lots with me about her life and her children and it was a real pleasure to meet her and stay in her beautiful place.
The next morning I walked through the somerset levels to Glastonbury, I was in a shit mood and just wanted to get home. It seemed to be a bit like that, one day I would feel amazing and alive and grateful, then the next I would feel tired and grumpy, I started getting used to the swings of walking. The closer I got to home the easier it was to hitch a lift, so the more I had to stay strong in the grumps.
I soon arrived at my friend Josh's caravan (he also came on a LiC walk!), he lives on a beautiful permaculture site near Glasto, him and Joana were away in Portugal but arriving back late the next day. I stayed in his place and spent the day sitting and reading and meditating and drawing, I was trying not to move around too much to rest my feet which were very very sore by now. I felt like I had arrived home, to my beautiful friends and all the familiar things in his caravan. When they came back we spent the day catching up and sharing stories about all of our adventures, we drank lots of tea and made delicious food.
After two days of rest my feet were still not okay to walk on, I went for a short walk but found myself hobbling and in so much pain. I was only a days walk away from Frome and this was frustrating. My mum offered to pick me up and take me back to Frome, I spent hours deliberating what to do, and decided it was best to not risk damaging my feet more than I already had done. So we said goodbye to Josh and Joana and hit the road.
This was the end of my journey! I was happy and ready to return back to Frome. Now It's about a week and a half since I arrived back, and my blisters are just starting to fall off, eww.