Grounding: Walking The Path
“So much in our lives is fast-paced. Walking is a slow undertaking. It is among the most radical things you can do.”
- Erling Kagge, Walking.
It must have been about 4am; a faint russet glow illuminated the sky from behind our dwelling. As I lifted my head to peer out the tent door we left unzipped in the night, I could see the lighthouse flickering just ahead. A perfectly clear, star filled midsummer night sky. The full moon shimmering atop the ocean’s surface. The sand beneath me as hard as concrete and the cold couldn’t help but creep in despite my layers. I woke numerous times before dawn, lifting my head to peer out towards the ocean, reminding myself of this secret, special cove we found late last night whilst walking the path.
Not a single human noise disturbed us; no motors, no cars, nothing. Only the pure, natural sound of oyster catchers, herring gulls and the smatterings of minute waves breaking on the shore just a few feet away from our sleepy heads. I lay back down wriggling round to get comfortable trying not to wake Clare sleeping soundly beside me, nor Meli my dog, curled into the shape of a prawn at the base of the tent; our own personal foot warmer. Our tiny two man tent turned out to be just about big enough for two humans and a dog. I pulled my woollen beanie down and tightened my sleeping bag round my neck in an attempt to tuck in the warm air. I closed my eyes once again, giving into the aches and drowsiness from yesterday’s walk.
I woke to the sound of the tent’s mesh fly-door unzipping and Clare’s head popping through with a beaming smile on her face; “Tea’s ready!” I honestly cannot think of anything better than being woken up after a crisp, cold night under a cloudless sky, to a steaming hot mug of chai. I wormed out of the tent pulling my sleeping bag with me. We sat on damp sand with thick woollen jumpers, hats and socks protecting us from a summer’s crisp dawn. Our fingers clung to mugs of freshly brewed tea as we watched the calm ocean surface glisten under a flushed pink, purple dawn. Breathing in the rich scents of the coast deep into my lungs, my heart, every limb, I woke feeling full and grateful for the sheer simplicity of it all. We didn’t grab for our phones to see what emails, messages, social updates or calls we’d missed. Instead, we sat admiring the stillness, the silence and watched as the colours of dawn morph into peach, apricot skies as the sun warms the earth.
Once the tea was finished we ditched the sleeping bags and grabbed our swimming things. A morning such as this wouldn’t be complete without a sea swim. With no one around, skinny dips seem the most fitting option on a hike along the path. Keeping unnecessary weight to a minimum, there’s little point in carrying wet belongings about all day if there’s no absolute need. However, be wary, you’re barely ever completely alone on the path. No matter where you choose to swim, or how quiet the cove, it seems a seal just has to pop its head up and follow you along for your morning dip. We basked in the silence with our wide eyed, inquisitive friends of the sea regardless.
No day on the path is ever the same; the terrain ever changing no matter how far you choose to step; something which never fails to surprise along the way. As it threads its way around the coastline, you find yourself treading along a changing narrative, revealing new stories of this land which previously felt so familiar. Special moments and memories are formed in the spaces where land meets sea. Vastly changing landscapes will have you believing you’ve crossed borders into a new country entirely. One minute you’re winding round tranquil pine forests, carving the path over sharp granite boulders, careful not to misplace a step and set yourself rolling down a vertical drop into Mediterranean crystalline lagoons below. Cormorants congregating on rocks in undisturbed coves under a burning sun, before diving deep through kelp forests. The next, you’re walking under the cooling shade of looming oak trees as swans, diving ducks and grebes feed in mud-slicked estuary shores. Where the path ends, algae clad rickety docks begin for you to catch a tiny four man ‘ferry' over to a bustling working harbour and pick up the route once again.
For me, walking has become a sort of meditation and medication. The sheer act of placing one foot in front of the other is a familiar, calming rhythm. A routine. Every limb relaxes into the repetitive, comforting flow of movement. Whether in company, or alone, the mere act of walking alleviates worries as thoughts become clearer. Problems solved. Every time I return to the trail, my body breathes a sigh of relief. There’s a palpable excitement. It’s a similar sensation felt when diving into cold water; the mind is wiped clean, refreshed. A blue mind of sorts, perhaps this is green mind. However fleetingly, I no longer feel weighed down by my bulging backpack. There is plentiful opportunity for an adventure on our doorstep with minimal disturbance to nature. I feel the best thing we can do to protect our environment is to go out and experience it. Be within it, be a part of it, walk and sleep and eat and drink amongst it. It won’t take long for you to connect and want to protect it in any way possible.
Walking the path is a grounding. It is connecting to nature in one of the easiest ways we possibly can. It tests us and, at times, it pushes us. The coast path has almost brought me to tears; wasp stings, horsefly bites, ticks, blisters, thorns piercing soft skin, torrential downpours for hours on end with no shelter in sight, losing the trail and taking questionable detours, vertical ascents and descents, falling over slippery, lichen slicked rocks, stomping through bogs which trail to the horizon, setting up camp on sloping rocky verges and sleepless nights. Just when you feel you’ve had enough, when it feels as though the rain will never end; it chooses to reward us. The clouds break, the rain stops and the wind blows gently, tenderly. Wet hair drying in a salty breeze. The mid-summer sun shines through, warming rain drenched, goose-pimpled skin.
This sinuous path not only pushes, it soothes and heals. Out amongst the elements, battling the hardships and revelling in the triumphs, the material world is left behind. Work, society, people, tourists, troubles, a pandemic. It’s all forgotten. What fills its place instead is a deep sense of freedom. A feeling of being a part of the landscape itself. Particularly so when caught out in flash floods; looking not too dissimilar from the merry toad wallowing in the puddle beside you.
The path supplies bountiful opportunities to not only be part of nature, but to discover a detailed history of the land, of wildlife, myths and legend. Harbours famous for their pilchard cellars riddled with secret passageways built for smugglers. Remnants of shipwrecks still visible from cliff tops on some of the most dangerous stretches of coastline on home shores. High cliffs surround white sand coves on the rugged west coast where legend has it the love song of a man who fell for a mermaid and followed her to sea can still be heard on a calm summer’s eve. Kestrels and buzzards patiently wait for a glimpse of prey as they hover above rare Cornish heath. In spring and summer the heathland bursts to life with the sound of birdsong. Robins, blackbirds, wrens and warblers take refuge amongst purple heather, lush leafy green ferns and bold wildflowers. The taste of golden gorse's rich coconut scent drifting in the salty air. There are fresh streams to drink from, crystal clear waters to dive into, wild foods to forage and of course, pubs to meet with likeminded ramblers, explorers and adventurers. A chance to share tales of the path over a pint of local cider. Simple suppers of freshly caught mackerel whilst sitting on a capsized boat up sleepy creeks at the end of a day on the path. It cannot help but leave you beaming, inside out.
“Which paths lead to silence? Certainly trips into the wild. Leave your electronics at home, take off in one direction until there’s nothing around you. Be alone for three days. Don’t talk to anyone. Gradually you will rediscover other sides of yourself.”
- Erling Kagge, Silence: In the Age of Noise.