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Monthly Archives: June 2012

I slept on the beach. The weather was calm and the night sky was full of stars. In the early hours I woke up to find the moon had risen. The moor was a dark mass against the sky, and the sea glittered.

I stood up and picked my way to the tideline. The flat wet sand flashed with phosphorescence as my feet touched it, and a sand pool behind a rock sparked vivid green as I splashed through it.

Down at the water’s edge, I poked my feet into the chilly water and watched as the little waves washed them with rags of moonlight.

The sea was dark, and the horizon was bright with that nameless colour you get on a clear, moonlit night. The moon itself was nearly full. Across the water, a dark wall of land was veined with waterfalls, grown fat on the recent rain and now picked out in dull silver.

In a mad moment, I wanted to swim. I wanted to launch myself into the black water and feel myself become part of it, to be myself dark and sleek and crowned with light.

The moment passed. I returned to my place by the embers of the fire and, my face turned to their warmth, I fell asleep.

This morning I wake to a grey dawn. The sky is cool with cloud. I sit for a while on the sand, watching the silver sea, before gathering my things and starting back along the track to the road. I revive as I walk, feeling the travelling mood come over me again. But in the back of my mind, there’s a tiny regret.

I wish I had gone into the water.

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Hard going today. I have blisters. I’m longing for a roof over my head, but the road ahead is empty and the horizon is a long way away.

I persevere for a while, wiping sweat from my face and hobbling on the outsides of my feet to spare the blisters, until at last I’ve had enough. I realise I’m treating the road as if I owe it a duty, to tick off my quota of miles in a day. looked at like that, the journey is overwhelming. And I have missed the point.

So I quit the road, following a tiny track almost buried in grass, out towards the sea. The sun is a while from setting, but the shadows are already a little long and the light a little golden. The birds cry their evening song, wild and distant as ever, but a little gentler than at other times.

At the end of the track is a little beach. Not a long white strand, but a neat little cove of pink sand layered with streaks of pebbles. The sea washes it with quiet little waves.

So I sit down, and I take off my boots, and I make a fire. The flames are slow in coming, but with time they are rippling high above the driftwood like long orange flags. The crackle and hiss mingle with the washing of the sea and the piping of the birds, and everything starts to fall back together.

It’s a truism, isn’t it, to say that life’s about the journey, not the destination? And yet, if there were no destination, we wouldn’t be on the road. But the heartland road is a strange place. It’s a road; it leads somewhere in the end, and every beat of my heart tells me that that destination is its purpose; and yet, the road itself is also, somehow, the point. The journey is its own destination? That’s not quite it; and yet the journey, right now, is where I need to be; the longing I feel here is a kind of satisfaction.

Another satisfaction is bread, stuffed with cheese and toasted over a wood fire, and an apple speared on a stick and roasted until the skin starts to fizz. And right now, that’s all the satisfaction I need.

Why do the birds sound so sad?

Their cries are everywhere, and they are filled with longing. They seem to echo into a space behind the sky, as if this bright world were just a thin film over emptiness.

I think they know, like I do, that though you can taste forever here, this place isn’t it. Their longing is the longing of the road itself.

Rain today.

It lashes hard, soaking my face, turning the path to puddles and pools. In the pools, the raindrops form an intricate pattern of rings, forming and dying, forming and dying so fast, and seeming to interlock, as if each one wants to form a chain, but they spread out too quickly and the chains are broken. The sound of them is like music.

The sound of my own walking is a rushing of waterproofs, a thunder of breathing in the confines of my hood. The rain forms great droplets on the edge of my hood which drip and splash onto my face. It ought to sadden me, but it makes me want to laugh.

I am free! Look at the sea, grey and flat with the rain, ringing like a million, million tiny bells. It goes on forever. Look at the mountains, dark as velvet and shrouded with ragged mist. For all I can see, they go on forever, too. They are heavy with the ripe unknown; it nestles in their corries and sweeps across their slopes of scree. The moor is dark and luscious with rain, every mound of heather like a rich fat dumpling, every grass-stalk glittering with drops. The sweet rain on my lips, the smell of wet ferns, the very air tastes of roads untravelled, places unseen and sweet, sweet freedom.

I walk through this paradise alone, revelling in my loneliness and the crunch and splash of my boots on the road. Then, just when I begin to feel the chill on my shoulders and wish for some air around my ears, the rain lessens (but never stops), and I lift my head and see a streak of blue. The clouds have broken, and the sun falls on the earth: not radiantly and completely, but gently and in a fickle mood. A hillock here, a bay there, a tree-top glows with colour and is extinguished. The sea is striped with silver. And the mountains throw off their secrecy and glow with streaks of green and burgundy, melting as they recede into blue on blue on blue on blue.

My footsteps halt – I can’t just keep walking. I throw off my hood. I feel like I should take off my boots, too, and stand barefoot in the muddy pools; for this is a vision of heaven, and the place where I stand is holy ground.

My feet are hot already. For a moment I consider accepting it, as I’m still stuck in the mindset of the day-by-day, but shoes aren’t necessary here. I sit down on the springy heather to unlace my boots, savouring the feeling of releasing pressure and the coolness of the air on my skin as I pull off first heavy boots, then damp socks. The grass is cool and pleasantly tickly on the soles of my feet.

My skin is patterned in white and red by the imprint of my socks; the white parts stand proud. It won’t last long, so I look at it. The world is full of these tiny patterns, little fragments of experience. It pays to look at them.

All round me in the turf are more patterns, tiny flowers set into the roots of the grass. Miniscule yellow flowers, four-petalled, look like fallen motifs from a mediaeval tapestry. I see where the inspiration came from for those tapestries where the background is flooded with flowers, at once chaotic and geometric. Because this is what the world is like, when you really look at it.

Have you ever stopped? I mean, really stopped. Let your existence settle to nothing more than one breath following another, and believed that this is enough. I long for that.

Here, I can do that. I sit here for a time. Perhaps it’s a minute, perhaps it’s a year. Here, I don’t mind, because in this place I can settle, let my lungs open and my mind empty of frantic thoughts, because here, there is no fear of tomorrow, no sense of slipping away or being left behind.

Here, I can taste forever.

I can feel the gravel under my feet, and the noise of it fills my ears.

Just keep walking, I tell myself. One step, then another. You’ll get there.

The noise is grating. It feels like it is scraping at my mind, scraping skin from a raw place. The sky is grey and heavy.

I close my eyes and just keep walking.

At first I am scared. In the red darkness behind my eyelids, I feel trapped. I sway. I am afraid of tripping. My breath seems very loud. Even the gravel crunching is drowned out by it.

But with time, it quietens. The gravel has quietened, too. No, gone, given way to the warm thump of peaty earth. Behind that, a blurring sound of wind, soft on my ears, the piping of birds as they ride it, and behind all, the steady breathing of the sea.

I stay in darkness for a moment, my nostrils filled with fragrance; then the darkness turns ruby-red and I open my eyes to the sun.

I am on the heartland road. It’s barely a track here, two grooves worn in the peat, the ridge between thick with wild flowers. It winds ahead, pale against the heather and longer grass, disappearing at last behind a dune-cliff pocked with nesting-holes. The shape of it is calligraphy, a letter I can’t read, but I understand it – with all my being, I understand what it says. It says, Come home.