Far below me, on the waves, a boat passes. Slowly, over hours, it steams along the coastline and out of view behind an outstretched arm of land.
It’s a fishing boat, an old boat with a heavy wooden hull, painted red. A small wheelhouse gleams white amid the clutter of the deck. It labours through the water, raising a hill of foam at bow and stern and carving a hollow of slick water between, deep enough to show its belly, stained green with stripes of weed. A scattering of gulls follows it, but languidly, as it’s trailing no gear.
I peer at it intently, trying to see who is sharing my lonely journey, albeit at a distance. But however hard I stare, no figure appears.
The cliffs are above me, the slope below. The rusty-black columns of rock spin above me as I look up at them. The air is colder here, as if the rock gives off a chill. At the roots of the cliffs, the scree is bare, the grass reluctant to grow in their shadow.
I try to look ahead, to watch the loops of the road as it follows the base of the cliffs, but those cliffs keep drawing my eye. I find myself checking the flat steps where the columns have broken, wondering if I could climb up. It’s madness – a fall would be death. But I keep looking.
Below me, it’s a fresh morning, and outside the damp shadow of the rock, the early sun has lit up the seascape like stained glass. The cry of the gulls is softened by distance, and the wind smells sweet and wild. The islands are vivid, not blank silhouettes today, but sharply defined, with slopes and valleys and flat swards picked out in shades of blue. The clouds are like snow.
But nothing is as bright as the sky above the cliffs, and nothing can hold my eyes as long as that rim of light. My head is dizzy from staring up at it. Is it just because I can’t get there? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just the dark massiveness of the cliffs themselves, which baffles my eyes as it fascinates my mind. But the longer I walk, the more I fear that I might just lose my head and start climbing.
The road is turning, climbing, and the cliffs are advancing towards me. And suddenly the road folds back on itself, a crazy bend, and starts to climb in earnest, dodging back and forth across the scree. The cliffs are taller than they’ve ever been, so much taller than my eye allows for, that they seem to revolve slowly as I pass under them, to hang over the road as, turn by turn, it climbs tighter into their shadow.
Since the road turned inland, I’ve been dreaming of getting back to the sea, but now the cliffs have a hold over me. I can’t help but hope that maybe there’s a way through, maybe I’ll really find myself walking above them, along the very rim of the sky.
The wind is fresh on my face. This is what I love about walking – the coolness, the freshness, the silver-bright world outside, and the living warmth inside as I work every muscle just to keep moving. It feels right. Sitting idle feels like a slow death; walking brings a stillness, and the rest after a day on foot is real rest: sweet, healing rest.
I pause and look back. I’ve come such a long way in this short time. My heart rises as I think that it’s just the start, that there are so many miles still to go, all unknown.
My feet are burning from standing still. I turn my face to the road ahead and walk on.
The cliffs march on and on, like a wall above me. I start to wonder what’s up there, above the bright rim of the sky. Perhaps it’s just the lure of the unknown – the wall is stout and tall and unbroken, except for the waterfalls, which thunder through gorges like chimneys, narrow and dark and slick with spray.
The birds fly below me, white darts against the roughness of the sea. I wish I could be like them, feel the air swell under my wings, feel the smallness of the land as I slide across the wind, as the endless sea opens before me, and the ties that held me shoreside finally break, their tattered remnants swept away by the clean, clean air.
And then, nothing: just silence, distance, light.
A misting drizzle cloakes the horizon, moistens my face and surrounds me with silence. Tiny specks of rain cling to everything – the grass, my clothes – like grains of sugar. A single hair, beaded with droplets, hangs down in front of my face.
A clatter from above draws my eye. Ragged shapes bound through the haze. One starts up from behind a boulder with a rattle of stones. Great curved horns, yellow eyes staring through a mass of black hair. And he’s gone.
And they’re all gone. I’ve seen no people on the road, and up here by the cliffs, no sheep, either. But the goats are wild, they go where they please, and dwell in empty places.