Time is a curious thing. A day is a book we open, then close, bright and vivid when the pages feel the air, dim and distant when they touch. A bubble of experience, a complete world when we’re in it, drifts away in the wind, never recaptured. We take photos, a desperate grab to keep our memories intact; but you can’t catch a bubble. Best not to try?
I thought I saw something,
deep in the green.
My heart is pounding –
I don’t know why.
Nothing to fear, here, surely;
it’s a gentle place;
but it’s such a very deep place.
Suddenly I fear I don’t belong here,
like it’s not my world.
The trees look sharp and over-real,
like in a mirror,
a reflection in water.
I feel insubstantial.
My feet make no prints in the peat.
For a moment I hang there, a breath stilled in my throat.
Then I draw that breath,
and walk on.
I can still smell the sea, but it’s incongruous here, in the green twilight. Or maybe not – I could imagine myself under the sea here, drifting through the twisted roots of a kelp bed, the light filtering down through fathoms of green water. The arching ferns would be the fronds of some delicate creature, combing the water for food; the pillowy moss, beds of sponges inhabited by shy brown fish.
The path descends, the trees grow taller, and I feel more and more that I am diving deep into another world, close to our own, close enough to touch, but as separate as the far side of the mirror. My neck prickles, but I keep going.
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.