Tuesday, December 27, 2005

long walk


A few years ago two friends and I set out from here to walk across Britain - about 200 miles. Only two of us made it to Robin Hood's Bay on the east coast. Don't worry - the third person didn't die en route - he had to take a bus home because of family bereavement. I feel quite proud of this endeavour. If nothing else...I KNOW how far 200 miles is, especially when there are some small mountains between you and the destination. And there is a heatwave. I was hungry all the time except for a half hour respite after our modest meals.
I could tell you lots more about this but I'd rather relate an encounter with a proper walker. A couple of years after my epic stroll I was in the south of Spain on a rock climbing trip. As we were walking to the crag one day we saw an odd figure coming towards us down the dusty road. He wore a pair of battered shoes (ordinary street shoes, not hiking boots), old shorts and a threadbare shirt. Balanced on his head was a plastic carrier bag containing obviously not much. He was about fifty years old. Naturally, we stopped to talk to him. He was friendly but not overly talkative, more interested in what we were doing than in telling his own tale but we managed to wheedle this out of him after a while.
He had set off several months previously from his home in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in North East England which, for the benefit of my International Readership, is a fuck of a long way from southern Spain (at least 2000 miles by my reckoning, given that he could not have travelled with the directness of the crow). He had done this for several years. Worked through the winter then set off walking for 4 months with just the barest minimum of possessions. Day after day, not knowing who, if anyone, he would meet. All he really said about it was that there were good days and bad days but no two days alike.
We said goodbye and he went on his way but I swear to God he took a little piece of me with him. I still think about him now and then because he was doing something that I have a very strong urge to do...to go on a long pilgrimage to nowhere in particular ...on foot and just live each day as it comes, rough or smooth. It's not about 'finding yourself', it's just living with the unfamiliar. I'm resigned to the fact that, like most of us, I will probably never fulfil most of my dreamy ambitions. But this I can't let go of.

8 Comments:

Blogger The Grunt said...

Spain's a hell of a long way from Wallsend. Those Geordies are fascinating. Newcastle is a great city, too. I've thought of doing a long-distance walk before. It's pretty risky going it alone, though. But, I imagine that's missing the point.

9:38 AM  
Blogger rjw said...

Hey Grunt...you're still out there (you ARE my international readership).
OK, here's the plan...me and you, two banjos and a doggy bag... LA to NY in a straight line.

11:07 AM  
Blogger rjw said...

ps Grunt....you've heard of Wallsend?...sounds like you have specialised knowledge of Britain. I was a student in the Toon (town) of Newcastle...they are great people, down to earth and very funny. It's good for music too, especially blues and R'n'B. I'll tell you about Big Ray and the Hipthrusters on the way to New York..

11:18 AM  
Blogger The Grunt said...

RJW, that sounds like a good idea. I need an excuse to get back into shape, anyway. I'm honored to be the international reader--it makes me feel sophisticated.

About my specialized knowledge of that area, I've lived in Sheffield, Sunderland, Doncaster, Keighley, Newcastle, and Bradford (in that order). When I was younger, I was big into religion, and volunteered to go and proselyte. That's where I was sent for two years. Lancaster was just outside of where my area was, so I've never been there.

I'd do it again, but not as a preacher. Just don't feel that way as much anymore--not about God, but about religion.

12:37 PM  
Blogger rjw said...

I'm glad to hear you've spent some time in the gritty badlands of northern England. I always think it's a shame that many foreign visitors tend to visit only London and Oxford and Cambridge.
That must have been quite an experience you had. I had abrief evangelical phase when I was a student. These days I try to practise zen buddhism in a quiet sort of way.
You should take that walk one day. The chances of something bad happening are quite small and the likelihood of having a rich and memorable adventure are high. My name is Rob, by the way.

5:04 PM  
Blogger The Grunt said...

Yeah, when I got back home from England I tried to tell people what it was really like and they didn't believe me. Your average American sees England as either a mythical place with castles, the Village Green, or a Walt Disney cockney land. I gave up when I had people come back from two-week holidays in England try to tell me what the place was really like.

I just have one vivid memory of my time in Newcastle: trudging through the council estates of Benwell dodging rotty's and trying not to get victimized in Scottswood (just after the place went to hell with the riots). It seemed that everywhere I stayed was the worst part of town--wherever flats were dirt cheap. Some of those places were in Pakistani neighborhoods, but I managed to get along with them fine, despite being an American.

Nice to know your real name, Rob. Mine is Matt. I just have one request: on my blogs just call me "Grunt". I've got an image to maintain--ha!

6:32 PM  
Blogger rjw said...

Understood !

6:41 AM  
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8:09 AM  

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