“Where you going to love?”, said the taxi driver as I wriggled across the back of his car with my heaving rucksack. “Chipping Campden please. I need to go to the start of the Cotswold Way”, I reply as my cold breath fills the warm, cosy car with condensation.
The quintessential English countryside looked glorious as we rolled on by in the sunshine, talking about the work I do in BBC local radio. That would be the last time I would talk – even think – about work for the next few days. That part is true. But to say that the absence of thinking about work was bliss, as I expected, would not be true. Little did I know that the rest of the walk would be more blister-full than blissful, literally and figuratively speaking.
As mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve recently gone through a break up. I’ve been here before, just like many millions of others have. My situation isn’t unique nor is it special. But it’s my situation. It’s my experience. And I’ve been before. Many times, actually. But the last time I was here, the dark, grey days turned in to a storm full of raging gales strong enough to knock me over and relentless rain, turning everything miserable; my last breakup was the proverbial straw which essentially triggered 3 long years of living with depression.
So I spotted the warning signs. I mean, at least this time I could prepare for what might come and attempt to circumnavigate the inevitable rocky patch. And this was one of the ways I decided to do that. Fresh air. Alone time. Exercise. The countryside. And of course, a challenge. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew some parts wouldn’t be all that enjoyable. I knew I’d cry, I knew I’d hurt – inside and out – but I also knew that this is what I needed to do. I needed to start the healing process and I needed to prevent any further damage. So off I set: 100 miles in 5 days. “Let’s do this”, I thought…
The first day was energising, liberating, tiring, painful, and, as the sun went down and I realised I was still hours from my B&B in the pitch black dark but for my little head torch, bloody terrifying. Energising because it felt so good to feel the crisp wind fill my lungs and the result of my body producing and pumping around happy hormones. Liberating because my phone had died and so it was just me, the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. Tiring because I walked 20.35 miles miles with 2o kilograms on my back, which wasn’t helped by me forgetting just how hilly Gloucestershire is. Painful because on day one I gained 3 little friends in the form of expanding skin filled with liquid on the inner side of each foot – typical. And bloody terrifying because my over imaginative mind convinced the part of me that’s a scaredy-cat that I was being followed through the woods every time I head owls – ok, more likely pigeons – sound and flutter away as I walked by (sorry to the people whose garden I trespassed through with all of 5 metres – I just had to get out of the woods and on to the road and when I saw my chance I took it… I promise I was careful and just nipped around the edge once I jumped the barbed wire fence – not an easy thing to do when carrying a third of your body weight on your back!).
What I noticed the most from the first day’s walking was just how often I would stop and be in the moment. I know very little about plants and wildlife but what I did come across I’d stop, look, study and take in what was in front of me in that very instance. I’d notice the tiny leaves on flowers, the eyelashes on a horse that followed me through a field or the shapes of the clouds in the sky as they merged in to the mist in the distance, making the landscape looking something more reminiscent of Lord of the Rings than Gloucestershire. In fact, I was so in the moment throughout the day that I really did take in everything, and for once I managed to remember it all, too:
11 villages. 8.5 hours of walking. 3 blisters. 2 pheasants. 1 pony. 1 breed of cow I’d never seen before (turns out it was Belted Galloway). 1 squirrel. 1 man and his dog (that got lost and I helped to find… the dog by the way, not the man!). 1 dead phone. 1 castle-esque tower. 1 near spectacular fall (I was trying to skid down some mud!). 1 incredibly stunning sunset that distracted me, resulting in 1 missed turn. Numerous ‘diversions’ in the dark, resulting in 1 slightly scared and paranoid walker (I watch too many psycho-thrillers). 1 lost hat. 1 found hat. Tonnes of clumpy, sticky mud. Tonnes of Deep Heat. Too many hills. Too many scary looking sheep. And 1 lovely B&B (once I could get in!).
So with day 1 under my layers of warm clothing and waterproof jackets done, I turned to think about day 2 as my head hit the pillow of my luxurious bed. The sun had been shining all day and, despite the inevitable ups and downs, the sun was still shining inside of me.
Run #9 Rating & Reflection
Achievement = 5
Enjoyment = 3
A mixed bag of emotions for the day.