Unwell Wight walking

Last month I spent a week on the Isle of Wight. This means I have now rambled between its coastal and non-coastal villages both in dream-defying sunshine and in that awkward drizzle which never reached the promised rage of a storm.

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On our second day on the island, a group of us set out to walk from the Needles in Alum Bay to a oh-it’s-not-that-far-away town on the southern coast. Out of the entirety of our planned walk, we managed to get through a one-third and no one can really tell, why.

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As for me, I was feeling the worst I had ever felt without being subjected to proper corporeal suffering. All I remember is the loaded tiredness mixed with a headache backed by heavily blocked ears. I had never walked in a such a state before and am hoping that the next opportunity stays hidden in the unlikely corners of the future.

Walking when unwell is a shapeless, blunt pain. You can direct your mind away from painful swells or specific sore spots on your body for quite long distances, but when that feeling is not focused or concentrated (on a shoulder or on an ankle, for example), you slowly acquire the gait of a person who is dragging a crocheted parachute across a field of thistles. This type of walking is a literal and poetic pain, both at once, and comes with extra factors that render it especially nerve-numbing and gruesome.

1) You never see where you’re going.

Playing the connecting game with the dots, trees and shapes on the horizon is one of the most pleasurable games you can play when walking. When feeling ill, all you are left with are the edges of your shoes. You are not counting your steps but are aggressively trying to avoid noticing the vastness behind the distance. Or the distance behind the vastness. In both cases, your horizon ends with your next step.

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2) Every new sight becomes greeted with a sigh.

Especially a high one. Of course, general functionality becomes an effort of its own when you are feeling poorly. Noticing beauty becomes an effort. A curious texture that definitely needs your quick touch becomes an effort. A 50 meter ascent on a sunny cliff side becomes an effort of a grander scale. Suddenly, an innocent beach cliff is turned into a winter approach of the Karakorum. Without noticing, you swap speaking for sighing and patiently trod along in hope of someone demanding a break.

3) You focus an intense amount of time on breathing.

At least I do. Forcing my breathing into a set of slowly rolling waves helps to lift some of that vague fatigue. However, when you do it too intensely and on too hot a day, it tends to create an ill-advised side effect. So you must focus even more.

4) Side-stepping into possible futures.

To escape your current efforts, you automatically imagine yourself somewhere else, crossing an unfamiliar terrain under very different circumstances. This is what I found to help me the most – being mentally transported into a training or preparation mode for something more difficult to come. I guess imagining your current journey being a small part of some bigger physical challenge gives you some mysterious and near-ridiculous strength. The step not to reach is imagining your current journey being one of your future journeys from the past.

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5) Not only your ears but also your mind becomes blocked.

The prospect of getting lost doesn’t fill you with any romantic notions. You don’t want to step off the path (fair enough, you can barely keep an eye on it) or get fully carried away by the Awe of the Bizarre. That feeling of sparkly freedom which usually accompanies reaching utterly unplanned places seems to be gone forever. Actually, quite a lot of general willpower gets directly overtaken by those small mundane operations you must perform. You might just stop and go back indoors. In fact, it’s a fact of life that walking without feeling an ounce of romance is actually not considered walking at all.

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6) Something other starts hurting, just because.

That is a rule of some sort. I just need to find a name for it.

7) Realisations about your surroundings reach you later. Much later.

Nothing sudden can penetrate your shield of dullness and you also can’t derive any pleasure from your non-linear thinking pattern. Things that are obvious to others remain out of sight for you. You miss the cliffs formed of differently coloured minerals, the cooing of the wood pigeons, the sight of land slide a couple of meters from your cliff path. Later in the evening, you curiously turn to your camera to see whether you captured anything from your day at all. And then realise what another enticing one it has been.

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Switching between realities on the South West Coast Path

After a late afternoon surfing session, I decided to walk to Holywell. Sneakily, I was planning on walking to Newquay, but having checked the map and knowing the distance to be around 20 K (on the coastal path, so all the ups and downs added), I was not certain whether I’d make it there before the sunset.

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Think I found the beach bar. July 2015.

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It was strangely sad to leave Perranporth. Today, my body already knew more things than yesterday and getting up on the board did not register as a ridiculous concept any more. Everyone was still in the water when I started walking up the hills and just… Yes.

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Next time I leave the city for surfing it will be for a longer period.

blogisse1.3blogisse1.4But the hilly walking next to the ocean leaves one no space for sadness. After all, after every corner, a new beach. A long, stretchy, not your typical English pebble. Every day, a new beach. This how this week has been.

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Somehow, I managed to make it to Holywell without even noticing. Amongst houses, I lost the path. That is typical, it seems. I can spot it or take imaginary short-cuts on the natural terrain but as soon as there’s a house around, I become confused. It should be the other way around, really.

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A bit of hilly heathland later, I was soon back on the South West Coast Path. And quite soon also reached the Crantock Beach. Somehow, I had managed to walk roughly 9 miles in around 2 hours (and a bit more). I don’t remember running it. I definitely do not remember any running. What I do remember is seeing a completely new natural phenomenon – a coastal meadow (very very close to the ocean) with low-growing greenery that all looked like Mediterranean ferns. God as a child, practising different terrains, this is what it looked like. I also saw a rabbit on the sand. In my northern country, the only place for rabbits is… everywhere away from the coast. But yes, technically, I saw a beach bunny.

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And then someone turned the switch. Another time started ticking, another mindset settled in. I’m not kidding. Something funny happened in that neighbourhood. First of all, I doubted myself for the first time. Walked a bit up the hill, walked down to the beach soon afterwards, looked around for a possible ferry – there was a river there, separating me from my access to Newquay -, learning the ferry had finished for the day, tied my sneakers to my backpack and waded around the river a little, but seeing it becoming deeper, came back to the beach. Talked to some people.

One of the people I ended up talking with was not probably a real man. He was working together with another human, so I did not imagine him – not a real man in that sense. Just in a sense that he was not a man all together. Some other species, but I don’t know what. He was about my height, slightly shorter, and had hair of yellow-grey-greenish. But even better – he had the most otherworldly eyes I had ever seen. Mostly bright turquoise and just around the iris – a rainbow of darker blues, greens and greys. A water spirit? Definitely too big for a water spirit. A mermaid turned surfer? He did look awkwardly out of place on the land, though. Hmm. But, yes. Upon hearing my wish on wanting to reach Newquay he told me to wait an hour for the tide to go out, so the river would move away and reveal a bridge that I could cross if I were lucky enough. I would have to wait at least an hour for the tide, though. The other option was to walk through the Crantock village, turn left and just walk to Newquay, basically around the river. He also offered me a ride if I waited 20 minutes.

I could not wait. Not 20 minutes and definitely not an hour. I thanked him and started walking on the bigger road. Soon, I became surrounded by lush trees quite uncommon to the beach areas. And that’s when another switch was pulled. Church bells started ringing out of nowhere. Happy bells, bells for people waking up from the dead or angels brought to earth. I then saw the church tower and a white, wolf-looking animal galloping around the tomb stones in the church garden. I would just like to say that I’m not making this up. This all happened only a minute after I had found a small gate, barely up to my knees and covered with ivy, with a lady’s face carved into its wooden surface.

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I walked out of the church garden, nearly seeing a trapped woman walking around this same place, but once again, not trapped in a bad, helpless way. It’s as if everyone had chosen to fall under a spell in here. And the village itself! The pub – definitely made-up. The fences and the garden gates – more than definitely made-up! Public pathways leading into arched passage ways of the unknown – khm!

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I finally walked up to a mountain (managed to ignore my instincts twice and do a bit of to-and-froing), until I jumped over a low fence and started walking straight across a hilly field, down towards the river where it was supposed to reach its ending.

I still can’t tell how, but suddenly, I was back on the path again. And Newquay was just 2 miles away. (People on the road had told me it was an hour’s walk!) I now knew I had made it before the dark. And I walked towards the bottom of the valley – only to see that I was actually very far from the river’s end. However, where the river should have been, was just sand. The tide had gone out. And for the second time within one hour, I untied my sneakers and started walking barefoot. Straight towards the other shore, across the river bed. And there it was, the bridge that stayed under water, surrounded by sleeping boats and the golden hour. A lonely surfer carried his board across the bridge and I tried hard not to slip on the algae when our paths crossed. There was still a bit of water under the bridge, the deepest part of the river.

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The magic realm came to a sudden yet unnoticed end on the opposite shore. Everything was done now, everything was safe. It was just the walk back to my abode for the night. Quite nostalgic, for some reason. I think Cornwall had started crawling under my skin a bit.

PS. On my way back to the hostel, I visited another cemetery. Once again I saw proof of health and safety regulations just really keeping the population levels artificially high. There was a sign on the cemetery gate advising to pay attention whilst walking – due to the ground being uneven. I….just…well… nothing.

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When things go differently than expected in Cornwall

I was not 3 hours early at the needed place today, as I had first thought.
I was actually 45 minutes late and at a very wrong place.
That meant no surfing for me on this Tuesday but at least I know where (not) to go on the following days.

Perranporth Beach. Cornwall, July 2015.

I almost don’t have any explanation for this, except that I think my brain shuts down when surrounded by a high intensity of horror. Which, in itself, can be considered as some sort of a defence reflex and a very bad survival one. Luckily, it kicks in ever so seldom and my levels for extreme can probably be stretched every now and then. Well, at least the bus ticket for a half an hour ride is £2.- in here, so all sorts of exploring is encouraged.

Anything to say in my defence?

I got off at the right stop and that’s when it happened, really: I found myself in a trailer house town. A trailer house town. And not one that has been born out of difficult social situations. A town that had been quite newly built. It is hard to explain how the place felt and how it looked: ET on a bad acid trip having put together a suburb he kind of remembered, but not having houses at hand, so having used caravans with legs instead.

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It was a town of sour hope and dejected dreams. Full of hetero families with 3+ children walking from Spar (yes, a selection of high street shops had been transported to the middle of this town) to the Pit of Forlornness, disguised as a pub. The Pit of Forlornness had a large blackboard behind the counter explaining how many pennies one would save buying a bottle of Merlot instead of 3 large glasses of the same wine. It explained away every wine they sold. From another building across the street, one of Elvis’s songs in major key could be heard.

The flip-flopping fathers of this place were wearing T-shirts by surfing brands yet looked like people who had touched the water around the same time they had last had sex. Which was not very recently at all. There were screaming children at an eerie mini golf ground, a small plane flying a beer banner across everyone dipping their fries into suspicious mayo and McDonald’s being called a restaurant on the road sign. The town also had a suburb. The suburb, however, was not made of trailer houses but only trailers. At least the sun was shining above the suburb and the weather was getting less hazy and more focused on its sunny ways.

The Labyrinth of a town had signs up for a surfing school. Not everywhere, but every now and then, so you could follow them and finally find the beach. (Something I’ve never had trouble doing before.) I was following all the signs very carefully (you really don’t want to get lost on the avenues of Doom Illustrated) and finally found my way down to the beach, only to be told there was no booking on my name. It was almost cruel. The waves where all there. The drizzling was stopping. The families with eight screaming toddlers were leaving.

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They sent me back up, to their office in the Labyrinth of Despair. Having spent 20 minutes finding it, they directed me to the town’s Reception. Waiting 15 minutes in the reception, a young boy pointed out that my booking was with another surf school all together. So, hey, this was all my doing, then. But I hadn’t even thought about blaming anyone, I was too focused on not touching anything in case it might suck me in. But yes, the mistake was purely mine. Even if the school had a logo in the same shape and colour, and a name 88% similar to the other only school that had all the advertising up. There were no flags up for my school, so I could not go and find it. Even my mobile reception was lost amongst the Horizons (a popular house name) of these streets. The kind but slightly alarmed people at the Reception finally showed me a map of their town. I thanked them and I thanked the wind my school did not fit on their map nor was part of this Establishment of Endings.

I called my school, so I’m going tomorrow. All is good, the weather is getting better and warmer. The real feel is above 15C now. I have returned from the Nether Side of Nightmares, and am now back in Newquay where half of the population walks the streets carrying their big surfing boards. You know what they say: big surfing boards…. But the other half looks like aggressive sea hippies, so they make up for that. Aggressive sea hippie is just another word for a pirate, just making that clear.

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I checked into charity shops for possible reading material. The options available were Your Talking Cat, In the Minds of Murderers, Pocket Guide to Australia and How to develop Your Sixth Sense. I can’t say I need any of those very specifically right now. Except for one, maybe.

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Newquay is actually not that bad. It is probably even one of the most pleasant-feeling seaside towns in England I’ve ever been to. The corny fudge packaging is still everywhere as is the traditional piňa colada flavoured sugar candy, but there’s also a lot of actual happiness that is nearly tangible. It could be because Newquay is not trying to be something. That’s where its charm might spring from – the place is not exerting itself too much. Everyone already knows that the surf is good in here and that the pasties fill you up real nice. There is no need to prove anything to anyone and that makes the locals relaxed. Maybe all the flip-flop people are on to something, after all.

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I do have my own reading with me. I’ll walk around this tiny ocean town and find a place to read it. Things can only go up.

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Following the River Lea through a secret hole in the hedge

When I left for the Lea Valley Walk I had no idea I would not be doing all its 4 stages in one go. Everything was pointing towards a successful walk: the weather was going to be glorious and breezy, the trains were running and my walking boots had been trained to be my loyal friends for 6 months. Fine, my starting point in the Leagrave Marsh being next to a spot called Rotten Corner should have maybe given me a hint of something going amiss. And perhaps, my path sharing a bit of its course with the oldest road in England (Icknield Way, predating Roman times, that old) should have served as a possible reminder that not everything is achievable in one, fresh attempt. But all this is just my Finno-Ugric reasoning, full of deep belief in linguistic superstitions. (Well, I also saw paw prints of light in a tunnel of arched trees disco-ing away under the shivering leaves, so my Finno-Ugric mind translated that into a good sign. The suburbs of Luton are surprisingly lush.)

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Leagrave, Bedfordshire. July 2015.
Leagrave, Bedfordshire. July 2015.

Twice I thought I had strayed, and twice I was proven wrong. During those times I either reached the needed path within couple of moments or found myself in places where Julius Caesar had walked, George Bernard Shaw had lived and elephants had accidentally damaged rustically heartwarming bridges — only to find myself back on the path again. The village of Wheathamstead was there like a comforting stranger, offering a place to take my boots off, and encouraging me not to take a direct (!) road to my next destination (Lemsford).

Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.

The third time I decided to follow the voice of reason instead of my gut feeling – this is how great trekkers seem to keep themselves from harm, I thought. I even had help on the way: when prancing merrily across a hilly slope in Hertfordshire and reaching a road I had not fully planned on taking (the Ayot Greenway), a very old man stepped out from the hedge and pointed me towards the needed direction (still Lemsford). I know now that it is not only fables and fairytales where wise old men appear out of thin air to offer you their guidance. This is just what happens when you step out of your door with nothing but your walking boots and a bit of money for ale.

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It was the Ayot Greenway that broke my stride, however. That was the path where my right boot actively decided to show my right ankle what it’s made of. (The boot, not the ankle.) Limping along, the only thought that kept me going were the meters ticked off from those last miles I was walking. Keeping straight to the path (this is where my gut feeling started screaming), I later found myself at the full end of it – and with still 6 miles to go to reach Hatfield. Six miles is mountain-loads when you can’t walk all that well any more. And it comes with the added psychological quirk: when you have prepped yourself up for those last 4 miles, and are already whispering to your knees that there’s only a little to go – then to find yourself in the beginning of yet another journey becomes a wicked mental barrier to limp over. I did mention the ankle, right?

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Honestly? The last couple of hours of Stage 1 were strenuous. Weirdly, I never thought of giving up, though. No one gives up when they are having fun, even if that fun is painful. It helped that this bit of the walk was also chequered with many benevolent encounters: I ended up a little lost and a little stuck in the middle of a massive bean field, shouting greetings and questions towards the nearby houses and being soon pointed to a secret hole in the hedge (!). From there I was then advised to carefully cross a golf course which’s gatekeeper – the casting agency for Harry Potter had clearly overlooked this guy – directed me to yet another hole in another hedge. From where, walping (yes) towards the Hatfield train station, a man with a stuffed falcon and an alive pointer dog confirmed my choice of direction. This is what makes a glorious day out without even reaching proper wilderness (I probably walked as much as Roman legionaries walked in one day) – the people with stuffed falcons wishing you good luck on your way.

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At the very end, I almost did not have time to be with myself any more. Reaching a place to sit down became an all-encompassing need. Even the train station became difficult to find, as did the platform. You know you must be tired if you can’t even find your way to the platform from the station. My journey of rational and gut feeling choices came to an end 11 hours after its beginning, and was followed by Stage 3 of the walk after one day of ankle healing. No chants, just ibuprofen.

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Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 40 km.

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km.

Tottenham Marshes, Haringey, London. July 2015.
Tottenham Marshes, Haringey, London. July 2015.

Day before the Lea Valley Walk

As a preparation, I’m printing out Google maps’s walking descriptions together with someone’s blog entry on walking from Leagrave to Hatfield (that person got lost). The weather forecast promises a strong thunderstorm late at night, but some sun, breeze and pleasantness for the entire day tomorrow. This is looking good! Google maps truly is a sweet classic for uncomplicated walks: I have used them for hitchiking from Tallinn to Poznan, and for general directions in Gujarat where the actual subcontinent was otherwise the only reference point I could point to on the globe.

In between the unknowns / hymns to summer

Note to self: there’s nothing more valuable than listening to all the voices in your mind, than listening to all the voices of the other minds, attending to every new day through deciphering the rhythms of the mango leaves in the garden, dancing frantically in the wind, accidentally crazy, purposefully shocking the squirrels on their peanut-traced itineraries. At those moments everything becomes uncomplicated again; every barely tangible element in the moment transforms into a light and endless building block. And I guess it is the summer, and this endless warmth, and these moments full of time that no other season renders. Maybe it is important just to find a small travel in every day, a tiny new dance on every pavement, a new way to come home for 100 days in a row, a new way to make your story elements come together. It is never about inventing new stories, is it? It is all about how to put them together in a new way, and letting the chance in. This is also the essence of travelling – putting your own world together in a new way, every time you go far without any expectations, into the world of unknown pavements with that box of neon crayons.

Sweet July in the making

In my mind, this photo translates to meters of maps (old and new), scrolls (only old), itineraries pinned, guidebooks consulted, route options chosen, weather reports studied, diaries underlined, notes taken (in different colours). Some part of me sees my great plan as an A4 sheet with a calendar for the coming months drawn onto it. Some part of me sees it as described in the first sentence.

One needs a vision, right?

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HIKING SCOTLAND AND THE WORLD. DIARY & TIPS.