Tag Archives: wanderlust

So that I wouldn’t forget January

I did get out of town during the first month of this year, I swear! And I did leave the  city in February as well. But two months without a real wander is as long as I can humanly stretch it. If not for any other reason, then to stop myself from staying up until morning to search for all the possible tracks and paths on this island. (And off it.) You know, those if onlys, if onlys

I do prefer to keep my books and magazines more or less intact and *not* to crumple their pages up every time I see a photo of place that looks just too… mmmmmppffff. Origamis of desperation, those.

But I have such good news! March marks the change! And updates on this blog start appearing more regularly again, which is only a good thing!

Until then, here’s proof of the only bit of snow I managed to see in January. Spotted in the Epping Forest District, Essex.IMG_20160117_162658

Wye Valley Walk and the last sun of November

The walk from Chepstow to Llandogo took around 6-7 hours. It was the very beginning to the Wye Valley Walk which runs from Chepstow to Plynlimon. A beautiful 136 miles all together. We did about 22 km of it.

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Just three weeks earlier, Ashdown Forest in East Sussex had welcomed us with the last wave of autumn’s strength. The leaves were still hanging on, the ferns still looked pointy. It had been a darkening but friendly welcome. The time in Monmouthshire was completely different. We had stepped into the silent part of autumn.

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Everything around us had the feeling of having given up. (Not having been conquered; that’s the feeling you get during the third week of winter or so. Difference!) We still managed to walk in sunshine for the better part of the day, however. And no! There’s no magic to us always catching the sun, it’s just the layman’s luck. Or we actually come with a blessing from the Gods of the Woods.

The path we took mostly meandered up and down a valley bank. No grand views but loads of close meetings with gnarly trees. And a passageway through a massive boulder where at least one bat had taken up its residence. This was my first time being inside a boulder together with bats. I’m guessing there were many.

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Wales must be the gnarliest place on Earth, though. I think that part of its mythological charm might actually stem from the gnarls. But we were not in deep Wales, though. Just like the cave entries inside the valley bank that didn’t lead us very far, we kept getting hints of things to come without allowing ourselves to go and fully find out.

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For a little while we walked very close to the river. That part of the valley was covered in the prettiest trees imaginable, every branch and twig so utterly alluring that I nearly left my companions and ran off to see those things from up close. I did, however, suspect a trap and kept following our set course. This willpower is probably the only reason I got back to the the city again.

The border walking kept mentally pulling me away from the valley and more towards “the actual” Wales. I have been to Wales only twice and a certain feeling has lifted its head at both times. It’s the feeling of “if you practice feeling scared, you’ll remember your very first dream”. You know, that type of strange shit that feels too epic to be real.

You don’t need grand cities if you have nature like this. And if you have returned from the actual nature, you might find a small (and locked) village church from the far corner of a tiny cemetery. And if you are lucky, you can peek in through the keyhole and see colours you cannot name. Because you shouldn’t be seeing bright colours in a closed church that is not lit from the inside. And yet to do. And it is twilight outside. But if asked to describe the objects the colours were attached to, I’d really owe you an explanation.

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Borderlands make me restless. They are too rich in light layers of meaning. Every time you want to follow a thought deeper, you’re left with a choice to completely change your course or to give up on the thing that caught your attention. This part of the Wye Valley walk left me hungry. It left me hungry to step deeper over the border, to walk west from where I was, and from there, to go up north again. At the end of the day, it’s the north that wins in most cases.

 

The embodied philosophy of London fog

It is getting close to the end of 2015. Since all types of endings are either bigger or smaller borderline rites, they need some sort of celebration. If not celebrating, than just being noted. Noted and noticed.

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The two first days of November marked a new beginning for the last stretch of the year. Those were the days when London became covered, smothered and embraced by its famous fog. As a rather young Londoner, I’ve seen my share of fogs in here, but never anything like that. Never a carpet of fog that would last for 48 hours.

 

I spent most of the waking time within those 48 hours walking the Wanstead Flats and part of the Epping Forest. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my lover, sometimes with a bigger group of people.

During those hours, each meter of the Flats was turned into a playground I had never encountered before. I knew I was not there on my own, yet every time when the fog revealed yet another person, the glimpse of a human figure arrived as a soothing realization of not being alone. In that sense, fog is like philosophy. It reveals that you are not alone in the space you are inhabiting. Not often does philosophy take physical shape in such a grand manner.

Of course, everything becomes ridiculously romantic in this type of ephemeral, temporary landscape. From photographing strangers exiting a white wall to trying to decipher where the sitting heron ends and the tree branch starts. And then trying to decipher whether it was a heron at all and what became of the strange man squatting on the lake shore.

Fog Philosophy would make for a gorgeous essay collection subject. The collection would touch on topics of accidental holiness and patches of ground created for dancing and dancing only. It would speak of the ritual joining of the visible and invisible space, of depth, about the landscapes of air and of walking into possibilities. In this type of world, mythologies would become the everyday.

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Wanstead Flats, London. November 2015.

 

Ashdown Forest: the bats, owls and mists of Samhain

On the last day of October, a small group of us set out from London Victoria on a train to East Grinstead. From there, we a took a bus to get closer to a certain forest. I did not carry a camera this time, so all the pictures posted today are in courtesy of Mr Rainer S.

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Ashdown Forest is located in East Sussex, on the the highest sandy ridge-top of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. When not knowing where to go, you can spend a bit of time wandering in rather civilized areas before fully reaching it.

At the start of our walk, we sauntered along an old railway track for a while (oh, how it really, really reminded me of the Ayot Greenway trail between Wheathamstead and Ayot St. Peter! –> my unplanned detour that shaped the real outcome of my Lea Valley Walk’s first day this summer: the road where I started limping and the reason I got stuck on a field of beans (the full story is here). After the old railway and some nibbles on the roadside, we decided to go and find the Poohsticks Bridge (a famous bridge from a famous children’s book) and wave the houses good-bye.

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Having easily found the bridge after a bit of walking next to fields and across them, we crossed it together with some horses (or donkeys in disguise?) and finally found ourselves in the beginning of the forest.

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There were leaves, everywhere. There should be special word for the way leaves smell on the autumn forest floor before the the first night colds. Hopefully, at least one of the languages has it. On the small paths, on the soon-to-be naked trees, in the creeks that had to be crossed and between the mythic looking ferns – the leaves where everywhere, bringing with them the feeling of carelessness known to people before they reach the age of 20.

Ashdown Forest needs time. In order to fully roam around there, a day is probably not enough. At least not in the season when the light starts fading rather early. But in our case, the day almost was enough. It left all of us with that bitter-sweet taste of wanting more, just an hour, two or tree more or time, yet not making us feel as if we had not had any time at all.

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We wandered deeper into the forest when noticing that the sunset was a mere two hours away. The plan was to go as deep as possible and then find our way back to civilization again.

This was the happiest I had been that entire week. Thinking about it now, October was a deeply happy month on all levels. (See, how I just avoided at least a one worthy mountain pun!) October was also a month that started and ended with a walk. As every month should, I say.

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Walking in Ashdown was calming and exciting at the same time. A small practice in zen, a small exercise of looking at the leaf patterns. The ferns rustled although there was almost now wind. When we got deeper into the forest we met no other people.

After the clear and sunny day, the darkness started to gather fast. The bats came out and the owls started hooting.

Only when the tongues of mist started crossing our road did we understand that all the sheep we had seen during the day had been black.

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More owls started to hoot.

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And more trees appeared that looked like they had been brought here from the 19th century. (Probably that’s the last time they did have leaves, when I think of it.) The darkness fully took over when we had walked through the mists and encountered our last flock of black beasts. This was pitch dark countryside darkness, the proper kind where you forget that cities exist. And in the middle of it, someone found a pub with a living fire. I can’t remember who but I’m very grateful to him or her. I would have taken that window for someone’s living room.

But things shouldn’t be too easy. And because life doesn’t want you to miss out on all the possible courses for one day, we had to leave that beautiful coziness quite soon and step into the deep darkness to make our way to the bus stop.

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No street lights, no house lights, no moon light. Just the stars, the occasional passing cars and the hope that the bus would come, not miss us or not run as over.

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More owls hooted. The old church spire was still there, probably looking as pastorally perfect as it had done in the fading light. More owls. More darkness. The most simple Samhain evening one could wish for.

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West Highland Way: 3/4

DAY 6, from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven, 15.9 km

Every time when I go for a walk, I wake up as a dog on that day.

I usually open my eyes a little after 6 am and a friendly voice starts the disco mantra of “Can we go now, can we go now?!” in my head. Until we finally do.

We took a bus from our hotel to Kingshouse. Our plan had worked! So far, we had been walking every inch of the way. Oh! And the local transport routes in here are nearly as ridiculous as the Snowdonian ones. I know that driving a bus is never a hassle-free job, but these routes must be amongst some of the most relaxing ones in the world. (In good weather, I point out.)

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Day 6 was all about walking the Devil’s Staircase and getting ourselves to Kinlochleven as a result. (The internet was right. People had described Kinlochleven as a town that does not get closer when you approach it. As exact a description as there ever was.) You can see Kinlochleven for more times than you can count, but it will always remain there, silently signalling your arrival, almost as if it’s not caring. You just walk and foolishly put on and peel off your rainproofs many times in one go without even seeing proper rain. And yes, during all that time, Kinlochleven is still waiting.

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Devil’s Staircase, the path across the Aonach Eagach ridge, is special. It is the childhood playground of clouds. I’m guessing this is the place whence they go into the world to bring awe and new ways to look at things to all people. The clouds are alive on the Aonach Eagach ridge. Their games are innocent, whimsical and intolerably pretty. And up here, I finally (and I *mean* finally) understood why I have never been drawn to the Alps. (I’ve been drawn to all other mountains as long as I can remember, but never once to the Alps. I do find that suspicious, by the way.) I’m not claiming that it is the legally acceptable answer, but for me, the Alps are not alive with any sort of mythological life. I look at them and I see beautiful mountains, there to be admired and climbed by all levels of outdoor lovers, enthusiasts and all types of locals. But you are not coming home with an invisible friend from them, no.

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With the beginning of our descent, the sun came out again in its absolute splendour. (Of course, by that time we both knew Scotland consisted of nothing else but the sun, shh!) I was taking many pictures and was often so entranced by my surroundings that I found myself standing in various creeks. It is dangerous not look at your feet when walking down a mountain and walking into creeks is the most innocent lesson you can learn.

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It did happen, eventually. We did reach Kinlochleven. It was a small mountain town (a village, technically) with the sound of gushing water prevalent in the darkness (the village is home to one of UK’s largest hydro-electric power stations). Kinlochleven held all the crucial shops and all the necessary places to eat. There were at least two pubs and also a brightly lit fish and chips shop that held an outline of one dark silhouette in its neon midst.

There was aluminium industry in here too, once, but now Kinlocheleven lives more of a quiet life. (Except for the gushing water, of course.) After arriving, we soon headed to the pub for some dinner of soup and ale. The streets where empty but you could feel life surrounding you behind every wall in the darkness; maybe smiling, maybe just keeping an eye on you.

Never in my life had I been in a place that felt more like Twin Peaks.

West Highland Way: 2/4

DAY 5, from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy + from Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse, 30 km

Our original plan was to make Day 5 a short and Day 6 a long one (around 36 km). The frantic weather forecasts made us lose interest in the horizontal scenery and focus more on the skies instead.

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We got to Bridge of Orchy around noon. Yet it hardly felt like having left the bed at all. Doing a 12 km walk and trying to call it a day actually makes you rather anxious. Your body gets confused and tells you to keep moving or something strange and unexpected shall follow. And so you become more restless with each person passing. We saw the German guy (with whom our road had crossed a couple of times already) reaching Bridge of Orchy and taking off with his ankle having gained a bit of support from our day-saving ibuprofen gel. We saw people coming from our morning direction, crossing the road and heading towards Kingshouse, straight up the tiny hill behind our hotel. K was drinking coffee at the hotel bar and we were both feeling horrible at having to stay put. We had known it was going to be a short day, but not this short, not really. Also, there was no sign of the promised downpour. The weather report was actually changing now. Now it merely promised rain and wind.

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And this got us thinking. Should we try to get a room at Kinghouse tomorrow and postpone everything in our itinerary by one day? We did have an extra day counted in at the end. (That clever, eh?) Or, should we take half of the journey by bus tomorrow and… come back some other time and finish the unwalked bit? I can’t fully remember the reason behind our reasonings but there must have been a very bad weather report, that’s all I’m saying. Also, K’s toe(s) were getting quite aggressively painful by that time, so we were a bit concerned about the 36 km day ahead. I then called the Kinghouse hotel and learnt that they did have the last vacant room left, but only that one and only for today. That would have meant an extra £170.- for our trip, since Kingshouse is not a budget hotel and our room at Bridge of Orchy could not be cancelled without paying the entire fee.

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We sat in the the small bar and looked out of the window only to see more backpackers pass. We thought. I was crunching numbers in my head. Technically, it would be doable. But would it be reasonable? Promising to myself that yes, there will be a thing I’ll do differently on my next long distance trek – I’ll make sure I’ll have proper emergency reserves for changing my mind and itineraries on the go without having to take a thinking break. Yes, extra reserves and a razor, the two things I’ll take along when stepping out of the door again.

Then, she fucking did it! K figured out how we could walk the entire way without giving our budget a spastic fit → we could start walking right now, crossing the Rannoch moor today, still reach Kingshouse in daylight and then take a bus back to our hotel. All we needed to do tomorrow, would be to take a bus from our hotel to Kinghouse and then continue our journey from there, thus making tomorrow’s distance half shorter as well.

All the happy bells were ringing in my head!

I ran to the reception to ask for local bus times. The bus schedules fit in with our plans with near-eerie perfection. We jumped up from our table, counting the blessings from the couple sitting next to us and looking a bit worried. They asked whether we had enough lunch on us to run off to the moor. With the crazy haze in our eyes, we shouted “Yes, of course!”, to which I ran to the hotel bar to buy some carrot cake and then, having luckily gotten the key to our room hours earlier, dashed upstairs to re-pack. Now, we could only take the rainproofs and some food items we would need for a half a day.

This is the moment when you have a look at you and your friend and think who are these people who, upon hearing that gales have been downgraded to wind and rain, throw candies into their backpacks and rush out to the moor. Suddenly we had become children going out into the forest for the first time – lunching on cake, candy, cookies and chocolate.

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The magnificent Rannoch moor was a moor surrounded by mountains. Being a flat-land creature in my days of youth, these things still come as a surprise. A moor between mountains! A moor where you step over heather roots and look at the clouds play with the hill tops around you – a very different sight from the marshlands where the marsh pines are the tallest beings surrounding you. (I come from the North, I’m allowed to call trees “beings”, ok?)

We walked the second half our day very quickly, reaching Kingshouse already around five in the afternoon. Upon nearing our destination, the craggy Buachaille Etive Mòr came into sight. While it was mostly covered by cloud in the rapidly falling daylight, it had everything I had expected to see without having known of it existing. This is how you recognise a dream having come true.

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Slowly, my whispers turned into a mantra of “I’m coming back here, I’m coming back for you, I’m coming back to you”. I am walking the West Highland Way for the joy of walking and not for gathering locations for secret parties in the future, but I’m definitely taking my lover here next spring, oh god, yes. Because today was the day when I fell in love with a new mountain.

At the end of the day, we did not even have to take a bus back. We got a lift from a Dutch extreme survival instructor who was just returning from his four-day trip to the forest without having taken any food with him. He had survived on mussels and fish. He looked very untroubled.

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We are living the times where all places and moments are beautiful.

West Highland Way: 1/4

There were times when the parents of my friends forbade them to play with me when I was five. The same happened when I turned seven. And when I was basking in my official teenage years. All these parents shared a common fear – the fear of me taking their children to the forest. That fear was not based on a random flight of imagination, however. I did take everyone to the forest with me. I made them spend nights there. And build houses and rafts with me. Sometimes, we all fell into the bog water together or forgot which bridges were fake and slipped into the peaty rivers. There was no reason for those mothers to be worried. We were always having fun.

So, I was very glad when one of my best friends, K., nodded along to my plan to walk the 96-mile long West Highland Way early this October. (Even when her parents had known me for a long time already.)

We decided not to carry a tent (I don’t own a lightweight one, yet) and to sleep in hostels, hotels, bunk houses and camping pods. My 35L backpack got a tear next to one of its zippers already on a train to Glasgow. Otherwise, nothing else broke or needed mending during our journey. Except for K’s toe. It also did not break but did cause noticeable foot-related harm after having been introduced to a rock through an intense encounter.

My backpack held the following:

– a sleeping bag

– 3 pairs of socks + underwear

– 3 tops

– light trousers for sleeping

– an extra fleece

– blister plasters + a tiny first aid kit + a tiny personal hygiene kit

– a travel towel

– a thermos and a bit of instant coffee

– a map, a compass

– a walking diary, a pen and a mascara (yes)

Loch Lomond in sunshine.
Loch Lomond in sunshine.

DAY 1, Milngavie to Drymen: 22.5 km

Day 1 started brilliantly: in the foggy Glasgow where we missed our planned train to Milngavie. All good, though, since those trains are very regular. Milngavie also welcomed us shrouded in the fog and gave me enough time to go and buy some gaffer tape from Poundstrecher. We were ready to get going.

Most of the day took us on a very straightforward course. Both emotionally and path-wise. This was a cute part of the way that has also been the quickest to slip from my memory. (No disrespect to the road.) We walked on wide paths with houses or bigger roads nearly always in sight. However, this did turn out to be the only day when we actually deviated from our path. For a little while, we trotted along the John Muir way instead and ended up walking on a high and narrow bridge across a wide river as an award. One should never underestimate the Way of the Civilized. The Way of the Civilized can make you lose focus.

The bridge through air.
The bridge through air.

Searching for the hotel in the falling daylight without an access to the map – not exactly knowing where you sleep for the night – is the feeling I can’t get enough of. This is how I remember Drymen – a place with all the options open. (The sign of true freedom, ha-ha!) We had been promised a bed in a hotel lobby, that was all we knew. Yet, at the end of the evening, the lovely Frances from the Kip in the Kirk actually put us in a real room. What more could one ask for?! Well, home-made scones, perhaps. But she had those covered as well. All we had to do then, was to enjoy our warm showers and admire our sun-burnt shoulders from the day. (Yes.)

Day 1 of the way was a sweet day. It also came with a honesty box for ice cream on the road, an edible metaphor for the hungry.

The way of the day one.
The way of day one.

DAY 2, Drymen to Rowardennan: 22.5 km

One of my favourite things about travelling is starting walking in the morning when having received directions from someone else. This is how our morning started, and as a firm believer in travelling omens, I took it to be a good day at that very second. I also know that I wouldn’t actually mind just walking, walking, walking towards the hedge at the end of the world (I mean, the road), only to figure out whether that direction had been correct a little later. The freedom to step into the morning fog is indeed even sweeter than the fudge bars left for the sugar-deprived travellers.

Day 2 turned into another day of scorching sun. (I guess no one would believe that we had travelled to Scotland if there weren’t for the pictures.) After having walked through all our morning mists we set our course towards Conic Hill, under which we met an English French horn player now working in Germany. He was the first official walker we met on the road. We never learnt his name, as was the case with literally all the people we met and talked to. We only learnt where they had walked from and what were their plans for the coming day. (Sometimes, life is just poetic.) He was one of those people, though. You know, the munro baggers. He didn’t even have to mention it, he had that glint in his eyes. One can tell. (He was meeting his daughter somewhere down the road, so he was going to the meeting point across the munros. Of course.)

Just for the record, I’d like to point out that sitting on top of the Conic Hill in October has been the least windy hill top experience of my entire life. And also one of the sunniest. This has left me with a conspiracy suspicion about Scotland actually being a sunny place and the local councils spreading stories of the opposite to keep the eager masses out. You know, those people who are only willing to walk in the sunshine. People very different from us, of course.

Day two of the way.
Day two of the way. K getting  familiar with the loch.

The second half of the day was spent walking parallel to the shore of Loch Lomond. And we did it while walking in the sun, making friends with the birds, gasping at the lake. K did take off her boots and tested the water. She had her swimming clothes on her and she was not afraid to use them! But since our next stopping point (=accommodation) was quite a while away, she decided against walking into the fresh waters of the Great Britain’s largest inland water body.

I don’t have any memories of the dinner we ate in Rowardennan. Maybe we survived on the mist.

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DAY 3, Rowardennan to Inverarnan: 22 km

I remember the morning as a state of awe at the completely placid Loch Lomond. The scenery looked like something out of mythological Japan, with the old pier posts standing sentinel in the water and the mists consolingly crawling around the crooked pines. I also remember this day as the first one of the West Highland Way when I really started tapping into the joy of our walk. A lot of this day’s path was bordered with walking pole piercings and mountain bike lines in the mud, remnants of the all travellers who already had passed by. All those patterns were definitely filled with joy as well. The path was also getting slightly steeper and more interesting as it sloped between large oak trees and slightly smaller boulders. As I’m saying – all the reason to feel more joyful.

The path of day three.
The way of day three.
The way of day three.

Today also brought me face to face with Truth: long-distance walking is the most sensible way to spend one’s time. I’ll be taking this to the Academy of Sciences one day. Here’s just the shortest explanation as to why:

– you are surrounded by some of the best scenery in the world

– you are in the fresh air

– you are in the best of company (either just you or your well-chosen companions from the same or different species)

– you have to eat at least 3500 kcal a day

– all the people you meet are deeply happy, as you chance upon them when they are doing the thing they love the most (you can recognise the faces who do not want to be in theatres and cinemas, oh yes, you can)

– your mind is forced to rest while your body is applauding you at every step

It is a mystery why everyone has not already abandoned everything. I shall enquire into this as well before turning to the Academy.

Day three of the way.
Day three of the way.

And after having moved pass the magnificent oak trees bending their branches into lake water, and having passed Rob Roy’s cave (meeting your teenage heroes in real life is always a strange moment out of some forgotten cross-media narrative), we walked on a lentil soup coloured road until reaching our chambers for the night at Beinglas Farm. And if that doesn’t win a bad description award, I don’t know what will. (Just for the record, we slept in a camping pod.)

Notes taken: you know you are trekking when:

– the moment when you take out a clean pair of socks for the next day makes you squeal

– you don’t want the 5p change because you would have to carry it

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Day three of the way.

DAY 4, Inverarnan to Tyndrum: 19.5 km

The first half of our fourth day’s walk had me transfixed on the milky fog hiding and disclosing a large group of fir tree tops on the horizon. What we saw was a form of dancing glue, magically moving through that very air we were about to step into. On day 4, we finally came to some mountains that reminded me of their relatives in Snowdonia. I had not known I had walked with that wish in my mind, but apparently so. (It is a worrisome thing, discovering that you had secrets from yourself.) The much-blessed sun actually shone on top of one of the mountains in that very exact manner it had dome on top of another mountain in Wales. That made me realise that 14.02.2015 has been one of the happiest days of my life so far. And that I’m still living in this year.

The old military road, day four of the way.
The old military road, day four of the way.

Keeping to the tradition, it did not rain. We walked a lot on the old military road that meandered through and under ancient-looking fir trees. During these kilometres, we finally understood that we were getting away from the civilization.

It was Sunday. K’s toe was not feeling very well but the ibuprofen gel did help. We thought about the 30 km day ahead of us in the coming week (Tuesday!) and got slightly worried about the possibility of rain (I said rain, right? I actually meant what the forecast said: severe downpours and a hail storm). In the evening, we managed to control ourselves in the biggest (and almost only) shop in Tyndum and not buy a magazine (I’m talking about me), and met the French horn player again, and then spent most of our time looking at people trying on their rainproofs. We had rainproofs as well, new ones, even. And we also wanted to see how they kept out the elements. What we didn’t have were rainproof boots. But we had sprayed ours with all the possible sprays. So, we had given our best.

On our way to the camping cabins we took a path that was fringed by the yellowest birch trees on this side of the Scottish border. Every step on the path felt like walking in the first dream of my childhood. This is how our fourth day slowly turned itself into a friendly beast from story books: it brought the first mountains into our sight and showed us paths into many parallel narratives within our time.

At some point at the very end of our road, we saw movement through the trees to our left. And there they were, a group of people, most of them old gentlefolk, sitting in the low river, panning for cold.

Day four of the way.
Day four of the way.

Places are like magic. In all the places you go to, you don’t find anything more than just the things you have taken there yourself.