I have just finished reading the wonderful ‘Wild’, by Cheryl Strayed, the story of her journey ‘from lost to found’, over three months and thousands of miles along the Pacific Coast Trail. Reading the book, I was with her every step of the way, both on the ‘lost to found’ part: the inner journey (but that’s for another day), as well as along the gruelling and magnificent trail itself.
At this stage of my life, I have a snowball’s hope in hell of hiking anything remotely akin to The Pacific Coast Trail, or the Camino de Santiago, The Appalachian Trail, The Wild Atlantic Way or even the Wicklow Way. Nor would I want to – now. I can manage the few infinitely less arduous, but equally pleasant little ‘caminos’ that invite me outdoors, especially when the weather is favourable. But some journeys are that little bit more of a strain than others and like many of life’s journeys, they begin with a climb.
“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful places,” my friend, Mag messaged me yesterday. Today, going to visit said friend, who is currently feeling uncharacteristically less than energetic, I decided to leave the wheels behind and avail of the fine day and walk ‘the lane’. Another friend, Sandra would sprint up from the village to the ‘top road’ in less than ten minutes; I paused less than a hundred yards along the way, ostensibly to take a photograph of the section just ahead, feeling somewhat inadequate in other ways, not least, my lack of botanical knowledge as I snapped the assortment of cultivated and wild flora that line the route, grateful nonetheless that there is such variation that can only be appreciated on foot. With every few steps, another species is revealed and as the light changes with the passing of clouds, the colours of the distant hills change too.
Soon, the traffic on the main road has faded to a distant rumble and other sounds take over: birds and the bleating of sheep. Up ahead, a farmer and his dog are rounding up a flock. A few pit-stops to sample the blackberries and then I’m almost there. Cows and horses graze nonchalantly or lie in the grass on the flank of Paddock Hill. A tree bearing a ‘wood spirit’ stands on guard at the entrance to my destination and Tilly, the resident of the paddock comes to say hello. The bicycle bouquet and a few potted plants around the door are always a welcoming sight. A coffee and a quick chat with the ailing Mag, then it’s back to the car and home, this time, downhill.