Out of Step and Introspective
The Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) had been a desired location for decades. Not only was it in Wales, a place I’d only visited once as a child and wanted more of, I had dreamed of learning to build houses and eco loos at CAT for years, of living communally and sustainably in peace, of dancing naked around the fire… Finally I was going, and I was going to stay as part of a group. We were going to live communally, if just for a couple of days… to walk, explore, discuss, laugh, eat and relax, maybe dance, (probably clothed, possibly with walking boots on), together.
But, in my heart I came alone, I felt alone. I left my teenage son at home without me for the first time, my ex-partner no longer someone to ask to look after him while I was away. Despite being slowly drawn into a new romance, I felt unanchored and isolated, accentuated by a period of locked in thesis writing through the summer whilst everyone else played outside, phone on silent to try to stop the invitations to come out into the sun but brain immobilised by desperation to join them, worry building. My son would be leaving home soon. It hurt to be away during the last few weeks with him. My heart, mind and body didn’t feel communal; instead I was disconnected, hardening. WAN is a good tribe to belong to; some I knew, some new, the right amounts. Sitting close and intermittent listening softened edges but I was too distracted, dislocated by what was inside to talk much or fluently.
Our home at CAT was calm; a room (two beds, one empty) and nourishing healthy and delicious food. We explored the site with a resident and later in divided groups. Part of the group shared their discovery, an un-signposted destination, my favourite place. The small cabin with memories of a sauna and private good times on the edge of a quiet quarry pool made me want to return soon. A silent moving group experience there let me breathe and fall into step.
When I walked in Belgium at Sideways with Footwork 2012, it was the first time I had walked such long distances. I was surprised by my stamina (Belgium is flat) as well as the size of blisters. During Footwork 2013 on the edge of London I was determined to walk every inch, which included from bed to the start point. As the walk straggled and split later in the day, I was one of the last survivors who, rather stupidly, tried to cross major junctions where cars not people were welcome or expected, got called a slag as we walked through an estate looking like over dressed middle-class ramblers (are we?) and stumbled into a drink and meal with other WANs that smelt and looked refreshed next to our pollution dusted sweat. What had I learned? What am I learning?
The Wales Windmill Walk 2014 started the same way, I was part of the group that strode down the steep hill to experience the scale of the windmill blade – hands on and walking out its length before the main walk. Back up, re-joined with the whole group I enjoyed the feel of Wales underfoot and through all my senses as we climbed into it. The feel and rhythm of the graffitied windmill, the stile that went nowhere, high, large open spaces, sheep nibbled fields that could be crossed with any chosen path, the isolated ornate gate, ruins of houses and strangely collected but overgrown cars, breathless detail delivered by Jess at speed. I enjoyed the company and the conversation but felt out of step, sorry fellow walkers. I wasn’t fit, I was physically and mentally weary, distressed even. The walk went on longer than expected, no blisters, no problematic aches but niggles due to the rising falling contours of the mountainscape, very different from the restriction of southern coastal walks. So much effort was being wrung out of me in different ways and I needed to be gentle with myself, at least while here. Thoughts surface while walking, and away from my home territory freed from my PhD desk and domestics deep thoughts rose as obstacles, but thankfully not insurmountable ones, to happy chatter, discussion and reflection along the route.
And then came the pub, just before the last hill ascent to the final windmill, the destination we had wandered or plodded towards for some hours already. Close lines on the map showed that it was going to be a push. Usually the one that pushed on, took on the challenge (competition?) and completed a walk with a smiling successful group, I decided instead to be kind to myself. Why not stop, relax, drink, chat, stop, stop, stop?
Choosing static pleasure over forward movement felt out of step but it brought mental and physical peace as well as an odd sense of achievement for tripping up my ego in order to fall in step with myself and the smaller group settled around me.