The honeymoon is over. It was a glorious week on Guernsey where we cycled, swam, and did a bit of sea kayaking. I’d like to sound brave and sporty about that last one, but when the wind pushed me sideways, I confess that I panicked. My imagination ran riot for a few dramatic seconds as I fantasised about being swept off to the Pacific and spending years on a desert island. That seemed tragic as I’d only just got married but luckily I was rescued by the group leader, Skip. He was young and competent and didn’t make me feel hopeless as he tethered my kayak to his, and towed me through the tricky bits.
Guernsey is beautiful and one of the best moments was when we stood high above a tiny bay late at night. The Channel stretched beyond and the full moon was reflected in rippling, golden stripes–a true honey moon. Another holiday pleasure was having time to read. I still struggle with fiction (see Parkus Interruptus), but thankfully I do now enjoy non-fiction and one of the books I took with me was Bryony Gordon’s ‘Mad Girl’. A journalist with a glossy career, loving husband and baby daughter, she seems to have everything. But she’s remarkably candid about the obsessive compulsive disorder and rigid thoughts that have troubled her for years. At one stage she found it easier to take the iron to work rather than having to go back and check a dozen times that she’d switched it off. It made me reflect on my own behaviour which veers towards rigidity at times.
When we got home, there was still a bit of holiday left so we decided to spend three days walking the South West Coastal Footpath in Dorset. This is probably the most challenging treat on my list. The act of writing it down was simple enough but at times I’ve wondered whether I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. It’s 630 miles long and as each section gets further away from home it becomes more of a time-consuming and costly obstacle. There’s a list on my study wall that breaks it down into fifty-two stages and so far, only eight stages have been crossed off with my pink highlighter pen. I’ve started to wonder whether this treat will fail to reach crossed-off Nirvana by the time I have my next big birthday. That’s only two and a half years away. Help.
The only way I know how to tackle a challenge is to try to tame it and impose some order. However, this treat is presenting particular challenges and I’ve already had to hold my nose and make a major tweak to my method. When I started five years ago, I was intending to walk anti-clockwise from Minehead to the Dorset coast near Poole. I got as far as Barnstaple. Then when my marriage ended I abandoned the walk for several years. When I restarted, I was living in another part of the country and it made logistical sense to resume at the Poole end and to walk clockwise in stages until I got back to Barnstaple. It felt like a daring break with the natural order but I justified it to myself as a symbol of a new and different life salvaged from the chaos.
Then, last week when we were planning this second half of our honeymoon a radical thought planted itself in my head. I realised that it might be sensible to postpone a few stages. These were close enough to home to be done as day trips and staying away for two nights would give us an opportunity to do others that were further away. I hyperventilated and struggled. Once again, chaos seemed to be threatening my nice ordered list.
In the end I managed to overcome my discomfort and we had three memorable days of walking. Each was different and brought unexpected pleasures. We spent much of the first day walking alongside the Fleet Lagoon that runs beside Chesil Beach. Three cormorants sat motionless in a wooden rowing boat, mountains of pebbles rose up to our left and we saw only a handful of people. The next day we trudged along the beach for miles. The pebbles made it hard work but once again it was unexpectedly deserted. Several times we walked close to great flocks of gulls that had gathered by the sea. As we approached they took off and gave us a private aerial display.
I enjoyed seeing the sea kale that has colonised the inhospitable shingle and as we approached West Bay, the cliff towered above us, steep and golden like an Egyptian sphinx. We swam and then we explored the small resort. I was expecting it to be staid and faded but instead we found ourselves eating wonderfully fresh fish at one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Sins at the Bay is furnished in a salvage-gone-mad kind of way with red rusty metal rafters and techno music. I felt fully alive.
The third day was different again with lots of upsy-downsies. I puffed my way unhappily up the first one and realised that I needed a better strategy. Golden Cap, the highest point on the South Coast loomed as an after-lunch challenge so I tried a new approach: thirty steps then rest for five breaths, and so on. It worked and I reached the top having barely broken into a sweat. I also made some new friends on the way. A young couple were just behind on the uphill trudge, and when I told them about my new discovery they looked pleased. From then on, every time I paused, I looked back to see them standing still as they concentrated earnestly and puffed out their cheeks. It felt like an unusual kind of antenatal class.
And now that the honeymoon is over I find myself longing for the next opportunity to get back to the footpath. I’m hoping to do another two stages soon, and for logistical reasons it’s likely that one will be in a clockwise direction from our accommodation, and the other in an anticlockwise direction. I’ve managed not to hyperventilate too much at this impending disorder. A friend asked the other day, ‘So does this mean that if I invited you to join me in Falmouth, that you’d be prepared to do some stages out of order?’ I took a deep breath and said, ‘Yes’.
The Sixty Treats project that led to my book 31 Treats and A Marriage started out so innocently. But it continues to teach me all sorts of surprising things. I realise that I’ve misled myself into thinking that the pleasure of this great walk lies in its ordered completeness. I’ve yet to find out whether I’ll finish the entire walk before my sixtieth birthday but I do know that it won’t be in any kind of order and that ultimately neither the completion nor the order matters. I want more of the great sweeping views but even more than that I want to uncover the small unexpected pleasures that make each day such a unique mini-treat. Maybe the honeymoon’s not over after all.