I knew it was coming, I didn’t know if I would be ready for it when I arrived. The origin of my hopes and fears. Houns Tout looked like a near vertical ascent from sea level to the summit. Months ago I looked out to sea and let the idea settle; walk the coastal path. It took me longer than anticipated but I was finally back, only now I had to climb. Thirty steps and I’d stop to catch my breath, to let my legs recover for a moment and then go again. I’d look up, no closer to breaking through. I searched the path for a checkpoint, somewhere to reach before I stopped again. Each break was an opportunity to look back. The Isle of Portland a dark smudge on the horizon. The rolling coastline clear as far as Mupe Bay where the clouds reach down to swallow the land. I chose to do this not because it was easy but because it would be hard. I could feel a smile forming, I was going to do it. I looked ahead to the steep drop to Chapman’s Pool and the final summit beyond, I clenched my jaw and the smile fell back to Earth.
In the beginning there was pain. Muscles strained under the weight, my body complaining about the distance and I’d not covered a mile. This was a bad idea. I couldn’t do it before, I won’t be able to do it now. What if I’m less fit? I still have a cold, I could still quit. I worried about my knee, about the weather, about the challenge ahead. Another marathon and another mountain to climb. My whole being was in open rebellion. Stop, it screamed in unison and then silence. I was starting to enjoy myself. Remarkable views, clear skies, each conquered rise and fall met with a celebration. I did it! Again and again.
I crossed the chalk ridge of the Lulworth Ranges before winding down into Kimmeridge Bay. I had to climb back up, across fields of corn and along a path last used one hundred years ago to reach my campsite. I emerged questioning why I alway wear shorts hiking, every patch of skin was itching from nettles or scratched by brambles. I stumbled down a path so weathered it may have been a stream bed and arrived in a field littered with tents. I was in a race against the sky to pitch my tent before a wave of rain hit. The outer fly sheet was up when the first drop fell and I dragged everything else inside. I spent the next hours hiding from the weather, waiting for a break. The storm passed, the sun came out and I lamented my decision to pitch at the first opening, I remained in the shade.
The following morning I set myself the challenge of being back on the coast by 9am. I knew I was up against the clouds again. I wanted to make Swanage before the last bus back to Bournemouth so I could avoid pitching a wet tent in torrential rain. I had one early climb, past the lonesome Clavell Tower where nobody has ever plotted or committed an actual murder. The path was the most flat it had been since Weymouth beach front. I covered almost three miles without having to stop to catch my breath. I was making good time before I had to go up.
I came down the other side, planted my left leg and my knee quivered. This was exactly what happened last time. I was feeling good, and then nothing felt good again. I still had close to 10 miles to go. I took another few steps. It didn’t give up, it didn’t collapse, it reminded me it was there. I managed the rest of the steps and looked up towards St Anselm’s point. Please, please, please let me get to the top. The path wound inland, away from the coast and the unstable cliffs and endless landslides. I turned round the back of the hill and then started climbing, slowly at first and then as I got closer to the top I was building up speed. I broke over the back of the clifftop to the incredible view before me. The ground disappeared, my backpack lifted off and for a second I was floating. The world shrinks, the space beyond stretches out before me. I have broken through the edge of my own atmosphere. Magic is happening.
Earth called me back. I came down hard and fast, adrenalin coursing through me and I raced to St Andselm’s Chapel. I burned through another rise and fall, the change in altitude failing to register. I cruise past Winspit Quarry, stopping only to secure the waterproof cover on my bag and pull my own jacket on. The wind rose over the sea, to begin with I assumed it was spray but the rain caught me. I was dragged across the path, relieved that the wind is coming inland and that I’ve not launched off the cliffs and onto the breakers and rocks below. It’s almost all downhill from here.