The grey sky collided with the green sea. White caps driven relentlessly against the cliffs, throwing up huge eruptions of spray, the clouds responded by dumping rain back down. A bright orange life boat crashed through the waves, the only thing to catch my eye. I wondered if they were waiting for the next gust to pick me up and dump me in the water. I shoved my now useless glasses in my pocket and moved my phone and wallet to safety inside my waterproof. The arms of my jacket were already sticking to my skin, a few more hours of this and my transformation into a sponge would be complete.
In the beginning it was just me against the miles, now the weather had joined up with the ground, a two on one assault of my resilience. Through choice I wouldn’t have been out there. I had started the day with other people on the cliffs but now I was completely alone. Nobody behind me, no one ahead of me. I didn’t give myself the luxury of choice, I had to reach Swanage before the final bus. I didn’t want to put up a wet tent and crawl into it, soaking wet myself. I wanted a hot shower, fluffy towels, a table to eat my dinner at, the soft embrace of a pillow beneath my head. I was losing the battle.
I felt close to running as I pushed myself towards the final headland. The path rolled across the edge of the Purbeck Hills. The mud thickened beneath my feet, water pooled in my boots. With a stumble I was seriously beginning to consider just how dangerous it was to be out there. Britain’s approach to heath and safety is regarded as being well and truly in the asylum. However, the lack of fences, and what fence there is often being on the land side of the path, suggests a greater willing to allow others to be fully responsible for their actions. I moved a little further inland.
I arrived at Durlston to find the place deserted. On a clear day, I could imagine it being difficult to breathe. On such a day there might also be a fine view down into the village of Swanage. Instead I was greeted with more banks of grey and ghosts of the closest buildings. Peveril point lay behind the curtain of rain. I turned off the path and hit the roads into town. Civilisation. People running from their cars to their front doors. Others out in the rain passed a critical eye over my pack. I didn’t care, I was here. I walked into the bus station and straight onto the bus. I was finished.
In that hour, it might have been longer or shorter I don’t know, I shut down. Vacant. I stared at the condensation on the windows. Wet bodies filled the hot bus. Exhausted I just sat there. It wasn’t until I’d climbed the stairs to my Gran’s flat, gotten out of my wet clothes and finally sat down that everything came together. I could feel the exhilaration glowing on my face, I could hear it in my voice. I put myself out on the edge to discover what I’m capable of. Not, it turns out, as much as I had hoped for and yet none of my perceived failures mattered. I had completed what I set out to achieve. The earlier crushing defeat at Durdle Door looked like a good time through the rose tint of success. After all, it hadn’t killed me and it hadn’t put me off. Importantly, I also hadn’t killed myself. I had walked miles of sublime Dorset coastline in almost total solitude and become accustomed to the sound of my own voice rattling around in my head. At times like this, I find that actually I’m not so bad. In the moments when I wasn’t alone I appreciated the conversation between strangers that comes easily when on an adventure, no matter the size or distance from home. A reminder perhaps of the metaphorical road that is never as far away as you might think. With this journey now complete, I am left with my new favourite question; what next?
The achievement is all the more satisfying when it has been challenging. X