In the beginning there was only pain. My body adjusting once more. Everything seemed to hold and then it comes down to the simple act; move each foot forward. Life becomes simple. Get over the next hill. Don’t let this beat you. As I embraced the struggle I considered whether this was just an elaborate disguise for self harm. Maybe. On the other hand, it’s the ideal opportunity to disconnect, to reboot. I get the chance to lean in, to listen to me for a second. Assuming I have anything to say. I find myself drafting letters I’ll never send to people I no longer speak to. Flashes of songs stick around for a few miles, accompanied by poor attempts to whistle along to the choruses. The one that sticks with me is Fort Minor’s Remember the Name. This is 5% pleasure, 50% pain.
Walking through West Bay, my lace hoops on one boot catch the lace of the other and I trip. I don’t fall but panic sets in. Something doesn’t feel right. I keep walking. I tell myself it’s fine. It’s just the shock of extra weight and the unexpected movement. My knee wobbles. I keep going to the famous from popular culture beach and look up. The cliffs are as small up close as they are viewed from Golden Gap. The trouble with them is the path to the top follows a near vertical line. They started to roll as well. Rising and falling. The kind of terrain that wears you down. Only it didn’t, everything seemed to fall back in line and I kept moving comfortably. My until now much missed companion, the sun, finally decided to join me. I was willing to forget all of the terrible things that were happening and pretend that Britain really can be great. If you get rid of most of the people. I strolled across the beach at Freshwater Bay, having a thoroughly good time.
The first half of my day was considerably better than the last. When the cliffs came to an end, Chesil beach began. When I’d planned for this, reaching the beach was supposed to be a moment to celebrate. The long flat home straight. What I failed to consider was that Chesil beach is an infinite mound of gravel. My feet sort of sunk, found no grip and there was nothing to push back against. It was meant to be so easy, it wasn’t. I hugged the shore side of the beach, occasionally finding paths through whatever plants managed to hang on to life here. When they disappeared I tried walking along the top. Then I moved closer to the breaking waves, in the misguided hope pebbles behave like sand. Nowhere was easy. The hot black tarmac of a car park gave me a few minutes respite from the endless drudgery
After the rise and fall of several minor civilizations, a path formed which then became a road and I gave thanks to the Romans even though this particular one probably had nothing to do with them. After dragging my feet across Chesil beach, I ran towards Abbotsbury at what appeared to be a perfectly normal walking pace for someone carrying half their body weight on their back. I strolled through the village, thankful to be anywhere that wasn’t made of tiny stones. My stop for the night didn’t involve putting my tent up, I got to the B&B apparently too early but my kind host let me leave my bag while she made up the room. Being able to put my bag down is how I imagined my Dad felt when I went to Australia. A brief flash of joy, a quick glance at the freedom that could have been quickly followed by the crushing reality that it will definitely be back. I thought about visiting the Swannery until I considered this sort of thing was akin to opening the gates of hell and not only allowing the demons access to our realm but also encouraging them to breed. Instead I dropped in to the pub for a swift, premature celebratory pint and then walked up the hill to St Catherine’s Chapel. There were no views, the sea mist had returned.
I went back to the B&B to find I had a real bed, in the real indoors. It was the kind of bed that can only made by a certain generation, everything tucked so far in you wonder if you’re actually supposed to sleep in it. On the bedside table was a kettle, a pointlessly small cup and just enough tea bags to make a satisfying quantity. In the morning there was real food, without the need to add boiling water. Then came the last full day on the path. I was grateful to be away from the coast, only because it meant I was nowhere near Chesil beach. As far as I was concerned it had gone on for long enough, and it continued in parallel to my route on the other side of the Fleet Estuary. I started to climb the last of the hills, watching swifts perform ridiculous acts of aerobatics in their hunt for prey. It would be easier to fly, easier to sail. I was reaching into the depths of fatigue. Passing through kissing gates was becoming a challenge, the distance between each opening wide enough for me, but not for a tent strapped to a backpack strapped to me. Hauling myself over stiles, finding the ground further and further away from the bottom step. The lack of visibility made it difficult for me to remain interested in my surroundings. The flat grey expanse of the estuary on one side reflecting the flat grey expanse of sky above. The fields and meadows of green stretching up the gentle hillside the other. I was losing my mind. All I had now was my stubborn persistence. Move, move again, move some more. Just keep eating away at the distance. I was convinced the last three way markers I passed all stated the same distance, even though the first one was almost an hour ago. The only thing getting me to Weymouth now is that I have to get to Weymouth.
It was about the same time that the sea mist lifted that I found myself in one of my favourite seaside towns. The sun reflecting off the harbour, and the white chalk cliffs that broke me across the bay. I hadn’t been broken again. At least not in the same way, my body hurt everywhere, I wasn’t thinking anything at all. I did the only thing I could. I found somewhere selling local beers, somewhere selling hot food. I joined the start of the path last time to the end of the path this time. Connecting the dots. It is done. I am done.