So, I have returned from a week spent away on my own in a caravan on the edge of the South West Coast Path in North Devon.
To say I feel different would be an understatement.
It was, as I expected, a wonderfully healing and nourishing time but not quite in the way I expected.
I had set off with a sense of freedom and adventure, leaving it all behind, as I headed west with the roof off, the music on, and the excitement of a young child on Christmas Eve.
So many things to do, and places to see, there was the opportunity for surfing, some yoga classes, day trips, and generally exploring. The tank was full, oil, water and tyres checked and off I went.
The Universe had other ideas. As always, “God laughs when we make plans”.
Just one day in and my poor car officially died. I had to accept he was off to car heaven, and I was rendered without a vehicle in the most remote farm campsite, forty minutes’ walk to the nearest village, which didn’t really have much except a pub, a church and a post office.
It was a pleasant walk, but it hadn’t really what I had in mind to start with. The post office, which was smaller than my bedroom, was also the general store, so I had the choice of a carrot, a potato, an onion, a bit of ham, cheese and some bread rolls. Ok, so I was learning I may need to lower my expectations of my gastronomic feast of a bar be cue that evening.
Strangely, being without a car turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As the saying goes, life doesn’t always turn out as you planned it, sometimes it works out better.
I was forced to walk everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong, I love walking, but it’s usually with a friend or two, and there’s a pub at the end for a good Sunday Roast. This was a lot different, I had to walk to get anywhere, and once I’d been to the local village once, I realised I may have to venture out a little further.
So I set off the next morning with a rucksack on my back and I walk an hour or so along the coast path to Westward Ho!
As many films, like “The Way” and “Wild” have portrayed, there are some magical things happen when you walk alone. For centuries, people have taken pilgrimages, and although they have been mostly seen as being used in a religious context, they are not particular to one religion.
In fact, I found this definition which didn’t have any mention of religion at all.
A pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along the way has meaning. The pilgrim knows that life giving challenges will emerge. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes. Nothing will ever be quite the same again.
Behold Your Life
When I read this, I realised my week away had been like a short pilgrimage, and it has inspired me to take a longer one sometime in the future.
I found that by walking alone, with no distractions, like music, or talking to someone, I was forced to talk to myself, sometimes even aloud. Through talking to myself, I was able to rebuild a relationship with myself and even make myself laugh at times. This was strangely reassuring and comforting, and even though I was alone, I never felt alone, because I had all the beauty of nature around me.
Being solo made me more mindful, I saw everything that was wondrous and beautiful with fresh eyes, and the more time I spent alone, the safer I felt.
Since returning, I want to take a walk every day, alone, in nature. For it is in those moments, I know what it is to be truly alive, and everything makes sense.
The challenge I still have is making sense of the rest of it, so maybe that’s one for next week, but in the meantime, at least I have those precious moments to keep me going.