Thursday 14 April:
Today, I work on the book all morning and go for a walk after lunch, following in the footsteps of most other writers on retreat. Who can write straight after lunch? And I’m all for that mind-body-spirit stuff. Walking will exercise the mind.
Also, I’m doing two consecutive legs of The Refugee Tales Walk this July and haven’t walked 10 miles in my life. So I need to get some practice in.
The plan is to walk into Clun, the nearest village, where as tutors, you get taken to lunch on the Friday and it feels really weird coming out of the Arvon bubble to rub shoulders with everyday life again. I’ve never previously had the time to walk into Clun before. Or had the confidence to do so and get back in time for the next tutorly task. But today I have oodles of time.
Miranda has drawn me a map. This is a very good thing. I have no sense of direction and don’t do ordnance survey maps, though someone has created an impressive bespoke one for The Clockhouse.
It’s a warm, sunny day. I put on my bright pink Skechers and stride up the grassy slope behind the Clockhouse that takes you up to the Hurst boundary. Bees buzz merrily in the bushes. When I turn right onto the lane, the change in terrain is striking. It might be narrow with muddy grass patches in the middle but feels like ‘civilisation’. I power walk and think about metrical feet and how I like writing in blank verse as a warm-up because there really is something about the iambic pentametre that’s like a heartbeat. It’s supposed to be the metre closest to natural English speech but to me it’s a heartbeat with a slight pause after every fifth.
I’m not really paying attention to the map until I find myself at a junction where I can turn right or go straight ahead. I’m reminded of The Road Not Taken. Instinct says turn right and the map indicates right yet I find my feet marching up the hill.
The hill is very long.
Maybe I just needed to march up a very steep hill; maybe I wanted to disobey the map, or my instinct. But eventually I retrace my footsteps and a woman is putting the bins out, the first human being I’ve seen in half an hour. I ask directions to Clun. She confirms the map is accurate, gives me complicated directions which seem to contradict the map and, her face contorted with scepticism, says, It’s a very long way, d’you think you can make it? If anyone doubts my ability I always have to prove them wrong.
It’s a lovely walk. I pass a barn containing a grunting beast that sounds like something out of Harry Potter, the lanes are windy and hilly and when I eventually reach Clun, everything’s shut except the Co-Op which doesn’t sell soya creme but who cares when you’re in the walking zone. Who cares that on the way home it’s uphill and wine bottles are heavy and I wish I’d remembered to buy proper walking shoes to break them in on this trip; because a hearty man complete with Berghaus boots and trekking pole, striding in the opposite direction, says I love your pink trainers! instead of the usual countryside greeting, Hello. And it fills me with an unexpected joy. I’m glad I didn’t get round to buying the sensible shoes. The sun is shining, I feel fit enough to walk a marathon, write the book from start to finish.
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