Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Day Thirty

30th May 2009 ENGLAND

The kindness of strangers

I wake up surrounded by boxes, stacked up chairs and stacked up tables, it takes a moment to figure out where it is I am… on a floor in the backroom of a Pub… the Six Ashes… four walls, a ceiling and on the far side of the room the Gents, a loo and a sink. I lay in my sleeping bag a little longer with hands behind head… thoughts of yesterday, the people and angels I had met. In my rucksack I still have the brown paper bag given to me by Ruth from the Whitburn café in the small town of Bridgnorth and in my belly the steak and chips from last night. None of the above is taken for granted, I feel a huge amount of gratitude for all that has been given… never again will I allow people to tell me that “People don’t care anymore”.

Ten minutes later I climb out of my sleeping bag and get dressed and like most days, that is no easy thing, the legs don’t wanna play ball (it takes a good hour of walking before they are up for kicking stones, never mind a ball). I repack my bag, wash my face, refill the water bottle. David the manager of the Six Ashes had told me to let myself out in the morning “Make sure the door locks behind you”. “Will do”. Less than a hundred yards up the road I turn around and head back to the pub to double check the door did lock, I push and pull against the door, yeah, its locked, before letting go of the handle I close my eyes and say a thank you to David, to bricks and mortar, to running water and brown paper bags.

The day in front of me is made a little easier, knowing that I have a place to stay the night… this evening I will be in Birmingham, in the home of David and Patricia. 

Today, again the walking is slow… hmm… in my head I was thinking the last couple of days of being in a lower gear would have sorted things out, but it hasn’t, if anything I have dropped another gear. The body aches, more so the legs. Looking at the map and using thumb prints and fingers I do a few calculations, I figure if I continue to drop a gear every three days, I will come to a standstill seven and a half maybe eight and three quarter miles short of the finishing post (…that being the church that I was baptised in, on the south coast… in the small town of Christchurch)… well that’s just dandy !

A good few hours into the walk I come across an old wooden gate set back from the road, I walk up to it, climb over, dig out the brown paper bag I was given yesterday, inside I see three wrapped up tinfoil bundles, two look to be sandwiches, the third possibly a cake. I take one of the sandwiches and unwrap it… ham and tomatoes, I again say thank you to the three angels I had met yesterday. The brown paper bag goes back into my bag, something for later. I sit on the ground leaning up against a fencepost, in front of me a field of wheat and in the distance a field of barley…how can I tell the field in the distance is barley (other than pretending again to be a farmer), a field of barley is a lighter green than wheat plus from a distance a field of barley has a hazy look about it, due to the longer bristles on the kernels. In front of me are two of the basic ingredients for what has been a mainstay of our diet for thousands of years… bread (wheat) and beer (barley)… the brewing of beer is thought to go back 5000 years and the baking of bread twice that 10,000 years... yeah, and the sandwich as we know it today, goes back a little over 250 years, thought to have been the invention of John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich (a small town in Kent). 

I bite into the sandwich and dig out my bottle of beer (yeah, ok my bottle of water... nothing wrong in dreaming). My thoughts drift away from the fields around me and to the many people that I have met on this walk and the incredible kindness of strangers. I think I have always believed in the goodness of people, to take that believe and turn it into a walk, has made it real.

I think the first step when wanting to create a better world, starts in the knowing that goodness is real… and it is, we see it in the innocence of young children, and as they grow, that good within them is nurtured (or at least it should be) by their parents, the wider family, teachers and by the society they grow up in… what’s that phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’… that is the first step, the knowing and understanding of what ‘good’ is. The next step, is to have the desire to act upon that understanding … and in this muddled up world, that is not always easy… if the definition of ‘good’ is to put the other person first, then the definition of what is ‘not good’ is to put myself first before others… sadly, that is many times the easier thing to do … to put others first takes empathy, a degree of determination, responsibility, the respect for others, I guess above all self-discipline… in the doing of what we know to be right / to be good. These first two steps, the knowing the ‘good’ and the desire to do the ‘good’ don’t really add up to much at all, not really… they exist in the invisible world of thought and intention… if you see an old man in the closed down market kicking up the papers and you kind of know he would appreciate a cup of tea, and suddenly you have the desire to buy him one… Only you don’t, because the café you stepped into was too busy and you’re not wanting to hang around… what good is that to the old man with his worn-out shoes. To bring that goodness into this physical (visible) world we need to follow up on those first two steps by taking a third step and that is to do the ‘good’… buy the tea… hold out a hand… or if need be, just sit and listen to the guy… to do that, can make a world of difference. The kindness of strangers is what will help to create a world that we all want… a world that is good.

I use the fencepost to pull myself back up onto my feet, pick up my bag and climb, stumble back over the gate… “How many roads indeed”. That’s me back on a country road, heading east, the sky a little overcast but dry, the bright lights of Birmingham still a good five, six hours away. I see a stone up front, I adjust my step, kick the stone and it’s a perfect strike, it has good distance, bounces well, right down the middle of the lane, yeah, I’m happy with that… and on the very last bounce, for reasons I don’t understand the stone takes a sharp left turn and is lost in the long grass, game over… didn’t want to play kicking stones anyway.

I do what I can to stay away from the main roads, picking up the quieter lanes, even if it does make the day that little bit longer. Sometimes I have little choice but to stick with the bigger roads, but that’s ok, even these roads are not so busy. Not sure why but my thoughts jump from the map that I have in hand to the map that is inside my head… to what it is I’m doing after this walk… I have committed myself to three years at Oatridge College… ‘Countryside Management’… crumbs, what’s that all about. Close to thirty years ago I crashed out of school with nothing at all… not one exam under by belt… and here I am now, thinking I have it in me to write proper essays and reports (with references), hit deadlines and sit timed tests and exams. All of that is pretty much everything that I am not…oh boy, and there’s me thinking walking the length of these islands without a penny in my pocket would be tough, in comparison this is a walk in the park. I guess this going back to college stuff is to put right the crashing out of school stuff, if that makes any sense.

On the outskirts of Stourbridge I come across a little café called the ‘Tea Rooms’, … Yes, of course I step inside and again explain myself (this part of the walk never gets easier). The guy behind the counter, his name is Peter, tells me to sit down and five minutes later a mug of tea and some proper toast (thick white slices with real butter) is put in front of me. Every “thank you” I say is genuine and heart felt… I am well aware this walk would have stumbled at the first hurdle without coming across such people. I sit with toast in hand, lost in thought, looking through glass at the world outside. People do care, they look out for each other… it is a part of who we are. Truth, beauty and goodness matter. My thoughts bounce around a little, my dad comes to mind when he was of a similar age to what I am now, he also took on the length of this country… the top right hand corner of Scotland (John o’ Groats) to the bottom left hand corner of England (Lands-End), there was a small team of them, they ran different sections in relay, to raise money for a charity called the British Heart Foundation… again that’s what we do, there are thousands of charities up and down these islands (big and Small) raising money for good causes… and behind these charities an army of volunteers (a cast of thousands), giving their time for the sake of others. Where does that desire to give come from… it is universal, a part of our original nature… it is embedded in our DNA… is it not natural for a child to inherit some of the characteristics from their parents, I’m pretty sure there is something of my dad’s character in this walk. Likewise, when we come across people who give without any thought of gain, where does that come from… do we not see in those characteristics something of the heart of God (…or if you prefer, the heart of the universe)… truth, beauty and goodness surely has an origin someplace. Yes, I know the world is a muddled-up place and there is hate out there, but kick a stone to one side, scrape the surface, dig a little deeper, and you’ll find there’s a shed load of goodness waiting to be had... to be held and above all to be given.

Time I got up out of this chair, I need to be on the other side of this window, I clear the table, and again say thank you to Peter. The great city of Birmingham awaits, and it is an incredible city, a diverse city of industry and people. Birmingham and the smaller towns that surround it, such as Dudley, Walsall, Halesowen and others, are also known as ‘The Black Country’… it is said there are a thousand and one trades in this area. The name ‘The Black Country’ has been used since the middle of the 18 hundreds, due to the thousands of factories, workshops and foundries pushing out pollution of one kind or another, in 1862 the area was famously described as being black by day and red by night... a much cleaner city today, A proud, and at the same time I think a humble city, that has been overlooked by many who live on these islands.

Mid-afternoon I’m crossing over the M6 motorway, the city of Birmingham is pretty much on the other side. Before hitting the streets of the city, I first step into the Woodgate Valley Park, the park had only been established a little over twenty years ago (previously rural land with smallholdings and one larger farm, the 450-acre site had been threatened by urban development). I stumble across the visitor’s centre by chance. I say hello to the lady behind the counter, we get talking, I explain what it is I’m doing, before I get the chance to ask if I would be ok for a cup of tea, I am told that she is just about to put the kettle on and would I like a cuppa, “Yes please”. While the tea is being made, we talk a little more. I am told the park is maintained as a sanctuary first for wildlife and then people… a small garden of Eden in a world of concrete and steel. Tea made I step outside and sit at a table, take out the second sandwich and the cake that I had been given to me yesterday, the sky above a little overcast but not cold. Half an hour later I’m heading into the city, in hand a couple of pages of photocopied street maps from the ‘A to Z of Birmingham’ the lady at the visitor’s centre had made for me, I would have been lost without them… Thank you.

I turn up at Davids and Patricia's front door close to five o’clock, David’s son Jonathan answers the door, the kettle is switched on… a really nice welcome. The four of us sit around the kitchen table with tea in hand, Patricia (the mum), Jonathan (the son) Katrina (the daughter) and me, David is not yet home. After the tea I am told to grab a shower and to bring down all my washing, an hour later we are all again sat around the kitchen table, David is back. I’m wearing a tracksuit that Jonathan had dug out for me, the washing machine is on, and dinner is on the go, then served, eaten, table cleared, another tea made, all the while stories being told. I was made to feel very much at home. That night laying in a bed of clean sheets (…the last time I had slept in a proper bed was in Bala, five days ago I think), I again think about the kindness of strangers… and the good in this muddled up world. Each generation trying to do the good, to make things better for those that come after them… a story without end… how good is that… the job of creating a better world is never ending… and that is how it should be… an adventure that never finishes… would we want it any other way. 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Day twenty-nine

29th May 2009     ENGLAND

Gruffalos and angels

I open my eyes and through the branches of a tree look up at the sky and the world around me, a world of light and shade… ‘Good morning universe and how are you today’. Last night I slept well, eight, nine hours, maybe more. I turn my head from side to side, the neck is working again, that’s good. Just five minutes more, that’s all I need … I turn to my side… a rucksack wrapped up in a bin bag is not much of a pillow. A little more than five minutes go by before I open my eyes again. A stone’s throw away I see a bunch of rabbits… ‘Threes for a girl, fours for a boy, fives for silver’… sorry wrong song these are rabbits not magpies… ‘Bright eyes, burning like fire’. With me still being in my sleeping bag makes me the same height as these guys… I cannot help but wonder what it is they see when looking across at this lump under the tree, with a number of bin bags alongside him… a Gruffalo maybe, for sure they keep their distance… they bounce the song back at me, ‘How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale’… and I wonder have these guys (can you call rabbits ‘guys’… I’m not sure)… any road, I wonder, have these guys and the rest of creation, are they still waiting as it says in the Book of Genesis for the true sons and daughters of God to be revealed … or have they given up on us… did we really fall that far from grace?... is it that the creation is the light and that we are the shade? I don’t want to believe that… only sometimes it’s hard not to, when looking at what it is we are doing to both the creation and to our fellow humans. Hmm… don’t think I’ll be getting a call any time soon from ‘Radio Four’ to share a ‘Thought for the day’.

Ten minutes more and I climb out of my sleeping bag… the rabbits don’t hang around. I get dressed, repack my bag, boots are on, laces not yet tied. I dig out the sandwich that David had given me the day before (from the Plough Inn), I’m sitting on by bag at the edge of a meadow wasting time, watching the clouds go by... again I say a quiet thank you to both the builder and barman from yesterday, not only had they fed me, but they had also knocked a brick wall down. I drink some water, tie my laces, pick up my bag, lock my fingers behind my head and stretch, let out a groan that sounds more Gruffalo than human… the wall maybe gone but I am well aware the body is still not running on all four cylinders.

I am still heading east, I am hoping to be in the city of Birmingham by the end of tomorrow, there’s a family there that I know, they are happy to take me in for the night, it would be good to see them. From Birmingham I will have ten full days of walking left, that is if I’m to reach the church that I was baptised in within the forty days I had set myself. The church St Joseph's in the small town of Christchurch, surrounded on three sides by the New Forest and on the south side the English Channel. 

The walking is very much like yesterday… only I think a little harder, I can’t even keep a stone on the road for more than three or four kicks. Today I think I just need to knuckle down… one foot in front of the other, forget about the kicking of stones. I keep the map close at hand…I am again winding my way across the country and need to keep track of where it is I am. My hope is a little after mid-day I will be in the town of Bridgnorth.

This morning I am feeling a little lost, not on the ground but in my head... the landscape passes me by. I both question and doubt the value of what it is I’m doing. I think the questions I don’t mind; I can handle those… it’s the doubt that somehow gets to me, more so when the body is tired. Three hours into this morning’s walk (or thereabouts) I come across a small hamlet called Aston Eyre… a proper small place a handful of houses, a working farm, a village hall, an old manor house nearby and a small church. I walk up to the church; it was built in the first half of the eleven hundreds (nearly nine hundred years ago). I don’t go inside, I take my bag off, dig out my water bottle, sink to the ground and lean up against the gable wall. I mull over my thoughts… need to get myself back on track. At the beginning of this walk I wanted to somehow make an offering… whatever that might mean… I don’t think I am a very religious kind of guy, not in the traditional sense (again… whatever that might mean). It is true I am drawn to these places, be it a chapel, a church or a cathedral… this is my island in the sun, it is my culture, my heritage, a big part of who it is I am… and yet I am also conscious, that none of us get to choose where it is we are born or into what culture or even when in history… fate could have just as easily had me leaning up against the wall of a mosque, a synagogue a gurudwara, a temple or an old oak in some woodland clearing… if there is a God out there, He is bigger than any one religion… Well, I guess that’ll be those thoughts un-muddled then… great!!

This worn-out, hungry Gruffalo pushes himself up off the ground, puts the now empty water bottle back into his bag, lifts the bag onto his shoulders and makes a move… ‘six for gold... Sevens for a secret never told’.

A good few hours pass by, the weather is good today, blue skies and not too hot, fields all around, and the roads not busy at all. I reach Bridgnorth a little before one (a town split in two from top to bottom by the River Seven), before Leaving town I am needing to try and get my phone charged up (it’s been dead for a couple of days now… I’m falling behind on the short blog I write each evening), need to fill my water bottle, also hope to get a little food inside by belly (at the moment it feels like I’m using fuel quicker than I am taking it on board). I step into the first café I see; it is called the Whitburn. Feeling a little bit rubbish, in my head I’m thinking about what it is to make an offering and yet here I am again… on the take. I am almost wanting them to say “No, go away”, but they don’t. I am shown a table next to a socket so as I can charge my phone and five minutes later the biggest omelette I have ever seen alongside a stack of chips, salad, bread and butter plus a pot of tea are put in front of me. I look up, I see a smile… I hear myself mumbling something or other… “enjoy, I’ll bring some cake after”… and sure enough a donut and a fresh pot of tea follow. I sit quietly for a moment, look down at the chocolate donut… I feel incredibly humble… I bow my head in a quiet act of prayer and say, “Thank you”. I open my eyes, the manager is standing there, with a brown paper bag “I thought you might appreciate a packed lunch for later”… Whaa, I again say thank you, I close my eyes tightly for a moment, I think to catch a possible tear (I‘m a truck driver, I have standards to uphold). when I woke up this morning, I was feeling a little bit lost, inside the head of a Gruffalo… hungry and asking questions about the purpose and value of taking time out to kick stones, and then when doubt was again creeping in. The Universe, God, may The Force be with you, call it what you will… sent Angels to watch over me, their names Ruth, Emma and Roe. Thank you.

People watching me hobbling out of town, scruffy and unshaven probably still see a Gruffalo but inside I feel a little more human (or maybe even dancer), both the phone and me have been recharged… I’m still a little slow in the walking, but it’s a good slow… how do I know that, because my head is no longer struggling, and I again feel a part of the landscape that I am walking through… Before Café (BC) I just saw fields and After Donut (AD) I again see a living landscape… individual fields of wheat, potatoes, barley, oil seed and beans. Livestock taken out of other fields and muck spreading tractors moving in, giving the grass a chance to recover and grow… turning the grass into silage and six, seven weeks down the road it will be cut, and like the hay making in June / July turned into bales and stored in barns to be used in the winter months as feed for livestock… not forgetting the bales of hay used for bedding (Warning: truck driver pretending to be a farmer, take what I say with a pinch of sugar beet… there is a chance I’m talking the same stuff that I see being spread onto the fields). And what of the hedgerows after AD (After Donut), I see individual trees within the hedge… Beech, Hawthorn, Alder and Blackthorn, bugs and butterflies and the songs of individual birds.

I think it is something like seventy percent of the land in Britain is agricultural land… it is our farming communities, that produce the food we both eat and export, they also play a big role in keeping this island beautiful, taking care of the fields and hedgerows, planting trees and supporting our wildlife… making this island a green and pleasant land… I take my hat off to those guys (… and girls). And what about the other side of the hedges, the roadside. Many times, it’s the guy working for the Council, who is cutting the grass verges, unblocking the drains of autumn leaves or picking up rubbish that the ungrateful have thrown out of car windows… I hope one day, they really do save up enough money in their kitty to buy a dinghy and they get to call her Dignity… Yeah, this is my island, the place that I belong… Sorry, best I shut up, danger of me getting soft… I dig out the map to clear the head, really not sure where to aim for tonight. The map gets pushed back into my side pocket with a feeling of Que sera, sera… what will be will be.

Without realising it, I’m back to kicking stones, I am again thinking what it means to make an offering and how it is I turn forty days of walking without money in my pocket into such a thing… and I don’t properly know. The idea behind the walk was to, for a while step out of this busy 24/7 world and step into a world of truth, beauty and goodness… I had no idea what to expect… I knew to walk in such a world, I would need to dig out the best heart I could find. A heart that was ready to accept rejection, a heart that could see beauty in the smallest of things… a bumbling bee, falling rain caught up in sun light, a ploughed field in the morning mist, an impossible smile, the rustling of the wind high up in a woodland canopy, open skies at night… the song of a blackbird…that list could go on and on, we live in an incredible world. I also wanted to walk with a heart that was wanting to give… yeah, I know I was given far more than what I gave, which is why above all I needed a heart that understood and appreciated the value of gratitude. I don’t know how to best explain what it is I feel… I think if you take something you value, be it a skill, an experience, time spent helping others or something you have made, music, a piece of art even money and then you offer it up to that world of truth, beauty and goodness with the best heart that you can find… things happen... the world, the universe, God (again whatever you want to call it) will use that offering to create something better… yeah I know, I know, maybe it all sounds a little daft… but it is something that this truck driver senses to be real.

Lost in thought, and time moves on, it is later than I thought… I stumble across a pub called The Six Ashes… Hmm I wonder, a cup of tea maybe. I step inside and share something of my story to the guy behind the bar, his name is David (it turns out he’s the manager). “Instead of a tea, how would a meal and a place to stay for the night sound”… and again I am knocked sideways. David shows me a spare room at the back of the pub that is being used as a storeroom, he clears a space. “Will that be ok for you”. “Thanks David, that's magic”… half an later I am back in the bar sat at a table, Richard the chef has just put a plate of steak and chips in front of me. And that is how the day ended. Goodnight universe and thank you for the day.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Day twenty-eight

28th May 2009       WALES - ENGLAND

The raggedy man that I am

I wake up early… don’t think I slept that well last night… maybe I’m getting soft; my bed was just a thin sleeping mat on top of a sheet of hardboard. I shouldn’t grumble, I had three walls, a roof over my head and a digger protecting me from the weather, and for that I was glad, looking out of the barn this morning I see puddles that were not there yesterday. Still in my sleeping bag I sit up and lean against another board. I move to one side to pick up my water bottle, only to find my neck doesn’t want to work, to turn the head I’m having to turn the top half of my body… great.

While brushing my teeth, I dig out the map… where to aim for today, a few hours of walking and I’ll be in England. These tired old pair of boots sat alongside my water bottle have taken me from the top of mainland Scotland, into Northern Ireland and then into the Republic of Ireland, back over the ocean and across the top half of Wales and this morning they will pass by Offa’s Dyke and step across the border into the kingdom of Mercia (England)… the last of the four nations that make up these islands of this United Kingdom. These old boots with their holes, broken laces and a tread that is on the borderline of breaking the law (will need to try and stay away from the traffic police)… these boots just need to hold out a little longer… the south coast is no longer a million miles away.

It’s a little after six o’clock before I climb out of my sleeping bag. It takes a moment to straighten my back… It’s not a map I need in hand but instead a defect sheet … I’m feeling as if I need a service. The muscles in my legs ache… I have a knew blister on my left heel… for reasons I don’t understand my right shin is a little painful… not only can I not turn my head without turning my shoulders, but the head also seems to be fixed at a slight angle… and for the shoulders they really are not wanting to carry a bag. I sit on the bucket of the digger looking down at my worn-out boots… the boots seem to be looking back up at me, not sure but I think I hear them mumble something about a kettle calling the pot black… I have no idea what they’re on about. With boots on and laces tied, I push myself up of the digger… I try to move my head using my hands… it’s not happening… I stretch as best I can and then hobble out of the barn and back into a world of wide open skies, birdsong, quiet country lanes and the smell of last night’s rain.

No bread this morning…I guess I’ll just have to eat cake instead … life is not all bad … again I say a quiet thank you to the couple that had fed me yesterday evening and had allowed me to stay in the barn overnight and for the extra slice of cake. Walking along the lane I try to separate the cake from the tissue paper that it had been wrapped up in… not a bad breakfast, cake, some tissue paper, and a couple of mouthfuls of cold Welch vintage water.

Today much of my walking is in the direction of East with a little bit of South thrown in… I will need to keep the map close, on these islands most of the major roads (not all… but most) go up and down the country, when heading across country (away from the major east / west corridors)… a map is needed to keep track of what the smaller roads it is that your on and what the bigger roads are that you bump into and then figuring out which and where the next smaller road is that I need to pick up, so as to keep heading east (not sure if any of that made sense… it did to me)… basically the aim today is to wind my way east, through country lanes, over the Shropshire hills and walk down into the town of Church Stretton, and if I make good time, push a little further.

The walking is still a little slow, I guess for now that’s OK, only I’m not wanting to stay in a low gear for too many days… as the morning gets going the aches and pains slowly ease up a little. I walk with the map close to hand… when needing to read the map, I’m having to lift it up to eye level and tilt it to the right… the neck is still kinked.

Today I feel like a raggedy old man and yet here I stand… raggedy as maybe… in a world as beautiful as can be… all around me, a thousand shades of green, the smell of wildflowers and wet grass, the sky above a mix of blue and white… in my head it is not the song of the blackbird I hear, instead the song stuck in this crooked head of mine, is the one from yesterday… ‘Don’t they know it’s Christmas time at all’…

Hmm… the other day I talked of how Ebenezer saw everyday as Christmas… a grouchy bitter old guy turned good... and that is no small thing… The who it is we are, and all of that of what we see around us, stands on the bedrock of what is good, of what is true, of what is beautiful and above all, of what is possible. Scrooge with a little help from the spirits of Christmas past, present and future found himself standing back on that bedrock… overwhelmed at the possibilities and choices that lay ahead of him… he was given a second chance… and he took it.

Within an hour of walking, I pass by Offa’s Dyke… the old border between Wales and England… from the Welsh perspective it is the border line between Cymru and Lloegr. I know I rattle on sometimes; I have a fascination with place names… the name Cymru originates from an old Celtic word combrogi… its meaning refers to the bond that existed between warriors… the loyalty and camaraderie between friends and fellow clansmen… I guess today we would say ‘brothers in arms’… (cannot help but recall the many troops from my RAF Mountain Rescue days, a bond that is as strong now as it was back in the day… I can still sometimes hear the banter and laughter amongst the guys… looking back on those days, how young we were, a little naive for sure, and as for fear I don’t think we had none at all).

The Welsh name for England is Lloegr, it means ‘lost lands’… much of England was lost to the Saxons… many Britons were pushed to the west… it is the west side of these islands, from Cornwall to the very top of Scotland that there is still to this day a strong connection to the Celts of old… the name Cumbria (a county in the northwest of England) finds its origin in that same word combrogi… step into an old language and it’s not long before your lost in history.

… never mind lost in history… I need to figure out where it is I am now, I’m not sure but I think I have (or I am about to) crossover the current border between these two great kingdoms… I didn’t see a sign telling me I was now in England… probably because my head was someplace up in the clouds, or I was watching the stone that I’m kicking down the road. Twenty minutes later I walk into a village called Marton… the map tells me Marton is in Shropshire and Shropshire I know to be in England…so here I am at the start of the last chapter of this adventure.

Stepping into the village store; I explain what it is I am doing and ask if a cup of tea would be possible. The lady behind the counter asks if I take sugar, I’m about to say one please, but the body answers before the head “Three please”… guessing there are times when the body is needing a tea more than what the head is. I say thank you as I step back out of the store with my polystyrene cup… I don’t think a tea has ever tasted so good.

Within an hour I pass a guy cutting his hedge, we both say ‘Good morning’… he tells me I look a little worn out (and there was me thinking I was hiding this raggedy appearance pretty well). ‘Have you walked far’. It is only after saying ‘From the top of Scotland’ that I realize that doesn’t sound very plausible, I quickly add ‘Not today’. He laughs, we get talking ‘Would you like a bite to eat’. Five minutes later I’m sat on a bench in Ron’s Garden with a huge sandwich and a pot of tea.

A few more hours into the day and I stumble into one of the last remaining buildings of a long gone lead mining village by the name of Bog, the village sits on the edge of the Shropshire hills. The now visitors’ centre and café used to be the village school. I am given tea and chocolate cake… grateful to sit for a while… the village is now a nature reserve, birds nesting in the remaining building, bats living in the deserted mines and a bunch of other creatures making good use of the old reservoirs and ponds. I sit for a little longer than I should before pushing myself up of the chair, say my Thankyou’s and head for the hills…

…again and again, I am knocked sideways with the kindness and generosity of the people that I am meeting on this walk.

That bedrock that I spoke of earlier, the one that I had left Scrooge standing on, I somehow believe it to be real… yeah OK maybe not an actual rock… but the qualities of truth, beauty and goodness are what we need to embody (to make our own) so as to play our part in creating the foundations for a better world...

…hmm, I’m struggling a little bit here…you know when you have an idea in your head, and you try to articulate it or get it down on paper… only you somehow muddle it up… the hope is while hobbling across the top of these Shropshire hills, with big skies above and a steady breeze I can un-muddle those thoughts… One of my favourite artists is a man called L.S Lowry (he too would many times head up into the moors to clear his head) he lived on the outskirts of Manchester and was famous for painting industrial scenes, the old cotton mills, factory gates, raggedy men and chimneys. Like any artist he had his own style, and through his creative work you came to understood something of his character. The same can be said of a favourite author, read enough of his (or her) books and you start to get know them a little… or take a band, The Clash for instance, the rift of two guitars, the lyrics… it’s not long before you have your very own air guitar plugged into the wall, and in your head you’re up on stage playing alongside Joe Strummer and the guys, as if you had known them for the longest time. The above can be said of any creative act… a chef, the candlestick maker, a drystone waller, this morning in the near distance I saw a tractor, it was two thirds through ploughing a field, the lines of the furrows were as straight as straight could be. I will probably never get to meet the guy behind the wheel of that tractor, but here’s the thing, it is through his work that I can understand something of his character… I think this is what Jesus was talking about, when somebody had asked him to show them God, He replied “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me”… and Jesus goes on to say “… If you don’t believe that at least believe, like the tractor driver you saw earlier, in the works that I do”… yeah OK, He didn’t mention a tractor driver, that was me… what Jesus is talking about, is how we should strive to embody the character and heart of God… the more we can do that, the closer we get to creating (for want of a better word) Heaven on Earth… yeah I know, I’m also not one for pretty phrases that trip of the tongue and in the next breath forgotten, I’m a truck driver remember… but I do believe in the power of vision… I was once told that the greatest gift that can be given is that of vision… Heaven on Earth is I think a pretty cool vision…

…only that vision is not always easy to hold on to… there are days, when I feel that I’m standing on that same rock Scrooge found himself on… and I battle with the contradictions within me… questions and answers, truth and lies, the good, the bad…and the ugly, the beautiful… love and hate… there are days when I do the things, I know to be wrong and don’t do the things I know to be right’ raggedy man that I am… I guess the thing is to keep fighting, why because we know we have the potential to be a thousand times better than who it is we see in the mirror each morning… I think in this day and age it is easy to question the existence of a God… but I don’t think we can argue about the idea of goodness existing… in my head that is as real as that pencil I keep dropping. And the flipside of goodness… we only need to look back in history over the past hundred years or so, to know that evil is also as real as that pencil… I wonder at the origin of evil… nobody wakes up in the morning, looks into the mirror and thinks to themselves ‘how can I be a more terrible person today than what I was yesterday… that is not who we are…

…I wonder at what it is I (we) will be remembered for, the things that we have said or the works that we have done… I turn full circle… close my eyes, clear my heart… and I again wonder… are we human or are we dancer?

…I guess I’m a walker… never been on these Shropshire hills before, I’m thinking I must come back another day, explore a little more… the sun is out, hands in pockets, the neck is moving a little better… me I’m in a good place… not so sure about the body.

As I head down the hill into the market town of Church Stretton… my brother’s daughter comes to mind (not sure why). I remember when she was small, in church instead of singing ‘Go tell it on the mountain’ she would instead sing “Go teddy on the mountain”. Children have an innocence a purity, they don’t struggle with who it is they are… there is no ego, they live each moment of each day with all five senses wide awake to the wonders of the world around them. The concept of hate doesn’t exist (that is if you don’t count cabbage soup and Brussels sprouts). When you hear a little one giggling it is impossible not to smile… I often wonder if we can learn more from a child, than what it is we can teach them.

That’s me walking the streets of Church Stretton… the word Stretton is an old English word meaning ‘settlement on a Roman road’ (“straet” and “tun”). Over a thousand years ago, a church was built in this little town that sits on that Roman road... and by the time I arrived they had built a café called ‘Flinders’… thank you for the tea and scone and just up the road they had also built a bake house called ‘Mr Buns Bakery’… thank you for the hot pie and sausage roll. I guess maybe I could have found a place to stay the night in Church Stretton, but felt I needed to keep moving…slowing down a little is one thing, but to do the walk in forty days I need to maintain the mileage… the thumbprint walk of each day.

You know that expression where runners talk about hitting the wall, they break through and find new strength… I right… a few miles out of town and I’m really slowing down… that wall has been a hundred yards in front of me for much of the day … and then suddenly its right there… I stop, reach out a hand and touch it, the bag comes of my shoulders, falls to the ground, followed by me… there’s no breaking through happening here… that’s me done…

An hour goes by and I’m still flat out on the grass verge… there’s a handful of rooks hanging around, a magpie joins them (…One is for sorrow). I guess best make a move before these scraggy birds make their move. Back on my feet, bag over my shoulder. Just around the corner I walk into a small village called Wall-under Haywood (not funny). I step into the local pub, the Plough Inn, to see if I can fill my water bottle up. The owner behind the bar looks up, and before I have the chance to say anything, he tells the guy he’s talking to “Now there’s a man who needs a drink”. After explaining myself. The barman (his name is Mike) gives me a gallon of Coke and then makes me a huge sandwich. Both Mike and David (a guy from a company called Absolute Construction) are both fascinated with what it is I’m doing… David buys me another Coke plus another sandwich for later. I was there for a good half hour… incredibly grateful to both, not just for the drinks and food but also for the interest and enthusiasm they had shown for what it is I was doing… I was glad of their company, they had fed the body and lifted my spirts… David being in the construction industry knew a thing or two about knocking walls down and Mike was more than happy to pick up a sledge hammer. We are not alone in this world, if you come up against a wall… there are people out there that will get you through.

Less than an hour out of the village I come across a field, a meadow I climb over the gate, walk fifty yards along the hedge (out of sight from the road)… roll out my sleeping bag and climb in. I am worn out… so this is me… I have not had a proper wash for a number of days, not a penny in my pocket, I’m sleeping in a field, my raggedy clothes folded up inside a bin bag to keep them dry, battered old boots in another bag alongside… and yet all is good… I close my eyes… I hear the harsh sound of a couple of magpies calling out “chak-chak… chak-chak (I have no idea who Jack is)… eyes open again for a moment, there are two magpies hoping around on the grass (…Two for joy)… yeah I’ll take that. Zzz