The Way. An introduction.

The Cotswold Way. 102 miles of a beautiful, scenic national trail from Chipping Campden in the North Cotswolds all the way down to Bath, following the Cotswolds’ western escarpment. Also known as my nemesis. My obsession, some might say. Definitely one of my purposes.

This is the first post about walking the Cotswold Way, but ties in nicely with my previous posts about Alignment and, well, just search for Cotswolds in the search function and you’ll see how often it creeps up.

As a way (a Cotswold Way) of introduction, not too many years ago as part of a chain reaction of events, inspiration and ambition, I decided to attempt the Cotswold Way Century, an organised ultra marathon along, yes, you guessed it, the Cotswold Way. I successfully recorded my first ever DNF through, once again, a chain reaction of life events, bad preparation and injury, and it’s badgered me ever since. Once the post-event dust settled, I began to dream of attempting it again. A little global pandemic stepped in the way and knocked everything sideways but I always kept it there, knowing it was unfinished business.

When I failed to finish, I nearly made it half way, having to be eliminated by a cut-off at 1am. The path itself was unfamiliar to me after about 40 miles really, so I was in uncharted territory, in the dark, and injured. That place where I folded became a huge mental barrier in my mind. Physically, the town was in a dip, so a hill needed to be climbed to get out and as it was pitch black at the time it only emphasised the unknown out there. I had to set about breaking down the size of it in my mind.

I’ve done this before. Between my second and third attempts of the Fan Dance, I made specific trips to the Brecon Beacons with the purpose of walking bits of the route, revisiting points that were difficult, and just having a normal day out in the mountains. On my first two attempts, the scale of the task and the mountains themselves was intimidating. The whole thing was suffering. When I went back for the third attempt, everything felt less intimidating and much more familiar. I had smoothed off the sharp edges and made it feel like it was my back garden instead of feeling hundreds of miles from home. It worked, and I was able to concentrate on the simple things like putting one foot in front of the other.

I am not sure exactly where the idea came from. I have a habit of having a brief spark of an idea and just deciding to do it (which becomes the purpose) and then afterwards,  working out how to get there (alignment). It was probably on a walk where I decided I was going to walk the entire Cotswold Way, completely alone and unsupported, and to do it in a widely unrecommended four days. For me, the challenge wasn’t going to be physical. I already suspected I had the fitness to do it, and I visualised myself doing it and completing it. I was going to make it more of a mental test. Four days completely alone, trying to minimise phone use and have an organic experience and see where my mind and thoughts went. Would I be lonely? Would I miss family? Would I miss creature comforts and technology?

It was going to be my own miniature Camino de Santiago. And I was going to allow it to change me. And it did.

Another day, here on Earth

Rushing through a busy railway station on a Thursday morning, trying to make it to a connecting train, head down to the ground, I pass a beetle, flat on its back, struggling to right itself. Hundreds of pairs of feet, just like mine rush past, not noticing, not caring. I rush past too.

How did it get here? This platform is up two flights of stairs. Yet there it is, in the least hospitable, barren desert it will ever see. What a horrible place to die. This sterile, featureless, inhospitable landscape is our created haven, to facilitate our given right to go anywhere we like, at ridiculous speeds that are inevitably always too slow and need improvement by bureaucratic money makers. And there’s this beetle. A fitting illustration of nature’s struggle, ignored by so many lucky, entitled passers-by.

Not me. Within a few yards, I knew I would suffer for years thinking about what I could have done. What I should have done. So I turn back. Getting angry stares and British tuts as I dare to go against the flow. She’s still there, though the fighting to get upright has ceased. A peaceful surrender. I scoop her up and take her with me. All of a sudden, there, the legs begin to kick once again. Hope, for her and for me. I carry her down to the platform and drop her into the grass behind, where no flat, shiny surfaces exist. Where she can use anything to right herself if needs be.

I may be many things. I may have made mistakes and this beetle may be one tiny grain of dust in the universe, but so am I. She is of more use to the planet than me and I know it. And she lives to fight another day.