I haven’t a religious bone in my body, but do believe in the power of the spirit. So when a friend of mine began her long and arduous battle against breast cancer, a Spirit Walk seemed the one thing I could do for her that her support group of family and friends maybe wouldn’t think of.
The idea was simple enough, to go to the site of her wellspring, to the hospital in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where she was born, and walk home to Nottingham where she was now fighting the enemy within, scooping up and accumulating strength along the way to lay at her doorstep.
Aside from whether I was physically up to it, my only fear was being accused of an embarrassing case of Schadenfreude. I kept the plan anonymous and shared the idea with only a couple of people I knew could be trusted to stay shtum. The plan was to post her a letter from Hitchin as I set off, explaining my intent and purpose, emphasizing that, aside from being aware of the walk, I and it demanded nothing of her.
I plotted a route that weaved between conurbations and managed to stay on bridleways, foot and tow paths for 90% of the way. I slept rough and ate frugally but regularly, mostly munching my own version of trail mix and squeezy cheese on oatcakes. I didn’t expect to find any village shops and there was every chance the pubs marked on the map had mutated into bijou restaurants, open maybe four evenings a week.
The story of the Spirit Walk for Sue deserves telling, except this isn’t the place for something so deeply personal. I surprised myself by having no problem at all keeping her struggle in heart and mind, particularly when I too was gritting my teeth against stabbing pains in my shoulders and hips. I just ain’t as young as I used to be!
The fight to progress along many of the rights of way was to be expected in a country where ROW officers are now an endangered species, but the difficulty of sourcing water took me by surprise. Farms I identified as oases on days of flogging from one field to another were no more than equipment depots for the combines that had gobbled them up. On the up side, I equally didn’t expect to have so many thrilling close encounters with wildlife.
How many can boast being woken in the morning by a beautiful bushy-tailed fox nudging my bivvy bag, and I was convinced the female kite that seemed to trail me for eight miles was in fact Sue watching over me.
Basic stats: approx. 190k total, five days, shortest day 26k, longest day 51k.