An exceptionally beautiful walk this morning after a rainy but uneventful night in my first ‘proper’ campsite. I was hoping that the site might have a washing machine and drier but no such luck, so I washed my socks and underwear whilst having a shower and hung them from the back of my rucksack.
Today I walked through some amazing scenery, along side the wide, windy, and wonderful Wye. I didn’t see a single person for the first 4 or 5 miles then, around Symonds Yat, it got busy with canoeists, walkers and tourists. I stopped for a pint of shandy and cheekily hung my tent out to dry on the pub’s railings.
At about 3.30 I came to the Wye Valley Youth hostel and made a spur of the moment decision to have a short day and stay here for the night. There was rain forecast but the sun is shining at the moment. It’s a lovely old vicarage overlooking the river.
I have had a shower, put on fresh clean clothes, washed my dirty clothes, and hung the tent, sleeping bag and washing in the drying room to air along with my boots. When the boots are dry I will give them a going over with water treatment/ cleaning gel.
It feel good to be organised and also to give my legs and feet a bit of a rest.
I notice that I’ve covered around 311 miles so far.
I’ve been wondering, is this journey simply a long walk or is it a pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is usually associated with a journey to a holy shrine or other sacred place and one certainly would not normally describe John O’Groats as holy or sacred. But to me it is more about the mental and physical barriers that have to be overcome to reach the destination. It’s been said many times before that it is the journey not the destination that defines a pilgrimage; having total faith that all will be well no matter what difficulties are thrown at you. It’s also about discovery; not only discovering new people and places but discovering new states of being, new ways of thinking and new ways of communicating with your gods and nature.
I have no particular desire to go to John O’Groats but I am passionate about following a hunch that I will become a better person by undertaking this quest. As I sit here now with aching feet and tired limbs I know that I’ve already been changed by the sounds of wild animals and birds when I wild camp, by the lovely, diverse and fascinating people I’ve met, and by the staggering beauty of this planet. Of course I have also been changed by the pain of the long uphill slog in the pouring rain and the sleepless nights and the aching of muscles that I didn’t know existed. I simply hope that all the changes are for the good.
I therefore conclude that, for me this is a pilgrimage rather that a just lengthy hike.