August 9th, 2013
I have been blessed with good weather since this journey began. It feels like the summers of my childhood, before I moved to Kenya. After three weeks of building heat, a thunderstorm was an inevitable pleasure, that descended shortly after I returned from my walk as the day awoke.
The previous day, my friend Eleanor and I had been pointed towards the magical, red deer filled valley of Martindale, by the manager of The Quiet Site. After a lazy day on a lake shore beach, making a fire for our Cumberland sausages, we made our way into the remote valley as the dusk unfolded. We knew we wanted to wild camp, but we also knew there are some farmers who do not take kindly to it, and have shot guns.
We had been pointed to the valley where the deer were most plentiful by a local, but to get there we had to go through a gate marked ‘Private’. But trust led the way, and to our surprise there was a small corrugated iron house with a man sitting outside, enjoying the evening with a glass of wine.
It is one thing to be able to announce yourself as a Wayfarer, and quite another to be able to produce a Penguin business card to prove it! Within a few minutes we were being invited for a glass of wine with Alan and his wife Kathy. Alan used to come here as a child, and his family have been renting it as a refuge from city life since the 1950s, so he was a wealth of information as to its history. It was not long before Kathy said “have you eaten?” and emerged with an enormous plate of cheese!
Finally, a little wobbly with red wine and full of cheese, Alan escorted us to a little tongue of flat thick grass by the beck under a clutch of alders that would be a good place to camp, and where apparently “the Bishop of Carlisle’s daughter had camped”. A wild camp with a ‘claim to fame’ – a new one for me!
It is that dark, deer-scented night as I lay under these kind alders, that I was fully embraced by the realisation of how much kindness there is, if only one is open to it, and if folk find each other in places where their environment allows them to hear their instinct. Alan admitted he might not have been so open had I walked up to his door at home. But here, it was just us and the red deer.
From the beginning of my journey, I have noticed how friends and strangers alike have been very interested in what I am doing, and offered help in many forms – from : lifts, lunches, cups of tea, beds, company, conversation. Even a free copy of The Old Ways from Waterstone’s in Lancaster. I know that people are inherently kind. We simply need the opportunities to express it.
I have, for many footsteps, been trying to think of a word that could quantify this kindness. The weight of it; the lightness of it. The weight of it I carry around in my back pack in the form of uneaten food. The lightness of it makes me smile often and want to leap up in the morning and start walking. The sheer depth of it makes all the stories in my head, and the reality of my journey so far – without having made a single plan to start with. There is not one word that I can think of to describe all of this. Can anybody else?
As I traipsed up a hill that dawning morning in the valley of the red deer, with the first beams of warmth reaching over the ridge, I thought of a way to represent it though. Not to describe it, but to inscribe it. I am going to ask each person I meet who offers any kindness – be it advice, food, a story or a place to sleep, to carve a mark in my walking stick. That way the stick will become my journey, and the kindness its way markers. This would be far more fitting than any noun.
I started with Alan and Eleanor, and went back to people I had shared something with at the start of the journey. Here we have the good folks at and around Sprint Mill.
Hans and Mary Ullrich were the beginning of the journey really. I found out I had won the Wayfarer competition when they were visiting us in Iceland, and they offered their house as a base while I was in the Lakes. They have generally been wonderful, leading me to interesting folk and accompanying me sometimes on walks, and feeding me their wonderful home grown vegetables. I am indescribably grateful.
Hans, a potter, started with a fern. Mary carved the undulations of water, for all the wild swims we shared. Edward Acland of Sprint Mill, carved a path that keeps crossing, yet not interfering, back and forth across the river as I had gone from wherever I had been to his mill. Mary and Hans’ daughter, Eva (a painter) carved a moon – presumably for the evenings we shared chatting, wild swimming, and burning the midnight oil with our work.
As I sat taking in the late afternoon light after my unexpectedly long walk in Martindale, the thunder grumbled distantly, then was soon upon us with its fat warm raindrop deluge. We attempted (unsuccessfully) to shelter on this deserted verandah – one of only two houses at the top of the valley.
Kathy and Alan had kindly offered for us to shelter in their barn, and so we did – darting through a gap in the rain to gather our belongings from a rain drenched tent. Not because we needed to, but because it is kind to accept kindness offered.
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Sarah Thomas is Penguin's Wayfarer and she'll be walking and writing for us all summer. Follow her journey here!