August 29th, 2013
I am nearing the end of my journey on foot. My walking stick began its journey at Sprint Mill in Cumbria as a length of seasoned hazel awaiting transformation into a tool handle. But I found it there, standing in the corner, and its fate took a different course. It was not only my trusty travel companion; it became my journey. It has gathered marks, etchings, miniature paintings, letter carving, embroidery and my very own bragazzi – the smoothing of miles walked and my skin, sweat and oils making day long contact with the wood.
This past few days have been full of friends, family and children. I finally managed to leave Devon – not a little reluctantly – but the destination was kind. I was to record a conversation between myself and Robert MacFarlane over in Cambridgeshire. We both felt it the most natural thing to go for a walk. So we did, with his babe in arms; stopping to record a short podcast in a den built by children, and for Robert to carve his own mark in my walking stick.
While in the area, I took the opportunity to pay a visit to my friends Greg and Ayako who my husband and I last visited a year ago, en route back from Zanzibar. That time, we had with us a large carved wooden lintel given to us as a wedding gift by our friend and master wood carver, Fundi Humudi, who some years ago we helped to transform his sawdusty workshop into a space that enabled his work to shine. It was more than we could carry, so they had kept it for us all this time.
Now, however, they are about to move house, and asked if I could take it. A carved wooden lintel is not your average wayfarer kit, although those who know me will know that it is exactly the kind of thing I’d pick up along the way. Not knowing precisely how it would work out, I left into the fen drizzle with this unlikely package, sure that it would at least make a good story.
My next stop was to visit family, in the rolling flinty Chiltern Hills. My aunt and uncle were exhibiting their wares at a craft fare, and their daughter Holly and her man had decided I needed feeding up. So I indulged in two baths and three big meals in a twenty four hour period!
Holly and I took a walk together, with the dog, as we have done intermittently throughout our lives. If there is any one path I have walked repeatedly over many years, through my own and nature’s seasons, it is this one. I have childhood memories of picking sloes for gin, and there they were again, full in their blue blooming.
And on to Stonor craft fair, near Henley, where some Wayfarer magic was wrought. I finally met swill basket maker Owen Jones, who lives and works in the Lake District. I had been told about him by several different people when I was walking up there, but never got the chance to meet him. Here he was in a field in the south of England, at the same craft fair at which my aunt and uncle were exhibiting.
He remembered my cousin Holly playing at his stall as a child, and I think I remember it too. We shared words and mint tea made with his Kelly Kettle, fed by oak shavings from his basket making. And he agreed to take my wooden lintel back to Cumbria! If I’d had all my gear with me I might have squeezed in his van too, but more woody adventures awaited in the Forest of Dean.
My aunty, a general creative genius and embroiderer, bedecked my walking stick with the gold threaded “bottom rung” of her Tree of Life, that she had created to go on a technicolored dreamcoat.
My uncle – a letter carver – drew a bit of a crowd (not least my own family) as he carved my walking stick, starting only with a W but looking for something a little more…
And finally he came upon it: WABE from Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky. For my journey, which has a long way before, and a long way behind.
Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.
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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!