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  • Writer's picturecherylmurfin

Barefoot across the flats

On our last official day of walking St. Cuthbert's Way, we felt excited to reach our destination on the isle of Lindisfarne (dubbed Holy Island as the one-time home to not one, but two saints—Cuthbert and Aidan before him). I felt some sadness as we set out, knowing we would soon part the path and part ways as fellow travelers to return to our ordinary lives.

In its simplest sense, that's what these long walks have become for me: a moment out of ordinary time in which I am better able to see the extraordinary all around me. Not only the vivid colors of the miles but the vivid and beautiful ache of the stories walking beside me. Outside of ordinary time, dinners linger, shanties are sung, memories of love found later in life, and incomprehensible loss and maternal determination become not just comprehensible but holy.

It's an easy, almost downhill, 7-mile roll from Fenwick onto the island, passing haylands, always sheep, and other kinds of agriculture. The smell of manure mixed with salty sea air is pungent and invigorating. At the 4-mile mark, we stood on the mainland flats, ready to cross over using one of two paths. You can use the causeway, the road that allows vehicles to pass before the water rises to flood the asphalt. Or, you can cross over in the "pilgrim's way," walking across the tide flats, traditionally barefoot.

When I was last here, I went by the causeway. But still carrying my mother's ashes right above my heart, it felt right to peel off my socks and sink in.

The water was a warm complement to the cool breeze, and the sand oozed between my toes. We followed a line of barnacled poles, spaced 25 or 30 feet apart, which mark the way from the mainland to the island and ensure that walkers stay on track. We passed two rescue towers, where walkers can take refuge if the water rises too high or too fast. But there was no rising tide for us. Our timing was perfect.

A tide pool off to the right of me rippled in a way that seemed like waving me over. In the middle sat a heart-shaped rock surrounded by tiny shells and mounts of displaced sand. Whenever I see them on a path, heart rocks remind me to pause and remember the people I love. So I paused, and I gave thanks for my children, my partner, and the recovery of my dear aunt, who was recently ill. I said a prayer for my aunt at home, mourning my mom, her dear friend, and for my siblings who are grieving too. I gave thanks for the anam cara that the god of my understanding has blessed me with and who always walks beside me. And as I have with every step of this walk, I gave thanks for my mother. I pulled a few more grains of her from my vial and set them sailing on the North Sea.

The word we carried today was "arriving." 

As I reached the shore of Holy Island, I realized that we are always and will always be arriving. Destinations are not the point; they change in whichever direction we place our feet. All journeys start in a place and at a time. This one started three weeks after my mother died. It started in Melrose, UK. It had a northeasterly direction. It had a resting point on an island, where we landed eager for dinner and perhaps a bit of time alone.

But the arriving will continue. There is no there for pilgrims, just a marker where you step off the path that says, "You made it this far," take a deep breath, and carry on with the journey wherever you go next.

Holy Island was the perfect stop for a rest, especially for my mom and me. But we will continue our journey, here where I walk and there where she is, wherever she is.




Below are three pieces about arriving—to a place, to arrival itself, and back to the soul of a body tired of battling itself. As someone who waged a long and painful war on my own body, the latter moved me to tears. It is a triumph song.


By Dorothy P. Marshall

seven vessels landed on the shore

each carrying unique cargo

they had journeyed together

through weather foul and fair

fellow travelers

all set apart


as one


The War

By Tiffany Doerr Guerzon

For so long we’ve been at war,

You and I

Spanning generations

Along maternal lines

No one remembers how it started

Who drew the first battleline,

Yet we sharpen our swords

And fight until we die

I starved, tortured and hated you

Maligned you without pause

I saw no good in you

Only blemishes, bulges, flaws

Yet my enemy, my envelope

Gazed at me from behind bars

absorbing my arrows

while growing scars

Then, one day, in the heat of battle

I grew tired of the slaughter

And lay down in cool, green pastures

Beside still waters

I laid down my weapons

On that grassy knoll

Raised my hands in surrender

And restored my body to my soul


By Cheryl Murfin

we are always arriving

each step arriving

each breath arriving

and in between 

steps and breaths


the change 

between steps 

is unmeasurable

beyond miles and maps 

we find ourselves here 

and here 

and here again


– Cheryl Murfin

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