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  • Writer's picturecherylmurfin

Two Roads



Oh, the build-up I gave to the 13-mile walk between Kirk Yethom and Wooler. I had talked it up before the walk, warned of wind, rain, and fantastical creatures, and encouraged walkers who weren't absolutely sure they could do 13 ("THIRTEEN!" I ranted. "That 13-miler—that's 1-3—is come'n!") to consider taxiing forward. I nudged:: "How about walking backward on the path for, say, a respectable seven to eight miles?"


Why would I try to put the fear of the walking gods in our dedicated and fully capable band of walkers? After all, they'd sailed through four days of walking with grace and relative ease.


Because: Last year, when I marched up this path with another willing group, I took a wrong turn. Eighteen miles later, we arrived, but one of us mentioned, "I think I'll die now." He was joking, but still. Call me overcautious.



So unnecessary


My warnings were unnecessary, and not that I think about it possibly confidence-busting, as it turned out. As we flew across the moors to the fence that marks the border between Scotland and England, I wondered how I could have gotten lost on such an easy path. There had been a howling wind and rain, but jeez. When we came to a particular curve of the path about a third of the way along, bells went off: "This is IT! This is where I lost us."


Right at the curve, a very clear waymarked fence pointed in the correct direction. Crisis averted. Each walker made it into the town of Wooler, wondering what the fuss was about and ready for Italian food and dry clothes. Again, with the bogs!


This portion of St. Cuthbert's Way passes Eccles Cairn, an ancient burial group at the peak of a steep hill. Standing at the cairn, you see nothing but miles of green and hear nothing but wind. I imagine that, on a windless note, it holds a beautiful and ringing silence.



Clarity


For ages, humans have stacked stones to honor the dead. Pilgrimage walkers often use a spot like this to leave a rock, marking the leaving of someone or something behind. I read once that the symbolism of the cairn is clarity according to some Celtic mythology: When a trail seems unclear, and there are many possible paths to travel, the cairn points you in the right direction. 


I decided Eccles Cairn was the perfect place to leave a few grains of my mother's ashes, and I appreciated that the group held back and allowed me the privacy of that moment. 



The view from up there


Mom would have loved the view from up there, and she would have felt proud to become part of something ancient, as indeed she will in many ways. She loved old things. And so, I found a hole between the rocks and sprinkled her there, knowing the rain and wind would integrate the grains into this hollowed place. It occurred to me that we would do this, she and I. She has always wanted to join me on my travels. So, until the ashes are all gone, I will take her with me and find spots that feel right for her, or which she'd have been thrilled to visit. Next stop, Iceland!


There are many ways to move through pilgrimage


One of our writers, Faye, injured her foot on the second day of walking and was unable to join walks for many of the retreat's days. I worried about her experience. How do you experience pilgrimage without the walking? But Faye knows herself and how to make lemonade out of lemons. She is also an excellent writer, and her thoughts on what pilgrimage means have sat with me.


If you ever consider taking a long-distance walk—or if you want to join me on one—these are words to the wise. I may make Faye's words required reading for future walkers!



 

THE WRITING

 

Sometimes You Have to get Out Your Own Way


By Faye Arcand


When I think of the idea of challenge, it involves testing myself in some sort of new and exciting way in order to stretch not only my imagination, but also my world. 


It can mean confronting fears, tears, and the comfort zone of personal restriction… or is —personal constriction? Hmm… I’ll need to think on that one for a bit... 


Here’s the thing, when I first started exploring the idea of joining the writing group for the St. Cuthbert’s Walk I needed to defy my initial kneejerk reaction of complete suspicion… asking the 5 dub questions and putting Cheryl through the paces to explain and sell the idea, the writing, and the walk itself. 


Okay, she obviously passed but it wasn’t immediate. I originally stepped back and said no…then changed my mind, called Cheryl and said… okay I want in… “Sorry, we’re full,” she said. 


Damn. Opportunity missed only to be massaged a little to bring it back full circle to where I could join the group.


Serendipity obviously. 


Walking and fitness were not the challenge for me as daily hill climbs are simply a part of my everyday.  Up the mileage a bit and it’s all good. 


My initial speed bump involved packing a honking enormous art kit where I’d normally put my undies, shirts, pants, and most everything else … but an art-kit it is. Ok… all good. Done. 


Next was the travel and meeting new people. I seriously don’t people on a regular basis. It’s exhausting and draining. While an introverted-extrovert, I’m also insanely private and extremely sensitive. I’m very good at tucking that side away so as not to impede on others current experience. Sometimes this can be a challenge, but at night I can put on my book and escape. All good. 


The most challenging thing that’s plagued me, is the challenge of doing nothing. 


Sorry. No walk for you. 


The frustration, is not only physical but also a hard swung baseball bat to the ego to smash it to smithereens allowing the fragile petals to flutter in the high Scottish winds…


The brain immediately goes to the idea of “what-if”… or “what the…?”  Little did I realize that the choice,—whether determined, chosen, or coerced,— can still be a choice.  


The gambit of emotional upheaval has calmed and the challenge has morphed into acceptance as choice has been lifted from my itinerary. 


Robert Burns wrote: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry….”

I’m not alone in the need to be flexible, but I do need to remind myself to bend and be open to opportunities hidden amongst the thorns… 


The idea of not being able to walk St. Cuthberts’ Way has drilled home the fact of having to allow life to meander where it’s meant to go and be open to welcome the plan that may be more suitable and favourable to what is actually required in my life as opposed to walking an ancient trail already foraged. 


Today, I hold strong to the challenge that I don’t always know what is around the next corner and am very willing to embrace the notion of taking the road less traveled (Robert Frost).


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the road less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference. 

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