24 September 2011
After accompanying me for hundreds of miles, the last tiny fragment of the Italian Alps is gone from the palm of my hand; but I did manage to run my right eye onto the end of a sharp stick in the dark in Penrhyndeudraeth a couple of weeks ago, so the persistently bloodshot sclera is some compensation, at least.
The last month and a half are something of a blur. Leaving Paris, I found food in surprisingly irregular supply, and if I hadn’t had the otherworldly, gigantic grace of Amiens Cathedral to lift my eyes and spirits as I hurried north, I would have reached the Channel in sorry shape indeed. Coming over the hill to Calais was like reaching the edge of the earth. Tired, hungry, shouting loudly to myself on the side of the road, and suddenly the horizon fractured clear across, a whole new color to the air.
After crossing on the ferry – pacing the observation deck all the way being the best compromise I could come up with – I passed through Dover, Canterbury, London, Oxford, and Bristol on the way to Wales, ducking the mirrors of heavy trucks and scraping past hedges in long days through the frayed-lace suburb of the south of England. Up until the town of Machynlleth, the pace was still as exhausting as it had been in France; but at this point a combination of gear failures and characteristically heavy Welsh weather forced a halt. An out-and-back detour by train to Liverpool took care of most of the gear issues – my deteriorating laptop the major exception – and I was able to return to Wales and cross the fogbound, gale-wracked mountains of Snowdonia not only easier in mind, but more or less dry, too.
At the foot of Snowdon itself, I was adjusting my equipment in a parking lot when a man with a small fluffy dog clutched to his chest asked where I was headed. Snowdon, I replied, up the Rhyd Ddu Path.
“Rid Doo?” he said. “Ah. Well, not to diminish your sense of achievement, but I once went up the mountain that way with my daughters, then aged seven and eight. It’s really not that difficult.”
“Well, that’s good to know,” I said, cinching my shoulder straps.
“Where are you coming from, by the way?”
“I walked here from Istanbul.”
“Ah, Istanbul,” he said. “I’ve been there, too.”
Ahead, the northwest coast of England, the Lake District, and Scotland – up the western edge of the Highlands, around the uttermost end of the island, and back south to Edinburgh. The end is both close enough and far enough away to make me anxious. Over the next, last several hundred miles, the days will shorten and the temperature will fall; the weather in Scotland has a dire reputation. It was always going to be a stretch, and now it’s time to do the stretching.
Hope all is going well,