W minus 2

27Sep13

For a walk that has taken months to prepare for, I sure am leaving the packing pretty late. Though, of course, the whole POINT is to pack very light because I have to schlep it a minimum of 85.1 miles, according to Google maps. It’s been surprisingly difficult to explain this walk to people, who respond, quite understandably but in a dead-stop sort of way, with ‘Why?’ I’ve been asked if I’m being sponsored, if I’m going in a group. No and no. Which tends to catalyse a repeated ‘Oh. Why?’

Until this morning, I didn’t honestly know, beyond that I like walking and this seems like an excellent way to spend five days and four nights. Even my father doesn’t really get it: ‘Give me a call and I can pick you up from Amesbury’, and ‘Just get the train from Salisbury’. Of course, it’s the last bit, the walking into the village, that will be as triumphal as the 85 previous miles can make me.

The route was decided upon, courtesy of my father, who dissed my cherished idea of walking from London to Tisbury – ‘Boring. Horrible. First day at least taken up with Hounslow and Heathrow. Yuk’ – but suggested in its place Oxford to Tisbury. There’s a bit of history there: there are a lot of quarries in my part of Wiltshire, and where there are quarries there are stonemasons. So good (or cheap) were the local craftsmen that they were hired to work on the Oxford colleges, so there must have been a bit of traffic as they walked to and fro. It’s also, in reverse and only sort of, the route taken by Jude the obscure, hero of a book so depressing it sparked an interjection from a total stranger sharing a bench with me and my father on a railway platform in the earliest stages of route-mooting. I haven’t read it.

But my reason has became clear at last. While trying to explain to my father this very morning why catching the train from Salisbury and chopping off the last 10 miles – besides cheating on a vast scale AND robbing me of the final Palm Sunday-style approach into the village – actually spoils the point of the walk. I could dignify it with talk of historical pilgrimage, or literary trail, but actually, it’s extremely personal: I’m just walking from my brother’s house to my father’s. My dissertation for my politics master’s was about mapping and how we imbue place with meaning through memory, reiteration and simply traversing it. So that’s what I’m doing: giving the space between Oxford and Tisbury a meaning because it draws a line between the two people still living who have had the greatest influence on me, and whom I love the most.

Don’t expect such misty-eyed academia-lite to be sustained. If I can get a signal, I’ll be blogging every day. If I can’t get a signal, not only will I not be blogging, I’ll be depending solely on paper maps. And we have established, have we not (see previous), that that is not a premium outcome.

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One Response to “W minus 2”

  1. May I quote your phrase: “how we imbue place with meaning through memory, reiteration and simply traversing it”? Very aptly put indeed. I had to first convert your miles in to our kilometres in order to understand the scale. Just after reading 85 miles I was thinking why does he need 4 days? My average is 100 metres per minute for the first 1-2 hours. After all the calculations and comparisons, I say, “Wish you luck”.


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