A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step – Chinese proverb

“Oh, listen,” Linda exclaimed, “look, there. There it is.”

She pointed upwards to our left as a skylark rose, threading the air with fluting melody. A tiny fluttering amidst a sea of sky, its droplets of sound dispersed across the fellside, the breeze sneezing them into our souls. We were brought to a halt in joyful wonder as we marvelled at the touch of summer on a cool spring day. On the final stretch of Fellbarrow, we were not far off the summit and were ready for a breather. The skylark’s song lifted our spirits immensely as we found the trig point and began identifying the world at our feet. Cockermouth and Great Broughton lay to the north with the Solway Firth and wind farms sitting hazily beyond.

We turned and headed south alongside Smithy Fell to find a sheltered spot on the moss for a brief lunch break before our other Wainwright of the day, Low Fell. We had decided to stay out of the strong winds on the high tops and I’d suggested a relatively short wander over the lower lying fells that sit between Lorton, Loweswater and Mosser. It’s a popular half day walk, near as it is to local towns and villages, and our Saturday stroll was no different with folk making the most of bright and dry conditions. The walk in to the start point at Thackthwaite from Lorton had been a lovely way to ease car crafted muscles into moving mode. The River Cocker bustled north to join the Derwent at Cockermouth and we appreciated the floral rivulets of daffodils, primroses and wild violets adorning the roadside as we walked south.

Our initial conversation unsurprisingly tottered its way through the rumour and hearsay surrounding Covid 19 and we gave up searching for the truth long before we got to Thackthwaite; the reality of our surroundings more attractive and reliable than crystal ball gazing.

The route then heads uphill through Galloway Farm along an old drove road. With a good pull upwards underfoot, the breathing, heart rate and thought processes align, co-regulating to pulse together. Our talk rhythm adjusted accordingly, more thoughts yet less spoken, words chosen for efficiency over effort.

If we had something that needed proper consideration, we paused, walking ceased to make room instead for thoughts to run free. I’d walked the route before so would point out our next section, helping Linda see how each fitted into the whole. I had also realised how to make the best of the views and where the key points were to stop and enjoy them.

I was reminded of some articles in the spring copy of Country Walking magazine where the focus has been on pilgrimages. Apparently 2020 is the year of them. I decided that I liked one of the authors immediately as he reckoned his favourite kind of pilgrimage was that along a river, from source to sea. I could identify with his comment that a river is a natural metaphor for life; beginning as a trickle then growing with the influence and added complexities of tributaries before joining the vast oneness of the sea. He notes too that humans settle along them, benefiting from the inbuilt water supply and waste removal systems.

Linda and I weren’t on any particular walking pilgrimage today but our days out are where we settle alongside each other’s life journey for a little while and unload and refresh. These parallel journeys are heading through uncertain times now but each of us is prepared to adapt if the terrain adjusts and the weather becomes unsettled.

We know we can because we have in the past.

We have navigated long term health issues, coped with bereavement and vulnerability and made do when lack of finances has had the wolf at the food and loo roll door. As a result, life is embraced and lived, wills are made, affairs are in order and those we love know how precious they are to us.

All of us may aim to live pain free and happy but the reality is that resilience, loving acceptance and compassion are born in those who have navigated trauma and heartbreak. They are those who enrich my world enormously and inspire me to also walk courageously. Linda is one of them.

Low Fell provided the much anticipated viewpoint over Crummock Water to the stark slate grey outlines of the central fells. Jagged against the silver sky, each peak offered its familiar silhouette for our consideration as we named those climbed in the past. Whilst we were only standing on one of the smaller Wainwrights, the views recalled memories of bigger mountain adventures achieved and prompt plans for next days out. When conditions next allow.

Our return to the cars was a pleasurable tramp back down the drove road into the relative wind free warmth of the valley and the satisfaction of 7 miles well walked. We sat in Booths car park refuelling with takeaway tea and cake watching shoppers gathering supplies for the weekend and talked through what the next few days could look like. Our predictions felt as accurate as a long range weather forecast. But it didn’t really matter.

Nor did it matter that neither of us know how long the next phase of our pilgrimages would be. Both begin with a single step that starts when the morning brings today and all that is in it. Which is just fine.

Because we can do this.

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