Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Walking St Cuthbert's Way

St Cuthbert's cross and my Cathar cross keyring

St Cuthbert's Way begins (or ends, depending on the direction you 

walk in) at Holy Island, Lindisfarne in England, and ends in 

Melrose, Scottish Borders. This spring/summer I've walked two 

short parts of it. This part was from Harestanes near Jedburgh, to

St. Boswells.

Before I got on the second bus, a companion jackdaw shared my 

sandwich. Ah, I think, this is a very good omen. I like jackdaws 

very much, their bouncy movements, full of curiosity, their grey 

headscarves, the white gleam of their eyes.

The walk began with sunshine and that sense of reconnection - 

rising up from the solar plexus, clambering up through the body – 

the warmth, the movement, the trees lining the road, the profusion 

of greenery.

Bigfoot beech

The path goes through woods and there is bird song and lightness.

It then connects with what was once a broad avenue, Dere Street, 

the old Roman road.

Dere Street

The clouds are high up in the sky, those motionless summer clouds 

that are like summer's sentinels, high up, dense as curly fleece, 

installed in upper air, benevolent, the season's watcher, caretakers, 

but distant and motionless as international peace conventions.

Bee house beech

As I walked under this tree, there was a loud humming, a bee

traffic hub or North Circular and when I looked up, there was a 

bee's nest or home of some kind, a penthouse flat maybe, up at the 

top of the fissure in the trunk, a perfect sheltered hollow, or so the 

bees seemed to think. I don't think they're very visible in the

picture, but their droning was the very sound of summer.

After the village and the church, the clouds have joined together 

and there is something so familiar in its weight, its oppression. 

When the path enters the wood the trees are dense, the air is thick 

as if all these trees are drunk on the element in air they have 

absorbed, an intoxicated wood.

When the path opens up beside the river, the further bank is lined 

with poplars.

The vegetation by the river path is thick and damp, it too has 

breathed in too many intoxicants and now declines to care about 

appearances. It's the poplars by the river that give a quick start to 

my uneasy gait. I've followed the rising and descending path, with 

the trees, envious of space, leaning over. I duck under them. Then 

emerging into the clearing beside the river and a view of sky. Or 

clouds obscuring blue. The poplars connect immediately with a 

memory of other poplars by the canal, under blue or marbled skies. 

I scan them with delight. But they are plump in places, bulge 

unevenly, they're not the slim, curved arrow-quills of the Canal du 

Rhone. I sit down on a fallen tree trunk, to consult, I say to myself, 

the map. There is a hair-line crack between this river bank and the 

sunlit canal. Reflection deepens it. This river, like the canal of 

memory, reflects faithfully, no comparisons, no weighing of 

emotions. Yet nostalgia is a sweet companion. A black dog runs 

past. A large man, dressed in black, calls to it. He doesn't look at 


Any journey is to find the revelation, the connection, the secret 

place you stumble on, or hope to find, the place where you – even 

if for such a brief moment – you feel that you have arrived at a 

place where the mind falls silent, because it has come home. The 

commentary and the questing can feel urgent or vague, distant, or 

merely – unaccompanied. Where you meet the companion and 

whether you call it self or other, there is a place of feeling. It's 

marked by pine trees, beech trees, or poplars. By a reflection on 

water, by the sound of insects, scent of flowers. By sunlight on

your shoulders.

All these flowers – lilac, pink campions

and purple clusters, from toppling towers of green –

the white and burning hawthorn trees

strip loss away, like wrappings

in their layers of foaming light

Walking is also – nostalgia you try not to let fall into step beside 

you, so – resistance. An ice-cream in a village shop. The man who 

serves you is so kind, brimful of empathy. The ice-cream melts 

slowly, on the stick. Martyr to memories. You speak the same 

language as these people, the man in the bus queue, the driver of 

the bus. But the ache has settled in your side. Because you cannot 

share this with them, all your bridges are flimsy, inauthentic, film 


It begins with sunshine and that sense of reconnection. I take a bus 

to reach the part of the path where I am going to start walking. I 

haven't been here before and I'm not sure where to get off, until I 

see the sign that I was looking for. I ask the driver, can you let me 

off here? He stops the bus. The light is clear and golden.

I set out along the tree-lined path. So free, this feeling.

Birdsong and the sounds of insects. And this light.