The long and winding road
It’s often been said that birth is like climbing a mountain.
Effort, yes. Challenging, yes. Dangerous? In some circumstances.
But why climb a mountain when you can take a cable car?
I was pondering this earlier this week when I was on holiday.
The landlord of the B&B in which I was staying had recommended a walk along the coastal path.
“It’s only five miles,” he said.
“The views are stunning and it’s a really obvious path. You won’t need a map.”
Five miles, I thought. That sounds do-able. Should take two or three hours and there’s a cream tea at the end of it.
“There’s a shortcut to the start of the walk,” he added. “Just go up to the top of the hill and down the other side, and then you’ll be there.”
I’ve done a fair bit of walking before, so was reasonably prepared and quite looking forward to it.
Of course, some of my friends would have been horrified.
You can’t go walking on your own like that! they’d say.
What if something were to go wrong? You could fall over and break your arm. Or your leg. I read in the paper that someone slipped off a ledge and DIED. Far safer to stay on the main road – nobody ever gets killed on those.
Thankfully, those friends weren’t with me, so I set off.
After a couple of hours, I’d reached the start point. So much for a shortcut – but it was only five miles.
I stocked up with water and ice cream, just in case.
The walk was beautiful. The path was clear and the views were lovely.
After what seemed like ages, I still hadn’t really left the start point. I bumped into a couple of walkers coming the other way.
“How far is it to the next village,” I asked?
“Oh, we’ve just come from there,” they replied. “It’s about a three hour walk. But we did stop for lunch.”
Three hours? I’d been going for about that already. It was meant to be a relatively swift amble; I wasn’t sure I’d signed up for this.
I continued on. The path became steeper. This thing was becoming an effort.
After about an hour, I met some more walkers.
“How far to the next village?” I asked, again.
“Oh, about two and a half hours from here. It’s about six miles. We did stop for lunch, though…”
I came to the realisation that measuring things in time wasn’t helpful. Onwards I went again (turning back was not an appealing prospect).
I went up to little crags, only to find the path turning me back down again.
I slipped and fell a couple of times.
Although I was on my own, it was good to know help was nearby if I needed it (there were lots of other walkers).
There came a point where I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.
But there was no magic helicopter ready to take me off the cliff. Turning back was no longer an option. I had to continue ahead.
Although I was puffing and panting a lot by this point, it still felt good. The view was stunning and there’s a satisfaction from travelling with your own effort.
There’s no point in thinking about how far you’ve come, how long there is to go, or what might be around the next corner.
I didn’t have a map. And the journeys other people were making, although similar, weren’t identical.
All I could do was tackle each moment as it came and enjoy the rest at the top of the peaks.
It’s all very Zen.
After what felt like a zillion hours, I still hadn’t caught sight of the village.
I met a family who seemed fresh-faced and clean. They can’t have come far, I thought.
“How far is it to the next village?” I asked, desperately (not that the answer was going to help me much, but anyway).
“Oh, it’s just round the corner at the top of the hill,” they said. “You’re almost there!”
I didn’t quite want to believe them but once I pulled through the undergrowth, I saw a church tower in the distance.
I felt a rush of elation – mixed with sadness.
I’d quite enjoyed this walk, after all.
Half an hour later, I was eating cake in the café. Which was about to close. But – good news! – there was a bus back, leaving in ten minutes.
I wasn’t going to tell you this part of the story, but I went home on an open-top double decker bus.
And I hated it. After a day of walking at my own pace, suddenly someone was doing the work for me.
It was going too fast. I felt out of control and sick.
Everything that could go wrong started running through my mind. What if the bus crashed and fell into the sea? How about if a tree decapitated me? What if I missed my stop?
And yet, some people choose the bus as their first choice of transport.
Similar distance. Same destination.
But isn’t the journey part of the fun?
Walking was hard work. I felt sore afterwards and got sunburnt. There were times I wanted to give up. Everyone lied about it being five miles – it was nearer ten.
But if I’d taken the bus, I’d have missed:
– The white flower peeping out from behind a stone
– The cow ambling down the hillside
– Walking up a river using boulders as the path had vanished
– Seeing an ancient set of fertility stones
– Cooling my feet in fresh spring water
– The sense of satisfaction from knowing that I could do it
What has all this got to do with giving birth?
I’ll leave you to work that out.
All I’ll say is that the bus certainly has its place, but maybe those people walking their own paths have got something, after all…
Have you set yourself a physical challenge (e.g. climbed a mountain, trekked the desert, swum across a lake, run a marathon, walked 5 kilometres)? Please tell me: 1) what it was; and 2) how you felt afterwards in the comments below.