Travels without a Donkey
By Lucy Neal, Sep 1 2012 07:14AM
Sweat drips from my elbows in the 40 degrees heat. Exhaustion mixes with excitement as I climb to Fressac’s 13th century Chateau on a hill top in the Southern Cevennes. Lichen on the trees, sangliers - wild boars - snuffling in the woods and birds of prey above. I scuff my boots on granite rock and kick up dust on the mountain path. It’s not only a miracle I have reached the top, but a miracle the castle was ever built up here - all those rocks and stones and how did they live? What food did they grow, how did they get water and energy and stay alive?
I’ve risen early every day for two weeks to fit in a two hour walk before the sun burns too bright. ‘This heat is good for holidays but not for work’ the lady at our boulangerie said.
I am on holiday but have something I am set on doing, falling in love with my legs and walking in readiness for The Summit and the Land Journey which begin this weekend in West Wales, at CAT.
In France each day I find a Grand Randonee and scamper off through holm oaks and chestnut trees down rocky paths, dried up river beds and the occasional surprising fresh springs.
On my final day I climb La Rouquette on the opposite side of Monoblet village up to 600 meters. The views around are immense. Life time space me earth. Vast. I salute the four points of the compass and our walking to come. With Fern, Jenny, Paul, Rosie and all the artists involved we have been planning Emergence now for over a year. Will we afford people a view like this? of past, future and new ways through to a more sustainable world, in step with what we need and what we have? Will we be able to ‘create the future’ between us, glimpse it even for a moment?
I lose the path coming down and have to re climb the mountain to find the right one down, persevering. I’m uplifted finding the path back. Relief and real happiness.
I come home to London with dust in my bootlaces, unpack and pack again.
And now I am turning.
Turning from the heat of the Cevennes, where the land is dessicated, (but the thyme still grows) - maybe too dessicated I wonder, so many leaves on the trees are brown and dying - to the wet of Wales - maybe too wet I wonder (the River Dyfi flooded earlier in the year). What impact is climate change having on the terrains around us? What dialogues can be begin at the Summit between people and the land? How can we step into the changes we need to make, what reflections are needed, what leaps of the imagination, what action to take - between us?
Ready and packed. Tent, sleeping bag, head torch. We will camp and walk.
Unlike Robert Louis Stevenson, I wont be taking a custom made sleeping bag so large - ‘six feet square, a sort of long roll or sausage, green water proof cart cloth without and blue sheep’s fur within’ - that his donkey Modestine had to carry over his back. Kind Fern and Phil will bring our gear in a back up truck. Nor ‘a revolver a little spirit lamp and some half penny candles, a jack knife and a large leather flask.’
I wont be travelling in a velveteen ‘pilot coat and a railway rug’ but my new water proof Berghaus jacket. My pack saddle will not contain ‘tins of Bologna sausage, leg of cold mutton, a bottle of Beaujolais, an empty bottle to carry milk and an egg beater’. It will contain chocolate and Miche and Flora of Touchstone Collaborations will bring hot Food of the Land to sustain our 35 walkers each day from local Welsh produce.
But, like Stevenson, I hope to enjoy the light and living slumber of the ‘man who sleeps afield’.
‘there is one stirring hour unknown to those who dwell in houses, when a wakeful influence goes abroad over the sleeping hemisphere and all the outdoor world are on their feet.’
Enough. Midnight. Time to Sleep within.