Last week I attempted to walk the West Highland Way, again. And I failed again.
Around the mid point, well 52 miles in, I suffered an injury; a stress fracture in my right foot. It became too painful to continue. I was gutted.
After making the decision, I took my usual day to feel all the feels and then I got back up again. I switched this failure ( in terms of not completing the whole 96 miles) into a positive.
I walked along the byways and drovers roads and old railway tracks and had a great time being with nature. A week of forecast rain never materialised. The weather was bright and pleasant and welcome.
And the scenery was to die for. But I knew I couldn’t continue at the pace I was going. I had to weigh up the odds; continue to prove what? Or to stop and reduce further injury?
It also got to the point of no longer enjoying it. Because I was in pain and exhausted and feeling sorry for myself, I couldn’t enjoy the walking anymore. I couldn’t look up from the trail and breathe in the air and appreciate the view. My focus became the pain and how to get it to stop.
So I left the trail. Disappointed in myself but also proud of myself. I didn’t carry on seeking glory and jeopardising my body and the rest of my plans for the year and beyond. I took this hit of not reaching my goal in order to move through other goals easier or smoother.
I’ll not lie, I am upset about it. And had a funk about it. But at the same time, I appreciate the experience. I had such a lovely time waking up at the side of Loch Lomond with the last of the stars disappearing into a pinking sky over the glistening water. I felt blessed. And I still do feel this way to have had this opportunity of walking 52 miles from the lowlands to the Highlands of Scotland. Thank you.
Starting off Sunday next week, I plan to walk the West Highland Way, a well signposted trail from just north of Glasgow, Milngavie to the Highlands of Scotland, Fort William.
I tried to walk this trail about 8 years ago but failed at the mid point due to sickness. So this time, I plan to complete it by any means necessary. If that means someone else carries my bag with camping gear from one stop to the next then so be it. I’m not too proud to accept help.
But I’ve just checked the weather for next week. And apart from a sun shine sign on Sunday, the rest of the week is 50-60% rain each day. Every day until the following weekend.
Now I could let this put a dampener on the whole walk, pun intended. Or I could just carry on as I have been carrying on, full of excitement with a genuine positive mindset to complete the miles but to enjoy the process.
I’m going into this week of walking, shortest day 10 miles – longest day 21 miles, coming off the back of some good learning experiences which I want to bring to bear in this next challenge.
The first is my 100 days of practice to complete my commission for the BALTIC Hinterlands exhibition due to go live 22 October. I didn’t allow myself to get too far into my head, stress and worry about what I was creating. Instead, I really enjoyed the process of showing up each day and seeing what came out of it. I totally enjoyed the process and had fun.
The second is my recent completion of the Great North Run. I went into this event off the back of very little training and with the simple mission of completing the 13.1 miles by any means necessary. But I didn’t look upon it as something I had to get through, grin and bear it. No. I went into this endurance event with a healthy positive mental attitude. I wanted to enjoy the day. Get around with a smile on my face, really soaking up the atmosphere of the day.
These two learning experiences I will bring to my West Highland Way challenge. So it says it’s going to be rain for the whole week. I’m going to get wet. I’ll expect to get wet. No surprises then. So the flip side is when I see the sun, or glimpse a patch of blue sky, I’m going to feel gratitude and it’s going to put a spring in my step.
I’m prepared for the rain but if I get sunshine I’ll take it with a smile. I’m not going to cancel this trip I’ve been planning for months because of a spot of wetness. I’m going to get wet as I plan to get into the lochs along the way. I’m planning to take each mile as it comes and enjoy the journey. Rain or shine. I’m doing it.
Yes I’ll get wet. Yes I’ll be cold. Yes I might not dry out all week. But I’ll be out in the Scottish landscape soaking it all up.
Would I like more sunshine? Of course I would. Would I like to be stuck inside, head buried into a computer screen working for the man? Hell no. Give me a week of walking in the rain from the Lowlands to the Highlands of Scotland and I will gladly take it with a smile on my face.
When I took up a door to door sales jobwhile at University in London for extra cash, rain was sold to us sale reps. as “liquid sunshine”. I’m going to remember that as I trek through the miles.
“The woman who is willing to make that change must become pregnant with herself, at last. She must bear herself, her third self, her old age.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
I love Autumn. I always have but it’s just now, in the last few years, that I’ve really embraced this love. Confessed this love to anyone who would listen. Maybe it’s because I was born during this season. Maybe it’s the feeling of beginnings I have for the season with the return to school. Or maybe it’s the array of fiery colours.
There is something about the light during this season which touches my soul and brings me hope with a tinge of sorrow. Each year, during this season, we used to travel to Barcelona for a week or so. And there, the light at this time of year, is even more pronounced. The nights are drawing in and the temperatures are lowering but when you get that light, that golden, warm light during an Autumn day, well the world doesn’t seem such an awful place. You can see and appreciate its beauty.
Many moons ago, I created a writing retreat in the mountains surrounding Rome, Italy, taking inspiration from the changing seasons within the landscape. The landscape’s on the change during Autumn and I wanted to explore this through creative means with others hence the retreat amongst the olive groves and rich colourful berries. Again there was a certain kind of light that would progress down the mountain through the day and rest into the evening with a creamy glow.
There’s hope during this season but also a necessity of letting go. We see this with the falling leaves, the flowers drooping , turning brown and crumpling into dust at the touch of a hand. There’s the ending of growth, death even, to make room for the next stage of development and growth and life.
I’m entering ( or could I already be there?) the Autumn of my life. In all honesty, I have been for the last few years. Since the pandemic, if not before, when there has been a great shedding of things, people, relationships, and responsibilities. I refuse to carry on, carrying the burdens of the world on my shoulders, trying to do it all instead of acknowledging the changes and entering this next phase of my life with grace.
This is what I’ll be exploring during this Autumn season. The beauty and grace and changes of the season. Within nature but also within myself. During Autumn, there’s a letting go, a surrender to what is, letting go of what was and a tenderness as there’s a slow progression into the next phase.
I’m not turning my back on my ageing process but I’m probably grieving the loss of youth, attention and usefulness. But this is the time, in that golden light, to embrace my condition of changing woman. Greet the transformations that are happening inside and outside of me with love. Like my love for Autumn. Autumn is here. She is beautiful and fiery. And definitely not silent.
Now, coming next month, through a successful Indigogo fund raising campaign, Intrinsic will be out in the world. And I’m overjoyed to see this project succeed. It’s been a while in the making, which isn’t a complaint as I am an advocate of ::SLOW:: but it was touch and go if this project was going to come to fruition due to finances. and that would have been a great shame and disservice if this beauty was lost to the world.
An anthology of 12 deep-rooted connections with the more-than-human world, this book is not like any other nature writing text out there. This anthology supports and uplifts the diverse voices which exist within this writing genre at the same time as expanding and redefining what nature writing can be.
I’m one of the twelve writers featured in this anthology. I took the time, and the much needed space, to explore something that I’ve been carrying around within my body and soul for a while; the link to the sea for my ancestors and me.
Seascape- Grief and Grievance and Healings is the title. It’s a narrative mixmoir piece rich in memories and hauntings, voices and references. I’m really proud of this baby and it was such a delightful process of creation throughout it all.
Please consider checking the anthology out, published by Creative Countryside and available to buy next month, July 2022.
When Petrified Trees Stand Up and March Into the Sea
I carve out solitude to wander wide open shores
sanddunes, pebbles and wooden limbs
Submerged a forest of trees so tall they flowed above the clouds
what we cannot control, we destroy and call it progress.
We advance like the tide to claim what we have no right to claim
concrete blocks, seaweed and dead seals, emerge from frothy waves and marram grass.
unseasonal storms uproot ancient trees while manmade concrete lines remain in tact in place in defence
here a legion of foreign bodies marched to expand an empire, build a wall then leave it to moss.
Bizzing dragonflies, shrubs of wax mirtle and the coconut vanilla scent of golden gorse
Some day soon all this will be gone,
gorse, grass, concrete wall,
washed away like blood as the sea returns to the source,
returns to where it belongs.
There’s a small hamlet, Low Hauxley nestled behind sand dunes along a long and quiet stretch of sandy beach on the Northumberland coast. Here along the high tide line stumps of an ancient forest are visible.
It is believed the stumps were preserved by peat and sand and are believed to date back to more than 7000 years and are the remains of Doggerland- an area of bogs, marches and forest that connected the British Isles to mainland Europe.
Archaeologists have also uncovered animal footprints and it is believed red deer, wild boar and brown bears would have roamed ancient Doggerland forest.
These petrified trees. This really blew my mind.
My name is Dr. Sheree Mack. I’m Creatrix : she who makes.
My practice manifests through poetry, storytelling, image and the unfolding histories of black people. I engage audiences around black women’s voices and bodies, black feminism, grief and healing, nature, identity and memory.
I advocate for black women’s voices, facilitating national and international creative workshops and retreats in the landscape, encouraging and supporting women on their journey of remembrance back to their bodies and authentic selves. This journey is supported and recognised by Mother Nature.
I’m the founder of Earth Sea Love, which is a social enterprise, offering opportunities to People of the Global Majority living in the north east of England to develop a deeper connection with/in nature.
The Earth Sea Love Podcast has developed out of these experiences and aims to change the narrative around who has a right to have a relationship with nature. I’ve recently been writer in residence for Northumberland National Park Authority. A black-led nature project I will add. At the moment I’m Creatrix in Residence for Hadrian’s Wall part of the 1900 years festival.
My Practice is a Healing Practice.
The Practice of ::SLOW:: is how I engage with my work and the world. Living within White Supremacy Culture, we are indoctrinated into certain principles and practices which benefit the few rather than the many.
Leaving aside racism and the systematic destruction of Black, brown and indigenous peoples, White Supremacy Culture, perpetuates the pursuit of perfectionism, product over process, and quantity over quality, to name but a few.
This means that the majority of us live our lives at speed, with a greater sense of urgency, with feelings of never being or doing enough, resulting in reduced contact to ourselves, our intuition and inner wisdom.
Slowing down supports me on my journey back to self and ultimately self-love and healing. Being and walking with/in nature teaches me how to slowdown and pay attention and just be.
Nature shows me that there is an abundance rather than a scarcity. It is through these practices that I fell in love with nature.
Nature and I are connected. We are one, therefore falling in love with nature, I fell in love with myself. This in turn means I turn up in life, in connection with others not only as a better version of myself but in a better place to offer love to other people.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect about this event or what I was going to share. But on reflection now, I’m so glad that I was invited to take part because I learned so much about peatlands within the UK, around the world and the special place they hold within the global climate crisis.
So much of my language around nature and the environment has been formed through white supremacy culture which has been biased on colonialism and imperialism and capitalist consumption. And of which I am at great pains now to unlearn and find a new language or it is just a re-memory of the language of my ancestors where there is no separation between us and nature.
Something that was raised last night by Khairani Barokka, which was totally new to my knowledge and way of thinking was that within indigenous communities gender was much more fluid and diverse. The binary system of male and female/ he and she which we take as a given now, as the norm, is a construction and part of the colonist program.
That the idea of “the coloniality of gender,” which might have seen the binary gender system in Europe but was not the case for indigenous populations around the world who were brutalised, moved off the lands and eliminated through genocide. This is going to require more reading on my part but it will be completed eagerly as it’s more evidence of how this system to live and breathe is a construct of power for a few white people over the rest of us all.
After Covid in February, I committed to moving my body more in March. I felt tired and sluggish and beat. So I needed to shift my energy. Fast.
One way I committed to this journey was to set myself the task of walking every day. And for some reason it had to be 4 miles a day. I think this roughly worked out as my 10,000 steps a day. Now this is moving from 0 miles to 4 miles overnight. My body wasn’t happy.
What I found soon enough was how much more energy and joy I was experiencing in my day once I got out the door and walked. I walked every where for every conceivable errand and then some days I just walked because I promised myself to do it.
March came and went into April, and I continued the walking. Some days not quite reaching 4 miles while other days far out passing it. I noticed I was walking faster and at first this worried me. I used to think the faster you walked the less you would notice. Not the case.
I noticed the faster I walked the more in tune with my body and surrounding I became. My senses were more alert, colours were brighter, scents were sharper. I was more present. I felt amazing in my body and moment.
When I think I’m not in the moment, not in my body, in my walk then I slow down and start taking photos. I’ve performed photowalks for years now and I’m so pleased to be bringing them back into my practice now.
A Photowalk is just as it says on the tin; you walk and take photos of whatever takes your interest a long the way. I see something first and then stop and then see it again as I take a photo of it. Sharing it here with you, not only brings you along on my walk but also allows me to see whatever it is again and relive the moment, re-engage with my body and memory of the time. It’s a gift that just keeps on giving.
Today, I’ve upped my mileage to 5 miles a day moving forward. Of course I ended up doing far more, over 8 miles, but that won’t happen every day. If someone had told me back in February that you’ll be out every day walking just for the hell of it, I would have laughed as I was feeling pretty rough with and after Covid. But here as I up my time outdoors, living in and through my body, I’m so pleased I made this commitment to myself.
Look out for more Photowalks as the year progresses. I just love the beauty that can be found when I’m open.