Call of the wild: the genesis of a walk

So… the passion: why backpacking, and mountains, and wild wild places? Why not stamp collecting, or pigeon racing; why not morris dancing, for goodness sakes?

The answer, of course, is that there is no single answer. Perhaps I first heard the call of the wild as a kid while playing with my three brothers in the ‘wild margins’ of suburban London. (London has wild margins? Well of course! When you are small, even ten square feet of unkempt undergrowth can be a jungle.)

Or perhaps the seeds where first planted through the books I read at an impressionable age. The Hobbit was a special favorite among many; Bilbo Baggins’ epic journey into the wilderness, across the Misty Mountains and through darkest Mirkwood, facing wonderful fearsome hazards at every turn. Aged nine… ten… eleven… I devoured the book, many times.

Perhaps it was the treasured walks ‘up the woods’ my Grandparents took my brothers and I on every so often, or the memorable family vacation to a lonely farmhouse just north of Dartmoor. I was ten, but I can still recall the moor clearly: dark, rough, windswept, brooding. It was emphatically not London. I was an artist; for months afterwards I drew pictures of swirling mists and rugged granite tors…

Perhaps it was the first real mountain I walked up that did it – Yr Wyddfa – the highest mountain in Wales, scaled when fifteen, on another family vacation. I was excited to the point of sleeplessness before heading to North Wales. My parents were worried I’d be disappointed, but needn’t have been. Once there, I was lost forever, completely, irreversibly, head-over-heels in love…

Or perhaps it was none of that. Perhaps it wasn’t what I experienced as I grew; maybe it wasn’t nurture, but nature, something that was inside all along. I was born in a place and at a time when society was separating itself from the land. How clever we’d become at erecting barriers of comfort and convenience to keep the natural world at bay! We’d made life so easy, but was it possible we’d lost something vital, and above all human, along the way? Maybe we’d forgotten it, but weren’t we still animals upon a planet, connected to it, sustained by it? And it was that, I think, that I felt, deep down, unrecognized at the time, a connection to the earth, a connection to what I really was.

Well, to cut a long story short… I chose a college because it lay near hills and wild country, and spent more time walking and camping than I did studying on campus. I tramped with joy, and sometimes in fear, across rough moorland, and over high mountains, from the Peninnes to the English Lake District, from rain-lashed North Wales to the magical wilds of the Scottish Highlands. The walks grew longer, my plans bolder. Eventually, after college, and after four years of steady employment following the system because following the system was what one was expected to do, I’d had enough. Vacations weren’t long enough! Life was too short! It was all… WRONG! In 1994, after bouncing for a thousand feet down a glacier in the Swiss Alps and somehow surviving when I should have died, I made my decision: no more the beaten path. I only had one life. I quit work, pulled on my pack, and set forth… to spent six months meandering two-thousand miles along the length of the Alps, living the life of freedom I knew I was meant to live.

And so it began, a whole new way of living: truly living, fully alive with every sense and screaming animal emotion. After a winter of work to save the necessary funds I spent the following summer weaving for a thousand miles through the Pyrenees, and after that began considering an even longer walk, a journey I could really loose myself in. In truth I wasn’t seeking just ‘a walk’. What I wanted was a way of life.

And in 1997, that was what I was about to get…

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10 thoughts on “Call of the wild: the genesis of a walk

  1. Hi, just discovered your blog. What a journey! Like your writing style, probably also because you synthesize pretty well what I feel now before starting a long walk this summer. Looking forward to more!

    • Hi Willem… and I truly look forward to reading about your 2,600 km trans-Scandinavia adventure too! You’ll have to wait until summer 2013 for my Norway and Sweden words and photos. By which time (hopefully) you’ll have successfully finished your journey! The 6 months and 3,000 miles I spent up north weaving through Europe’s greatest and wildest mountain regions were… astounding… but I don’t want to give away too much. There’s a whole year of walking to describe before I reach Lindesnes!

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