Setting off from home at around 10 o’clock, I was glad I had pulled on my winter trousers. The strong wind at my back was icy cold and my walk into town was quicker than expected. I called into the local petrol station and bought a bar of chocolate to nibble at on my walk. A quick scan of the newspaper headlines was a mistake; the news was as usual, depressing and so I quickly left the claustrophobic atmosphere of electric lights and refrigerators and headed towards town.
As I walked I was overtaken by the flow of cars full of people making their way to the shops or the fitness club or dance lessons for the children. As I crossed the bridge over the river Bann, I looked south along what is locally known as the boulevard and my thoughts shifted to a different view of the world; more relaxed, less fearful. I almost ran down the steps onto the towpath and had to remind myself to take my time, to slow down and look around. Walking south, following the river, I passed a man sitting on a park bench. He was taking a long drink from a plastic bottle. I hurried by without making eye contact. I did not want his tragedy to infect my thoughts.
Groups of young people were roistering around the entrance of the Boat Club. On the river there were already several boats readying themselves for practice. Some boys on the bank were calling out to those on the water and calls and shouts were being instantly returned. The new club house is the last building on the banks of the river and as I strode passed it, I felt the full force of the wind as it rolled in from the south west. Like a huge sea, the movement of air above the open countryside washed across the flood plain, scouring and bending everything in its path. The tall trees on my right were well rehearsed in this dramatic character of the wind as high above my head their crowns swayed easily.
The river surface was rippled in silver and grey patterns which moved back and forth across its width. I could easily imagine that the patterns were being made by something underneath the water rather than by the invisible wind. Further along the river there were two boats, four girls in one, two boys in another and on the towpath a man on a bicycle shouting instructions. Passing alongside the trees, a man with a video camera, then a couple walking their dog; it was discernible that the gaps between these brief encounters was increasing, the further south I walked. Then, there was only the river and the sound of the wind.
Today’s walk, about ten miles, was part of my training plan in preparation for an eighteen mile charity walk at the end of the month. I had started much later this morning than I had wished but it didn’t really matter as long as I arrived in Poyntzpass in time to meet my wife there for lunch. I had been told by someone at work that a new café had recently opened in the village and the food was exceptional. That sounded good to me! Whilst doing my earlier training walks I discovered that the more I walked the more I wanted to walk. The longer walks were helping me to dispel the noise of living in an ever more frantic world; the constant chatter of radio and television, mobile phones, clattering keyboards, flickering lights and road traffic; the thousand and one things that we are bombarded with every day. I was finding I could shut these things out and listen to birdsong, or the wind in the trees; the small unnoticed sounds of the Earth.
On the long path south
beside smooth water,
I walk at a pace,
scanning the ground
searching the land
and watching the sky,
taking everything in
through my eyes,
and my nose and my ears.
I am me,
at home on the road,
at one with myself and the world.