Friday 27 January 2012

A Deeper Interest

“Important as was the task upon which I was engaged, I all the time thought it of very minor consequence in comparison with the great main deeper interest of my life in which I was now absorbed.”

So wrote soldier, explorer, author and mystic Sir Francis Younghusband as, in later life, his thoughts moved away from considerations of the Empire and the Great Game towards a burgeoning interest in matters altogether more philosophical and spiritual. In short, his energies were directed at other interests and he couldn’t keep his mind on the job at hand – a situation in which I find myself at the moment.

To cut a long and quite tedious story short, about a year ago the company that I work for was bought out by a “business troubleshooter”. As far as I can make out, their expertise is to take an ailing business and, within a few months, turn it into a failing one – at least that is what they seem to have done for several other businesses in the recent past. Quite what the benefit of this USP is I have yet to discover. Suffice it to say morale is very low, and I find myself part of a highly de-motivated sales team.

As a result my thoughts, like Younghusband’s, have also been turned in other directions. In order to remain cheerful I’ve become more absorbed in the “deeper interest of my life” – walking. Over the years, no matter what life has thrown at us, being able to get out and about has been the most reliable stress-buster available; a chance to feel the exhilaration of scaling peaks or simply exalting in what Nature offers; to talk through problems or share companionable silence; to recharge the physical, mental and spiritual batteries. Solvitur ambulando, as they say in Latin – it is solved by walking.

Since the turn of the year we have done rather less walking than we would have liked, although there are reasons for that. We’ve managed to get out on a few occasions and have already racked up a few miles – not quite enough, though, to satisfy the increasing desire within us.

But the New Year is a time for resolutions. A weekend in Shropshire has provided the opportunity to notch up a few miles and re-focus my thoughts. One way or another the situation at work will change – that much I have resolved. And the good news is that there are going to be plenty of up and coming opportunities to get out into the countryside more often, some in the quite near future, so things are looking up in that respect, too.

Sometimes its good to have the chance to re-assess what is really important and what is just a “minor consequence in comparison”.

Monday 23 January 2012

The Way

I’m not, and never have been, much of a film buff. I don’t like Blockbusters, Action Movies or vehicles for the Hollywood glitterati – actors, directors or producers. And I’m not particularly fond of the cinema experience, either, where the massive and too-close screen and peculiar sound is quite off-putting.

In all honesty, I’d rather read the book, and if its not available as a book, I’d rather read something else! And, in the majority of cases, even dramatisations of good books are often flawed, being too short and insubstantial, focusing only on the action and lacking the depth and understanding of the original.

So it’s a rare occasion indeed when a film comes along that I’m really keen to see. Browsing the Internet for some post-Christmas bargains, I was please to stumble across the DVD of a film I had managed to miss at the Multiplex on it’s release – Emilio Estevez’s film, “The Way”. It arrived last week and I got a chance to watch it over the weekend. I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint!

For those who aren’t aware, this movie tells the story of Tom, a conventional middle class Californian optician, whose drop-out son, Daniel, is killed in an accident in the Pyrenees whilst walking the Camino de Santiago – The Way of St James. Still in shock, Tom travels to France to collect his son’s body, clearly distressed by the situation and his troubled relationship with his son. Stricken by grief, Tom decides to follow in Daniel’s footsteps, to undertake the pilgrimage his son failed to complete and walk The Way. Many personal stories are played out along the route, with Tom learning as much about himself as he does about his son in the process.

Of course the interest to walkers is the setting – The Camino de Santiago, one of the great LDPs of the world. Walked by many pilgrims each and every year for hundreds of years, each and every one of which has their own reasons for doing so.

For me, it’s right up there as one of my “must do” trips, and has probably overtaken a UK end-to-end as my number one choice of really long route. Not because of any need to fulfil such a pilgrimage from a religious point of view, but simply because of the sense of history, personal achievement and spiritual attainment it encapsulates – these tracks have been travelled for a thousand years and have been the setting for many stories, both dramatic and modest.

Whether I get a chance to do it at some point, who knows? And, if I do, can I get a three- or four-month window to tackle the whole journey in one go? Or will I complete it in stages? And will my motivations change along the way? There are a lot of “ifs and buts” to consider, and the likelihood of achieving this goal might appear slim, but there is no harm in dreaming, is there?

I think most walkers harbour an ambition of one sort or another: to complete a certain route or climb a particular hill. One of the genuinely universal appeals of walking is that it allows us to set our own personal goals. And, no matter how grand or modest they might be, there is always something achievable.

This film tells of the journeys – both physical and spiritual – of a small group of people, each with their own story to tell and their own problems to reconcile. But, on a wider point, there is much to consider about the reasons we go for a walk in the first place – why we undertake these journeys for ourselves, no matter how small they may be, and what we get from having made them.

For once, a film not only lived up to my expectations but surpassed them – touching, but life-affirming; melancholy, yet full of joy; beautifully filmed and able to capture the ups and downs of life-on-the-road and amongst the Camino community. It really was a revelation.

See it, if you get a chance, I think you’ll agree.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

First Footing

After a few days off, it’s nice to finally have the time to sit down again and write this, my first post of the year. 2011 ended well enough; a few days in Dentdale, away from the hurley-burley of Christmas and in the company of friends, capped by a 14.5 mile there-and-back walk in the wind and rain along the dale to Sedbergh – which was oddly enjoyable despite being soaked through by the end. The New Year was seen in to the accompaniment of several glasses of red wine and the strains of Bad Company and Van Der Graaf Generator. Would you believe it?

So here we are in 2012. For us this is usually a time for looking ahead, for making plans, for booking trips and inking things into the diary. This year, though, will be a little different, and our plans after the first couple of months are a bit more open-ended. Until then we have a few things lined up which are gradually dropping into place, but more on those as they happen.

What has happened already this year is that I awoke this morning to the magnificent sunrise shown above. Somehow it just seemed to encapsulate the feeling of looking forward and kindled a desire to be out there doing stuff. So, suitably inspired, I’ll more than likely be spreading the maps out on the floor again and pondering some new little adventures. We may not get round to doing them straight away, but so what? We can at least dream – and there’s always next year!

So a Happy New Year to everyone, and Happy Trails for 2012. Good luck, and whatever you decide to do I hope you have a fantastic time.