Monday, 28 April 2014
SIDMOUTH TO EXMOUTH
Sidmouth to Otterton
The lack of a coastal path lead us to make some last minute changes of route - Budleigh Salterton, due to be our next landmark, was replaced by Otterton. That was fine by me - Otterton seemed to reflect the nature of the walk quite appropriately. Rather than immersing ourselves in the 'salt' and ocean spray that we had originally envisaged, we ended up flirting with the water, spending our time divided between land and coast, always having the water within reach, but being essentially linked to dry land. Like an otter. And Otterton was really fun - the main road was coupled with a miniature stream, both following the same course through the village. Mini bridges lead up to every house, it was very quaint.
Otterton to Exmouth
It was leaving Otterton that I took over map and compass duties - it was revelatory. The experience of walking, and my relationship to the landscape and the territory that I was traversing transformed immediately. I had a key to the country all around me - I could see things in front of me (roads, paths, rows of houses) and I could see what that meant for our journey. A sighting of a church would lead to a decision being made. A dialogue was suddenly taking place between the landscape I could see, and the landscape pictured in the map - and I was constantly having to interpret one and then the other. Somehow these sources of information were both the same, yet they were such different experiences of the same thing. I was never quite certain I was interpreting correctly, but the sense that I started to feel - that I was very present in a precise location, something that I could pinpoint - really altered my sense of place on the journey. It kind of became like a game or puzzle, and I was brought further out of my own thoughts, and into this new focus of landscape, map and they way they expressed each other.
We followed the map's paths and curves into some sunlit heath-lands, and through some quiet pine forests. It started to remind me of other forests - places very far from the sea, places that were very far from here. It felt so detached from the morning's walking, and yesterday's coastal struggle - these scrubby, lush places, drenched in late-afternoon sun. We were calm, nothing was very challenging, we just had to keep walking downhill into Exmouth. And then the journey would be over.
The knowledge of being near the end had a few effects on our walking. I think, on the whole, we felt less tired. We could approach it in a rational way, and talk about what we had learnt for future walks and future travels. We were looking on the experience favourably, with a sense of achievement. There was a sense that we would no longer get lost, so map-reading became somewhat more relaxed. We still had quite a way to go, though - OS maps are not the greatest tool for using in a town. Traversing Exmouth in the dark was far trickier than we imagined. My phone had broken the day before in the rain, so GPS couldn't be harnessed to help us out. For some reason, road signage in Exmouth is scant and misleading.
The train station remained illusive right up to the last minute - Adam was sprinting along the dual carriageway, a sudden burst of strength and determination fuelling his tired limbs. It was impressive - his pack was pretty heavy, and I knew how tired his whole body must be (because I knew that mine was…) With two minutes left on the clock, we jumped onto the train home and sat in silence until we got our breath back. Back to earth with a jolt, our adventure was over. And we were heading on the dull and cold tracks back to London and our normal lives.