It was the summer I couldn’t pay rent and went hiking instead. I wasn’t homeless. I had an address. I had a passport. I wasn’t living on the streets. Not a social case. Not looking for pity here. I just didn’t have enough money. That’s all.
At first it was a joke. I didn’t mean it when we were sitting in the pub, pints in front of us. It was funny. It was meant to underline the fact that I had hit a wall. That I should be looking for a job. A paid job. Money. Anything. Really. And then it became true, I think as I’m standing in front of the white sign with black letters written on it spelling: Coastal Path.
The rain is dripping on my neck, my dog Filou looking at me, the same way I feel: Miserable. It hasn’t stopped raining in days. I take a picture of him and the sign for later, when I’m home again and able to pretend that somehow this moment was worth taking. That I am fine. That it was in fact fun, something you can post on instagram #nature #breath #exploringthewild. But for now I am not sure.
My shoes make squirting noises due to the fact that they are soaked with water. I guess trainers are not really appropriate footwear for hiking. I guess hiking boots would have been appropriate but also too expensive at the moment. This is going to be a cost-cutting action I had to remind myself browsing through the shop earlier this week looking for a raincoat. If we could afford fancy hiking gear this would be a nice holiday trip. If we would have made better decisions in the past we would be in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe Festival. But we are not. We are here. Just you and me Filou. He snorts in agreement.
Nature is free. At least in Scotland. Wild-Camping is allowed when followed by certain rules. A thing that shouldn’t be a privilege but definitely is one. Coming from a country where nature is very restricted by paragraphs and council laws it feels like freedom setting up my tent almost anywhere I want.
The first night I sleep on a cliff. I wonder if it’s dangerous, if I should know these things instinctively, if my body should tell me automatically in which direction to pitch a tent, like how it knows how to breathe: It doesn’t. Not really. All I sense is: Maybe not so close to the edge or I might fall off.
As I lie there listening to the rain, making note of any unusual sound, Filou close by my side I try to avoid thinking about men. Because somehow I’m really not afraid of any women entering my tent. I pet him always repeating in my mind that he would tell me if someone was coming. I think of the knife I brought with me. I put it beside my head. Just in case. I remember I have some wire with me too and start to tie the zippers together so the tent can’t be opened from the outside. I watch the zippers for a long time as they rattle along in the wind and I start to worry about what might happen if I need to get out really quickly. If there’s a fire for instance or murderers, rapists, thunder storms, being struck by lightning, murderers, murderers, murderers till finally my brain shuts down.
When I wake up I find myself calm. Nothing has happened. I know the night has ended. And for that all my fear is somehow gone. As if nothing bad could ever happen in broad daylight. I untie the zippers and look at the sky. It’s still quite dark but there’s a glimmer of sunlight at the bottom of the horizontal line. I sit cross-legged in my sleeping bag enjoying the change of light from orange to pink to violet and blue. I realise it has stopped raining. The most beautiful goji berry sunrise in front of me.
– It is worth the fear at night I think as I pack up. Following the coastline looking at the sea carrying wave after wave. One of them brought me here a month ago.
I’m writing in english now. Already assimilating myself to the new situation. I wonder who is really speaking? Whose language I am using?
We are at sea. In front of me a calm ocean blue. The sun rising some feet above. It’s beautiful as it’s banal: The sun also rises again and again. The sound of waves and the engines merging into a symphony. Breathing in deep deep with a pinch of salt. I’m in transit. Somewhere between Amsterdam and Newcastle. Alone on deck. My thoughts stretching wide. Maybe I will find a home in Edinburgh? Maybe I will stay forever? Later that morning we’ll sit here again and have scones with clotted cream, lemon curd and J. smiling at me, smiling at the sea. Talking about how the best way to travel to Scotland really is by ship. And I think that is all the more true an hour later when we sail into the bay. Two lighthouses guarding it on each site. „Mouth of the Tyne“ it’s called. Swallowing us, our hopes, our tired excited bodies. I cry a little behind my sunglasses. How does it feel to write in english? – Strange. New. Poetic.
There’s a sign saying that I should be looking out for badgers. They are nocturnal so I’m not worried. Maybe a little, as I’m walking through the wet grass cutting my legs, drenching my cord trousers. Badgers I vaguely remember are these animals that you think are nice and harmless but probably aren’t. Like sheep.
Sheep are not nice folk! And there are a lot on the costal path. Hardly surprising as this is Scotland but as I am not from here this is news. The dimension of how many sheep are a lot of sheep is news.
Now someone might think that sheep are nice if you leave them alone, don’t get too close and behave normal. Which essentially means they are alright with you, if you pretend not to exist. Now I don’t know what your definition of the word „nice“ is but for me this behaviour is better described as „hostile“. My dog Filou is nice. He might not like you, he might be afraid of you but you can still touch him. Now that is nice.
The problem is just that the sheep seem to think otherwise. And I’m not sure how to convince them that they’re wrong as we approach them slowly at the highest point of our journey so far. There on the narrow path up the peak of a hill they are standing, waiting, not knowing that they block the gate. The gate I have to walk through to continue. To my left there are rocks and to my right is a long way down the cliff.
This could possibly be dangerous I sense as I pull Filou closer to me. I am kind of hoping he turns out to be not very nice if this will get gritty. I was always very proud that he almost never barks but now I’m kind of wishing he would make a sound so this so-called flight instinct of the sheep could finally kick in. As for now they form a phalanx coming towards us. These sheep had some military training I think. They mean business. They’re not backing down. Everything is literally slow motion now. I make a step. They make a step. We stare into each others eyes. I think of ‚Babe‘. A children’s movie from the 90ies about a piglet called „Babe“ that is raised as a sheepdog, actually thinking it’s a dog. Very cute movie. The sheep hiss at me. Or at Filou. It’s hard to tell who they dislike. And also it doesn’t matter.
There’s this very important turning point in the movie „Babe“ where the piglet has to perform his skills at a sheepdog-show trying to convince the sheep to move into a fenced area. Babe almost fails but then somehow his friend – a dog or some other animal – tells him the secret way of talking to sheep. It’s like a prayer. I vaguely remember the beginning something like „Oh you great sheep“. I’m very close to performing that prayer now.
I hold Filou even tighter and make another step, when finally the sheep start running away from the gate, running down the hill some feet next to me. I run as fast I can. I only look back after I make it through and onto the other side. The sheep aren’t even looking anymore. They already started grazing again. That’s how they fool you. Grazing and being all fluffy. Pretending nothing ever happened.
A sheep’s mind is probably a nice thing to have. They don’t seem to over-think. They’re present. I am also very present now as I look at the black screen of my phone. Later I will caption a photo of Filou with majestic cliffs in the background with the words: Last photo before my phone died.
I’m standing on the highest point of my journey. I can see the hills from a far where I had walked three to four hours ago. They seem so distant now. I wish I could leave my past just as easily behind as this landscape.
Wandering gets you questioning. Blisters on both feet keep you grounded. Every now and then I’m wondering about my flat, which technically isn’t my flat, as I’m just renting it, which technically makes me renting it out to other people a thing that some people might call „forbidden“ or “illegal” but I try to avoid that thought. Especially now that it’s already done, I try to have more constructive thoughts. Like: Why am I here? or What is the point?
Excerpt from “CUTTING TALL GRASS”