A lone woman’s unique journey on foot from Shropshire to Knoydart in Scotland
A 660 mile journey on foot by me, a fifty year old woman suffering from chronic osteoarthritis of the hip and the vestiges on breaking my back 15 years ago, and also on HRT for good measure. I started by stepping out of the the back door of my tiny house in rural Shropshire, and ended – after sleeping rough; eating pemmican and sauerkraut; foraging greens, roots and seaweed; suffering a bout of diarrhoea; dehydration; subsisting on meagre rations – walking all the way to Knoydart. I was by then a stone and half lighter and an inch and half shorter!
I kept a diary throughout the journey that recorded events such as the threat of being harvested in my bivy late one night and nearly muck-spreaded early one morning. Also only having 3 prunes, 12 hazelnuts and two pieces of sausage-sized pemmican for a week’s worth of food in Knoydart and having to collect and cook seaweed for the last two days of the journey. I take pride, however, in arriving in Inverie, Knoydart physically healthy and spiritually much stronger.
I didn’t want to be tracked by electronic means and communication was difficult (used sparingly anyway). One of the important aspects of my walk was to experience being alone and to be as unsupported as possible. My husband and I had an unwritten rule that he would only begin to worry if he had not had a message from me in four days, a rule I very nearly broke on the final leg into Knoydart and led to me not knowing that my daughter had been taken into hospital. She is, thankfully, perfectly fine now.
My biggest fears were not about strangers or being outside with the wild things, which is what most people ask, instead I was more worried about managing pain and nervous of where I might end up sleeping each night; under a tree, behind a wall, in a field or on a mountain top. I sometimes just stepped off the path and lay down in by bivi bag at the end of the day in exhaustion.
Why? It was not for charity or someone else’s cause. It started off as research for a book, but even that is probably a misnomer as perhaps the book was an excuse for the journey. My fascination was with using traditional foodstuffs and bushcraft methods to travel in the UK, and with undertaking a spiritually testing journey. It was not to prove that I could do it, but to see if I could or if I couldn’t. Most people told me that it wasn’t possible, especially men with outdoor and military experience – my husband included. Many women told me that they would love to do it, but some women criticised the idea of a mother carrying out such a journey at all. All I can say in response is that I am very different now from when I began.
I am an ex-academic (senior lecturer in Psychology), buckskinner, bushcraft and survival instructor, climber and mountaineer (how I broke my back), fellrunner, ultrarunner, solo adventurer, mobile post office worker, writer, small-holding sitter (where I do some of my best work), mother of one daughter (aged 11) and wife to one husband. I live in a tiny house that’s 12 foot by 12 foot with the above daughter, husband but also two cats, two permanent dogs and a host of other dogs that come to stay whilst their owners are on holiday, but all who conspire to prevent me from writing.
It turned out to be necrosis of the the hip, probably caused by falling down the stairs of my tiny house, the day after I had won the Shropshire Fell Championships back in 2003. However it took a French Surgeon to diagnose that, which he thought was very obvious, rather than the host of British ‘experts’ that have singly failed to pay me much attention over the years. I suppose that because I’m a woman ‘of a certain age’ and according to British medics my symptoms were a classic case of your-getting-on-osis, before thrusting a copy of ‘pain for the aged and how to manage it’ under my nose.
Well I’m better now, much much better now, which is very good thing, because we’ve preparing as a family to move to a small, remote and difficult to get to, Scottish island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Mull that requires a lot of walking to get to across two islands. Having my hip ‘done’ has given me a new and literal ‘spring in my step’, proven that I can now happily walk 16 miles across rough, rock strewn islands carrying a large rucksack and not feel it – just like the old days.
Thank you to SurgeryInFrance