Walking in Scotland: “as a pipe for any wind to play upon”

I just got back from walking over 70 miles in Scotland, most of it on the Borders Abbeys Way. I discovered long distance walking five years ago and have done walks every summer since, four times in Scotland, once in Corsica.

I’ve always enjoyed hiking and going on walks, but a walking holiday is a totally different experience. You commit to spending most of every day being outside, walking from town to town with a daypack. (Other luggage is transported by a service to the next stop.) This year a friend and I walked for six days.

We started of each day with anywhere from 8-18 miles ahead of us. In the beginning there is excitement, then soon self-doubt creeps in. Why am I doing this? Can I walk this far? When will the aching muscles and stiffness from yesterday’s walk disappear? Will I get lost? (yes, I always get lost) Why didn’t I stay in bed in the comfy B&B and take a bus to the next town?

But soon, as Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in Walking Tours, “It becomes magnetic; the spirit of the journey enters into it. And no sooner have you passed the straps over your shoulder than the lees of sleep are cleared from you, you pull yourself together with a shake, and fall at once into your stride.”

In Scotland there is rain. There is always rain. But also blue skies and sun! Raingear is put on and taken off several times a day. (That’s the hard part of walking.)

 

There are sheep, lots of sheep.

And cows and horses.

River paths and hill trails.

Flowers.

And smiles.

Why do I love this so much, I ask myself, as I chug along through mud, scramble over rocks, avoid ruts, or stroll on grassy trails?

The answers come to me. I’m outside. It’s beautiful. It smells good. There is birdsong, the rustle of wind through wheat fields, the flowing river. I’m proud, amazed, and thankful that I can do this. I feel safe and confident. I’m on an adventure that I know I can handle. Miles pass without talking. Thoughts, memories and great ideas come and go. I am part of the earth.

Again, Robert Louis Stevenson: “And then you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take colour from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon.”

At day’s end, we take pleasure in removing our boots and wiggling our toes, taking hot showers, going to a pub to eat, and sleeping deeply —only to start the marvelous, magic, magnetic journey again the next day.