That first evening going into the first village hall I was pretty anxious: would all the walkers have solemn and well-thought-out views about detention, and immigration? No, we pooled our uncertainties in a helpful and merry briefing session, emerging with three clear principle ideas to guide us. Then our first vegan meal: vegan? They want me to walk on nothing more than beans and alfalfa? But no, we had banquets, night after night: beautifully cooked and presented dishes, filling and tasty, and sustaining lunch-packs the next day. And always, everywhere – cake. The night-times were potentially difficult with around 20 other men or women in the same room, getting up for the loo, snoring and snuffling. But there’s no trouble sleeping after miles of walking, talking, thinking, laughing. Somehow there was always room at the wash-basins, always a space on the floor.
What if I couldn’t walk as quickly as others? No need to worry, every day there were 3 groups setting off at slightly different times and it wasn’t hard to move between them if you found you’d joined one you weren’t quite comfortable in. I was well-stocked with the recommended blister packages but the walks were so well-planned with pauses, breaks for refreshments, short talks from local experts of different kinds (wildlife, archaeology) that my feet and muscles just seemed to get on with it. Occasionally the film-maker, F., would drift by with her camera and ask you to tell her this or that about your experience, with Mh. helpfully hefting the equipment in between times.
Lots of special moments: Ad. was nervous going down slopes because of unpredictable knees and after the first slither Sv. always, every time was there to walk quietly in front; Cr. beginning to tinkle gently on a piano at our overnight stop one evening and a slow gathering round of more and more people to sing; mild correct-looking ladies greeting us in village halls with dainty sandwiches but talking knowledgably about female genital mutilation and disgraceful detention practices; serenades by three saxophonists during our picnic lunch; the vicar at one lunch-time stop who apologised for the lack of toilets but invited us to use the bushes around the edge of the churchyard; a local wildlife trust member walking with us for a while pointing out special places; doing stretching exercises with As. on the grass; R. the photographer who covered at least three times as much ground as everyone else running first ahead of the group and then after it to get special shots; getting used to stepping carefully over Jm. who lay flat-out at every opportunity. And, after a long walk in unusual heat, a flare-up between two friends – would this shatter the supportive feeling that had grown so strongly between us? ‘No it won’t’ said Ar. calmly, ‘there’s too much love.’ He was right.