A Gold presentation by Sophie Sadler
When I’m walking, it’s all one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, head-down, counting-breaths monotony. It’s not that I don’t want to look up; it’s more that I can’t if I want to keep going. I look up.
I stop. I sit. I unfold the map.
The sky overhead is pasty and monochrome, stretched tight like a sheet over purple clouds of heather. Heather and Sky, heather and sky. It all rolls away from me in a way that makes my eyes feel funny to look at it. The land up here does this weird thing, where you always seem to be moving uphill and the gradient of the soil means you can never see very far. I feel like I’m in a video game with bad graphics.
The map is a perfect representation. Colours and squiggles.
I look at it again. Of course, there’s not many paths up on the moor. It’s not hard to see which one I’m on. What isn’t clear is how far along it I am.
How long have I been going? How long is a piece of string?
The sky spits at me threateningly, and I wish I could spit back. A gust of wind ruffles the heather and I wonder if sometimes the heather wants to ruffle the wind in return. I refold the map and stand up again. If only I’d thought to wear a watch, and time how long I’d been walking. Why hadn’t I done that? Didn’t I normally do that?
As I walk this time, it’s easier. I don’t have to concentrate so hard on not concentrating. Instead, my thoughts are running with me, racing me to the edge of the moor. I’m trying to remember: when did I leave the house? It seems so long ago. I’m not sure I even left the house today.
The black mud beneath my feet, crumbling yet soft like a cake, begins to harden into a rocky path, winding its way up a hill. I wonder how I can possibly get any higher when I already feel like I’ve climbed to the top of the world. Will there come a point when I can see everything, laid out beneath me?
I climb. I stop for a bit. I climb. There’s no rush, I remind myself.
When I reach the top of the hill, I still can’t see very far. The heather and the sky continues to roll away from me. Now the path is sandy, water spilling from cracks and crevices. I’ve reached the source of a river, I realise, as my eyes follow a small trickle downwards on the other side of the hill. An imposing pile of rocks marks the top; not the first cairn I’ve seen today.
I step over, and perch precariously on the edge of a rock. I look down.
Pressed into the sand on either side of the cairn are footprints. I smile. Someone else has been up here recently; I’m glad they’re enjoying the moor too. Maybe I’ll bump into them. Then I look more closely. My smile freezes.
The footprints on either side of the cairn are exactly identical. Same size, same imprints in the underside of the shoes. Same distance between them. But I know that the footprints on one side must be mine; I’m here after all. And the others aren’t.
One set move towards the cairn, where I’m sitting. Those are mine. I remember walking them just a second ago.
The other set move away, in the opposite direction.
I take off my shoe; inspect the underside. Hold it above a footprint on each side of the cairn. It matches both sets perfectly.
I put the shoe back on. Stand up.
The sky starts to pelt me, the spitting increasing to a steadier stream of bullet-like droplets. I pull my hat down over my head. It’s not waterproof, but it’s protection and that’s all that matters. I look down at the footprints again, and shake my head. Did someone else really walk through here, just a short while ago, wearing the same shoes with the same size feet? I suppose it’s possible.
I turn to face the prints that are moving away from the cairn. They meander down the hill, zigzagging over the river I’m standing at the top of, until they tumble over a protruding rock and out of sight.
I take a deep breath, eyes on the path ahead, and press one foot firmly into the first print.
Sophie Sadler Nov 2015
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