Just over a year ago I decided I wanted to go for a walk, a rather long one. I had a plan. I'd use my home in London as a base and strike out into the countryside, starting small - short jaunts to Brighton or Norwich, leading up to walking London to Penzance and finishing my year with a walk to Edinburgh. That was the plan. And it couldn't have gone more wrong.
I Went for a Walk describes the idiocy of attempting to walk 1000 miles around the UK on my year off before Uni. The book is full of sarcasm and self deprecation but hey, it wouldn't be British without those. I wanted to see the country I grew up in, meet its people, end my long, tiring days in random local pubs, dancing along to acoustic nights. I met kind people, strange people, I saw the entry to the Channel Tunnel, I almost fell in a river and I joined a covert mission to close a coal mine. I set out to discover the UK but in the process, discovered truths about myself, my mind, my body and their limitations that surprised and changed me.
What began as simply the idea of thoughtlessly spewing out my experience on to a page slowly turned into an exploration of my deteriorating mental state throughout the year. Whether this be the occasional political rant, the in-depth analysis of Coldplay and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's voice or the slighter darker tone of attempting to understand the negative thoughts that filled my head. Trudging through the British countryside with only a tent, a camera and a backpack for company was an interesting experience to say the least... In essence, this book explores the everyday peculiarities of life navigating the no-man's land between school and university, and my attempts at understanding my new place in the world, whilst mixing in the occasional moment of me cooking Ainsley Harriot's cous cous by the side of a road on a dodgy gas stove.
It’s February 10th 2016. I am walking down the winding country roads of Sussex letting my head torch lead me along the unlit path ahead. Little white drops begin to fall around me. Confused, I look up to see if a tree has blossomed early then realised it had fucked up only to spray its glimmer of hope for summer onto the soul wandering below. No. It had started to snow. I stand for a second, bewildered. It wasn’t cold enough to snow. I mean, yes there were the mini mist clouds emerging from my mouth every time I breathed but I thought I’d at least have to feel a bit cold for it to snow. I stumble onwards as the searing pain of my ankle re-emerges to remind me what a twat I was for committing to walk 1,000 miles in my gap year. This is day 2 with approximately 955 miles to go. At this moment the idea of lying in the cushioned sand of a sun-streaked beach feels very attractive to me. I could claim that I sensed and embraced the culture of the beautiful country I resided in as I lay next to my fellow white, middle-class European friends feeling the same spirit within them.
I am not bashing it. I mean by all means go ahead and join the tens of thousands of late teens as they enjoy their drink- and drug-fuelled months exploring South-East Asia. But don’t for one second claim you are ‘experiencing’ and ‘embracing’ the culture of such areas. You are not. You are following a tour created for the sole purpose of entertaining such thoughts in your head whilst making sure that you do not touch their culture with your destructive Western hands. How many of the backpackers who have trampled through Bali have learnt or even heard about the brutal genocide of over a million communists within Indonesia? How many even know that Bali is within Indonesia? Or the fact that the same people who committed such atrocities still remain in positions of power today? I’m not claiming any moral high ground, by the way, as the US, and likely the UK, were fully engaged in such atrocities and still pride themselves in being allies and trade partners of such a wonderful government. My point is that it is not possible to explore a country’s culture by passing through it for less than a month. You are simply on holiday, a reasonably long holiday.
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