This week’s blog is slightly different in style and is written as I remember the hike events taking place, around the year 1983. I did not have a camera with me back then, so I am sharing with you some ‘little me’ photographs from that period and images that have been taken around the area of the River Yeo more recently, while out walking and reminiscing.
“But what if I fall in?” I pleaded.
“You won’t” Chris returned his reply matter-of-factly. I stared at the huge sewer pipe that stretched away in front of me. Our footpath had terminated as it reached the motorway. The river we were following was suddenly channelled into a narrow gully and forced under the M5. As far as my logic was concerned, which wasn’t necessarily rational or correct, that made the water deeper – and I was terrified of deep water. ‘Still’ deep water is even worse and the river was not flowing on this particular day. Call me paranoid but who knows what lurks in still, deep water?
As I absorbed every component of this obstacle I was facing, I observed a small wire mesh fence, barricading the halfway point along the pipe. If my memory serves me correctly, it fanned out like a tiara, set atop the pipe and about three feet high; just high enough for it to reach a little below the roof of this already fear-inducing watery tunnel.
As I took in the scene, the twelve-year-old me quickly processed that the only way past the fence was to clamber carefully around it, from the already questionable safety of the sewer pipe, by hanging on tightly over the river side, in the hope that I didn’t fall in. I wouldn’t be able to keep to the wall side as the room available between the edge of the wire barrier and the wall of the tunnel was hardly big enough for a gnat to squeeze through.
What I saw scared me, so as I continued to look I found myself frantically considering other options. “We could go over the top?” I suggested meekly to Chris.
“Across six lanes of motorway traffic and four crash barriers?” he quickly replied. “I don’t think so…”. Knowing Chris, he probably followed that up with “you can, if you want”.
My brother was five years older than me and I trusted his opinion implicitly. We had set out after Sunday dinner, down towards the fields near our home, with the task of following the River Yeo out to its mouth. It was one of my earliest adventure memories. Chris had the guts and the belief in me that we could shimmy along this sewer pipe, the full width of the M5 motorway. If he believed I could do it, then I guess I could… so I did. Not without the horror-story of cruel butterflies in my tummy of course. But shimmy along that pipe I did and we reached the mouth of the Yeo with great excitement and joy at succeeding in our mission.
Having traversed that sewer pipe once and battled with the fear of hanging over the water as we negotiated the wire fence, the realisation soon dawned that I would have to do it again, in order to get back home. It was menacing but I did it and at the time I most likely felt a huge sense of satisfaction, through having achieved what I would have otherwise avoided.
Though I was just a youngster, that walk memory is so strong for me, because it encompassed so many other elements rather than just a countryside walk beside a river. More to the point, it was a classroom of brain training. Fear, logic, common sense, coordination, adventure, delight, excitement… heck, the list could go on.
The point I am making, is that my seemingly simple, Sunday afternoon walk with my brother left an indelible mark in my psyche and a positive one at that. I would forever be searching for more walks and new adventures that would challenge my notion of what was possible, thus giving me great stories to recount to my friends and more confidence to try new things.
Although it took me another twenty eight years before I embarked on a ‘proper job’ long distance trail, my verve for adventures and for walking had already blossomed but simply reflected throughout my life and personality in other ways, even though a hike of epic proportions had not yet taken place.
It goes to show that it pays to encourage children and teenagers (… yes even teenagers!), to appreciate and have fun being outside. Give them some slack and let them take on their own, age-dependent adventures. The little ones can still journey without you attached to their hand the whole way. It’s great to give them the taste of independence and of being able to explore… you never quite know the seeds it will sow and where it might take them later in life.
Look what happened to me.
On second thoughts…