Tuesday, 28 July 2015


I don't think I realised the extent to which adrenaline was fuelling my cycle ride in the last few headwind-plagued days. Now though, back in London, it is out of my system and I am utterly and completely exhausted, described by my partner Julie as a broken owl. It's an unusual image but feels oddly appropriate as I hunker down, my feathers fluffed out, my achiles tendons aching, staring wide-eyed at the wind bending the branches of the London plane trees outside.

John o Groats to Land's End was certainly a journey, though it is not immediately obvious where to. It was packed full of immensely valuable experiences - of nature, of the scale and variety of the country, of the people and places encountered along the way - but what did it all amount to as a complete endeavour? Did it have any meaning, and is it even important whether it did or not?

It is interesting of course that we started in Scotland - the country where I lived as an adolescent and young adult - and finished in England, where I now live. Interesting too though that the countryside where we ended up was so strongly reminiscent of the countryside where we began - not just Bodmin Moor with its trackless expanse of sheep-shorn grass tufted with gorse but the wild immensity of the Atlantic seen from Land's End itself. But in a sense the whole endeavour was time apart and divorced from the normal rhythm of my life. I simply cannot now imagine myself getting up tomorrow morning, pulling on cycling shorts still damp from the previous night's washing in the sink, and clipping on a pair of wet and muddy cycling shoes before heading out through unknown tracts of Britain to some distant bed and breakfast and the prospect of a hot shower and a meal involving chips.

Of course journeys have often been seen by religious and philosophical traditions as central to spiritual development. There are symbolic journeys, like the Pilgrim's Progress or the Ramayana or even the Odyssey, but physical journeys are also often seen as valuable or even compulsory undertakings for any devotee. In the Christian tradition there is pilgrimage to sites made holy by a variety of saints, in Islam the Haj, and in the Hindu tradition a huge variety of such undertakings, to and around a whole range of sacred rivers, lakes and mountains.

And it is undeniable that there is some sense in all of us of travel as a metaphor for something to do with our development as people. We talk about 'voyages of discovery', of making 'a great leap forward' in our thinking, or by contrast of being 'stuck in a rut' or 'bogged down' by problems. When we are working through those problems we feel that we are 'really getting somewhere' and 'forging ahead.' So there must be something intrinsic there that we are tuning in to. Journeys really must be good for the soul, in one way or another.

And for me, I am really not sure that it matters where my particular journey led me, because it led me forward. I thought about things, looked at things, experienced things. And then came home.

One word I didn't consider in my somewhat teacherly post prior to setting out was in a sense the most obvious one: voyage. Voyage has its root in the Latin word for a road, 'via', and maybe it encapsulates the essence of what a true voyage is all about. It's not really about the destination at all, or about the challenge of reaching it, or even about the purpose for doing so. It's about the road. About the setting of one foot in front of the other.

Or in my case, the endless repetition of the pedal turns.

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