Saturday is always my day to go for a long walk, no matter what walking I may have done during the week, and no matter what the weather may argue otherwise. It’s my day to walk to Send, and take my bouquet of carnations to her. It never matters what the weather is, but today, there was sunshine, that cold-aired, brisk, pinching, late- autumn sunshine that braces and makes the skin tingle and the blood rush to try and warm the fingertips. These are the days and the walks when the quiet of the road clears out my head and recharges and rekindles my spirits. Always, I know, at the end of that road, I’ll renew the carnations with fresh blooms, tell her how my week has been, read her mum’s weekly letter to her, and sit for a while on the bench under the tree shade, to have my flask of coffee and my sandwich. The road ahead is my time for thinking, remembering and re-speaking old conversations, all those memories that enrich and are enriched by moments spent in recollection.
On my walk today, I was thinking about walking. How Frances used to love going for long walks. Walks by the River Spey. Walks along the Cornish Coastal Path, where she lost an entire toenail, bloodied, footsore and blistered. Walks to Tintagel, the legendary seat of King Arthur. The day we walked into Edinburgh and down to Leith. How in recent years I’d grown out of condition for walking. How, when even a single step was eventually denied her, I understood that old saw about never missing the water till the well runs dry. How I’d resolved never to take again for granted those so-taken-for-granted things she’d lost, like walking by the riverside, holding things, making things with her hands, eating an apple, even breathing air. It’s been the common thread in all those things I have been doing in the days since we laid her to rest : walking, cooking, using my hands by learning to play piano. They all link back to her. And for her.
Sometimes, to pass the time on the road, I like to count things. I like to get a feel for numbers, and for estimating distances. So I know how many thousands of paces it is from Cart Bridge to Tannery Lane on my route to Send, and how many paces it is from the crossroads and up Send Hill to the cemetery gates. Since I began walking last year, I have walked around three and three-quarter million steps, and covered around 1,750 miles. Today, on my walk to Send, I wondered how many steps I had taken walking to the cemetery from then until now, and how many miles that came to. I know the distance well now, and I know how many thousands of paces in each direction. I know when I first started walking the route, and I know how many times I have walked it since. I multiplied all the numbers in my head, multiplied by my pace length, and multiplied by the number that converts it all into miles.
I had to stop in my tracks. I counted the numbers again. It is hard to explain the elation, but suddenly my head was full of song. As of today, in my walks to the cemetery and back to be with her, I had walked 500 miles. Five hundred miles! You will know the song that has been in my head all the way there, and all the way home.
She’s the only lass I have ever walked five hundred miles for, and I will walk it for her again.
And yes, there was sunshine in Leith on that day too.