The end of summer brought a week of walks in Robin Hood’s Bay through to Whitby and Ravenscar and further, the length as far as we could manage (but not all 131 miles) of the Cleveland Way. The word ‘retreat’ implies solitude but this isn’t always the case. A retreat is simply an escape from the ordinary and the hum drum where you take a step out of your regular life into another. These walks remind me of this. A retreat means in one breath ‘removal’ from familiarity to something new, an opportunity to be someone else, to do something else. After all, we do things on holiday we’d never do at home, like buying liqueurs which taste sublime in the heat of a Spanish sunset but pale in the damp of an English Autumn. I remember dragging a flask of fresh sweet coconut water all the way back from Trinidad which tasted sour and bitter by the time we landed in Heathrow less than twenty four hours later. The point of being away, I realized, was to enjoy being there and not try to bring it back or replicate it – my friend did warn me but did I listen? I can still taste that sweet cold water, I only have to close my eyes.
Noticing the small things, that’s the trick to remembering. For a writer it’s about being ‘mindful’ and ‘wakeful’ to the vibrant world around you, wherever you are. So when we walked the old railway track on the Cleveland Way towards Ravenscar up the cinder track and back down the tumbling rocky coast to Robin Hoods Bay through the old alum works, it wasn’t hard to imagine the industry churned out here in the shadows and ghosts of the men left behind. The distant sound of a hammer on stone in the quarry was a whisper in the wind, the silent frenzy of wings from the hundreds and hundreds of Painted Lady butterflies carrying the story of their journey across thousands of miles from the deserts of North Africa to land here on a ragged Yorkshire coastline in view of the cold and blue North Sea.
Halfway, we stopped for ham rolls on the cliff edge, a flat plain safe from the sheer drop and I looked up at the clouds and the butterflies and listened to the chatter of the walkers passing by, heard their feet treading the ancient way each one of us adding to the footsteps from the past. On the way back we went down to the beach, my poor feet cooled in the freezing water in rock pools so numerous on the slate flats they looked like tiny craters poking out of the sea.
For once, I didn’t write. I read and I read and I read but in my head I wrote, I built ideas and pictures and stories and I know they will make their way out into the world eventually. In a café in Robin Hood’s Bay I found a Storytelling Chair which was worn and scuffed and lived in and waiting for a story to tell. A story without a teller, now there’s a challenge.