Depression has been a big influence in my life and through years of struggling to deal with it alone, then with help, things dramatically changed.
On the 4th of April 2010 i left the place i loved and walked away from all that i saw was getting me down, all the people i thought i was letting down, the society i'd always struggled to fit into and the place i felt tied to.
I'd been trying to take my own life but never could make that one final commitment, so i looked at my life and knew i needed to get away and surround myself with the few things i knew would stop me going mad.
Exercise, fresh air, the great British countryside and all the fascinating features of nature. flowers, insects, birds, etc...
With those and the desire to live, i set out on what would turn out to be a life changing experience.
I left with little possessions, a sleeping bag, few clothes, knife and my camera, this would be an epic journey of self discovery and i'd photograph as much as i could.
In life we need little more than food and shelter.
Food i'd need to find or earn, the shelter i'd make or find in the form of old barns, etc..
I soon learnt that some people were inspired by my method of dealing with my own depression, they found ways in which i could help them and earn a meal or a hot drink. Some days i'd not eat properly, but my desire to succeed and so seek out these kind hearted people kept me going.
I was on the North Somerset coast in the UK and was to walk the south west coast path, a 630mile coastal route around the south west corner of England, Britain's longest national trail.
For over one hundred days i travelled around the coast, meeting many amazing, kind, thoughtful people along the way.
I got back in touch with nature on a level few will ever experience.
This is my story, my journey to share with you.
Please read the 'notes for readers' to the right.
8. A cold shower.
I woke at first light, the sun had risen behind distant hill and lit the sky in a glorious glow. I grabbed my camera and began to frame some shots, trying a few variations of white balance to create more drama and differing coloured sky.
According to the date stamp on my camera it was 06.37am. The air wasn't too cold and i lay in for a bit looking at the sky, listening to the sea and the waking birds, i remembered the sound of a nearby tawny owl as i drifted into the deep calm sleep, it was good to be so close and exposed to nature, it made me feel normal again. Below me in the town there was no sound of man, just the squawk of gulls.
I lay back and found myself falling asleep again, awaking after just an hour. I half expected the tent to be down and Stefan to be gone, because i sensed he would be keen to get an early start and didn't wish for me, my photo taking and lack of food to slow him down. It was evident that i still felt that i'd let people down, hold them back and to begin to rely on them.
The tent of course was still there, he was a good honest man and it wasn't in his nature to be so impolite.
I decided now to get up and get packed ready for whatever lay ahead for me. We had agreed to walk together today, but during the night, Stefan may of changed his mind and would prefer to charge along at his slightly faster and required pace.
Not so long after i'd got packed, he emerged from his tent and instantly offered me a little breakfast and a hot drink, telling me we'd get moving as soon as he'd packed up his tent and i'd eaten.
I needed a spoon, so i quickly set to work, whittling one from a piece of dry hardwood. The cut timber i'd used to form the wind break for the night, was now finding a new use. My multi tool had a small saw, so i cut off a piece about the length of a tea spoon. Then popping out the knife, i pared away at it to make a paddle shape. That would do or now, it'll serve the purpose this morning and i'd have plenty of time to work on it on the coming days and nights.
A part of me was relieved to have the company , another part was telling me to wait back abit, go back to town to earn breakfast, or at least offer to help someone.
The weak part of me won so after eating, cleaning the dishes we set off up the hill, we passed the cliff railway, linking Lynmouth and Lynton, followed a road for a distance, with grand views down to the sea and harbour. From up here i could see the mouth of the river Lyn, which reminded me of a local tragedy.
On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm broke over south-west England, depositing 229 millimetres (9.0 in) of rain within a 24hr period, the all ready soaked Exmoor.
Debris-laden flood waters cascaded down the northern escarpment of the moor, converging upon the village; in particular, in the upper West Lyn valley, a dam was formed by fallen trees, etc., which in due course gave way, sending a huge wave of water and debris down that river.
The River Lyn through the town had been culverted to gain land for business premises; this culvert soon choked with flood debris, and the river flowed through the town. Much of the debris was boulders and trees.
Overnight, over 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless.
Just six years ago, a similar thing happened to a village down in Cornwall, i'd pass through this village in a week or so time, once again the power of nature wind over mankind.
The path took us around the cliff edge and to valley of the rocks, an area i used to go to when i was a late teen to clamber over the rocks and fool around with girls. In later years i had taken my children there to do the same, the once easy path was now well eroded and only the local wild goats made easy work of it. Still, ever the risk taker, i got them down and we walked out to the rocks to sit and watch the sea, the goats had been playing on the rocks, but we'd scared them off. Well that was a while ago and a good memory from all the sadness i had felt. Now i was just passing by, with a chap i barely knew, walking away from the children i love so much. I was still in an area i'd spent time with them and there was many things to remind me of them and the good times i'd shared with them. Although right now, i had Stefan to distract me from inner thoughts, they were there in hiding and deep down i excepted they come out to test me soon.
Past castle rock and the entrance to my old play ground was Lee Abbey, this old building is now a christian retreat and holiday centre.
It's grand character is now mixed with modern and less than in keeping material and design. Britain slowly losing it charisma to commercialism.
The road went on, down through toll gates past a small settlement, then to climb very steeply, i felt fit and well and wanted to maintain a pace that my walking buddy would appreciate
Photo's weren't being taken, i had little time to stop and stare.
We did talk though, about my past, his past, relationships, family, jobs, in fact quite a bit, so walking and talking we headed unknowingly to a very first experience for me.
Basic hygiene is very important on wild trips like these, cleaning teeth, bathing or at least a damp wipe down, then of course laundry is necessary. Before we left camp, we agreed to bathe in the first suitable place, this could of been a river, stream, it may of been in the centre of a village under a fountain, we didn't know, but as a challenge, we'd do it and do it totally naked.
Ok, so i'm not really embarrassed about my body, i'm not over weight, in fact from the opinion of others i'm athletically fit so there's no real reason to be ashamed. I've performed on stage with strippers, and been arrested for exposing myself in public. Nothing too bad, i just needed a pee and happened to choose a slightly packed high street, at 2 o'clock in the morning. Then i was under the influence of drinks, now i had morals and a lack of confidence.
Well it would turn out our washing facilities would not be in a town or village, neither was it a secluded piece of running water in a quiet field.
It was in fact under a waterfall right on the south west coast path, just after leaving the aptly named west woodybay wood, the path became a little more exposed and it was along here on a slight u bend in the trail.
Falling from about twenty feet the cool April rain fall, fell onto the slippery algae covered rocks below, it was decided and without hesitation Stefan stripped off his clothes, got out some shower gel and walked into the cold natural shower.
Immediately i could see how uncomfortable it was, not only was the ground awkward to stand on, the pressure from the descending water and the coldness made for a very rushed wash, it wasn't long before i had six foot plus of wet naked German walking towards me and i was my turn next!
I asked him to get my camera and to take a pic of me, turns out it was over exposed it seems in more ways than one, a little photo-shop will sort that.
On the 6th of April 2010, at 10:31am and suffering from depression, i stood naked on the coast path and waited my turn. He handed me his gel and i wobbled over to wash. It's at this point i should inform you that i have very sensitive feet, walking bare foot on anything but flat, smooth, soft and even ground is like walking on broken glass.
Waddling along, almost on all fours i reached the fall and knew what i needed to do and that was commit. It's like walking slowly into a cold ocean, slow torture. So not caring about what i was standing on, i walked straight into the water fall. There's no room here for any expletives, imagine standing naked in a 60mph vertical gale, with hail stones, not only are you naked but you are also bald, the hail stones pelting you right on the head and shoulders, not to mention any other bit of flesh sticking out in front of you. Yes, even in the extreme cold there was no protection by way of extreme shrinkage.
Now that i'm sufficiently wet, i can now apply the gel, steeping out from the pain for a moment to one side,i vigorously lathered myself up. For anyone who passed us by that morning i can only apologise, at this moment i was blind, with a good covering of soap and working it in really well, i really was a touch preoccupied to consider other users of the path.
It was now time for a rinse, i was aware of the fact, i had soap everywhere and that i'd need to rinse all of it off, this may take a while i thought. Once again i stepped into the water and began rubbing myself all over. Usually i'd spend plenty of time in shower just standing there, hot water running over me body and enjoying the sensation it gives.
Today i was certainly getting a sensation, and to use the word enjoy would feel a little inappropriate. After what felt like too long, i was well and truly rinsed, quite possibly exfoliated too, i stepped out one last time.
Waddling once more across the slippery uncomfortable river bed, i made my way back to dry off, this is when i learnt how bad a fleece blanket is at absorbing water.
Whilst doing the best job i could with what i had, Stefan washed some clothes in the running water. I had got dressed just as two walkers came by and having shared good mornings, they passed and we loaded up.
By now Stefan had taken on an appearance akin to a clothes airer, with socks and shirts and a towel hanging off his pack, it provided a brief bit of humour for the pair of us, then i was back to the path.
I was feeling fresh and alive, my eyes were alert to the scenery and things living amongst it. It would appear to be the mating season for beetles, literally hundreds of bloody nosed beetles were either copulating or looking for a mate. These are flightless leaf eating beetles, their slow movements meant a easy subject for close up photos.
There would be much better views of the coast today, compared to the previous one, however the sea was far away at the foot of very steep cliffs. Our path then turned in land and we descended a fairly steep path down into the very steep sided Heddons mouth cleave. What goes down then goes up, then back towards sea again. The route we just took from the other side of the cleave, had meant a climb down of 180m and a return to the same height on this side. This was over a distance of about 2 kilometres, as we could both see the path from the other side it was a bit frustrating to walk so far, were as the distance as the crow flies, to coin a phrase meaning in a straight line, was only about 300m.
It levelled out after Peter rock and east cleave, also the path followed the high cliff top heading south west for a good distance which took away the previous frustration of Heddons cleave. Next up was a similar beast, Sherrycombe, with a slightly steeper drop down, i stopped to photograph a few local ponies then crossed a small bridge before the long climb to great hangman cairn, which by all accounts is the highest point on the whole south west coast path.
We rested by the cairn and drank some more water. So far during my journey, all the water i was drinking was from streams, complete with contamination for all knew. Any illnesses i picked up along the way, would need to be dealt with by the immune system, something few people barely have left nowadays. You can get a remedy for most things, so just let pills, creams or liquids do battle with the nasties inside us. I'd rather build up my own defences, maybe it was my way of making myself suffer more for walking away from everything..
After the break, it was a good down hill pretty much all the way to little hangman. The weather today had been pretty mild, it was certainly a nice day for a walk.
On reaching the north Devon seaside resort called Combe Martin, Stefan wished to buy more provisions and water, i filled up my bottles from a tap in a wash room, then we found a local shop.
Whilst he was inside, i placed my camera on the top of a shopping trolley and sorted out my rucksack contraption. I wish now, i'd taken a picture of it in all it's lashed together glory. The nature of it's design or lack of, meant it would quite often be unbalanced, therefore uneven on my back. This meant i was often trying to fix it to make it more comfortable. It was after all just waterproof bag, strapped to a small empty rucksack.
Stefan came out of the shop and we headed of in search of a cafe. Suddenly i realised something was missing from my person, my camera, it was still outside the shop up the road. I turned and went back, it was only a minute or so away, but a couple seconds is all it takes for someone to take something. To my relief, the camera was still there where i left it. "pheww!"
Having re-joined Stefan(the spelling maybe wrong, if he ever reads this then i'm sorry) we found a cafe and he kindly once again bought me a hot drink and i had some apple pie and cream, one of my favourites.
More walking ahead of us i was becoming increasingly aware, i'd not been achieving the things i wanted to. Stefan was providing everything food wise for me. I felt bad about this and rather than say anything, i just let it happen.
The rest of the days walk faded into just walking, whittling my spoon, the conversation had stopped flowing and i wasn't taking pictures or taking in the scenery, the weather also changed, it got cooler and dark clouds loomed over head. All i wanted now was to stop walking and rest for the night, maybe even eat a cooked meal.
Coats were put on and we followed the path down to Ilfracombe, just as we got to the edge of town, the acorn signs sent us up around fort Hillsbourough, the short diversion, felt much longer and as the rain began to fall, my mood and energy levels dropped further.
Once we reached town, Stefan spotted a German supermarket, so in the rain we headed there. We wen inside where he bought egg waffles, Rye bread and Greek yogurt with some fruit, enough for me too.
Having eaten outside he then offered me a pint, to which i foolishly agreed, my constantly taking from him, was affecting our friendship, i knew soon, i'd have to fend for myself once again, despite of the fact i knew this was happening, i did nothing to prevent it. I'd told Stefan of my intentions along the path and had shown him no evidence of it being put into action. We went to a bar and whilst i sat by a fire writing, he sat at the bar taking to locals and eating cake. I drank slowly and felt very alone, tired and sad.
He eventually told me he was off to set up his tent, we'd spotted a suitable location earlier on as we came into town. I told him if he'd like to, i'd meet him at a cafe in the morning, to either say goodbye or walk another day with him. I didn't think he'd be there, my confidence was once again in tatters.
I sat, wrote and went through the days photo's whilst sipping beer, i felt like a smelly tramp, ignored and unwelcome in the corner. I was about to leave, i'd already packed to do so, went to the bar to return the empty glass, i said thanks to the barman and turned to get my bag. Behind me was a young lady, Zoe was one of a group that was sat nearby, she instantly offered to get me a drink, to share a short with her and her friends.
Excepting it, i told her a little bit of what i was doing and why, she wrote her number on a piece of newspaper and asked me to call her should i ever visit Manchester.
Bizarre and as brief as this meeting was, it was enough to lift my spirits, if only slightly. I then turn to get my bag and leave for the second time, this time i was interrupted by a man sat with his partner. He'd over heard a little on what i was doing and wished to know more, so i sat down with them.
It wasn't long before he bought me a pint and was listening intently to my tale, occasionally he or his partner would ask questions. I was feeling much better, not just from sharing my adventure, but also because they admired me and saw what i was doing as inspirational. It's very uplifting to hear words of support from complete strangers, it was always people i knew who'd offer their opinions on things i did, rarely were they supportive though.
There was one last act of kindness from this couple and it lined my pocket with some money for breakfast. With sincere thanks i left into the cold, dark and wet night to search for a sleeping place.
I walked for maybe half an hour looking for somewhere dry and away from the wind, options were poor in fact it felt non existent. A large church stood in the centre of town, i knew it to be unlikely that i would find an open door here, churches often had other places to shelter so i went through the gates to take a look.
As predicted the main doors were locked, to keep out the homeless no doubt..I went round the side, my head torch lighting the way and there i found a small archway leading to an iron gate which appeared to lead down some steps to i guess a vault. It was here i decided to stay, at the entrance to the vaults of the church of Philip and st James.
From the moment i set eyes on my room for the night, i knew full well it wasn't big enough, at only about five feet deep it would mean my legs would protrude outside in the rain. Precautions then were needed, which would come in the shape of rubbish bin bags.
The head of my bed was in fact the first step, so i needed to build that up with clothes and bags. I laid out the usual bedding, bin bags to keep out the damp from the ground, my fleece blanket with was now dry, then on that my sleeping bag, to which i slipped the bottom of the bag in a black plastic bag, to try and keep out the rain. I undressed and used my clothes as a pillow, got into my sleeping bag, ticked off another day and several more miles. Then after much thinking and guilt for using Stefan as i felt i was doing so, i drifted off into a calm and relaxed sleep, essentially in a grave yard.
Posted by sharki at 11/13/2010 03:14:00 pm