It was a quiet time in County Clare, with my walking shoes hung to dry for the evening, dinner cooking on the embers and tired birds returning to their nests on the few weather-beaten trees that dot the harsh Burren landscape. To the north was the sea shimmering with the lights of Galway, the Aran Islands lay to the west and beyond that was the Atlantic Ocean and America. Below, a labyrinthine system of caves I used to work in as a tour guide, and above a galaxy of stars.
This together comprises the geography of the Burren, the area that J.R. Tolkien, according to local bon viveur and publican Peter Curtin, based The Lord of the Rings on. I had gathered enough wood to keep a small fire going all night, and sat beside it, swigging whiskey in the declining light.
It’s good to sit and take in your situation at a day’s end. We need to spend time relaxing in different places.It makes us pay attention to the moon’s craters and gives us the time to ask ourselves how every place in Ireland – at times it would seem every rock – has several names and myths attached to it. I swear I have sat down on more holy rocks and outdoor altars in Ireland than standard chairs. The fire was comforting and a raven’s mixture of clicking and singing lulled me to sleep.
I am a walker. I am not a fan of modernity, its physical inventions or its ethics, and I have taken to the back roads by way of a very peaceful protest. Walking matters to me because it’s natural and I feel that travelling on foot brings us closer to the real world we inhabit. That’s how I came to settle down for the night on a clump of grass in a rocky field somewhere between Malin and Mizen head. Or why I walked four and a half thousand kilometres from my hometown of Drogheda to Istanbul. Or why I embarked on various other journeys around Ireland and mainland Europe; the journeys as various as the reasons behind them.
We only live once and the final destination of our lives is our life’s end. So I want to experience with all my senses not just a destination but the many places and people that spawn what becomes the journey. To quote the great poet Robert Service, “Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting/ So much as just finding the gold.”
It may sound unlikely, but I think slow meaningful journeys have a bright future. At a time when the human appetite for travel, like my own appetite for travel, is insatiable and when jumbo jets and cruise liners dot the sky and sea, travelling by foot grows ever more popular. There is a powerful allure to see the world, and to know it, one step at a time. Not in highly structured terms but in natural ones.This may mean getting the odd blister but that’s a small price to pay for the sense of self you get at the end of a day’s walking.
Austin Campbell ©