Chapter Five: My Maps, Elly.

My maps were pressed flat at the bottom of the rucksack, but I felt ready now, after a few weeks in the beach wood, to bring them to the top. I’d cut a very particular line through each; a corridor, to refine my broader, more implicit, impressions of the territory between me and my destination: Knoydart. I’d had knoydart in my mind for a long time. It was an obvious place, being inaccessible by road. It wasn’t that I needed to be inaccessible myself (after all I had a right to leave home) but what is permissible by law wouldn’t necessarily protect me from the laws of family and community. I no longer made the assumption that my decisions, however sincerely made and whatever the strength of my commitment, were entirely within my control to actualise when set against the collective will of the village. I wouldn’t say the will of Mum, because that itself was under duress of course. “I will speak to her”, I conceded to myself, “in fact” I was even willing to go further “I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t done so yet”. Some plans, though, need very meticulous protection, even when it seems that they’ve been achieved. That much I knew, but it had taken me a surprisingly long time to see it, so the grasp I had was one I obsessively watched over. I suppose we, Rose and me, had been united in the strength of our opinions about the village, if not so united on other topics, which were so strong that they escaped any influences at all, and thereby set us free. Rose of course made her, true to say ‘fateful’, apology to Beccs (well, really, to more than her; to the generally offended) and was done for. Subsumed. She wasn’t ready to put herself on the line, and it was simpleminded of anyone to think that her contrived apology was going to do them, or her, any good. All that work: her entire, albeit it relatively nascent, life project, sunk without trace. She didn’t dissimulate in any way about the outcome: her drunken, neglected demeanour transparently giving out the wreckage of her private world. She was a warning to me, tragic as it was that that was all she could now be.

At the same time as being engrossed in these thoughts I turned my backwards, pastwards-looking gaze down towards the maps in my hand which, in turn, cast my imagination into the imminent distance. I had a pretty comprehensive awareness of the territory for the first twenty miles or so, from the Clee’s vantage, first moving East, then along the Staffordshire Way, followed by areas of familiarity broken by blanks all the way to Mallaig, then abandonment to the final leg in the hands of the ferryman to Inverie, of Knoydart: that mainland ‘island’ of inaccessibility, dubbed an ‘inch’ by my poetic fantasy to complement my INCH plan. The known (Peak District, Pennines, Kielder Forest, Fort Bill) stretching ever further apart as England gives out to Scotland, and the Highlands surmount it all. There was a more direct and more provisioned route than this one, but I wanted to grasp onto a fond hold as often as I could. It galled me that the routes through the national parks appealed most, but why wouldn’t they against the alternative: taking roads that fed inexorably in and out of that much less humane tentacled urban wilderness.

My maps looked very different to me then than they had done when first unfolded onto the floor: intact and arbitrary. My eyes had immediately searched out the hubs, the knotted densities of population, as though these places gave meaning to the spaces between. Then, forced to consider those overlooked spaces my search was rendered down to the more and less definitive lines, roads, tracks and paths, that joined or circumvented them. Once my provisional line of travel was sketched out I sat back, unfurling myself from my myopic crunch over the final map of the western highlands under my knees, and as I did so my perspective shifted. The effect of such close attention to the features for so long brought a feeling of absurdity that I recognised, like the one you get when someone says the same thing once too often, and I laughed at the ‘explorer’ soubriquet written at the top of the map. I was carrying my pemmican, learned about from the pens of the nation’s explorers, and my ‘explorer’ maps, which aimed to depict everything that was humanly relevant in the landscape.

People have a terror of getting lost; which can only be in relation to a horror of leaving home and having to assume there might not in the end be a home. I wondered if it was possible, psychologically that is, to keep moving ‘away from’ and, moreover, into harder territory. I had set myself a goal so I was moving towards something, though I wasn’t sure what the consolation, the comfort, would be that would hold me there. As I traced my route along the paper it occurred to me that this mapping was something akin to ‘bad faith’. The trails and landmarks I’d joined together into my unbroken passage to Knoydart, were comforting sounds to utter. Fragments of the Shropshire Way, Jack Mitton Way and Mercia Way led to Monarch’s way and the Staffordshire Way, to Uttoxeter and Ashbourne, then I chose Dovedale to take me North to the Pennine Way. Places with mixtures of personal resonances, associations from literature and things seen and heard generally, had sent my attention skipping from place to place: Kinder Scout, Black Peak, Moss Moor, Stoodley Pike, Hebden Bridge & Howarth, Malham, Pen-y-Ghent, Ribblesdale (the Langsthrodale Woods were unknown to me but sounded foresty and as such promising), the Tan Inn, Teesdale, Dufton Fell, Alston Moor, Hadrian’s Wall, Wark Forest, Kielder Forest, Tweedsmuir, Glasgow, the West Highlands Way, Loch Lomond, Loch Linnhe, Fort William, Loch Eil, Mallaig, Inverie. These humanising, ne personalising, names softened the impact of walking away. But what if I had to truly face my surroundings without the words? Is it possible at all for a person to let the world be as big and mysterious as it is? Even nomads move in relation to places. I felt the simplicity in my plans shaming me. To confirm my condemnation, when I examined my mind on this feeling I saw that I had no doubt that with Knoydart in my sights I’d complete my journey, given success at managing my hunger and shelter. The redeeming sentiment was that what I would make of it once reached would have to remain a gamble, a risk. And yet I’d tamed my journey, and I knew it. Knoydart was a figment of something. I needed my destination in order to leave, which couldn’t be done without a plan, so despite an impulse to discard the papery translation I’d been studying, I didn’t.

I would set forth to Dovedale via Cannock Chase. It should have been an easy step to make, given that I had already left home, but oddly I found myself resisting, as though once started I would lose all possibilities, all freedom. Or maybe things just needed to come together, and what I was feeling was the frustration of the time not being quite right, because when I did move on, nothing was wrong.

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