Lizard – Coverack (10.6 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 312.0 miles / Distance to Poole– 320 miles
Today was the day I had been waiting for. Each day as I have walked along I have carried several items with me. Firstly I have a printed map of the day’s stage – my dad thought this would be easier than having to battle with unravelling an OS map in gale force winds…. that was until he realised it would be him having to compile the set of 53 individual maps! Secondly I have the description of the day’s walk which is taken from the South West Coast Path Association book. And then I have a little sheet which tells me all the interesting things which I will see along the day’s route – points of interest and stuff to watch out for. This is really helpful as it keeps me aware of my surroundings and the unique features of each stretch of coast.
Of course not all the things of interest on a certain stretch are unique, particularly in reference to the natural world. Birds, plants and animals don’t always stick to boundaries and so if you miss seeing a locally specific item then there is often a chance to hunt for it the next day or so. For example all along the north coast and around the Land’s End peninsula, I have been looking out for dolphins and basking sharks.
Several times along the path I have been told that I have missed seeing these elusive creatures by as little as ½ hour. I seemed to keep meeting people who were excited to tell me that they’d just seen the most amazing sight of dolphins playing or basking sharks, well basking. But I have yet to catch even a glimpse. However I am reliably informed that today is the day to see them as I walk around the Lizard Peninsula.
The other thing that I am told I will see in abundance today is the chough. This rare bird, pronounced chuff, has made the Lizard Peninsula its home, and although it is the county bird of Cornwall this is one of the only places to find them. With red legs and a red beak it should be easy to spot. Or so I hoped.
In fact despite spending the whole day looking out to sea for dolphins and looking down into coves for basking sharks and amongst the cliff top greenery for choughs, I saw none of them. To say I was gutted would be an understatement. It was perfect weather for all three and I was being quiet and patient and the other things that you’re supposed to do when looking at nature. But alas I was not in luck and I am still on the lookout. It was as I tramped the last couple of miles, getting more and more despondent with each step, that I suddenly realised something. Sightings of these creatures are rare. If everyone saw them then they wouldn’t be rare. If everyone saw them it wouldn’t be something special. I don’t know why some people are seemingly luckier than others, being in the right place at the right time, and others no matter how long they search for them, seem destined to never see them.
In the same way some people have extremely tangible experiences of God – perhaps a dramatic conversion or a healing experience. Others do not. These experiences can be rare, few and far between. And there seems to be no logical answer to why some people have them and others, no matter how much they long for them or pray for them, seem destined never to experience God in that way. These encounters, just like the sightings of rare animals, are a real gift and they can boost, renew and encourage. But we shouldn’t come to depend on them or expect them, getting despondent and dejected when we seem to be ignored and forgotten. Just because I can’t see the dolphins or basking sharks doesn’t mean they are not there in the vast ocean. Just because God is not revealing himself to me in ways I want him to doesn’t mean he isn’t actively at work in my daily life.
Perhaps at some point on this journey I will see my choughs, sharks and dolphins and perhaps I won’t, but whatever happens I hope that I will be able to rejoice in the gifts that God has chosen to show me each day, even if they are not the grand gestures I see other people experiencing…..because I would hate to miss my own rare sighting as a result of me looking in the wrong direction!