Noss Mayo – Bigbury-on-sea (13.1 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 439.8 miles / Distance to Poole–189.5 miles
I woke today with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. It was the sound of torrential rain that stirred me from my slumber and the howling wind that accompanied it. I was due to start at the later time of 10.30am this morning, but by 6.30am I was convinced I’d never start if I waited that long. I contacted the people who were due to walk with me today, as well as those who were due to drive me around the Erme Estuary (no ferry service on a Sunday!), and told them I was going to set off asap and get this stage over and done with.
As I walked along the estuary at Noss Mayo I thought I may have been a bit hasty in my decision – the rain was constant but the wind was mild and it was no worse than other rainy days. Then I got to the coast and its exposed cliff top path, and I realised I had been right to worry about the weather conditions. In hindsight I was irresponsible to walk today, especially as I was walking alone, with not even Toby as company. I had decided to let him stay warm and dry, giving me the opportunity to walk with two walking poles (if I have the dog with me, I can only use one) and not worry about him getting lost in the driving rain. That at least was a good decision, as I needed both poles to keep me upright in the gale force winds. Despite being covered head to toe in waterproof clothing, I was wet to the skin in less than ½ hour – I defy any waterproof clothing manufacturer to make clothes to withstand the amount of water thrown at me today!
As I walked, or more accurately staggered, through the wind and rain, I came across a number of sheep who had been let out to graze on the hillsides. They were in fact not so much grazing and more hiding around the back of gorse bushes, desperate to find some shelter from the tremendous storm conditions. Usually as I approached, the sheep got up (a little reluctantly) and ran away from me, preferring the harsh weather than getting close to a drowned walker!
One sheep didn’t move. It lay across the path and looked up at me as I walked past. I remembered that if sheep get on their backs then they can’t get up again, which can result in them dying. So I turned back to help the sheep upright again. I know nothing really about sheep and I have absolutely no idea what was wrong with this one, but it just stood there. I stood there in the pouring rain, and it stood beside me, not making a sound. Then it slowly lent into me. It lent into my leg and nuzzled me. With tears in my eyes I lent down and stroked the sheep, gently reassuring it, for I had this overwhelming feeling that it would soon die. After a minute or two of this intimate interaction with a dying sheep on the top of a cliff in a monsoon like storm, I left the animal and walked away. I was cold, I was alone, I was in the middle of a storm, I had no mobile phone reception and I was crying my eyes out – no one was coming to save the sheep, and even if the farmer did venture out the chances of him finding it in the expanse of cliff top grazing land, would be slim. The sheep would die cold and alone and I could do nothing to save it.
‘I am the good shepherd’. That is the phrase which came into my head and would not leave. ‘I am the good shepherd’. I am in no way saying that the owner of the dying sheep was a bad shepherd, but how much better a shepherd is Jesus. No matter how big and bad the storms are, no matter how vulnerable and alone we are, he will find us, he will rescue us, we will bring us home into the warmth and safety.
I survived the storm, although I am not quite dried out yet! I survived the toughest day of walking – tough because of the extreme weather conditions on a strenuous day of walking, tough because at every step I doubted I could get through it, and tough because I had left a sheep to die. But I survived because I had the reassurance constantly in my ear, that the good shepherd, the best shepherd in fact, was walking with me and he knew the lay of the land, he knew the paths I had to travel, he knew the trials and challenges I faced and he gently, in the midst of the stormy tumult, guided me back to safety and the warmth and comfort of home.