Walkies – Stage 50

Weymouth– Lulworth Cove (10.9 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 602.2 miles / Distance to Poole– 28.3 miles

Part of the reason for all this epic walking is to boost the public perception of leprosy and to promote the work of The Leprosy Mission. Strangely it is not a topic on the lips of most people across the western world, and so apart from the walking and the raising money, it is my job to also raise the Mission’s profile. One of the ways I have achieved this has been through radio interviews – some before I started, some after a day’s walking and some as I actually walked (yes that breathlessness is not an act I am actually out of puff trying to trek and chat at the same time!). Today’s stage included one such interview as I walked along the seafront along Weymouth Bay, my conversation was being transmitted live by Hope FM (Christian community radio in the Bournemouth area).

The bright blue sky over Weymouth Bay...for the time being!

The presenter asked about all sorts of aspects of the walk and the work of TLM and then as a final comment asked about the weather. The sun was shining and the temperature was rising, which was fine for the flat bit along to Bowleaze, but the later section was a lot of up and down, where high temperatures make life considerably harder. Being a walker herself she recognised the importance of fair but cool walking weather and so asked everyone to pray for a change from the heat to something more manageable. I thought nothing of it, finished the conversation and continued walking with my companions for the day.

By the time we reached the end of Weymouth Bay it was raining!
It seemed they had prayed a little too hard!

There are many books about the power of prayer, many personal testimonies of the effectiveness of prayer, many instances when instinct draws someone into prayer. As we sat having a coffee at Bowleaze remarking on the immediate answer to the Hope FM prayer I decided to make the most of the time when God seemed particularly partial to answering prayer for me and my walk. So I said a silent prayer asking for a tall stranger to come and sweep me off my feet – a knight on a bright white charger if you will! Imagine my surprise when a little while later, back on the path, I noticed this on the hillside….

My knight on a white horse ready to sweep me away!

Yes prayer works. God listens and God answers. But not always in the ways that we would like, or the ways we could imagine. Prayer is not a shopping list where we can approach God with desires and wants, just for him to tick them off the list one by one – if it worked like that I would have had a puppy as a child and then gone on to marry Indiana Jones! Equally it is not an ineffectual sounding board, there just to make the pray-er feel better about a situation by talking it through. I have walked over 600 miles and apart from a minor blister (caused by my inability to properly put on a sock) I have been blister free. Apart from minor aches and extreme tiredness, I have been fit and healthy throughout. This is not as a result of my great athletic body – curves are not generally a normal body shape for athletes and pasties and cream teas not their usual diet! This is not due to my boots and socks, although I am sure they play a part. I believe whole heartedly that I have not only survived but have got to this point feeling in the best physical form of my life, as a result of the epic amount of prayer that has gone every step with me. People I have never

The beautiful Durdle Door - the God who made this is interested enough in us to listen to and answer our prayers - WOW!

even met are praying for me, it seems the whole SW is praying for me. The walk hasn’t become easy but I have been able to cope. Not everything has gone quite to plan, but I have managed to work things out for the better. And I am still here, still walking, still enjoying the walk, still appreciating the wondrous beauty of the coast path and still praising God – that has got to prove that prayer works.

 

It is probably worth pointing out that on the last day of the walk Hope FM did another walking interview with me. They asked me how much I was hoping to raise and I duly replied £10,000. “That is not enough” replied the presenter, “let’s all pray that this target gets doubled!”
The total currently stands at over £22,000! Prayer not only works, but seems to be most successful when prayed through Hope FM…. I wonder if they will pray for that tall stranger for me??

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Walkies – Stage 49

Portland Circuit (13.2 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 588.1 miles / Distance to Poole– 56 miles

The day I walked around Portland the country experienced a heat-wave. There was bright, hot sunshine causing numerous cases of sunburn, heat exhaustion and lots of sun based fun. Portland however was encased in thick fog. It was literally the only place in the UK that never got a glimpse of the sun, or anything further away than your hand in front of your face!

Not even the massive binoculars can see through the fog

Portland Bill is the southern most tip of the attached island and hosts 3 lighthouses…or so I am told as to be honest I saw the bottoms of structures which could possibly have been lighthouses, but that’s about it! Instead the presence of these features made themselves known in another way – the fog horn. I will forever link my day on Portland with the continual sound of the foghorn blasting out into the depths of the fog and mist, and the occasional reply from passing ships. The sound so loud that at times it could be felt throughout my whole body.

At one point I stood on the edge of the cliff looking as hard as I could, desperate to seek out some shape or distinction to show where I was. No matter how hard I squinted I could see nothing. Every which way I turned, the view was the same thick, white cloud, obscuring my view. It is incredibly disorientating and disheartening. It made me think of points in my life when it has felt as though a fog has descended around me. Whichever way I turn there is nothing which helps me to discover where I am and where I should be going. I could be stood facing things of great beauty, surrounded by people I love and that love me, stood on the precipice of great hope and opportunity and yet all I can see is nothingness. And it seems that the harder I seek in the depths of this life numbing fog, then the more my eyes ache and I become disorientated and disheartened.

One of the 3 lighthouses and the source of all the noise

Then in the background, cutting through the thickest fog comes the deep resonating sound of a foghorn. As I stand staring into nothing, I wonder how far out to sea the foghorn can be heard. I wonder how quickly people living on Portland become accustomed to the sound and oblivious to its message. The constant, steady, unwavering sound of safety, comfort and protection. A message of love. Once again I am transported back to my own personal fog and I realise that it was on these days that God’s voice cut through the blankness. You don’t need a foghorn in the bright sunlight – you can see the dangers, see the lighthouse, see the rocks and the bright shining sea. It is at times of despair, loss, depression, hopelessness, thick emotional or spiritual fog that the reassuring, constant, steady and unwavering sound of safety, comfort, protection and love sounds from the heart of God. There is nothing that it cannot cut through, resonating deeply in our hearts. But we run the risk of all too quickly becoming too accustomed to the sound, that we blank it out. We may hear the words of love but think that they are not for us. We may know them but not own them.

As I leave the foggy Isle of Portland behind and step blinking into the sunshine of Weymouth once again, my prayer for you is to retune your ears to the voice of God speaking love and reassurance, and calling you to a safe place in his arms. And once you hear it you will feel it throughout your very being, and wonder how you missed it before. May the foghorn of God forever sound in your hearts!

 

Walkies – Stage 48

Firstly I would like to apologise for the delay in getting these last few blogs out….turns out being back into real life is quite hectic!

Abbotsbury -Weymouth (14.4 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 578.4 miles / Distance to Poole– 56 miles

Chesil Beach is somewhat of a feature throughout this part of the Coast Path. It is 18 miles of pebbles, which start being pea-sized at West Bayand as the beach approaches Portland, the pebbles have grown to fist-sized, although I would think it depends slightly on the size of your fist! Someone at some point must have counted all these pebbles, because the Chesil Beach website boasts that this tombolo (technical geographical term for a gravel spit which connects an island with the mainland), the largest in theUK, has a massive 180 billion pebbles!

The straight path of Chesil Beach and the wiggly one of Fleet Lagoon

Behind the beach is Fleet Lagoon, a shallow patch of salty water between the beach and the mainland. And with it came the choice. I could either walk along the beach in a clear straight line, just 8 miles in distance. Or I could take the inland path along the lagoon, its irregular shape adding miles to the journey as the path wiggles in and out, back and forth.

The longer, wigglier path was taken for the simple fact that walking on pebbles is a nightmare – you slip and slide, you sink and scramble and you exhaust yourself in the first few meters. 8 miles of pebbly induced leg torture is not something I wanted to experience with still so many miles left to walk. But in choosing the inland path I inadvertently chose to walk the whole day without a view of the sea, with the immense Chesil beach bank constantly blocking the view. There is something quite depressing about walking on a coast path without seeing the sea. The fun continued as the Chickerell firing range was closed for firing. A detour was necessary not only adding on miles but also the distance from the coast. A highly unsatisfactory situation.

I can be quite indecisive – it will take me forever to make a menu choice in a restaurant, to the point where up until the moment I am asked what I want by the waitress, I will still have two or three possibilities in my head. For most decisions if I am not sure about which to choose I often reassure myself with the thought that if I wasn’t right the first time, I can change my mind. I constantly take clothes back after I get home and realise I should have gone for the other item. The problem with the choice of which route to take, Chesil Beach or the inland route, is that once you are on your chosen path that is it. You are stuck on it. There is no way to change your mind without going all the way back to the beginning. I had quite wanted to experience a little of walking on the pebbles, but knowing once I had started I was stuck on them for 8 miles made me realise the sense of not even trying.

I think that this idea of set paths and journeys are carried over into life. There is the thought that once we have chosen a life path then we are stuck on it. There is no deviation from it. And once we realise that this path, like that of Chesil Beach, is painful and destructive to us, there is no way to get off it. Yet this is so far from the truth. There is no place that you can travel to that Jesus can’t find you. It doesn’t matter how far you have walked along the pebbles, walked into the darkness, walked in the wrong direction, there is a bridge back to the right path – which can often appear to be the less attractive at the point of decision. There is nothing that we can do, nothing we can say, nowhere that we can travel that can make Jesus love us any less. Therefore there is nothing we can do, nothing we can say and nowhere we can go that takes us on a permanent path away from God. There is always a path back, there is always hope, there is always restoration for our weary bodies and souls.

So I emerged from the inland route around Fleet Lagoon to see a bright and shining sea at Weymouth, and I was reminded that even when we can’t see Him, often not due to large pebbly beaches, but more to do with barriers of our own creation, God is always there, always constant and always love – and what a beautiful sight that is!