Getting up from the Couch and Walking with the Spirit of Clive.

6 Oct

Just over 5 years ago I retired from full-time teaching. I also retired from stress, exhaustion and getting up at 6-15 in the morning! At first everyone congratulated me and wished me many years of rest and happiness. However, it was not long before the questions came: “What are you going to do with your life?” “How are you going to fill your time?” “Won’t you get bored?”  People didn’t seem to be satisfied when I told them I intended to relax, have leisurely cups of coffee and read the newspaper. Neither did they appear to be very interested when I talked about writing my memoirs or catching up with my reading. The questions persisted with an increasing note of concern. I needed to say something to shut them up!

So one day, while undergoing yet another gentle third-degree, I suddenly announced that I intended to tackle the Coast to Coast. This is the famous long distance hike from St Bees in Cumbria, across the Lake District, the Pennines and the North York Moors to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. It had been devised and popularised by the legendary Arthur Wainwright. That dramatic declaration stopped my inquisitors in their tracks! Clearly this was regarded as an eminantly acceptable retirement project, much more challenging than having a lie-in or enjoying a relaxing breakfast in the conservatory. From then on, my questioners adopted an air of admiration and excitement when I told them of my plan, and their previous concerns about me wasting my life and slowly going to seed, quickly evaporated. Even I got quite excited and found myself looking proudly in the mirror from time to time. By completing this epic challenge I could transform myself from zero to hero! I swiftly acquired the maps and guide-books, including a copy of Wainwright, the hallowed bible of all serious walkers. I talked knowledgably about routes, mileages, equipment, communication and back-up plans.

However my initial enthusiasm soon wa(i)ned ( sorry about the pun Arthur), and I increasingly succumbed to the twin attractions of the couch and Sky Sports TV. This had the added appeal  of not having to wear: hiking boots, thick socks, over-trousers, waterproof and wind-proof jackets, hat, gloves and scarf. All I needed was a dressing gown. Also, I did not need an OS map or compass to navigate myself between the sofa, the kettle and the telly.

But all good things come to an end. I started to tire of the daily inanities of Sky Sports news, and got sick of stuffing salted peanuts down my throat. I even got fed up of coffee after about the 8th cup of the day!(very bad for me I know.) Worst of all though, was that I started to put on weight! I developed a sort of spare tyre around my middle, which was a big shock for someone who had always been slim or even skinny  and who actually had been nicknamed “OXFAM” at school after taking his shirt off for PE. Something had to be done. I resumed running — dragging my extra bulk around the local streets. I bought a bike and even took up swimmimg. I also resolved to do more walking.

The walking group I had once belonged to, the “Gateshead Boghoppers”, had now broken up, but my saviour came in the shape of my dear friend Clive. Once he had retired from his stressful job in the NHS, we agreed to go out walking together . We went out every month irrespective of the weather and were soon joined by a mutual friend: Colin. Soon Colin dubbed us  the MATES — the acronym standing for Men Against The Elements. This was because we battled against : rain, wind, snow, fog and whatever else nature decided to throw at us.

It was on these MATES walks that the subject of long-distance footpaths cropped up again. Colin had done several including the Pennine Way. I had already broached the subject of the Coast to Coast ( as opposed to the Couch to Couch) with Clive and we had agreed that it would be good to have a go at it. Once Colin got in on the discussions, he sensibly suggested that we cut our teeth on the Northumberland Coastal Path, a mere 66 miles! There was no escape for me now. I had painted myself into a corner. My impressive but deliberately vague pronouncement that I intended tackling a long distance trek was now hardening into reality. With the impressive efficiency as befits an ex-teacher and ex-military man, Colin set about organising our 6 day walk. Dates were fixed, routes worked out, accommodation booked and deposits paid. I graciously accepted my fate and willingly crossed the Rubicon. We were all looking forward to our first major MATES expedition.

However, with just 2 months to go, tragedy struck! Shortly after one of our regular walks during which we excitedly discussed our final plans, Clive was involved in a terrible, fatal moter-bike accident in Scotland. Colin and I were shocked and stunned. Clive had been retired for barely 2 years and we had so many plans for our post-work future together. The news was so shattering that for some time we didn’t know what to do or say. It was only when Clive’s funeral was approaching that Colin and I realized what we had to do. We agreed that we wouldn’t cancel the walk, but would go ahead with it in Clive’s memory.

So it was that at the end of September, 2011, Colin and I set off on a lovely sunny day from Berwick-uopn-Tweed, heading south. Ahead of us lay 66 miles of beautiful Northumbrian coast and countryside. To the unknowing people we encountered there were just 2 of us. But we knew that there were really 3. Clive was with us in spirit every step of the way. He was constantly in our thoughts. We even mistakenly called each other Clive at times. At the end of each day we toasted him. In a funny sort of way the 3 MATES were still together.

On the second day, en route from near Lindisfarne to Seahouses, we detoured on to the St Cuthbert’s Way, another long distance path. The highlight of this was a visit to St Cuthbert’s Cave. We were on part of the route taken by the monks of Holy Island while carrying the coffin and remains of their former Abbot- St Cuthbert, famous for his inspirational preaching and his miracles. They had left the island in 875 AD to escape continued Viking raids and were to wander around for decades before finally bringing the Saint’s remains to rest at Durham.( where the cathedral stands today.)  St Cuthbert’s cave is a special, atmospheric place. It is an overhanging outcrop of sandstone supported by an isolated pillar of stone. It lies in the middle of a sloping pine wood and is flanked by boulders which guard its entrance like silent sentinels. The cave sits in a peaceful, beautiful setting. Knowing its religious connotations, it seemed in my mind to have a spiritual aura about it. Not only had the monks laid the body of the saint in the sanctuary of the cave, but much later, in the 1930’s, the local Leathers family had had the ground consecrated to serve as their burial ground.

Before we left, Colin took a photo of me standing in front of the “sacred” cave. At the time we thought nothing of this and walked on. However, when I later showed this picture to my wife Chris, we noticed to our surprise that it revealed a strange, ethereal glow all around the top half of my body. Straight away Chris declared: ” That’s Clive!”  Maybe it was just the sunlight slanting through the trees, but the light hovering around me had such an unusual luminosity about it, that it is tempting to think that at that moment I was enveloped by the energy of my departed friend. He wasn’t with us in the flesh but maybe his spirit was accompanying us on our trek. In a funny sort of way, that strange, ghostly glow may show that our old MATE Clive, completed the Northumberland Coastal Path with us afterall!


2 Responses to “Getting up from the Couch and Walking with the Spirit of Clive.”

  1. Gerry Fenge October 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Ah, this is my sort of blog! How can we see the photo? Also, I must find out where this St Cuthbert’s Cave is – my sort of place. Good stuff, Stuart. Life begins at 60-ish!

  2. scapheapstuartMr Stuart Bates October 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Thanks Gerry. if you give me your email address I will try to send you a copy of the photo. You can Google St Cuthbert’s way and it will tell you all about the cave. it’s inland from Belford in Northumberland.

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