... in the path itself

Published on 21 Mar 2019
The Ridgeway near Goring: a path between two hedgerows

Many years ago I completed a long section of the Thames Path from Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier after recovering from a serious illness and I think it gave me the bug for walking. Having said that, I don't undertake long walks as often as I'd like, although shorter walks, between half an hour to two hours, are part of the fabric of my life and how I spend my spare time when I can. 

I was reminded of my Thames Path experience recently when I decided to walk a part of the Thames Path again (in Oxfordshire) and also walked a small part of the Ridgeway, another national trail. The Thames Path in London is a good one to start with for novice walkers who aren't so good with maps, if you don't have a car or if you are walking on your own, because it is well marked and, in any case, finding the river is not too hard. All the same, there are parts of this national trail where you have to have a certain amount of faith that some unexpected turns and back alleys will lead you to something which is a bit more impressive later on. Even so, as I discovered back then ( I've returned to parts of this path since) the path itself becomes the point of the journey, with the sights and sounds of the river adding colour and interest. 

The part of the Ridgeway I walked the other day started out in a village and led for some time on a narrow alley between houses with fences either side. If it had not been for the sign leading me in that direction, I would have doubted I had the right path. Although it's one of the national trails and it's an ancient road it is also, in places, just a road like any other, with houses and cars. Then at other points, I am sure there are spectacular views. I ended at a pretty village set between the North Wessex Downs and the Chilterns, but without having had an 'exciting' experience as such. That's not to say that these trails don't have some beautiful or spectacular views at times, which might help sustain our journey: but they also have little sights and sounds which lead us on.  The fact that so many people have trod these paths before us is meaningful too. 

I would draw a few points of reflection from this: firstly, as we walk along life's paths, we can draw on our previous experiences to help us have more confidence in our choices and our way of doing things. Secondly, often the well-marked path is best for a beginner! Thirdly, we start from an unexpectedly humble beginnings. but if we have faith we find something more beautiful and meaningful if we put in the effort to go on: every step, every day, is an act of faith. Fourthly, it is the journey itself that has meaning: our dialogue with God, our encounter with others along the way, rather than a 'spectacular' sight that we reach, and the fact the journy is shared with others, and those that have gone before us, is the greatest meaning of all.