Tuesday, 20 September 2011

To Cape Wrath

As I write this I am on a coach from Sheffield to Inverness, on my way to Cape Wrath.

In September 1988, when I was 19 and he was in his early 60s, my grandad went on a trip, on his own, from Walsall in the West Midlands, to Cape Wrath. Though not particularly eventful, the story of this trip has been retold by my family over the years. This is the version of the story that I remember:

My grandad set off from Walsall with the intention of visiting Cape Wrath. My grandfather was Scottish, Glasgow born and bred. But I don’t think he had ever been as far north as Cape Wrath before. He used public transport as far as he could, then hitch-hiked the last bit of the journey.

He got dropped off by a postman who told him he would be back in a couple of hours and could pick him up if he liked. So my Grandad sat on the cliff at Cape Wrath “and looked at the sea and thought about my life.”

The postman picked him up a couple of hours later, and he went home.

There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the basics. I've often thought about this journey, in the years since, and what it must have been like to do it. So this week I'm finding out. I can't do the journey exactly the same way as my grandad did it, but I'm doing it as closely as possible.

And I guess that at some point, I'm interested in talking about it, one way or another. We'll see.


UPDATE: More on the actual journey in the next entry.


James Baker said...

Hello Alexander,

James here from Bootworks Theatre. I thought I'd contact you as I've been reading a little on 'walking' lately and something arose which reminded me of this very project. Rebecca Solnit's 'Wanderlust; a history of walking' includes a chapter on various forms of pilgrimage. She writes,

‘To walk the same way is to reiterate something deep; to move through the same space the same way is a means of becoming the same person, thinking the same thoughts. It’s a form of spatial theater, but also a spiritual theater, since one is emulating saints and gods in the hope of coming closer to them oneself, not just impersonating them for others. It’s this that makes pilgrimage, with its emphasis on repetition and imitation, distinct amid all the modes of walking’ (Solnit, 2001, p. 68)

Wandered whether there was any truth in this from your experience?

Very Best,

James Baker

Alex said...

Hi James

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. That quote chimes very strongly with me in relation to this journey. The idea of retracing steps, following in footsteps...this is, in part, about family, for me. About our lives in relation to those of our predecessors.

A lot of people travel to Cape Wrath, but I was aware that I was tracing my Grandad's journey, rather than just heading to the destination. And that became clearer to me through doing it.

I think in the past I have thought of pilgrimage as being about the destination, whereas now I'm aware that it is as much about the route and mode of travel you choose. I didn't follow my Grandad's footsteps exactly - I didn't go back to Walsall and set off, I left from Sheffield - from home. That felt important.

I'll check out Wanderlust - sounds good.