After the Finlaggan walk turned out successfully, I decided to attempt some further walking experiments on Islay. While I potter about indoors without a stick or other support, all of my outside walking so far has been with an elbow crutch. Because my balance is now appalling, I am not great at moving about on uneven outdoor surfaces, and am rather hesitant and uncertain when doing so. The crutch corrects my balance; it is helpful when my leg stiffens or becomes tired, and I have to admit that it also acts as a useful visual cue. Fellow humans can really be unbelievably ignorant when it comes to giving me a wide berth, or allowing me more time to get through a doorway. In the street, I am terrified of being knocked to the ground by a youth innocently checking their text messages, and confess that I also harbour some (shallow) concerns about how my strangely lolloping gait is interpreted by passers-by who do not immediately notice the signs of my disability, such as the crutch or leg brace. It is difficult to abandon a walking aid, and I suppose what I am saying is that one has to feel several different kinds of strength to do so.
Anyway, I stepped forth on the shores of Loch Indaal on Sunday morning, and was pleasantly surprised to find that a) my ankle wasn’t giving way b) my foot wasn’t playing up and c) I wasn’t falling over. This was very exciting. Tom then suggested that I try out my new crutchless legs on some different terrain, and we took a lovely walk, following the coast round from Portnahaven. Out at sea, the seals were singing, and the rocks were pink with thrift. With relatively steep inclines, loose stones, uneven surfaces, and narrow pathways, this was the trickiest walk I’d attempted since February, and it was completely thrilling. The picture at the top of this post was taken when I’d climbed to the top of the outcrop, and could take in a wonderful sea view from a high place that I’d actually got to under my own steam. Amazing!
I’m sure you have some idea how important it is to me to be able to walk freely in Scotland’s wild places, and suddenly it seemed as if that was a real possibility – I could actually see myself on a hill again. It really felt as if I’d crossed an enormous hurdle in physical, psychological and emotional terms. The walking was incredibly tiring, and it was by no means easy, but it was possible.
Loving Islay as I do, I find myself strangely emotional when I think that it is now also now somewhere that will forever be associated with this important stage in my recovery: the moment that I first saw myself as a walker again. So to anyone who is toiling away at the lonely work of improving their mobility, I would say this: when you are feeling strong, take heart, go to the places that are special to you, and challenge yourself there. You may be surprised at what you can do. And it can only add to the store of happy memories with which your beloved places are associated by making them spaces of healing and recovery.
And of course, it also helps to have a gorgeous sunny day, and someone to enjoy some coastal tomfoolery with. . . .
. . .someone who will encourage you to walk a little further and suggest that you might take your leg brace and shoes off. Someone who will tell you that yes, you can walk on the beach in your bare feet, you can do it, you should just try it. . .
. . . someone who will carry your abandoned crutch and leg brace for you, while you walk freely, for the first time, in the sea.