Maybe it’s this time of year. End of August. As summer visibly slides away. The evenings are noticeably shorter, darker before nine now. Maybe it’s the reminder, that comes every year at this time of year, the time of year my father – Frank Horton – died, now 13 years ago. The time of year when I can smell autumn arriving. For all these years I’ve felt sadness at this time. Sadness for ‘the missing Frank’. And now this year I’m feeling the sadness for ‘the missing Rachel’ – my lovely friend who died in February.
How can ‘the missing’ or ‘the absence’ of Rach feel so real? How can something or someone who isn’t there feel so palpable? To disappear so quickly. And there was no fighting. Just stealing. In an uneven-handed way. Stolen. Like that.
Even with all this pain that I feel now, I’d still choose the short time we had, me and you Rach, a thousand times over than mediocre friendship.
And so I have been planning the walk. For you. With you. Without you, but because of you. The pilgrimage – meaning ‘a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance’. And the spiritual significance is you, Rach. Dear Rach.
If Rach had lived, then she would have visited me here in Britain. We would have walked together. And I would have shown her the places I love, in west coast Britain. So instead, I am walking without her, but with my friend Gemma. And we will remember Rach.
I spread the maps across the living room floor and gazed at the coastline of south Cumbria. The acres of sand, the footpaths of the Cumbrian Coastal Way and the Cistercian Way. The trainline that handily snakes along this coast which opens out into the wide sand of the Morecambe Bay.
And so we will walk. Through Grange-over-Sands, but also to Cartmel, a medieval village. We will visit the 12th century priory church. We will walk on the Cistercian way, we will wander in the ruins of Furness abbey, which was founded in 1123. We will stay in the old Quaker hall near the market town of Ulverston – Cumbria is the birthplace of the Quakers. We will visit Walney Island, an island at the far end of the peninsula beyond the working town of Barrow. We will visit the gardens at Holker Hall, oh Rach you loved to visit gardens just like me. And we found a hostel in Arnside, where we may stay on our way back. It’s home to a nature reserve with rare butterflies and alpine plants and wooded walks. Our plans are fluid. We will take it one day at a time.
And Rach, you will be there with us. Walking.
I start my journey alone on Thursday 27 September. I will stay in Cartmel sleeping amongst the ancient walls and I will listen out for you.
On Friday evening I meet Gemma in Ulverston. And we will walk.
I will never forget you Rach.