Every step I take, every move I make is extremely painful. It wasn’t always thus. In fact, I’ve always been very active, played sports as a kid right up to college and, for a while, after, too. I love cycling and it’s never bothered me to take long walks.
Where most people will drive, I don’t even own a car. Now, living in the centre of a lively city, means I don’t need a car to get around. There’s public transport, Dublin city bikes that let you hire a bike and jump on and off. And there’s always my favourite, Shank’s Mare.
I had a job once as a tour guide in west Clare’s Burren region, a remote, rocky, limestone landscape, memorably described by Cromwellian parliamentarian, Edmund Ludlow in 1652 as ‘ a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.’ On those long, summer evenings I would hire a bicycle from a garage in Lisdoonvarna and head off, over the hills, into the remote hinterland, to find the highest spot from which to watch the Atlantic sunset.
Wherever I’ve gone on holiday, a long walk, on a beach, across a bog, over a mountain or through the streets of whatever town I was in, was a priority. There is no other way to discover a place than on foot and getting lost is often the best part of the adventure.
When I was a teenager in Dublin I prided myself on being able to walk from one side of the city centre to the other, only travelling in laneways and alleys. Since then, that fascination with alleys has remained. You know the kind of dimly lit and dank pathways that usually feature in movies with a soundtrack of dark, ominous foreboding? And everyone’s thinking, ‘don’t go down there.’ Yup, I was that fool.
There’s something about the dim light, the smells and the detritus of an alleyway that draws me in. Oh c’mon, who wouldn’t stroll down Diagon Alley, if they had a chance? There’s magic in the air and history, the reek of past ages, cutthroats and cutpurses, perfumed doxies, hustlers, pimps and drunken dandies.
Alas, now, walking is painful because ankle arthritis has put a peg in my dander, so to speak. Going out and taking a walk, even to the local shop, is a task that requires careful planning and all the attendant pain. But just like Newton’s third law, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction and I wouldn’t swap the pain for all the walking pleasure I’ve had or the memories that go with them.