Despite all of my training, my knees were wobbling like a plate of blancmange. After a gentle start to the South West Coast Path, coming to the first steep valley just south of Worth Matravers was a bit of a shock. I stopped to give my legs a chance to recover and looked ahead. That was a bad mistake – I was only about half way down, and at the bottom, steps led straight back up the other side of the valley.
I pondered the day ahead. The valleys, although steep, were not too deep, and there were gently undulating sections of cliff-top walking in between, when my legs and lungs could recover from the climbs. Later, I knew, the valleys came one after another, with whole days of ascent or descent. I heartened myself by thinking that I would be completely walking fit by then. Little did I realise that I would actually be exhausted and struggling with every uphill step by the time I reached the hardest part of the path.
As I approached the bottom of the valley, I noticed a flock of colourful goldfinches on a blackthorn thicket, their yellow wings flashing at me as they flitted around. This was the first time of many that seeing and hearing birds heartened me and helped me to carry on.
A little further on, I sat for a while in the clifftop memorial garden for Royal Marines who have lost their lives in service since 1945. It’s a peaceful space, surrounded by a stone wall and full of beautiful plants. Emotion welled inside me as I thought of everyone I have known – and those I have never met – who have served or still serve in our armed forces, and of the sacrifices they are willing to make to protect the rest of us. I sometimes wonder whether we send our troops in to fight before all peaceful options have been considered, but that in no way diminishes my respect for or gratitude towards those who serve.
Salty tears blurred my vision as I climbed the steps back out of the garden and continued on my way, thinking about all of those wounded souls and lives lost - and all of the lives that they have saved.