The sky was dark grey, the rain was heavy and as I walked to our meeting point, I wondered what sane person would do this. There had been thunder, lightning and periods of torrential rain all night long. Not exactly auspicious for a nice Sunday morning walk. But of course the British are not daunted by small considerations of this kind and at least two hundred people were assembled, some having come from as far away as the other end of the county. I was momentarily awe struck. The power of ‘art’ and undoubtedly the notoriety of Hamish Fulton and his concept of ‘walking art’ probably had some bearing. And human curiosity? Wet clumps of people stood around slightly nervously, all no doubt wondering what on earth we had let ourselves in for.
But we soon headed off and, having crossed fast flowing streams and slippery rocks, we found ourselves on the beach known locally as the Three Tunnels. The tide was far out, but the drenched sand was overlain with a sheen of sea water. My inadequate wet shoes just got wetter and wetter and I became obsessed, having wet feet myself, with the footwear other people had on. There was a wide variety, from bare feet to stout walking boots; from every kind of wellington to colourful, canvas pumps.
We were then arranged into two straight lines, an arm’s width apart and directed to walk slowly in silence. However, ‘walk’ and ‘slowly’ does not convey what actually took place. It was more a question of standing still and once every minute or two taking an infinitesimally small step forward before stopping and standing still again. A snail would have outflanked us pretty soon. As an experience it was mostly cold and uncomfortable, but occasionally breathtakingly beautiful and often strange. However, once one is forced into relative motionlessness, the mind, somewhat reluctantly gives in and a kind of meditative stillness takes over. Our navy blue shadows looked like a line of posts planted in the sand; inanimate markers of a temporary, numinous path. The sand and the sea and the sky were all variations on a theme of silver. Above us a pale sun shone in a wintery kind of way and the wind whipped our various coats and skirts like wet boat sails. Were we in a Turner painting?
The two opposing lines eventually converged and became parallel and then a strange sort of wartime spirit of togetherness started to emerge; a kind of, ‘well we may be mad, but we’re all in this together’. Smiles were exchanged with people in the line coming the other way. Dogs being ‘walked’ by their owners were obviously fascinated and came bounding over, hoping no doubt to have sticks thrown and have a bit of fun with this great crowd of almost motionless humanity. People stood around in groups on the footpath above the beach, obviously trying to figure out what on earth was going on. The sun shimmered, almost blindingly bright on the wet sand and the wetness was riffled by little eddies of wind. At one point the top half of a paint brush stood directly in my path, just as a well-known local artist faced me in the other line. I pointed and we exchanged a knowing smile!
Then suddenly it was all over. We had ‘done it’, and just as suddenly all the damp and discomfort became worthwhile. The two perfect lines broke up and fragmented into clumps of people, talking and laughing and jumping up and down to get their circulation back and the moment – the stillness of all that silver water and sand disappeared and was dissipated and gone. I felt sad and also that something rather important had happened but I wasn’t quite sure what. And I’m still not.