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Prevoté Observation Tower to Pleinmont Observation Tower

(Round the island: Day 5)

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There are days when we bail out early, and there are days when we push things a little futher, and if we’re really lucky we make the right call on both days. I found my way back to the Prevoté Tower with ease. I may have got off the bus a couple of stops earlier than necessary, but that was no hardship. I recognised the decrepit glass houses that appear to be trying to grow automobile plants. Unsuccessfully, it would seem, most of the area is weed-strewn.

This seems to be a common (and sad) sight at the moment – large glass houses falling back into the earth, growing nothing but weeds. I wonder if this is a Brexit impact, or something else, and I feel for the families whose businesses these must have been.

But for me, for now, the place was no more than a navigation point that set me on the right road back to the Prevoté Tower and back on the path…I’m out early, and it’s already hot. The weather app said ‘partly cloudy.' It lied. On the other hand there is an on-shore breeze that is very welcome. The first stretch is a long down & up series of steepnesses. A long stretch that reinforces my good call to dip out when I did on Day 4. This would have been too much at the end of the day.

It’s still a think about the body kind of walk. Focus. Balance.

From there it turns into a Tai Chi kind of walk. Phrases from my practice come into play. The first of them is “gently, gently” – something used to entice me into practice when I may be feeling a little
fragile, or uncertain. I take the down easily enough, though I do pause for the first of the day’s mountain goats, clearly a local, clearly on a mission, I watch him disappear round bends and up
inclines way ahead of me. I don’t envy him. He’s having a work-out; I’m just walking, or exploring, a mini-adventure that does not require speed. He’s not the first one to pass me. Won't be the last. One comes past running downhill, then I watch him take out poles for a Nordic-walk uphill. Each to their own. I have nothing to prove.

It occurs to me that one of the blessings of walking alone is that I can get as sweaty as nature insists and as beetroot-faced as my constitution demands, without someone asking me if I’m ok every two minutes. I am ok. I am hot. Sweating. Dripping in fact. I’m sure I am very red of face. But my breathwork is slowly beginning to pay dividends.

I am more than ok. I am taking it at my own pace and I am happy. I think about Clive. His technique was always to power up the inclines, and wait for me at the top. I meditate my way up, counting steps, or reciting Om Mane Padme Hum, keeping it slow, stopping whenever my heart rate and breathing get too far out of synch.

I can feel my pulse in my scalp. Figure my hair is tied too tightly and unbind it. Loose, it will also keep the sun off my neck. It is a slow climb.

All of today’s climbs will be slow, but I notice that there are fewer of them, and they are both not-as-steep and not-as-long as on previous days. Things to be grateful for.

I go back to thinking Tai Chi. Something that I did instinctively on the downhills where the steps are deep…fully knee-bending deep…was to take them sideways. I didn’t know why, it just seemed easier that way. If anything I probably assumed that it was something to do with how I use the pole, but it isn’t. Today I worked out that it’s aTai Chi principle regarding protecting the knee.

There are two things which I’ve been told you should never do in any form of exercise in order to protect the knee. (1) Do not exceed the knee. (2) Do not abandon the knee. These things have not been fully explained, so if there is any error in my interpretation, it is all my own.

My understanding is that exceeding the knee is a movement that allows the knee to overshoot the toes of the foot. I think (don’t actually know – I’m not great on anatomy) that to do so, puts un-due pressure on the knee itself, because the shin & ankle cannot take their share of the weight. The knee is the full brake, holding all of the weight and impetus behind it.

Abandoning the knee is (I think, again I could be wrong) the same as locking the knee. Basically, when we lock the joint, we are not allowing it to function, so we are abandoning any protection or help it might provide. Always off-lock before you start. I’d guess that the danger from locking is that any pressure that is applied down through the knee in that position will be forced through the bone structure, with the cushioning cartilage and muscle structure unable to soften the impact. In my head it’s a bit like removing the shock absorbers.

So why is any of this relevant? My little insight on one of those side-stepping stairways. I noticed that by taking them that way, I was able to bring my weight back on the upper leg so that the bend kept the knee within the footprint. I’m not sure I could personally do this without the pole taking part of the balancing strain, but it makes sense. It explains how come after five days of this down-&-up steep stepping, my weak knee is not remotely complaining.

After that initial stretch of hot & hard walking, the path more or less levels out at cliff top. There are still some steeps, but mostly now I’m actually able to stride a little, gentle downs, long slow ups, more comfortable walking…in fact it feels like walking as opposed to just going up and down stairs.

There’s a cooling breeze coming in off the water.

I continue to be intrigued by sea-colours and the apparent pathways on the surface of the water, trails of lighter blue on the darker. Are they currents, or is it something to do with the sea bed? No idea. I spin fancies of mermaid trails.

Meanwhile, on land, I can see my own path stretching ahead, above Les Bouffeures, Le Long Avaleux, Les Kaines d’Aval, Belle Elizbeth.

Looking into the sun behind, I see dark rocks rising out of a silver sea. Les Ecrilleurs. Les Tielles.

The last of the swifts are leaving.

I find tiny violas on the steps.

Then catch my first sight of the western shore. Sea to both my left and right, the indication that I am finally reaching the corner of this southern coastline.

I walk up to another WW2 German Observation Tower (L’Angle). It’s open. I don’t go in. Instead I talk to an Italian lady about what it must have been like for the soldiers stationed here. How old were they? Did they believe in what they were fighting for? What were the conditions like? Not good, she thought. I kept quiet about the idea that Guernsey was probably a better billet than the Russian Front. But then, the young guys who sat out their nights in this concrete bunker might not have known that.

Her English husband comes out of the tower and tells me it’s worth a look inside. No. It’s not. I’m feeling disconcerted enough without setting foot in there. Some old places have no atmosphere, some have too much. This one is too spooky for me. My Italian lady talks about claustrophobia, her husband talks about disorientation. I don’t know. It exudes brutality, hatred and fear and is uncomfortable enough for me not to want to enter.

I rehydrate and walk on.

As I walk towards Pleinmont, I pause to watch a pair of sparrowhawks riding the thermals, hovering on the onshore breeze, seemingly for the fun of it rather than hunting. As I turn to stand face to the wind, I understand an inkling of how they feel. Being held by the wind is very much like being held by the sea, a feeling of being part of the whole.

There’s a dirt bike course next to a nature reserve. Incongruity. The peace is shattered by the insistent drone of engines that echoes around me. A suggestion that this is enough for one day…I have pushed on further than I intended to. Time to work my way back down to a road somewhere and head back to base…as I do so, my inner gremlin is telling me that’s it’s going to be a long slow start to the next stage, but that’s a thought for another day.

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