Paths Along the English Coast

Path

As I was scrolling through my WordPress reader feed the morning after Christmas, I came across a weekly photo blogging prompt titled ‘Path’. This was the very last prompt of the year, and it seems it was published to encourage readers and writers to think back over the paths they have taken in the previous year and the paths that they would like to find themselves on in 2017.

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that 2016 has been a rough year for a lot of people. In my family alone my grandmother had knee surgery and a heart attack, my father was in ICU for a short period of time, and there were a myriad of other family-related issues as well as a trying exam season for myself. All of this seemed to culminate with my move to England. Taking everything into consideration, it isn’t hard for me to confidently say that 2016 has been both the best and worst year of my entire life, and certainly the most hectic.

That being said, there have been some incredibly peaceful and serene moments in my life over the last 12 months and most often, I have found those paths because of the metaphorical path I had chosen for my life.

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The path pictured above a childhood friend and I happened upon at the White Cliffs of Dover.  We had taken a mid-morning train from London to Dover Priory and found ourselves wandering through the small town and up a dauntingly steep hill to the castle. We meandered around the castle grounds a bit and through the dark and damp tunnels dug beneath the structure that were used to house soldiers.

By the time we headed over to the cliffs the sun was hanging low in the sky, and we both knew that our time on the chalk coast was limited. Because of our rather late arrival, other visitors were sparse. There were a handful of cars left in the park’s carpark, but the people whom they belonged to were spread out over a matter of several miles. Cecilia and I first had a bit of trouble finding ourselves along the right path so we, by chance, wandered through a field of horses and approached restricted government property. We managed to find ourselves in the right direction and watched the sunset over the English Channel from the very edges of the famed chalk cliffs.

There was a haunting feeling that settled over the cliffs. Visibility across the tops of the cliffs was expansive, but no less comforting when only a handful of people could be seen. Small white crosses were stuck in the soil at the edges of several steep drop offs. I promptly yanked Cecilia back as she had been purposefully scaring me by walking along the edges. Facing me, she took a more solemn tone and explained the purpose of the crosses. She told me how her uncle had warned off the high suicide rate of the white cliffs on the English coast. For several minutes that’s all my mind could think of, and I couldn’t push those thoughts aside. Perhaps more disturbing to me, or maybe just incredibly ironic, was the fact that parents brought there children here to admire the sights of the coast. Did children ever find the crosses sticking up from the soil? What did their parents tell them? There was such a mix of feelings in that environment that it left me feeling slightly anxious.

We turned back and neglected to walk along the path for much longer as the sun was beginning to set and neither of us wanted to find ourselves wandering out there in the dark alone. Surely those paths would not be well lit. We knew the rest of the cars would leave soon too. It was best that we weren’t the last out there that night.

The picture above was taken after we turned back towards the entrance of the park. There were a couple of large overgrown bushes like the one on the left of the photograph. The quiet and bare branches enforced a sense of both serenity and a certain eeriness that came with such quiet. The walls and parapets of the castle could be seen even from several miles away. We crossed through several old wooden gates and perhaps even stumbled clumsily a few times along the pebbly chalk path that had been worn down over time. Birds could be heard, and the two of us made a few wrong turns and found ourselves having to retrace our steps a couple of times. By the time we made it back to the carpark we were wondering out loud why parents would bring their children here. I was terrified enough when Cecilia posed near the edge, and she agreed with me.

We were back to the train station by night fall, but not with any time to spare. After living in London for over a month at the time of the trip, there was certainly a stark contrast to the quiet, peaceful English coast compared to the constant buzz of the city.

We walked nearly 10 miles that day, mostly on our hike along the cliffs at dusk. I don’t think I’ll ever forget coming along the crosses in the ground and getting a bit turned around on the way back as night was starting to fall.

That path was unique to anything else I had ever experienced, and it seemed to highlight in its own somewhat unsettling way both the most beautiful and the most haunting parts of human existence, both great beauty and serenity and contrastingly great pain and finality. In a way, 2016 acted as the path along the cliffs did. It served to highlight, for a lot of people I believe, both the most beautiful and dreadful parts of life.

“The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.” – The Awakening, Kate Chopin

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