Safety net

It was on the coast path between Boscastle and Tintagel. It was a relaxed day, with no ETA to fulfil or last local bus to catch. I didn’t have to get to the village shop and youth hostel before 9 or 10pm, and would have really struggled to be that late.

I stopped at the bottom of a grassy gully, a good spot for a coffee by a bubbling stream, and dropped my rucksack to the ground… and saw my map book had gone. It should have been tucked in between my waterproofs, bound to my bag with guy rope. Somehow it had worked itself loose and fallen without my notice.

Nothing had changed. I was not lost. The coast path is brilliantly way-marked and I had not needed to look at my map for miles.

But everything had changed. I was lost without a map. My map is a comfort blanket. Its grid lines are a safety net that give me the confidence to stride out. It gives me a sense of being in control.

Before I was a competent person, well kitted out with boots, suitable clothing, food, water, pen knife, map, compass and whistle. Now I had no map, I had become an incompetent person, a person the coastguard rescue teams would think was clueless and shouldn’t be allowed out.

Now the day had an urgency. I had to buy a new map. I had to make sure I got to Tintagel as quickly as I could before the sort of shops that sold maps closed.

I couldn’t dawdle with a coffee by the stream. I couldn’t pause to pay attention to Rocky Valley. I sacrificed the better part of me to my compulsion. I had lost much more than my map.

I left Mucknell Abbey partly because the only reason to stay there was security. I have taken deliberately random walks in Exeter and let myself get a little bit lost. But I still haven’t learned to let go, let myself get properly lost, relinquish control, trust. The safety net is become a trap.

I can’t be surprised by joy if my whole life is mapped.

I will miss the turning aside to the burning bush if I am focused on getting to the next place.

I need to be able to inhabit my lostness in order to be found.