The eleven-month mark passed on Saturday. I was in the Peak District, with dear friends, with a map and compass, a bivvy bag, and a sleeping bag that was too thin for Friday night’s high wind or Saturday night’s clear skies. Forty-odd miles of walking took me in a wide loop across the high moors, on paved paths, on periodic trods, and through trackless bracken, heather and bog. Grouse popped up under our feet. Features which were marked on the map never appeared. Others, which looked innocuous on paper, turned out to be natural Henry Moores. On the top of Bleaklow we made smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches. Near the source of the Derwent we ate dried sausage and pasta which tasted as good as only food cooked on a camping stove in the middle of nowhere can taste. For hours on Saturday we were entirely alone in the landscape. For too much of Sunday, back within a couple of miles of roads, we were around too many other people.
I was on Matthew’s territory, in part following the route of the High Peak Mountain Marathon – the forty-two mile race he did with friends most years in March. I thought I would feel him there, but I didn’t. My brain instead felt disconnected; it was automatically pushing the emotion away. I still have no emotion today. I had taken off my rings for the weekend, as I always have done when going somewhere wild where my hands would get cold and they might slip off. It felt important just now to put them back on again; I don’t really know why, and I wonder how long it will feel that way.
There are days when I seem to make progress, when I can smile at a small memory before it makes me cry. There are days when grief roars through and I am prostrate before it as I was in the early weeks. And there are the strange days when still my brain will not believe it, when I seem to float above reality, unable to touch down. That’s what this weekend was like; on Matthew’s territory, doing without him the things he taught me to do, with his name coming up in conversation every few minutes, and yet with no real sense of him, or even of myself.
Today I have mountain kit airing all over the flat. My legs are pleasantly tired. I’m luxuriating in having spent the night in a bed with a duvet and mattress, untormented by swarms of midges. What am I trying to say? That grief is unpredictable, and that it is deeply uncomfortable, and that – searching for a metaphor as I always am – I am reassured that despite taking the wrong route off Bleaklow and ending up on an unintended rocky outcrop and then on a hillside it was uncomfortable to cross, when we reached the river we were able to ford it, and when we rounded the bend there was a place to camp.