Range Anxiety

Range Anxiety is the EV’s contribution to the English language. The term entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013: ‘worry on the part of a person driving an electric car that the battery will run out of power before the destination or a suitable charging point is reached.’

In some parts of the world, such anxiety is, arguably, a matter of the individual psyche (https://www.pitchcare.com/news-media/range-anxiety-fact-or-fiction.html). But in much of this vast land, basic infrastructure for these cars (ie. charging stations) is in its infancy, so unregulated that you need a half a dozen different apps and attachments to be able to access a sufficient number of chargers on any long trip. Add to that the sparseness of most things in outback WA, and you have a perfect habitat for the dreaded Range Anxiety in the novice EV driver’s head!

Just 45 minutes and 50 km out of Fremantle, the speedometer indicates we have used 11% battery and one of my apps is showing ‘McDonalds, Mundaring’ charger nearby – motor car owners staggering under petrol price rises, please take note: it is free. But it will take an hour and 45 minutes to fill up the car!!! So begins a long debate between me and my Range Anxiety (henceforth RA).

Me: we don’t need to top up the battery

RA: more experienced drivers say you should top up when you can when you are on unfamiliar roads.

Me: Not unfamiliar!! We drove to Adelaide in a clapped out Honda Civic…

RA: Yes, in 1988… 

I take the point but persist, pointing at a popular app: look, we get to the next charger at Merredin in 250 kms – we have plenty of battery to do that.

RA: but what if the Merredin one is not working? Or if your car will not charge as fast as the app says?

‘What if’ is always Anxiety’s killer punch! New car, we don’t know its quirks. And we know the uncertainties around charging points. They can work differently for different cars. For instance, our Hyundai Kona Extended Range goes a longer distance per charge, but depending on the charging technology, it can be much slower to charge up than its cousin, the Hyundai Ionic 5. And some chargers indeed are damaged, vandalised or simply may not charge at the anticipated rate. And everything from temperature to rain to road surface can affect the range of an electric car. Anxiety wins. We stop for nearly 2 hours to add just 50 kms of additional range. 

It would be 2 days before we worked out that the last 10% of battery is always the slowest to charge up – not worth the time unless you really need the full range. On Day 1, we are at the bottom of a steep learning curve.

At the Merredin Community and Leisure Centre charging is happily, yet again, free and the rate of charging substantially faster than at Mundaring. Even so, it will be 6 hours before the car is fully charged. This time we bargain Anxiety down – 80% charge will get us comfortably to our destination for the night. And that will be done by about 4 in the afternoon. We tether the car to the charger and walk to Merredin’s only eatery operating this Sunday afternoon!

The clingy charger

And this is when the real problems start. My co-pilot finds a Tesla charger which promises a faster charge. So we run back and carefully follow the instructions to un-tether our car from the charger: but the plug won’t release! First gentle persuasion, then increasingly forceful coaxing – the thing won’t budge! We try randomly turning things off and on several times – same result each time – the car remains fixed to the charger. Co-pilot searches the web – but this is not a common problem and consequently the web offers no solution!!

Following my damsel-in-distress instinct, I hail a group of men playing bowls. The lovely gentlemen, between them, have a thousand years of driving experience but are seriously befuddled by a car without a motor! 

Meanwhile co-pilot has EV expert, J, on the phone and he too has never encountered a clingy charger until now. Yet, somehow, J talks co-pilot through the options and (phew!) at some point, after repeatedly hitting an ‘unlock everything’ button on the driver’s door (which we did not know existed until this point), the charger releases it’s grip on the car!! This process has taken an hour and we still have quite some charging to do before we can be confident about reaching our accommodation for the night.

Finding the Magic Button

So, to the TESLA charger we go and it works and the car screen shows that we will get the charge we need (without too much concession to Range Anxiety) by about 5 pm. And this charger too, is free!!

Meanwhile, our accommodation arrangements have gone awry, for reasons too tedious to explain. Eventually, we drive 3 hours in the dark and rain, the ‘range’ gauge dropping rapidly as headlights, wipers, de-misters, all draw on battery power. For our first night, we have no options but the caravanpark at Coolgardie, where you would not want to stay except in an emergency! But on the positive side, there is a caravan park plug point at which the car charges very slowly for the next 12 hours – and that is just enough to get us to the next charger in the morning.

Not many come to Coolgardie

Best thing ever: total ‘fuel’ cost for 600 km of driving? $0

First test for the long-distance EV driver: meet and beat Range Anxiety. 

That done, with a little planning and some intriguing chargers (wait for the next post), the trip is turning out to be both entertaining and educational!

Crossing the Nullarbor! Or not?

You to the Universe, aka, Face Book: ’We are planning to drive Perth to Sydney, and hopefully back again, in our new Electric Vehicle (henceforth, Evie). Any advice?’

First responder : No! Mate!! Seriously, Don’t do it.

Like Donald Trump we ignore reasonable counsel against self-destructive stupidity. Eventually more supportive advice flows in and we find at least three real people who have really done the distance.

So begins the planning for the  5000 km drive across the flattest, longest, straightest road in the world with less trees, people and EV charging stations per thousand kilometres than most places you care to name. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullarbor_Plain)

Unlike this blogger’s usual sojourns on foot, this trip is not going to be 100% guilt-free as many of the charging stations, where we will figuratively ’fill up’ the car, have fossil fuel generated electricity. (See https://www.mynrma.com.au/cars-and-driving/electric-vehicles/our-mission/are-evs-better-for-the-environment). Still, by most calculations, our environmental impact for this trip will be less than half of a petrol-guzzling, ozone ripping, air-polluting jalopy (I learnt that word from doing the Guardian crosswords and just had to use it).

Some say a previous Hyundai electric car was known to burst into flames for no apparent reason – but that was several generations (of cars) ago and we are assured by the dealer that that model is in no way related to our own Evie, who is a slick, white, 2022 Kona, with an enviable reputation for doing 480k on a full tank (i.e. 100% charge), on a good day. The equivalent more posh brand car costs 25% more.

She is cheap to fill up. For our test run, about 650 km Fremantle to Augusta round trip, we spent less than $15 on charging.

But there is a whole other language to EV ’filling up’ that ICE owners know nothing about. (If you don’t know what ICE is, I’m pretty sure you drive one! ICE = Internal Combustion Engine, in other words, most of the cars on the road.)

The most important question for an EV owner is ‘how long does it take to fill my car?’ The answer: how long is a piece of string? You will get a different answer depending on the type/model/year of car owed by the inquirer + the type/model/year of car owned by the responder + the charging station where this conversation takes place + the various cables that you should have bought but did not, plus 21 other variables I cannot remember.

Walking Buddy, WB, now re-classified as FM (Fast Mover) has read thousands of documents and composed a 400 page manuscript titled ‘Number, Length, Strength, Shape and other Variables of EV Charging Plugs and Cables: Essential Considerations Prior to your Long-Distance Motoring Adventures.’ As this is an open-ended discursive thesis, the work ends with no recommendations on what one can actually do to ensure availability of power to your car on the Nullarbor!

In any case, I really wanted the plug called Pig-tail because it has a cute name, but FM insists that name nothing to do with efficacy. In the end, the nice people from Hyundai HQ in Sydney stepped in to save the day (and a beautiful friendship) by offering us a full set of charging cables. HOWEVER, there’s a catch. These will be available at Port Augusta, which is after we have crossed the most remote stretch of the road.

Meanwhile we are setting off with a ’granny charger’ (which sounds slightly obscene and takes more than 30 hours to charge the car from 0-100), a type 2 (not to be confused with diabetes) and something called ’3-phase-5-pin’ (I-give-up) that FM has borrowed from more knowledgeable EV owners, which, used wisely, hold the promise of charging for just four or five hours most days. But hey, it’s not a race (as our coal-fired ex-PM once said).

Still, I wonder what will happen if Evie runs out of puff in the middle of nowhere (which is what the 2000 km between Perth and Port Augusta is)? FM has armed himself with an extra-long cable, which weights so much, I think it could be 100 kilometres long. But even so, the prospect of walking into a town with one end of an extension cable in your hand is hardly appealing!

Experienced EV drivers say, if running low on battery you should drop the speed to 40 kmh. That will extend the distance you can go before your next charge. At that speed, we should be in Sydney in 3 or 4 months. 

Bryce Gaton, a respected expert on all things EV and Kona-owner, is crossing the Nullarbor east to west. He recommends patience!

So, we’ll go Leonard Cohen slow:

I’m lacing up my shoes
But I don’t want to run
I’ll get there when I do
Don’t need no starting gun

Please stay tuned for more slow-mo blogs, so you’ll be the first to know when we are stuck somewhere without a plug point within a 100 km radius!!!

#electriccar, #hyundai,

Walking for Fun


Hurry Krishna to Universe: Is anyone still coming to this Blog? If so, here is a small offering about a little walk on a tiny island near by. (You can follow the link above to the web/magazine where it’s published.)

If you read this, even more if you like it, please tell me. I walked a thousand-k mid-pandemic. And would love to tell you (the Universe) about it. COVID should not stop us walking or blogging…. Here’s to walking off the Pandemic!

Enchanted by the Coast Path – The South West Coast Path

My Walking Buddy and I are veterans of many walks including the 1,400 km Camino from Le Puy to Santiago just last year. Still, we have been absolutely blown away by the diverse topography of the South West Coast Path.
— Read on southwestcoastpathblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/18/enchanted-by-the-coast-path/

[The link above is on UK’s South West Coast Path Association’s site https://southwestcoastpathblog.wordpress.com/. It is a brief version of previous post https://readingontheroad54893552.wordpress.com/2019/08/27/last-post-on-the-path-to-nowhere/. Wondering if shorter is better??]

Last Post on the Path to Nowhere

“Much has been written of travel, far less of the road. Writers have treated the road as a passive means to an end, and honoured it most when it has been an obstacle;” (Edward Thomas, 1913)


We walked the South West Coast Path (SWCP) in UK for two months, almost every day, though we set no record for speed or distance. Gale-force winds and squall forced us to abandon the last two kilometres into Portloe (day 36) and again the last five into West Bay (about 2 weeks later). We cut out the walks in and out of the big cities, Plymouth and Torquay – walking by the side of a sealed vehicular road is no fun at all!

So I guess we don’t qualify for the End-to-End certificate which the SWCP Association hands out to those who have walked the ‘whole’ 630 miles, i.e., 1014 kilometres.

Minehead, where the path officially ‘starts’, is not quite the pits. Nor has it anything to do with mines! The name is an English corruption of an old Welsh word Mynydd, meaning mountain. English chews up other languages. We Indians know that well. Under English reign our Kolikata became Calcutta, Dilli became Delhi. We re-wrote our greatest poet’s name: Tagore in place of Thakur. But I don’t think I would have come to Minehead just out of linguistic solidarity. And really, I can’t think of a single good reason to come here. We came only to chase this footpath, several hundred kilometres down, to an entirely forgettable sandy spot just past a nudist beach somewhere in the south of the United Kingdom!

Our nomad’s life — a different bed each night — ended at Lulworth Cove, where two rocky arms reach out from the earth to hold a fragment of the ocean in a circular embrace. There being no accommodation available along our track past this point, and having secured a B&B in Corfe Castle whose lovely owner was willing to ferry us to and from the path, we resolved to do the final 50 or so kilometres at a leisurely pace as four half-day walks.

A few miles along from the hyper-touristy Lulworth Cove Village, above the drowsily quiet Tyneham Bay, Walking Buddy (WB) settled into his now habitual mid-way siesta, and I was absently musing ‘How do I love thee, let me count the ways’ – addressing SWCP of course, NOT WB!

A bird of prey soared into view from the rocks to our left. Bird-watchers had told us to look out for kestrels around here. If we are lucky we might even see a peregrine falcon. Three flaps of the wing took the raptor up into the glare of the mid-afternoon sun and beyond my iPad camera’s reach. Then it stopped dead in the sky. Two helicopters flew past (not unexpected, here the path borders a military training area). The bird held its place undaunted. Then it swooped, rose again almost immediately, floated like a feather, fluttered so fast that its wings disappeared and for a split second it looked like a giant dragon fly. It rested on the wind for what seemed like an impossibly long time. Finally, at lightening speed it darted towards the earth, straight as an arrow and disappeared from sight past the last visible cliff.

In its dramatic war dance, the falcon seemed to sketch a microcosm of our path across the sky: a thin line between the infinite blue to our right and the strange shapes of the land to our left, it rises and falls, sometimes edgy and rapid; elsewhere it arcs gently and then plateaus and slides quietly down a paddock.

From Minehead, the trail drifts west, at first through the ancient woodlands of the Exmoor National Park, on and off the strangely flat-topped ‘hogback’ hills. It flattens on reaching Devon’s muddy river banks, then becomes increasingly rugged as it nears Cornwall. In North Cornwall the track scales some of the highest cliffs of the Atlantic coast and plunges down to the sandy beaches, again and again, determined to test the walker’s will. Here a hundred or 200 metre climb five or six times in a row is all in a day’s walk.

If you have never climbed a hundred meters, then imagine taking the stairs up a 35 storey building, then imagine those steps are 10 inches wide, slippery, broken and there are no hand-rails. Now climb down those same steps and up 45 storeys… there are no lifts and your bedroom for the night is still three sky-scrapers away.

Land’s End is as far west as you can go, so tourists are here in droves. At dusk the inflatable theme-park wallahs roll up their plastic and most visitors leave with their kids and dogs. The sun sinks into the clouds somewhere between the Cornish west and the Canadian east. There is no landmass in between.

From here the path turns south to The Lizard (nothing to do with reptiles, something Cornish to do with heights), the most southerly headland of UK. The nearest car park is nearly a kilometre away, and the only way to get to the cove is on foot. From here the path turns right back, heading east again. The water to our right for the rest of the way is the English Channel.

As the track turns first south and then east, there is a subtle change in the terrain: the south coast is just a little less craggy. The razor-sharp angular slate shapes of the north coast begin to give way to gigantic stone eggs, cakes and mushrooms! The hills get greener and rounder still as the path reaches South Devon. Finally, in Dorset, the dramatic rocks of the Jurassic coast, red, gold and white, rise in straight walls from pebbly beaches below. This land is fragile as it is beautiful.

A hilarious Bengali satire (Ulat Puran, Re-Versed) imagines what might have been had Indians colonised Britain. I’m pretty sure that under Indian rule, the South West Coast Path would have been filled with Hindu pilgrims. I can see temples and deities rising from the deep. On the soft red sandstone above a beach in South Devon, someone must have carved the profile of a giant Jagannath, the arm-less Lord of the Universe. The Durdle Door (already a tourist Mecca) is undoubtedly the head of the elephant god making waves by sucking up and blowing out the sea in his trunk.

About five kilometres before the little blue marker where the SWCP formally ends, a less arcane signifier: white sandstone palms rise toward the sky in gratitude or perhaps a salutation.

Soon the path disappears into a long white sandy beach, like the one near my house on a far-away coast in another hemisphere. I kick off my boots, shrug off the hike and splash through the lapping water for the home stretch.

Starting and ending unceremoniously, as it does, the South West Coast Path underscores perhaps, that a road is more than any or even the sum of all the places it takes you to; that destinations might be less important than the means and methods we use to get there; that in life as on a hike, the journey is all that matters, the end is neither here nor there.

Cornwall Coast: Notes from a Camino Addict II

Dateline: Fowey (said Foy)

On the Camino, the walker is pulled along the 800 km (or 1000 or 1400, or whatever) by the promise of a grand entrance into Santiago, buoyed by the community of pilgrims, of which she is a member the moment she starts on the Way. South West Coast Path has neither the spectacular end marker nor a community bound by a common goal.

Once the first flush of a new adventure has worn off, walking, then walking some more, then again the next day and the day after…it gets to you, it’s hard. When refracted through sprained knees and strained shoulders, scenic beauty fails to inspire. As Raynor Winn writes (in the delightful Salt Path, Penguin, 2018) it’s just ‘up and down and down and up and blue and green, and blue green, blue, blue, green green, blue…’ endlessly on and on.

‘I came so far for beauty

I left so much behind

My patience and my family

My masterpiece unsigned

I thought I’d be rewarded

For such a lonely choice’

I played Leonard Cohen’s ‘such a very hopeless voice’ over and again in my head.

Those who read the earlier ‘Camino addict’ blog might recall, that on day 13, of our walk on the SWCP, we stumbled into Morwenstow and found ourselves in a ‘free house’ once used by pilgrims on their way to the port town of Fowey, from whence they set sail to Northern Spain.(see https://readingontheroad54893552.wordpress.com/2019/07/12/camino-addicts-notes-from-uks-south-west-coast-path/).

The Saints’ Way crosses Cornwall from Padstow in the North to Fowey in the South. It has its own Camino ‘passport’ with Fowey as the final stamp. This route is less than 50 km long and there is no record of any medieval pilgrim having trudged 420 km along the coastline (that is, the SWCP), just to take the scenic route to Fowey. But then again, all over Europe new Camino Ways are being found, recovered, re-invented. So why not the Camino Coastal Cornwall?

The real work of long distance walking is done by your head – legs are incidental. And the idea of a Camino to Fowey works to re-set my mind to the task.

Leaving Morwenstow we climb over the highest cliff of the Cornish Coast, passing Higher Sharpnose Point, stopping to take the obligatory photo of this little diversion. It is not a path that anyone needs to actually traverse – just a bit of bravado for one’s social media.

Often, our path brings us into tourist destinations; mostly we miss the attractions. When you have walked anywhere between 5 and 8 hours, there is little time and less will to chase up those special sights. We are a bit fazed when on the long climb down to Tintagel (King Arthur territory, see https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/aug/08/controversial-and-late-tintagel-footbridge-in-cornwall-to-open) two well-dressed women ask us for direction to the ‘viewing point’. Anywhere really, I want to say, just look around.

Since Hartland Point, the ocean has been almost continuously by our side, somewhere just below the cliffs. Our soundtrack: its incessant lunges onto the shores, and

‘Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating to the breath.’ (As in Matthew Arnold’s maddeningly perfect verse).

Now and then birds hit a high note rising above the water’s groan. Nearer the beaches the gulls and the motor boats out-screech each other.

Just 6 days after Morwenstow, my Camino idea, farfetched as it was, had so receded that I even forgot to visit Saint Petroc’s Church where the Saints’ Way officially starts. We didn’t get in till 4 p.m. and we had 20 km to do the next day. St Petroc didn’t put his Church quite in my way, so he’ll have to do without me.

But the following Sunday, half way between Hayle and St. Ives, the path, marked with the Camino shell way-marker, passes right through the grounds of St. Uny’s church, Lelant. Another Camino, St Michaels Way, officially opened by the Spanish Ambassador in 1994, starts from here, crosses the narrowest section of Cornwall, just 13 km to end at St Michael’s Mount.

On the SWCP, it is five days before we get to the Mount, where a biblical vision unfolds daily: the ocean parts, literally, as water pulls away to the east and the west, revealing a narrow 500 metres long land bridge from the small village of Marazion to the tiny tidal island, St Michael’s Mount. Every evening through summer, tourists with fine cameras take time-lapse shots of the ocean closing over the path, evidence that the oceans didn’t just part for Moses.

We get to Fowey nearly 6 weeks after we started at Minehead and more than a month after I learnt about the Camino connections at Morwenstow.

The volunteer at the Information Centre gushes about Fowey’s newly discovered Camino status as the final port in UK o. Most exciting, some pilgrim documents have been found in the basement of ‘Number 9 South St’ right in the centre of town! Of course, she loved the film and of course knows someone who has done the Camino and so on. ‘In the hey day of the Camino,’ the town’s tour guide says, ‘three dedicated ships sailed continuously between Fowey and ports in Northern Spain.’ Then with amazing precision he adds, ‘the trip cost 7 shilling and 6.’ How do you know, I ask. ‘Osmosis’, he says, ‘We are learning a lot about the Camino Santiago lately’…

We take a ferry out, 2 quid, and 10 minutes across the mouth of River Fowey to Polruan and keep walking.

A Path for Many Ways

The South West Coast path is mostly so narrow you can neither overtake nor pass anyone, without some polite interaction. Mostly the conversation goes like this:

Me: ‘Good morning’

Other: ‘It is indeed. Beautiful. Enjoy it’.

But I have grown bold having walked more than a month, over 400 kilometres right across the top of the Exmoor National Park, and the Counties of Devon and Cornwall. For the record, in this time, we have experienced one misty morning and 5 minutes of drizzle, both in June.

So I add: ‘It is glorious here every day!’ This usually elicits invitations (which sound more like threats) to come back in winter, when the path is a slew of mud and dung, and the ocean is gulping down chunks off the rock face.

Every few days we do indeed find that bits of the path have fallen away, where walkers are diverted further up the hill, into paddocks. 2014 recorded the largest Atlantic storms in 60 years along parts of this coast.

The South West Coast footpath is an important part of tourism infrastructure, providing access to the beaches, coves and historic sites of interest. In Cornwall alone, it generates £300 million a year and supports 7500 jobs (PhD thesis by Claire Siobhan Earlie, Plymouth University). A retired engineer-turned-B&B-host tells us over breakfast that the rate of erosion has been much the same for 10,000 years. Still, Cornwall was one of the first counties in the UK to declare ‘climate emergency’, whatever that means.

For now though, the weather is perfect one day and just a tad warm the next. And thousands of summer revellers are using the path to get to their favourite sunny July activity.

Old and new tourist destinations are dotted along the South West Coast Path. In towns like Penzance, the railway line in the 1800s laid the foundations for summer tourism, with visitors flocking to the beaches nearby, some sandy, mostly rocky, but invitingly warm compared to other parts of Britain. The many rugged parts of the coast have inspired generations of artists, novelists and film-makers. From Rebecca <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_(novel)> to Poldark <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poldark> the Atlantic coast from Hartland Quay to Falmouth has repeatedly starred as the brooding, darkly angsty extension to moody heroes and sultry heroines. Indeed, the morning at the end of June, as we left the Hartland Quay Inn, the last coastal hotel in North Devon, the film crew for the latest version of Rebecca were rolling in.

TV’s Doc Martin has boosted the recognition of Port Isaac. Rick Stein outlets and other eateries have put Padstow on the world’s gourmet map. St Ives even has a Tate Galley to bring in the ‘Culcha-wallahs’ from around the world. Then there are towns like Hayle, which lost everything when the mining boom in Cornwall ended in the 19th century and now depend on the cheap end of tourist and retirees market for their survival.

Near such towns and the many other attractions strewn along the path, you can find yourself in a traffic jam, with dogs off leashes, kids in thongs, beer-guts and couples insisting on hand-holding where you can barely walk in a single-file. For most, the path is merely a means to take the shortest route to a destination where cars cannot reach. So the crowds melt away quickly, leaving most of the 1000 kms thinly populated with ramblers, hikers and trail runners.

Runners pass by like the wind. Ramblers are a hard to define. But it’s a very British thing (see https://www.ramblers.org.uk/) and for some reason most ramblers we have met along the way are white men of a ‘certain age’. Some of the ramblers might also be long-distance walkers, but more likely they have gone over the same ground time and again, so that they know their own parambulating patch like their own back yard. Ramblers stop to chat, encourage and inform. They know every turn in the path and every cove where you might see a seal, or where a boat went down ‘just a few years ago’ (in 1981, for instance, between Mousehole and Penzance).

Long distance walkers are even fewer and further between. We have met, perhaps a dozen who are walking one or two weeks at a time and planning to complete the path in a few years or decades. And have met just 6 or 7 who are trying to complete the path end to end – in one go.

Between Tintagel and Port Isaac, we run into several groups of teenagers hiking and camping for three days as part of their ‘Duke of Edinburgh Award’ <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Duke_of_Edinburgh%27s_Award>. One of them has a special assignment to interview hikers who are going the ‘whole way’ and I am the first one she has spotted!

My young interrogator wants to know why I am walking and what are the ‘key challenges’. The second one is easy: having the discipline to do a hard day’s walk and to get up the next day and do it again and again and again. Unlike tourists, hikers have no sense of destination. Unlike the runners we don’t keep time. Unlike ramblers, we don’t develop that abiding bond and knowledge of the place. Unlike dog-walkers, we are not doing it in the best interest of another being. Why did I set out on a long walk? I’m trying to figure that one out as I go, I tell her.

‘Mal’ (not his real name) is the only English ‘end-to-ender’ we have met. The other half-dozen have all been young Germans. We met Mal about a week into our walk. His rucksack weighs at least 4 times mine. He is carrying a tent, which he pitches wherever he can find a flat bit of land. With enough beer at the last pub on the day’s walk, he can fall asleep anywhere. I can hear him fifty paces away when he is labouring up a hill behind me. I admire Mal, but cannot imagine being without the creature comforts of a bed and a shower at the end of the day. I even have my bag carried when a section of the walk seems too long or too hard.

The South West Coast Path has to please a large and diverse clientele. And thanks to an army of volunteers from the National Trust, the South West Coast Path Association and a myriad of other agencies, it remains user-friendly, for the very few Mal-s at one end of the user-spectrum and at the other, the throngs armed with Trip Advisor’s top-ten lists, out to take selfies at the ‘second scariest cliff’ or the ‘largest Cornish Pasty’ in the world. And, then there’s all of us in between.

Two hundred years ago, this path was part of a crowded, morbid, polluted, industrial corridor, ravaged by centuries of mining for tin and copper and quarrying for granite and other hard stones. Some scars from mining still remain. But with a little help from humans, most of the pits are growing over and blending back into magical wild gardens.

As you walk the path, right on the edge of an ocean that’s rising ever faster, as you scour for the next signpost advising you of another rockfall, another diversion, you have to wonder what will remain of this much-trodden footpath in another 200 years?

Indian Take-Away II: Walk like a Bengali*

Not all who are wandering are lost. But many are. I myself have been a little lost trying to come to terms with the idea of a Bengali who walks (Yours Truly), because in general, well, Bengalis don’t walk. My father always mobilised Huxley, who was famously dismissive of the English practice of nature rambling. And my maternal uncle who spent the better part of his adult life in Oxford amongst English saunterers regarded my love of walking as a westernised affectation.

In Kolkata, the capital of the Indian province West Bengal, where I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, no one walked unless they had to. Beggars, mostly women and children, as I recall, once walked door to door but that ended with the city growing upwards into multi-storied apartment blocks. Now even beggars gathered in street corners and rushed from one car window to the next. Beharis and Oriyas walked. Mostly disparaged by Bengalis, they were the displaced populations, mostly men, from neighbouring provinces – pushed out of their villages occasionally by dreams of a better life, but mostly by corruption, industrialisation, and other mismanaged disasters. The upper-caste Oriyas cooked in the genteel households and worked in the gardens of the city’s tiny wealthy population. The low-caste Beharis pulled rikshaws which ferried us to and from school; they swept the streets and cleaned toilets, but were rarely allowed into Bengali kitchens. The ‘darwan’, the neighbourhood guard, walked through the night banging his stick on the street lamp-posts round and round the narrow suburban streets, where we lived. They were outsiders too – probably Biharis I imagined, having rarely actually seen one let alone spoken to one. Good girls didn’t walk the streets at that hour of the night. Mostly you walked because you had no choice and if you walked for a living, you probably were not a Bengali.

In Tagore’s songs which are part of Bengali cultural DNA, any reference to walking, that I can recall, is tragic.

কেন চোখের জলে ভিজিয়ে দিলেম না …

‘Why did I not moisten with my tears every grain of parched dust!

Who knew you would arrive, my beloved as though uninvited.

You have crossed the desert without a tree to shade –

Your suffering on the road is my cursed fate.’

Tagore in translation often sounds silly. English unsettles the mellifluous Bangla and metaphorical dimensions of Tagore’s lyrics. But it is in part the magic of Tagore’s language that renders the road so distressingly uninviting. In an oeuvre so large as Tagore’s there are exceptions of course. Famously exhorting Gandhi on to the ‘salt march’ (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_March) Tagore wrote ‘if no one responds to your call, then walk on alone’. But mostly walking is a pain metaphor in the songs most commonly sung.

Left-leaning modern lyrics added to the litany of walking woes by drawing on the life of the working-walking poor, most famously the smash hit of the 1960s, Runner. This protest song harked back several centuries to a Mughal postal system, predating the railways which the British rulers introduced. The ‘runners’ were men in a relay system to deliver mail from city to city. I never questioned why a song of class protest had to draw on an outdated bit of exploitation, when there was plenty of contemporary evidence all around me. I was mesmerised when Hemanta Mukherjee’s divine voice rang out with the tears of the Runner’s beloved ‘nursing her lonely bed, through sleepless nights’. But something of the joy of running pulsated through the rhythm of the song. In my mind’s eye he was a lean dark figure with rippling legs cutting through the forest’s night air. But I just could not imagine him as a Bengali.

In the 1990s another significant Bengali pop-song reinforced the deadly dangers of walking, Suman Chatterjee’s gut-wrenching rendering of ‘The Walking Song of Sanjeeb Purohit’. Suman was a sort of Pete Seeger of 1990s Kolkata, his lyrics embedded in the structures of contemporary life of the city. Suman often referred to real events that provided the material for his ballads. ‘The walking Song’ starts with the singer-songwriter speaking as he strums his guitar: ‘This event was published in a Kolkata newspaper. In 1991. That year, in Orissa, for a job in the Forestry department, young men and women sat a written test…. Those that got through were then to go on to a test of physical stamina. In the Sambalpur area, in mid-summer, the young men and women were asked to walk non-stop for 25 kilometres. At high noon. Many fell over early in the walk. One man did not. His name was Sanjeeb Purohit. He walked the whole distance. He crossed the whole 25 kilometres. Then he fell. Dead.’ Suman welded together the familiar desperation of the young urban Bengalis’ search for a white-collar job, their fear of physical labour and the very real oppressive heat of the mid-day sun (‘which has dried the songs in the throats of birds’ croaks the singer) to produce walking as a form of torture. Every word, line and strain wields ‘the flaming whip of the sun’, dragging the hapless Sanjeeb towards a burning, aching, suffocating death through the trial by fire towards inevitable failure. The song ends: ‘Sanjeeb will never have to walk any street again/ Nor will he ever ever want for work again.’

Like the ‘Runner’, Sanjeeb was clearly not a Bengali. Anti-pedestrianist Bengali popular culture found its martyrs where it could.

But Bengalis did walk in their thousands in 1971, when the Pakistani army launched a ruthless attack against unarmed civilians in the eastern half of their own nation, mostly populated by Bengali-speaking Muslims. Up to three million might have died, several hundred thousand were raped. Eventually a new nation called Bangladesh was born. But in the nine months that the genocide raged, ten million Bengalis staggered across the 4000 km border between India and what was then East Pakistan – mostly into the frontier towns on the outskirts of Kolkata. Images of line upon line of dispossessed men, women and children, dragging frail bodies on bare-feet, filled the media. They say it was the largest single displacement of people since the Second World War. For once, Bengalis had walked, and in heart-breaking numbers.

The majority of those navigating long distances on foot are still the wretched of the earth: Rohingyas walking into Bangladesh, migrants from war-ravaged Middle East crossing the Balkans on foot, desperately seeking a place to call home. In a world where so many must walk for so long under such duress, it is a rare privilege to have never walked in despair and so to be able to recognise walking as a right and pleasure rather than punishment, to walk when and where you want, to strike out on your own. Such a privilege, it is almost a miracle!


*The idea of Bengaliness is a little complicated, as there is a whole nation called Bangladesh. But the cultural centre for defining what Bengali means has historically been Kolkata, the capital of the Indian province of West Bengal. There is a whole world of books and debates about this. Start with wiki <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Bengal>.