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Book extract: Gathering – I Walk, the Sea Rises by Taylor Edmonds

10 Mar 2024 7 minute read
Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature, edited by by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse, is published by 404 Ink

We are pleased to publish an extract from Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature, edited by by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse.

I Walk, the Sea Rises by Taylor Edmonds.

It’s May 2017 and I’m hiking along the coast of Cornwall with my partner. We’ve caught the bus from St Ives to Zennor to loop back on ourselves. Zennor is a small rural village on the North coast; all green fields, clifftops and stone cottages.

We start with a pint at the village pub. The kind where you have to bow your head to get through the door frame. Where there’s always wood on a fire and men at the bar who don’t need to order because the bartender already knows what they want. The kind of pub that makes me want to step out of my body and run. But my partner is of these places. A white, Gloucestershire countryside boy who’s worked in pubs his whole life, he knows their language. I watch him belong.

The coastline is a pattern of cliffs and coves, up and down. The sun beats our cheeks and the wind blocks up our noses. It’s my first time on a ‘proper hike’ and we are ill-equipped; wearing flimsy gym trainers and carrying a small water bottle between us. We don’t know this yet, but we have accidentally taken the long route, and this walk will be three miles longer than we think.

The lay of the land means that we can’t see what’s next until we’re over a clifftop. We tell ourselves over and over that this is the last cliff, only to see the peak of another. We run out of water and arrive back with blisters, arguing over who got the route wrong and desperate for food. All of this is very overdramatic for a 7-mile walk, but we’re new at this.

We clamour over rocks and watch the waves hit the coves below. The path is ours; not even a dog walker or rambler with a walking stick in sight. My partner is up ahead. I watch him stop and look out. The water is bluer here than the brown of the mudflats back home.

He holds his arms wide and screams until his breath runs out. The sea is so loud I can hear only the distant bass of his voice. Then I’m screaming too, my eyes closed, wind pummelling back at me. We laugh, a proper belly-laugh like we’re kids that have done something daring, and then continue with our route.

Our walk in Cornwall is the start of a love of walking in nature, after which we begin to explore Wales. I realise that I barely know the place I have lived my whole life. We climb Pen Y Fan for the highest views of Bannau Brycheiniog. We trace the coast of Pembrokeshire, where the sea is blue and the towns are small. We walk the endless muddy fields of Powys and the woodland of Hensol forest.

I discover I feel true clarity in my mind and body when walking; the usual chatter of my inner thoughts becomes quiet as I focus on the next marker of the route and taking in the views. Slowly, I unlearn what I thought hiking was; double-digit mile walks and conquering mountains, the origins of which are rooted in colonialism and white supremacy.

What if hiking could be slow and unmeasurable? What if the goals of a hike weren’t to tick off miles, but to familiarise yourself with the root-map of a tree? To learn the texture of moss from forest to forest?

As a teenager, all I wanted was to get out of Wales. I saw a lack of opportunity in my hometown and felt indifferent from my Welsh identity. I rarely sought out walks in nature and didn’t see myself as ‘outdoorsy’, which felt like a trait reserved for white, middle-class families on bike rides and kayaks.

But I grew up by the sea. I’ve since realised that being outdoorsy is a myth that centralises the white and middle class. In my coastal town, the beach and the water are the constant backdrop. The sea is present in my most cherished family memories.

Once, researching for an audio story I was working on about the Severn Estuary, I spoke to Barry locals in the community library about their connection to the sea. People talked about the water with such familiarity and closeness, as if it was a member of their family. A woman who was unable to leave bed during a period of ill health, told me how the view of the sea from her window brought her inner peace and got her through recovery.

I relate to this treasuring of the landscape. I’ve chased the incoming tide across the pebbled coastline at night, sunbathed on the sand with my late great-grandparents, spent the whole day walking the coast and cooled off in the muddy water. I have always sought out the sea to bring me a sense of tranquillity. Even just the sight of it from a distance makes me breathe better.

The women in my family rarely go out in nature alone, never dare to break the unwritten rulebook of How to Not Get Yourself Murdered. Without ever really talking about it, I learned that exploring outside beyond a trip to the shops or a walk in a familiar, populated area was just too risky, and not something we did.

Like many women and femme-presenting people, I am terrified of what can happen to me on a walk. I was taught to be home before dark, always stick to busy roads, keep one headphone out with the sharp edge of my keys ready between my fingers. I’ve had my path blocked, my arm dragged toward a waiting taxi, been followed, ass grabbed, taunted. These experiences have felt so unremarkable and part of life, I have even counted myself lucky.

Meanwhile, the news cycle is overwhelmed with reports of another woman murdered on a walk home. Each time I feel grief for a life cut short. It is not irrational to think that it could someday be me, my daughter, or best friend.

Hyper-awareness of this meant that on all of my walks and discoveries across Wales, I was never alone. With my partner I felt safe, my risk reduced by his presence. It is hard to take up space in nature when governed by a fear of it. Yet I started to resent the fact I felt like I couldn’t travel and seek these places for myself alone, when my partner could so easily.

Taylor Edmonds is a writer, poet and creative facilitator based in Cardiff. Her latest book is Back Teeth, out now with  Broken Sleep Books

Gathering: Women of Colour on Nature, edited by by Durre Shahwar and Nasia Sarwar-Skuse is published by 404 Ink. It is available from all good bookshops.

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