Hot to Trot: Del Hughes goes on a firewalk
Given that this was to be the inaugural activity for my second year of dangerous living, I’d decided to go all out. Instead of dabbling with the mildly dicey, I wanted to start big, trying something that could, genuinely, be classed as hazardous. And I certainly found it – in Lampeter.
This is also the first time I’ve had to sign a release form, one that emphasises, in bold and capitals, that I take part voluntarily, ‘as there is inherent risk involved, and participants agree to hold all parties blameless for any injuries caused.’ Gulp. Mind, when you consider that tonight promises to ‘open the door to a wellspring of endless possibilities, and break through barriers in your life,’ I suppose it was never going to be easy.
Though what I’d assumed would have been, was the short, forty-six-mile drive from Swansea, half of which was M4 and A-roads. But, when the final twenty of those miles twist tortuously through tiny hamlets, and the weather is so extreme that, if Noah was still around, he’d be eyeing up the evergreens and whetting his axe, that’s a different story.
However, Geoff (my elderly Kangoo), battled through and got me and my pal, Gaynor, to Minds Eye Venue in ample time for the festivities.
It was a peculiar place. Painted vivid cerise, and with no discernible entrance, we eventually happened upon it at the rear of the building. Here, the stone façade had been left untainted and was framed by a wooden portico, which offered some protection from the elements – and flabby comfort in the form of several leather sofas. If you wanted to do a rustic Welsh mash-up of Friends meets Wicker Man, this was the place to come.
Pushing open the pea-green timbered doors, we entered a large room that was a muddled mix of spit and sawdust, dive bar, live music club, village hall. . . and not forgetting the karaoke machine. It had a raw, earthy atmosphere, cool and curious artworks adorned the walls and, rather unnervingly, a young woman who appeared to be slicing at someone’s ear with a cleaver. Weird wasn’t the word.
Mind, we must have looked pretty weird too, though by we, I mean me, because even when wet and windswept, Gaynor still oozes county-chic. I was swathed in a waterproof poncho, a grey and Day-Glo gazebo of a garment that could comfortably accommodate an outdoorsy family of four.
Yes, I looked a complete tit, but was, without question, the driest person there. I just had to hope it was also flame-proof. (Spoiler: It wasn’t. Sigh.)
Because that’s why we were here, honouring Ostara’s vernal equinox with a powerful ritual that had the potential to ‘unblock our energies and conquer innate fears.’
Tonight, we would be fire-walking. Eek!
Cards on the table, I’m not sure if Gaynor, or I, were fully buying into it. I was up for the experience, though couldn’t imagine achieving any discernible gains, and Gaynor was yet to be convinced. But, since we’d braved tempests to get there, we pulled up a couple of bar stools – as far from cleaver-girl as possible – and ordered cheesy chips.
Frankly, after the drive we’d had, I’d have killed for an Old Mout, but as the consumption of alcohol before, and during, the event was strictly forbidden, tea it was. And it was cheerily delivered, sometime later, by cleaver-girl herself, minus her chopper.
It transpired that she was no random blade-wielding maniac but a member of staff (aka Lorna) and had actually been cutting a chunk of hair from a willing victim – ‘for the burning’. Phew. (Though, with hindsight, it showed a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards health and safety.)
More participants began arriving, and we were soon joined by a lady named Kim, who had done this twenty years earlier and was there to ‘burn her ex-husband.’ Uh? Not literally, though I wouldn’t have been overly surprised to find a neatly bundled body, smouldering merrily atop the cinders.
Kim explained that when she’d done ‘the walk’, she’d felt ‘very real elysian effects’ – and now, with her divorce legally separating her from the ex, this evening was about ‘severing the remaining spiritual link.’
And she shared her top tip for getting the most out of our combustible challenge. She used a mantra that was guaranteed to garner favourable outcomes: ‘I am the source, I dream the dreams, I am the spark, creation lives in me.’
Hmm? I’d been hoping for something more rhythmical, but the ‘spark’ line fitted, so I recited it a couple of times to show willing, then sloped off to the loos.
I returned as Steven, the paradoxically chilled founder of Firewalk Cymru – and a fellow with a comprehensive knowledge of faith, fire and feet – announced that, while we awaited the arrival of two more brave soles (I’ll get my coat), we’d use the time to sign in and review the disclaimer.
As everyone shuffled along to scrawl their signatures, I took the opportunity to pull Steve for a quick chat.
See, when I’d reserved my spot, I’d had to declare my mobility issues, and Steve had phoned for clarification.
He’d explained how the evening would unfold, but the key question he had was, ‘Can you walk unaided?’ Sigh. Nope. Clearly my dream of hot-footing it into a new era of derring-do was over. Bummer.
However, as it turned out, no it wasn’t. Apparently, many disabled people have successfully completed the walk, using a friend’s arm, or shoulder, for support.
Steve said if I was coming alone, he’d be happy to lend me a hand, but as Gaynor had signed up too, she was my prop of choice – plus she’s a physio so I’d be hanging onto a medically-capable arm. I’d be getting my blaze of glory moment after all. Whoop, whoop!
But, since that conversation, I’d been ruminating, and it came down to this – did I really want to stride fiercely into a new empowered epoch, whilst using a human crutch? And my answer was a resounding no. So, sod it, I’d do it on my own two feet, or not at all. And that’s why I’d brought along Walking Stick #3.
It was a gift from my mum who, when I began needing ambulant help, thought my hospital crutches and wooden cane weren’t ‘attractive enough.’ Eye roll.
Her largesse stretched to a £14.99 foldable floral monstrosity, with a hard plastic ferrule – so hard, that a single drop of H2O would see it skidding out from beneath me, sending me sprawling across Tesco’s, or anywhere with vinyl flooring. Risking its destruction through fire-damage was a no-brainer. Now I simply had to convince Steve.
And that was surprisingly easy. He checked the stick, checked my gait, saw I could manage to cover the short distance alone, and gave me the go-ahead. I signed the release, got handed a large lollipop stick(?) and joined the other walkers for the seminar. Shit just got real!
I was sitting between Gaynor and Karen, an experienced energy healer who was starting her own business, and it was she who explained that we should write ‘what you wish to discard on the stick, then feed it to the fire, with a piece of your hair.’ Ah, I see. (And yes, I did get a blunt cut from Lorna later on.)
Since Gaynor and I hadn’t considered intentions in advance, our burn notices were broad-ranging and non-specific.
Basically, anything that didn’t bring me joy was to be consigned to the flames, and after a brief inner struggle, decided not to add Tim’s name to the stick – this time. Lol.
Karen murmured that we should write what we hoped to gain too – ‘Maybe to un-dim your light?’ Maybe? But, since starting my life-enrichment regime, I felt ‘my light’ – whatever that means – was probably brighter than it used to be, so instead I opted for taking control of my own destiny.
It was a biggie, but if you don’t ask. . .
All done, we quietened down and Steve launched into his seminar. He began with a photograph, one he always carries, which showed a slightly younger, considerably larger version of the man in front of us.
He explained that he’d suffered from some musculoskeletal disorders, putting his transformation down to the breakthrough experienced when he first fire-walked.
He knew it had changed his life for the better, and looking at him, the evidence was quite compelling. Frankly, if all I achieved was the willpower to start, and stick to, a healthy diet, I’d happily take it.
And then we went through a series of exercises, designed to enable us to walk over scorching tinder and feel minimal discomfort.
First, the games. For one, we wrote our biggest fear on a scrap of paper, screwed it up and chucked it into a hat. Then we had to randomly choose one before, ‘laughing in the manner of that fear.’ Uh oh.
Honestly, if I’d have realised what we’d be asked to do, I’d probably have binned my ‘dying alone’ in favour of spiders.
Luckily, Gaynor drew mine out, managed a ghostly chortle and everyone applauded her effort; I got ‘destruction of the natural world’, panicked, thought of birds, and then giggled my way through the intro music to The Woody Woodpecker Show. It wasn’t my finest hour.
Then came something that none of us, apart from Karen, had been expecting – ‘Walking into our Power’ by snapping an arrow with our throats. No, the arrows weren’t sharp, but wedging one end against a wall, putting the pointy bit in our ‘jugular notch’, then stepping forward until it splintered seemed foolish at best, and suicidal at worst. But we all managed it, no one died, and it certainly bonded our ‘tribe’ together.
Finally came the meditation, where we allowed our minds to visualise ‘cool grass and ice-cold flames.’ I was nearly napping when we were rowdily interrupted by a loudly discordant rendition of Sweet Caroline, which slightly killed our chill.
Lorna bustled away to sort out the barmen, who were clearly having a banging time, and soon it became blessedly silent – until somebody, whose repertoire stretched only to Chopsticks, discovered the piano. Well, we were probably relaxed enough, so we trooped outside to see the bonfire.
Steve’s assistant, Becca, who’d been cultivating the conflagration, had got it fired up and burning at a terrifying 1300ºF! WTAF? It wasn’t any less alarming when I converted it to Celsius, and so intense was the heat that, even standing some distance from the pyre, my PVC poncho was already losing its stiffness and beginning to melt.
Then suddenly, it was time.
With words of encouragement, we got in line, did our utmost to smother any last-minute doubts, and away we went. And it was incredible. Even just watching the other members of our tribe march forth, bare-foot and focused, shoulders set with unwavering determination, was inspirational.
But then, once Gaynor had skipped daintily across the red-hot embers, it was my turn. GULP.
As I stood facing the fire, I forgot the mantras and intentions, overtaken by an understandable anxiety regarding my pacing. I’m slow, I walk on the toes of my right foot, and carry the bulk of my body-weight on my left. Could I do this? Should I? I was on a cleaver-edge, but then encouraging cheers reached me, I dug deep, took a long breath, and set off. . . back to the car park.
Hotter than Hades
No, not really. My first paces were tentative, but my sodden feet couldn’t detect any uncomfortable heat – though there were audible sizzles which I tried to block out, too reminiscent of what issues from the kitchen whenever Tim cooks steak.
Then halfway, I stumbled, saving myself only by plonking my left foot down with far greater force than usual and. . . Yep, it was hot. Sodding hot. Hotter than Hades hot. Abso-bloody-lutely blistering.
But I pressed on, fire-limping my way into the woolly welcoming arms of Steve, who was tearfully proud of what I’d achieved.
Getting home at midnight, I needed bed, but couldn’t think of heading up the wooden hill until I’d soaked my feet, checked for blisters (unbelievably, my soles were 100% uncooked!), and come down from my heroic high.
So, I poured a restorative Snowball and raised a toast to me, because I’d done it. I’d taken my first flaming steps into a new year of adventure, suffering nothing more than sooty feet, a molten mantle and distorted ferrule.
And, unpacking the mementos of the evening – my broken arrow, a small jar of ash and a certificate bestowing upon me the official title of ‘Firewalker’ – I confess that I really did feel pretty damn awesome!
(And, in case you were wondering, I was still feeling awesome the following morning and motivated enough to start the healthy-eating plan I’d been postponing since 2021.
Though time will tell, I’m currently eleven days in, still going strong, totally committed and I’ve even done some gentle pedalling on our static bike. Coincidence? Probably. But maybe there’s something in this fire-walking lark after all.)
If you’d like to try fire-walking for yourself, Firewalk Cymru are on Facebook, or visit their website where they post all their upcoming events.
And, if you want to sample delicious cheesy chips in one of Lampeter’s hippest spots, search for ‘Minds Eye Venue’ on Facebook.
Catch up on Del’s other adventures here
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