Sitting in the Harbour Bar. (Sounds like an opening line to a song by Otis Redding.) Recommended to me by an old friend who grew up in Scarborough. You have to go there, said he, it hasn't changed in 40 years. Best knickerbocker glories in England. I'd arrived in Scarborough after a morning walk of around 8 miles, and was ready for some refreshment. Along the way, I'd just read an article on my phone about how you're likely to live at least another 9 years if you can get up from sitting on the ground without leaning on an arm or leg. Looked around in the Harbour Bar for a spot where I could try that, but it didn't look feasible. (Later, I confirmed that for those of us who've missed out on being Olympic gymnasts, this is indeed impossible.) My banana split arrived, replete with lashings of ice cream and cherries on top. A work of art! It had taken careful menu selection, because I've recently imposed all sorts of dietary restrictions on myself. For the past few months I've been trying to eat less meat - although when an Airbnb host puts a full English breakfast in front of me, there's nothing left a few minutes later. And then for Lent I went a little over the top, and decided to cut out bread, beer, chocolate, coffee, cheese and cake. Although this might sound ridiculously virtuous, in practice it still leaves many tasty options around the edges, including crumpets, wine, cheese scones etc. So a banana split somehow managed to thread the eye of the gastronomic needle.
Started to tuck in, when my phone beeped. "Where are you?" It was from a guy I know from a Facebook group, made up of around 15-20 crazy people who are currently walking around the UK. I keep very quiet on this group, because I feel like a fraud. For a start pretty much everyone else is walking around the whole of England/Wales/Scotland, and some are including Ireland and all of the islands where the wind blows at a steady 70mph like the Hebrides and Shetlands. More to the point most of the participants are wild camping. While here I am driving a camper van and - insult upon injury - not even using it to sleep in, but staying in Airbnb's each night. Most of the exchanges on the site are around what to do when one's sleeping bag is wet, how heavy the backpack should be, and little tips for saving weight like sawing the handle off a toothbrush. I reply to Chris that I'm in Scarborough. Astonishingly, he says that he's just arrived in Scarborough as well. He is walking anti-clockwise around the UK, with his dog Moose, so I guess we would have crossed at some time, but it is quite incredible that he is getting in touch while we happen to be in the same town - it isn't as if we're in frequent contact.
We met up in the Travelodge where Chris is staying - having some R and R after several weeks of wild camping. He started last June, is raising funds for Shelter, Thistle and Bras Not Bombs, and has completed around 2,000 miles together with his wonderful dog, Moose. Just a great guy!
Afterwards, I sprint-hobble half a mile for the bus, as I'm catching the last one of the day back to my van, and then driving 20 miles to Bridlington for the night. It doesn't work out well - the bus literally pulls out when I'm 100 yards away, arms flailing uselessly. Truly a character-building moment. Or maybe a teachable moment, as President Obama would've said - ie, I'm not as fit as I think I am...if only I could get up from a sitting position without using arms or legs... Anyway, salvation was at hand via a taxi which had stopped near the bus stop. Perhaps that is his strategy, being available for people who miss the bus. I thought about asking him to just drive to the next bus stop, but figured that might not go down too well. Meanwhile, the driver had launched into an astonishing story. Normally we chat about topics like the weather, football, the town we're in - and never Brexit! But this guy wanted to tell me about how his life had been transformed.
Before starting, let me say that the taxi driver was mid-50s, and looked like the kind of guy you wouldn't want to argue with at the pub. Or indeed anywhere else. He told me that he normally worked as the dispatcher for the group of local taxi drivers. The rules of the group were that if one took off a week or two, you still needed to make a contribution each week. But if you were away 3 months, then that was waived. He had taken a two month holiday with three friends to Thailand to play golf, and now he was back was just doing some fill-in driving work before returning properly to dispatching after the 3 month limit. In Thailand, he'd gone onto the dating site he'd been using for the past year; he said he'd had no luck until then. There he'd met a woman, originally from a country in Africa but based in Thailand, an expatriate working in a senior position for a large global NGO, (I'm being a little vague with the details, to protect their identities). They'd talked until 5 in the morning, things had clicked and they'd spent the rest of his holiday together. They had each scheduled the rest of 2019 around different places to meet in the world. She has a job which involves travel anyway, and they both have children living in other countries. His timetable for the next few months involved travelling to about 5 different countries, on precise dates, so that he and his new partner would spend a few days together. A lot more complicated than dispatching taxis around Scarborough! The guy was positively glowing with excitement. A most heartwarming story, and one which simply wouldn't have been possible even 10 years ago.
Finally, usually the only thing which really causes me to jump while I'm walking is a pheasant suddenly flapping out of the grass nearby. But on the path out of Scarborough something happened which I've never before witnessed in my all-too-many years on this Earth. It was a beautiful, mild, sunny afternoon. It was a remote part of the coast path - not a soul in sight. A good time to be lost in the sounds of the countryside and to relish the late afternoon. Suddenly my reverie was broken, as I came round a corner and saw a man. Clearly a walker, as he had a backpack on. But, on not very close inspection, it was evident that the backpack was all that he had on. He was completely starkers. Along this walk I've passed a couple of nudist beaches, mostly populated with overweight old guys, but I've never seen someone walking the coast path in the nude. As we passed I greeted him, and asked, somewhat obviously "So, are you walking the coast path naked?". His reply was to the point: Yes. Rather lamely, I added "Well, its a nice afternoon for it". Again, he said Yes. And so we went on our merry ways. It didn't feel like the right time for a photo opportunity. A little later I met a woman walking her dog, and mentioned to her that she was about half a mile behind a naked guy walking the path. Oh, yes, said she, there is a Naked Rambler who they keep putting in prison, but he carries on doing it. So I guess that was him.