Like most people of my age, my joints ache. Knees, hips, and ankles are affected and although they are not troublesome at the moment, over the summer things were different. For several months, painful knees often made it difficult for me to get out of a chair, climb stairs or even go on short walks. And, as well as these mobility problems, I would occasionally feel unsteady, and the possibility of tripping was also a worry. 

With my aching knees and my fear of falling, I was very anxious about the walk that I planned to take with two friends who were staying with us in France. The walk – at 1.5 kilometres it could be seen as more of a stroll – is not far from our Brittany home. Apart from the wonderful seascapes which make it one of my favourites, it is also full of history, something I felt would appeal to our guests. The walk also has its challenges as it follows a twisty route that goes up and down along a cliff edge. While much of the path is grassy, certain sections are made bumpy by protruding rocks and others made slippery by a covering of a fine scree – nature’s gravel! 

This blog is about the walk and how I was provided with help and reassurance by using, for the first time, a walking staff that once belonged to our eldest son Daniel. Ten years ago he died suddenly. He was very tall and sturdy, kind and inventive and when out walking would take his staff. He left us few tangible (physical) mementos and when clearing his home I took the staff which was standing just inside his front door. The staff, which comes in two sections, is made of chestnut and when assembled is 150 centimetres long. A fork in the staff’s top end that takes the thumb makes gripping easier (See illustration).

Our hike took place on a sunny day with blustery winds. The plan was to walk and sight-see and then to relax over a cuppa at a cafe with tables overlooking a picturesque harbour. 

At the start was a neolithic burial chamber that dates from around 5000 BC. It has been excavated and restored and while my companions explored and loved the cairn’s stone corridors and rooms, I stood waiting outside. Even with my staff, clambering over its uneven surfaces presented a challenge too far. 

Next we walked down a slippery slope towards a promontory under which archaeologists had found the remains of a hearth used by hominids to cook food 450,000 years ago. I went very gingerly and with every step felt grateful to my staff. The site itself was fenced off and closed to the public, but just standing at a spot with such history was inspiring. It is one of the oldest hominid-inhabited sites in the world and it is just near our ‘back door’.

Now it was off again along the path with views of the sea and with sounds of waves breaking on the rocks below. There was also more history. It was along this path that a hut – long since gone – was used as a lookout to check for invading enemy (British) ships. It was also along here that the ancients processed seaweed in shallow stone kilns the remains of which are dotted along the path’s edges. While walking, my staff again gave me confidence.

The end of our walk was the trickiest. The path was rocky and ran even closer to the cliff edge along which there was no barrier. Here the consequences of slipping could have been grave – and it was here that something odd happened: I suddenly felt close to Dan. First, as I walked, I became very aware that my hand held the staff exactly where Dan’s would have done on his walks. Second, with each stride as I put the staff’s metal capped tip on the ground I found myself repeating “Thank you Dan for your support”. Magically the staff had become the embodiment of a supportive Dan. Previously I had seen myself as doing the support, but now the position was reversed and the feeling, which suddenly brought us close together, was truly wonderful. 

We arrived at the cafe where a note on the door read “Closed”. We sat at an outside table, admired the view of the harbour and identified the various gulls but beverages and much needed access to ‘conveniences’ were absent. Being in an empty cafe was an anticlimax, but no matter, we’d had a wonderful stroll and the three of us sat and shared our morning’s experience. For me there were no mishaps instead a new sentiment ushered in by Dan’sstaff. That he could now be close and supportive was such a wonderful feeling.

The illustration shows a photo of the two separated sections of Daniel’s wooden thumb-stick staff. When its two halves are screwed back together the staff is 150 centimetres long.

For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Rohan and Vivien.

15 thoughts on “When Daniel Came Back to Help

  1. Joe, as one of your friends on this walk, I have such happy memories of your introducing me to the beautiful coastline of South Brittany. To know Daniel was with us is an additional joy to add to this experience.


    1. Dear Taracb, I wondered who you were! I am so pleased you enjoyed the walk. It is a very special fo me that you to say that you also feel that Daniel was with us. Love, Joe


  2. As the user of a similar stick I enjoyed this greatly – but mine doesn’t have the sophistication of the two parts, nor the special addition of the benign presence of Dan to help with the rocky bits. Thanks for this, Joe.


  3. With a smile and a tear, love and support from our loved ones who have left us… always there and a strength we draw on when we need it but least expect it.


  4. Joe, I am still an avid reader of your blogs and this one was particularly touching. The prehistoric site, the coastline, and your precious walking stick made it all the more poignant. How I wish I had been there with you.


  5. Dear Joe,
    A lovely weaving of themes on experiencing the history of places and the associated connections. I was reminded of imagining walking in the footsteps of Tudor monarchs when entering the gates of what remains of the Royal Palace off Richmond Green. And it was a privilege to share your heartwarming epiphany prompted by Daniel’s staff.


    1. Dear Alan, Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. Like you, going through the gates of the one-time Royal Palace has my imagination spinning. Yours, Joe


  6. I liked your description of your interesting walk. Especially in the company of Dan (much loved and missed).


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