I would like to share a bit of writing by C. S. Lewis in a letter to his brother about a walking trip in 1928. Lewis often went on walking vacations with friends, packing no provisions, but instead stopping at inns and pubs along the way for refreshment and lodging. They’d walk about 20 miles in a day before settling down for the night.
Says he of one trip in particular:
This time we committed the folly of selecting a billeting area for the night instead of one good town: i.e., we said ‘Well here are four villages within a mile of one another and the map marks an inn in each so we shall be sure to get somewhere.’ Your imagination can suggest what this results in by about eight o’clock of an evening, after twenty miles of walking, when one is just turning away from the first unsuccessful attempt and a thin cold rain is beginning to fall. Yet these hardships had their compensations: thin at the time, but very rich in memory. One never knows the snugness and beauty of an English village twilight so well as in the homelessness of such a moment: when the lights are beginning to show up in the cottage windows and one sees the natives clumping past to the pub – clouds meanwhile piling up ‘to weather’. Our particular village was in a deep narrow valley with woods all round it and a rushing stream that grew louder as the night came on. Then comes the time when you have to strike a light (with difficulties) in order to read the maps: and when the match fizzles out, you realize for the first time how dark it really is: and as you go away, the village fixes itself in your mind – for enjoyment ten, twenty, or thirty years bend – as a place of impossible peace and dreaminess.
– C. S. Lewis, as related in Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings
I’ve only come across this passage recently, but it has very quickly become one of my favorites. I’ve experienced something like this myself in my travels.
I was hiking along the Cliffs of Moher, and about three hours out the weather suddenly changed from beautiful to treacherous. The mist was so thick I could barely see the other hikers, much less the edges of the path, which the rain had made slippery and unstable. There were roughly five hours before the last bus home, but with the rain and the mud and the spray of the ocean, the hike back was much more difficult than the hike out. It took over four hours to get back to the visitor’s center, and by then my friend and I were beyond tired, beyond hungry, and beyond wet and cold. The discovery that the cafeteria only accepted cash left us in conundrum. We had cards, but there was no ATM. We inquired with the gift shop (which did accept cards) about purchasing something with our credit cards and then returning it for cash, but we were unsuccessful.
We pooled our pennies for a tiny pack of peanuts that seemed like the most nutritious thing we could afford, and when we went to the counter to pay, I’m sure we looked pathetic. Covered in mud and still dripping, counting our coins out one by one. The woman at the counter frowned, and then brought us each out a bowl of soup. I tried to thank her, but she shushed me and shooed us away. After a few moments, she brought us out hot biscuits to go with our meal.
It stands out in my mind as one of the best meals of my life, filled with warmth and kindness. It was as snug and beautiful as the village Lewis describes above, and will be fixed forever in my mind as a moment of impossible peace and dreaminess.