The Barefoot Experience

Walking with Philip, the OST response...

OceanStars :: Sunday 7th September 2014 :: This Story

be-the-step.jpgbarefootThe Barefoot Billion experience…it has certainly been one! Having spent many a day trying to find Philip in various parts of the country, walking with him through both thick mud & rain & glorious sunshine, having helped to clean & tape up his injuries, having watched & listened to him reciting poetry along the way (Glastonbury Abbey, Stanton Harcourt Manor, Oxford, Hay on Wye) & having seen him light up a school hall full of children with his words at the end of a hard day’s walking, it felt only right to be there in Wales for the final few steps of the 1000 miles - such an incredible undertaking! We walked barefoot with Philip on one day & it was only too clear how challenging it was, having to watch every step & be aware of every kind of surface along the way (we didn’t last long!)

Barefoot Philip The final day on Anglesey (9th August) proved to be sunny & warm & filled with laughter. As Philip walked the final few steps across the Menai Bridge to cross the finish line, everyone was filled with a sense of elation on his behalf. When he set out on his challenge on April 22nd I think many of us had our doubts whether he could actually complete the full distance & spend four months walking but how wrong we were. He seemed to become stronger as the walk progressed, inspired by poetry & the cause close to his heart – raising awareness & money for the barefoot billion children around the world.

It was an honour & a pleasure to be a small part of Philip’s adventure & to be there at the end to witness him achieve his goal, surrounded by family & friends.

Jo Barton (Ost trustee)

It began in the centre of London, Somerset House.  Philip headed off towards Westminster Bridge followed by a troupe of children.  Early barefoot steps, lots of energy….but just a hint of nervous tension.  There was a long road ahead.

A few days later he began his barefoot trek in earnest, leaving Land’s End in Cornwall.  The early days were very difficult.  Rough, stony paths, snakes in the grass, gout!!  By the time we joined him towards the end of May he had reached Glastonbury.  I remember that first evening well – he was tired, his feet were blistered; every step was painful.  I did wonder  if he would make it. However, I hadn’t properly reckoned on just what passion, inner strength Philip could and would call upon.  A couple of days later as we walked with him, literally pulling our boot clad feet from the mud in Wiltshire, I saw evidence of his deep resolve to make this journey.  His feet were cut and the plasters, which had been applied to try and give his skin some protection, were failing miserably to do their job.  But he just kept going. His pace was slow as he hauled himself up muddy banks and then slithered downwards.  We ended that day in Wells cathedral, sitting together in silence, reflecting on our day and remembering the Barefoot Billion whose plight Philip constantly sought to highlight.  It was at that point, as Dilanee noted so well, that there was a sense that we were part of something much bigger than ourselves. Something which stretched beyond our immediate world and linked us again to our children in Sri Lanka and the millions elsewhere who live barefoot and in poverty.

barefoot summer In subsequent weeks Philip gained strength. He became fitter, his feet hardened, the weather improved.  We enjoyed great days hiking with him through Avebury, along the Thames towpath into Oxford and around Tetbury. We listened as he engaged and inspired schoolchildren with the Barefoot message during their Friday afternoon assembly.  And we sat with him in the sunshine at Stanton Harcourt, his family home, and listened as he recited some of his own poems. He shared with us memories from his childhood, recalling the influence and inspiration of family members who encouraged him to grow and become the fire poet that he is today.

It all ended when he crossed the Menai Bridge into Anglesey, Wales. A walk of a thousand miles barefoot complete.  We celebrated in a pub garden – he was exhausted, a stone lighter  but relieved and delighted.  Job done!!  The ‘Barefoot’ message had been carried across the country.  He spoke briefly, encouraging us all to continue to ‘Bthe step’ on behalf of the Barefoot community across our world. And he thanked us. I’m not quite sure why for our thanks are due to him for allowing us to join with him and be part of the ‘Barefoot’ experience.

So on behalf of the Ost MoJo and all of us at Ocean Stars – Thank you Philip!!

Maureen Johnston (Ost trustee)

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