It started out as a money thing, if I’m honest. On the simple basis that we didn’t have any.
1: How do two pretty broke-ass actors take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe festival on half a shoestring and still make an effective statement so as to satisfy an artistic desire?
Apparently we stumbled across the answer. Well I say stumbled, more like hiked determinedly for 5 weeks.
2. Do something else. Something bigger.
In May of this year that was more or less the inspiration behind myself and fellow actor Adam Courting deciding that for some reason it would not only be a good idea to devise a show around homelessness and social displacement, an issue that we are both passionate about, but to attempt to make a social statement about it while raising some well-deserved money and awareness for the cause. It was at this point I simply suggested, half expectantly to be shot down;
“shall we walk?”
Over the next three months we not only put together a show, we talked to charities, stared at maps, built an itinerary, trained as much as we could, and generally panicked at how quickly time was passing.
Somehow a simple wish to go to the fringe had turned into something else entirely. And it was so much more. We were about to start a two month, one-thousand-mile journey. Walking from London to Edinburgh, whilst pushing a shopping trolley containing our lives the whole way. Afterwards, we were to perform a full run at the fringe, and then walk back. Camping out for the entire process.
And boy did it come round quickly.
22nd July was the day. We rushed around in the morning tying up any unfinished business and then packed and packed our bags for the last time, before we headed off to clear the city for our first full day of walking. We got to Epping where we adopted a shopping trolley for transporting our kit (set/props/costume/2 month’s worth of survival gear), then walked into the night until our first road side camp.
After that it all got quite regimental if I’m honest:
- Get up and pack down camp with the sunrise. Approx 4.30am
- 12 to 14 hours of walking each day. four sets of three hours. Approx 40 miles a day.
- Bonus walking stretch at the end of the day until the light started to fade. Approx 7.30pm
- Set up camp
- Sleep. In bed by approx 9pm
It was hard going. The first four days especially. We reached the end of the day and just needed to cry, we were in so much pain. The pressure pain in our feet spread all the way up to our thighs by the end of the day, and was still there when we woke up in the morning and had to start all over again. No amount of stretching ever prevented or made up for the fact that every muscle in our body was too tight to move, and pulled against us due to the constant tension. On top of that, we were always tired, and after the first day or so general conversation ran out and we spent most of the day in silence, stuck in our own head space.
We arrived broken men. It took two weeks of walking to get there, which is pretty solid going. Physically we were done, but that wasn’t what hit us the hardest. We were left feeling mentally numb. Foreign to our own world.
It took a couple of days for me to realize what had happened and it was a terrifying realisation. I no longer recognised who I was anymore. It’s too hard for either of us to explain, but after two weeks of physical and mental exhaustion, judged by everyone who passed us by, questioned by the police on a constant basis – we were left watching the world rush around us with no ability to reconnect to it.
In no way were we trying to imitate what it was like to be homeless, nor do I personally think we even scratched the surface of what it feels like to be a victim of displacement, we were only gone for two weeks. We had emergency monies and access to credit cards if we needed them. We had constant access to food and drink, and never went hungry. We had access to the internet and our phones; if needed, we had people we could call who would come and get us, no questions asked. We had a safety cushion to fall into at all times, and yet we still found ourselves lost within a spiral. If this feeling could overcome us with all of the aforementioned in place, for an individual without any form of security in place it’s easy to see how quickly one can get sucked into that world with no hope of return.
This is where the ‘we’ very quickly became an ‘I’. Adam had injured his foot on the way up, and although it was not serious, he had been advised by a doctor not to do the return stretch. I agreed to do the return walk myself.
The walk back was to take an extra week. The return was a slightly longer route, and I had organized volunteering spots in the larger towns and cities on the way back down. I stopped in Carlisle, Lancaster, Manchester, Birmingham and Oxford, volunteering in food banks and homeless drop in centres.
Over the next three weeks I continued the process of breaking myself mentally and physically. I pushed over a mountain pass in a torrential downpour. I broke down on the side of road on a regular basis. My feet were overcome by blisters. I spent days not speaking a word to another person. For the first time in my life I understood what it actually felt like to be truly alone.
I am in no way the same person I was when I had left two months previously, and even now it’s over I’m still figuring out who that person is, and I think it will be a while before I do. But the truth is, I am nothing but thankful for this. Despite how I may have felt at the low times, I wasn’t alone. In fact, it was the opposite. If I have taken anything away from this whole trip, it is that human kindness is stronger than ever. Even if there are still movements we need to make to raise awareness of social issues, the mass majority of people want to help. Everyone I spoke to about what I was doing not only were encouraged by what I was trying to achieve, but were infected by it. I received messages from people who after speaking to us, or seeing our show, have gone out to make a difference to a stranger’s life. Even if it’s just with a smile. And that smile, that human kindness, makes everything worthwhile.
Adam Boyle is an Actor, writer and part time bear! Also known as Artistic Director of Bears & Vagabonds a not for profit film and theatre production company championing & fundraising for worthwhile social and ethical causes https://twitter.com/Bears_Vagabonds