The Thirty Minute Challenge

I came across this challenge the other day, and couldn’t resist it.

The challenge is as follows:

Travel no more than 30 minutes from where you live to somewhere you have never been before, walk around, explore, take some photos, or make some notes, then come home and reflect on it.
You can travel any way you like – walking, cycling, driving a car, public transport. Doesn’t matter if you live in a city, a town or in the country. The key to this is to explore somewhere NEW.

My day went like this.

At first I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. Although we haven’t been here long, only two and a bit years, we have explored a lot as a way of finding our way and feeling at home. Surely I had been to all the ‘places’ within half an hour of here, and after all, I thought, this is the country, and there just aren’t all that many ‘places’ to go.

I brought my mind back to the thirty minute element. Where would a thirty minute journey take me? I struck upon a place I had been to before, but not actually visited. It’s a wetland nature reserve on the Solway Coast.

Although I’d got as far as the entrance before, I’d turned back because of the cost. £7.50 seemed kind of steep for a wander round a nature reserve, and there’s an alternative along the coast that offers beautiful walks, and is free. (And has since become one of my all time favourite places to walk round here.)

Still, a challenge was a challenge and I had a whole day off, camera in pocket and a writing assignment to do for week 1 of my prose poetry course too. (I like the challenge of combining challenges.)

I decided to give it a go.

When I got into the car I started to think the journey would be more than 30 minutes after all. I decided it was okay to cheat since everywhere is so far away in a rural area (this sounds illogical but also seems to be true).

However, I got through the town without too much traffic and when I got out towards the coast something strange happened to time – as I got closer and closer to the site the clock moved closer to the thirty minute point.

I had left at 11.09 and when I pulled up at the entrance, it turned slowly, happily, going right along with the challenge, to 11.39.

I left again at half past three.

There was just something about this place – it pulled me in.

There weren’t many people there. The day was cold, a biting wind, and it whistled through some of the hides, howling, and biting.

But, there were hides aplenty to sit and watch, and take photographs, and eat a simple picnic, and write.

writing in the hide
the pond water drifts from grey
to green to turquoise

The nature of the place is not so much a place to walk, as a place to watch, and reap the rewards of the conservation work that’s going on.

It’s one of those places, one of the features of the Solway coast, that is halfway between water and land.

It’s a liminal place, between water and land, between Scotland and England. A place of inbetween.

It’s flat, such flat land compared to where I live, just thirty minutes drive away, flat and stretched under the sky.

It’s a place full of birds: calls, swoops and sudden flocks, darting reminders.

I realised when I was there that this day was the day before my 47th birthday. Seven years before I’d handed in my notice and left secure, successful, status-filled employment to pilgrimage, to learn, to discover, and to journey.

I had a feeling, standing under the big skies, sitting in the hides, looking across to this space inbetween, this space of not-water not-land, not-river not-sea, that this was a turning point in the journey, and the starting of something different.

Perhaps one where I do, in fact, write more again.

Perhaps one where liminality is embraced.

Definitely one where there is still and always time for mooching, and noticing, and tipping your head up to the sky.

But perhaps a different way of processing, or a different way of telling.

I don’t know. I just know – the timing, like the clock turning from 11.38 to 11.39 when I arrived at the site, felt significant, somehow.

I know when I was walking in this place, this land of not been before, and wouldn’t normally go, that I felt more like myself, and full of impossible gratitude at the gift of the journey, and the vastness of this sky, above it all.

These were big thoughts, but there were more prosaic ones too.

How easy it is to limit yourself, to tell yourself stories about places that are or aren’t there, about how far away things are, about the kind of place a place might be, or the kind of person you are, and whether or not you’d feel at home there, about how much time you have, and how much time a thing will take, about whether or not you can still write, and what might still happen if you sit down in a chilly bird hide for half an hour, with a cheese sandwich and a packet of crisps, and see what happens.

About what happens, over and over, and over and over, like the return of the tide, when you’re willing to open your eyes.


I got the idea for the challenge from the Heroes Not Zombies blog (with grateful thanks).

I was visiting the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre at Caerlaverock.

All the photos were taken with the Hipstamatic, John S lens, Blanko Noir film