Posted in Travel, Writing

Starting with a Single Step

This post was inspired by a sign spotted at a steam railway station in Wales

Whenever I’m embarking on a major project, from weeding the garden to writing a novel, I draw strength from helpful mantras such as “Eat the elephant one bite at a time”. This graphic mental image can make any daunting task seem so much more manageable, unless of course you’re a vegetarian.

It would certainly have helped the French entertainer Michel Lotito, aka Monsieur Mouth Mange-tout, who during his 57 years is estimated to have consumed an astonishing nine tons of metal. When between 1978 and 1980, he ate an entire Cessna 150 aircraft, the Guinness Book of Records awarded him a brass plaque. He promptly ate the plaque.

Cessna 150M (cropped)

At least it would be high in iron

Another saying that helps me plough through piles of work is “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, attributed to ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (below).

Zhang Lu-Laozi Riding an Ox

Lao Tzu takes a trip on an ox

Sometimes I fantasise about taking his words literally.

What if I took a single step outside my front door here in France Lane, then another, then another, and just kept walking? Where might I end up?

It’s not that I hanker after reaching the furthest extremes of our island. I’ve already ticked Land’s End and John O’Groats off my travel bucket list, admittedly by car and camper van, rather than on foot. But the romantic appeal of a mystery tour is strong.

Photo of Debbie's dad by Land's End sign
With my dad at Land’s End

I’ve often thought that if I lived on continental Europe, I’d be tempted to drive as far as I could before the car conked out. I could leave my home in say, Paris, and keep going until I reached Hong Kong, just for the hell of it. People have done stranger things.

Debbie with husband and daughter at John O'Groats
Going to the opposite extreme With my husband and daughter at John O’Groats

So when I was in Mid-Wales last month, on the platform of Devil’s Bridge, the last stop on the Rheidol Steam Railway’s scenic twelve-mile line from Aberystwyth, I was captivated by a stylish retro railway poster with a similar sentiment.

poster by Ag Cain

Above an image of a family boarding an old-fashioned slam-door train was this slogan: “Why not travel by train direct* from Devil’s Bridge to Istanbul?” The asterisk at the bottom of the poster qualified this suggestion: “*Changing at Aberystwyth, Birmingham, Euston, Paris, Stuttgart, Munich, Budapest, Bucharest”. I was so tickled by the idea that I bought a postcard of the design in the station shop to pin over my desk for inspiration.

On returning home, I was only slightly disappointed to discover it wasn’t a genuine vintage advertisement, but a whimsical bit of fun by local artist Ag Cain. Still, you can’t fault his logic. And they do say Istanbul is lovely at this time of year…

This post was originally written for the June 2023 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Further Reading About Aberystwyth

I love Aberystwyth so much that after visiting it for the first time, I included it in my novella Mrs Morris Changes Lanes. It’s a fun, light read, a second-chance romantic comedy with a touch of magical realism. The beautiful cover design, hand-drawn by Rachel Lawston, shows Mrs Morris setting off on a mystery tour in a rather special purple Mini, on loan from her local garage.

To order the ebook or slim paperback online, click the image below, or place an order at your local bookshop.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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