Matt Hopwood walked 500 miles across Scotland to interview people about their own love stories with nothing more than a rucksack, pen, notepad, a copy of “Soil and Soul” by Alastair McIntosh, tape recorder, a change of clothes, a walking stick, and a Leatherman.
But in order to understand why Hopwood would undertake such a journey, one must understand his state of mind leading up to it.
“It was Christmas; I think when I was 33 I took to my bed. I was ill, but I was also emotionally and spiritually very far away from my soul.”
Hopwood had reached a crisis point.
He felt removed and isolated from the world, and found it incredibly difficult to express his emotions.
Before Hopwood began walking, he felt isolated from the world around him.
During this time, Hopwood had reconnected with a Petra Jean Phillipson, a woman he met when he was 21, performing at a concert.
“I remember looking out while I was performing this gig, and seeing this woman standing at the back that I didn’t know,” Hopwood told Epoch Times.
“I looked across the crowd and saw her face, and I knew in that moment that I needed her, and I was meant for her, and she somehow needed me.”
Coincidentally, Phillipson had been roommates with Hopwood’s cousin in London. He tried to talk to her that night, but was apprehensive and nervous.
Hopwood didn’t see her again for the next 12 years.
Twelve years later, Hopwood attended the same cousin’s wedding in Spain. Phillipson was there too, and they were seated next to each other.
He struck up a conversation this time, but was still nervous to speak with Phillipson. He was shy and could barely talk. At one point, Phillipson asked what was wrong with him and why he couldn’t speak.
He was about to actually speak with her when his brother-in-law interrupted them, and walked her off into the crowd.
Hopwood was left standing there alone. However, he had gotten Phillipson’s phone number, and they ended up speaking over the next few months following the wedding.
When Hopwood had reached his crisis point, Phillipson invited him to stay with her in France for the week.
“This amazing woman just looked after me essentially,” he said.
At the end of the week, Hopwood returned to England. He was living in a caravan at the time, and spent the next three days weeping.
After three days, Hopwood called Phillipson.
“I can’t live without you. I love you. I need you,” Hopwood recalls telling Phillipson.
“Well if you need me, come and get me,” Hopwood remembers Phillipson replying. And he did. The two were engaged nine weeks later, and married just a few months after that.
Returning to France for Phillipson allowed Hopwood to begin to open up, understand himself, and express himself.
Hopwood’s walking journey was an extension of that experience with Phillipson, and he wanted to give other people the opportunity to have the space that he had.
Hopwood wanted to provide a space where people could be vulnerable and express themselves without being judged.
He believed if he just walked out the front door without anything, and started a journey, he could meet people along the way.
He walked for two reasons. Firstly, it was cheap. He had no money when he started the project.
The second reason was walking allowed him to be in a more meditative and thoughtful state. And that’s helpful when meeting people and trying to share stories.
Hopwood relied almost entirely on the kindness of strangers for shelter during his travels. Sometimes he would spend the night in a church. Other times in a barn.
However, there was never a night where he didn’t have a place to stay.
One of Hopwood’s most memorable conversations was with a man that wished to remain anonymous.
Hopwood met the man walking through a park, and they began talking.
The man had a grand plan of traveling the world for several years. However, about five days into his trip he learned that the girl he had been seeing was pregnant.
“This big journey of emancipation that he was going on suddenly contracted right down,” Hopwood recounted.
The man was in a situation in which he was in a relationship he didn’t want, and was going to have a child he wasn’t ready for. It’s not an easy story to tell, but the man opened up to Hopwood.
“It’s unbelievable. This guy opened out his heart, and talked about how he was having to balance having this child he was [now] completely in love with, this amazing experience of love, and yet at the same time he was in this place of not wanting a child, and not wanting to be in the situation.”
The man wasn’t ready to be a father, and didn’t necessarily want to be in a relationship with the mother, but felt a profound love for his daughter. Hopwood listened without judgement.
Hopwood began this latest journey on the east coast of England in Northumberland. He walked for 500 miles across Scotland over the course of five weeks, meeting strangers and recording their love stories. He’s compiled those stories into a book, “A Human Love Story,” published earlier this year.
“It felt very momentous. Because I think what happens is you journey, meet a lot of people, and you hear a lot of profound, emotional stories,” he said. “That’s a lot of energy to hold as you journey.”
The end of Hopwood’s journey occurred on World Earth Day in 2017. His final destination was at the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis.
Hopwood believes being in love, or feeling love is about feeling connected with something or someone. He thinks love is a feeling of home.
“On a deeper level they find that they’re seen, or they’re recognized, or they’re acknowledged, and they acknowledge someone back.”
If you have a story, write to Andrew Thomas at [email protected]