Walking without a donkey 4 Salinas 


The very early car journey from Santander to Aviles was spectacular. The sun rose orange behind us as we passed through beautiful ancient villages, huge imposing mountains, and industrial factories spewing much gunk.

My first hour-long walk with all the stuff on my back was from Aviles to Salinas on the same northern coast of Spain, but further West of Santander.  It was a Google maps walk which means it was efficient (I didn’t get lost), but all on tarmac.

Google map link to Salinas

I was carrying what I hoped would be enough, but not too much, for 3 months – information gleaned from the web and the Camino book my friend, colleague and experienced walker, Liz leant me. I am likely to walk through 3 seasons, and this initial amble when my hips, feet, and knees all ached, immediately impressed upon me that I can’t carry that much for up to 8 hours on the Camino de Santiago otherwise, known as the Camino de Peregrinos (pilgrims).

Thus began the process of letting go of what I believed I needed, probably a metaphor for the mental process too. I left things at hostels and friend’s houses and I sent some back home, some forwards to be there later in the year. 

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I walked past a mix of the industrial type of area you get on the outskirts of a town, past prettily coloured and elegantly balconied residencies, and beautifully kept front gardens with both larger versions of the sorts of plants I am familiar, with as well as ones which don’t thrive in the UK. I stopped to buy a croissant for breakfast and the woman in the shop, like all the oh-so-friendly people I have come across, wanted to know where I was from and where I was going.

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Montse, a newly qualified Shiatsu practitioner, met me in the hot sun and took me to her flat where we started the process of getting to know each other, she often in English, me in Spanish. We spoke about being a mother, and about the age children get to when they are part independent and part dependent. I gave my third Shiatsu session and enjoyed it. All of them felt spacious and it was great to be swapping for such amazing hospitality.

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The beach at Salinas is another surfer’s paradise and it was warm enough for me to sun bathe on the wonderful swathe of golden sand and watch. I don’t know anything about surfing, but usually people seem to head straight into the beach, whereas one impressive guy skimmed on top of a single wave parallel to the shore for what seemed like miles.


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It may be something to do with the Shiatsu folk I stayed with, but I was served fresh and local produce wherever I went. One of the first new words I learned from Manolo, who I stayed with in Santander, was huerte meaning vegetable garden, and their fresh tomato salad was muy rica (‘delicious’. Thanks Iris for teaching me this in my Spanish classes!). Montse, her mum, and I picked apples and lemons, and gathered nettles and mint for infusions from an orchard in the hills outside the town. We has fresh figs, black carrots, and walnuts; merluza (fish, hake); home-made marmalade, and drank cidra (cider), which this area is especially well-known for (not all in the same meal).

Montse did her Shiatsu training with Gill, my principle Spanish contact, in Aviles, and we moved back and forth several times between there and Salinas when she worked and I engaged in sightseeing or where I taught my first Shiatsu workshop. Aviles is the subject of the next blog!

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Walking without a donkey 3 Santander


When I first decided to take a sabbatical in Spain I posted my plans on Facebook. Nicola, one of my Shiatsu collegaues offered to connect me with Gill, a British  practitioner and teacher who has lived and worked in Spain for many years. We spoke on the phone, and she kindly translated and disseminated an email I sent to her about myself. In no time I had received messages from her students, graduates and colleagues all over the country, offering to host me in return for a Shiatsu session, tutorials, or classes. I loosely planned my journey according to the location of these people, together with my personal aims such as to walk some of the Camino de Santiago.

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Arriving in Santander

In my last blog I wrote about my boat trip to Santander in the north of Spain, but it was only towards the end of that journey that I was paired up with the delightful Rosa, a Pilates teacher who liked my idea of taking a break from work and home and travelling somewhere new for inspiration. At the last minute I found out where I was going to be staying that night! Manolo, her husband, met me at the ferry terminal in the centre of Santander, and he drove me along the waterfront, showing me the impressive facilities built for training and supporting the Olympic watersports team. In the evening sun we toured the eastern point of the city, briefly viewing the Palacio Real de la Magdalena, the several impressive beaches and the lighthouse, before heading back to the house.

These hosts were congenial – welcoming, accommodating, generous and so patient with my pidgeon Spanish! They prepared food for me every day, took me around the city and along the coast in the sunshine. I rode on the back of a motor bike for the first time since I was 20, zipping in and out of the city traffic, able to get a parking place easily, and take detours through no-car zones. We picked up fish and vegetables from the thronging Miranda market for the evening’s paella, and I saw the hugest tuna on the slab ready for a party.

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We coursed through at least 3 writer’s streets, wide avenues with apartments that have large windows and good views, ideal for stimulating the creative process; skimmed past the cathedral and environs, managing the hills of the city with ease on 2 wheels. Manolo pointed out places which were special to the family; and I was given the history and stories behind the sights. Being a tourist in a city new to you is a totally different and more satisfying experience when you are shown around by a local.

My first walk was along a stretch of nearby coast as the evening sun set on my left. La Maruca, where the Ria de San Pedro del Mar meets the sea, has a wild feeling with cliffs and rocky beach, especially considering it is just north of the city centre.

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Santillana del Mar

We drove in an open top car (me comfortable in the tiny back seat because I have very short legs!) to Santillana del Mar (famously neither on a plane (llana), nor by the sea (del mar)). It´s ever so pretty, with flowers cascading from window boxes down sun-bleached stone walls, and narrow shops selling leather goods and local delicacies. Unfortunately the church was closed as it was lunchtime but I was told that the cloisters are well worth seeing.

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Colegiata de Santillana del Mar

We returned via Suances which has a glorious beach, resplendent with real surf. Black-clad imps trying to stay up as they rode the waves, reminded me of the determination of the salmon leaping up the River Braan at The Hermitage near Dunkeld. We lunched on crab and calamari washed down with cold beer in the hot sun-bliss!

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Surfing beach at Suances

My lovely time in Santander came to an end when I tagged along with Rosa who was going to a course in Aviles, Asturias, west of Cantabria, driving along with the stunning Picos de Europa in the distance to where I started the second leg of my Spanish adventure.

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Rosa and Tamsin

Rosas beautiful studios – bright, efficient, well-equipped http://www.rosanunez.com/

Walking without a donkey 2


On the anniversary of my dad’s death, I’m travelling to Spain, by ship from Portsmouth to Santander, and I am offering Shiatsu in return for bed and breakfast. I have little in the way of a plan, wanting to be able to respond to offers and opportunities which arise day-to-day, an antidote to my usual schedule. It’s space, spontaneity and a greater peace of mind I am seeking.

25 Hours on a boat means that the day’s walks are short, or at best, circular. After a night of listening to continual coughing, I wasn’t up to much more than my morning Salutations to the Sun and multiple circuits of deck 9. It was hot and windy, but it made more sense to be watching the water go by than be whizzed up in a plane and miss the landscape I am travelling over.

The kids will tell you that I’m always hoping to see a whale or dolphin and never have. It turns out that on this massive ship they announce sightings over the tannoy, because suddenly everyone rushes starboard. We watch the spurts and watery shadows from a distance, but sadly there are any no spectacular leaps.

Be careful if you want to travel like this without a car! On some boats you can only go if you take a cabin, and that adds considerably to the cost; on others you can take a ‘reclining seat’, but it still ends up being nearly double the initial advertised cost.
Half way through the journey I still didn’t have anywhere to stay when I arrived in Santander. In response to other’s kindly concerns about my welfare, I had several times abandoned my aim of responding to offers and opportunities and tried to plan in advance, only for those early ideas to be scuppered by outside forces (eg no foot passengers allowed on certain boats).

Anyway that approach was too much like hard work and exactly the habitual way of being which I was trying to challenge. Nevertheless I was starting to wonder if I would have to spend my first night in a hostel, when I got a message from the wonderful Gill, giving me the number of Rosa in Santander who identifies with my idea. After only a few messages, her husband Manolo has promised to meet me off the boat and, after months of waiting, I can see land ahead.

Greenpeace. Save the whales https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/whales?source=em&subsource=20161007ocem01&utm_source=gpeace&utm_medium=em&utm_campaign=20161007ocem01

The New Forest, England

Autumn 2016

I am taking a break from my regular life in Edinburgh to discover what I want to do with myself and my future. I’m walking my way into my next half century.

Ken and I were wandering together years ago by a river in Cardiff and he was telling me how walking helps the brain settle, how it gets the creative juices flowing. Simply setting one foot in front of another helps the thoughts to move along, and gets you from one place to another.

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Downton, England.

Luckily I am healthy; my beautiful daughters can now manage brilliantly without me, and so with lots of support from family and friends I have taken time off to explore. I intend to spend time sitting, resting, listening, watching, meeting new people, speaking another language, and of course, walking.

 ‘Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and (that) life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.’ Bruce Chatwin ‘Songlines’

I started my Autumn walks in the New Forest with Angela – snake stories, practicing Spanish verbs, annual acorn-eating pigs, and some donkeys.

Our excuse was to take Polly, Christinas’s dog, out for exercise, and we roamed along grassy paths with the smell of Autumn all around us. We tried to avoid any wildlife that might readily be chased.

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Donkey foal.

As we roamed along valleys beside meandering streams, and the bracken seemed to turn browner by the minute, we got to know each other and Polly explored. Inevitably she discovered the donkeys which are free to roam as part of the peoples’ rights to graze their livestock, pick holly, and cut peat.

I recommend this gentle part of the world for walking. It will deepen your appreciation of your surroundings, and moving side-by-side with someone is perfect for meaningful exchanges. 

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Detail on thatched ridge (blurred from a distance).

This is part of a travel blog entitled Walking Without a Donkey, a nod to Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson written in 1879

In Praise of the Donkey

The New Forest Walking Festival is between 12 – 27 August 2019

See also Downton and the New Forest, walks and history