Berwickshire Coastal Path: St Abbs to Cockburnspath

January 2020. The third and final section of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (BCP), Scotland. 25+kms (15.5 miles minimum). There are facilities at the Pease Bay Leisure Park (perhaps 6.5 hours in – the Smugglers Restaurant), otherwise, not until Cockburnspath, unless you count behind-the-bracken as a facility! It is a difficult walk for those who haven’t recently done Scottish cliff walking. Total 7.5 hours.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Old photo of fishermen on the River Tweed with the iconic bridge behind them. Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station, England
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Monument with a coat of arms which has a cow in a gold chain on it, Berwick-upon-Tweed, England

St Abbs

It takes quite a while to get to St Abbs from my home in Edinburgh by public transport (train then local bus), so this time I went the night before and stayed at the Seaview B&B 6, Brierylaw, St Abbs. I highly recommend it. The owners are really friendly and generous with their time, and they went out of their way to make me comfortable (I had a luxurious bath), and ensure I was well-fed.

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St Abbs, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Another shoutout for the Old School Cafe at the Ebba Centre. Full story of their delicious cakes and kindness here here (day 2 of the Berwickshire Coastal Path)

Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland
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St Abbs over the undulating hills, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Maps and interesting facts

I took photos of the Ordnance survey (OS) Explorer map 346 entitled Berwick-upon-Tweed, Eyemouth, Cockburns Path etc, before I left my accommodation.

I left at 8.30am and walked the St Abbs to St Abbs Head path again. The National Nature Reserve is a paradise for birdwatchers, hikers and great fun for tiring out children. I scouted round the first little mound to save my legs at this early stage and remembered nuggets of information I gleaned from the Ruth and Barry at Seaview:

  • that the guillemots are starting to return from their winter sojourn
  • that you can see up to 1000 seal pups (a great piece in the Herald by Virginia Wilde about seals) on beaches near here in the season (October / November)
  • that, ‘St Abb’s Head is carved almost entirely out of lavas, which are flows of molten rock across the earth’s surface. These lavas were sticky and flowed slowly because they are composed of a silica-rich rock called andesite (named after the Andes Mountains).’ from the Edinburgh Geological Society pdf
  • that the sea cleanses west-east along the coast making for the calm waters which delight scuba divers.
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I saw two joggers and a birder, but no hikers during the whole day, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

This is a walk with wild and varied terrain

Then the first climb: I had to stop several times because I was so unused to it; I realised that my poles were uneven (one for a child and the other more sturdy, for adults), and the new gaiters which were discovered in the back of one of mum’s cupboards had long straps which are supposed to be trimmed before using – they kept getting in the way.  I could feel a headche looming (a reminder to drink water regularly as I hike), and the cold wind was at the nape of my neck. I was mighty glad for the rucksack protecting my kidneys – it would have been freezing if I hadn’t been properly dressed. Let’s hope, I thought to myself, that it’s 8 and not 10 hours as some of my treks have been. It looked so easy on the map!

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I am so grateful for my decent boots, mismatched walking batons and new gore-tex gaiters (waterproof material which you wrap around the lower legs to stop mud and water entering over the edge of boots or up the bottom of trousers). They still had the security tag on them which Barry kindly released me from before I left). Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland
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Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

I could feel Xmas, heavy and bulky around my waist. Wow! was it hard work up and down what I discovered were the highest cliffs in Berwickshire. Overhead, pairs of birds were chasing each other, long-necked with a wide wingspan.

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Mire Loch and the North Sea in the distance, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland
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Mire Loch and the yellow gorse, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

The closer I got to the water, the louder the seabirds and the wind. The white sky was dissected by the trail of a plane, and I had forgotten the red, the pink-burgundy-purple of the land round here. ‘Between each lava flow there is commonly a reddened zone, because the lava may have been weathered for hundreds of years in a subtropical climate until the next lava covers it’ (Edinburgh Geological Society pdf as above).

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Going downhill on the road, the silence descended and the view opened up again, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Gorgeous Geology

Sniffing on account of the cold wind, I came to my first path dilemma – do I go by the road or off to the right? There was no sign. I chose the road, but was very unsure and got into a bit of a (short-lived) state about it, trying to look at the photos I had taken of the OS map without my phone being blown out of my hands, and comparing them to the insubstantial BCP leaflet while the wind was coming towards me like nothing on earth. There was a sign further on, so the road was the correct course of action.

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When I rounded the headland to be faced with this bay, I was astonished to remember reading someone who said he hadn’t noticed the strata of rock, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

The second female runner, red faced, grinned as she ran on, then stopped to hold open the gate for me. As she disappeared into the distance, I was left with the sound of the waves. I adore the quiet.

My poles stuck into the soft, brown clay which soon changed to clods around the edge of a field where cattle had clearly been. The cow pats had orange fungus (pezizales) on them and there were great clumps of shiny, black pastilles, deer droppings.

It struck me how little I know about so many jobs: diving, fishing, farming, lighthouse keeping, all of which I depend on. Such things I mused as I walked.

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In the distance, a single fisherman in his orange all-in-one suit was chugging along at the same time as laying his nets. He was followed by squawking, white birds. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

I heard the birds going sweeeak, squweeeak, sqweeeak, sqweeeak, sqweeeak, tda, tda, tda very fast!

I, on the other hand, was going so, so slowly and feeling incredibly unfit, breathing heavily on the ascents – great exercise for inner and outer health. As I paced, I could feel my heart sighing. My head was still zizzy and a bit anxious, but I could also actually feel myself grounding, as if lead was working its way down my legs which of course made them feel altogether too heavy to climb hills. My system was settling. The intense breathing had cleared away some of what was clogging my lungs; the bowel clearing which went on an hour after starting, resulted in a very easy sensation in my abdomen. This was good for me.

Cliffs, stiles and wind turbines

What sort of terrain was it? Two stiles, a little burn, up a very steep bit, over a stone wall, ribboned white, and through a gate with a metal spike to shut again after me – I struggled with it. More stout stiles, wind turbines and wet burns (where your water bottle might fall out of its pouch, getting muddy even around the lip under the lid), even more stiles (too high for short legs), curving round contours and up more slopes – pwhew!

After the highest cliffs (the Tun Law Forts) and the two admiralty poles (to measure nautical miles), the path hugs the coast (I went inland by mistake). The sea was all glassy, rippling gently in the wind. The wind was incredibly heavy up here, but down at the sea it looked magical. The path is sometimes dizzingly close to the edge of steep gorges with white foam at the bottom. The gorse was olive green from a distance, and their glorious sunshine flowers matched the yellow arrows.

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The stunning landscape of the Berwickshire Coastal Path is, generally, well signposted. I was warned by two sources that it is easy to get lost – maybe my several years of experience paid off, because I only went off-course for a sum of 10 minutes or so over the day. Here you can see the various possibilities which converge at one point

Then there was a beautiful flat stretch: Small brown birds were tweeting. They appeared and disappeared like helicopters doing vertical take-off and landing practice (skylarks?). I couldn’t see any dolphins or whales, which I always wish I could, but then I realised how lucky I am to see seals almost every day outside my house. Gulls with black wing tips were gliding over the sea. There were feathered swarms, like bees, inland over the sheep-filled fields.

I heard the sound of a quad bike before I saw it, like the brrr you do with your lips, spitting saliva a bitty, to make a baby laugh. Then I saw a man holding back a collie dog with great difficulty. He gestured and spoke, but the wind stopped me from hearing what he said. I got the gist and waited. They were driving the escaped sheep back up the cliff and we all had to be very careful in case they panicked and rushed in the wrong direction, to their death.

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This was my first ‘proper’ walk after injuring my left foot on the Portuguese Camino. It had taken months to heal and I was nervous about future walks, but I became more confident as the day progressed. My ankles felt weak – that was the lack of Scottish hill walking practice – and so I was careful to place my feet flat where possible, which sometimes hard on the side of these hills.

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The fawn-deer-brown bracken was lying almost flattened to the ground after winter storms. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Higher and higher, I looked back at the most wonderful rocks which angled down and reached their guano covered fingers into the sea, some with athritic knuckles all jagged as if they had rough skin.

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Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

More sheep

For the first time I saw sheep head-butting each other, their hind legs sort of bouncing off the ground as they did it. As soon as I stopped to watch, though, they stopped too, like embarrassed teenagers caught doing something they shouldn’t be – it was so funny.

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Three hours in and the ground was flatter – forest and fence, new coppice of some type of pine.  Ditches full of rainwater were squidgy to negotiate. There was not much sign of a path here until the next metal fence and a gully with thorn trees, inland.

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On this walk, you just keep on going and you eventually get there. I arrived at Dowlaw (say doolaw) farmhouse at 12 noon – 3.5 hours exactly which was good going given that the time for this stage was listed as 3.5 – 4 hours. As you approach the dwelling, remember to turn right through a small copse, do not take the left at the farm machinery.

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The half way mark – Dowlaw

I lay down and rested out of the howling wind for a few minutes, but it was very wet. I had been hearing a conversation going on beyond my left shoulder which when I stopped I couldn’t identify the origin of. Slowly I realised it was the wind turbines turning, chatting away to themselves.

I followed the road and then left it as the map showed, perhaps too early, because there was a dearth of signs. I traversed grass with almost no noticeable track to speak of. Yes, the signs were unclear, seeming to point across more moorland, but I was unsure. There was a car with its engine running, a solo man in it, a big screen on his dashboard that he was watching, despite facing out to sea.

I was very, very tired by this time, so I was glad that it was more level, overall, on this final stretch. I was amongst the sheep, passing through gate after gate,  and molehills were everywhere. It must all be taken carefully – the route twists and turns, over waterways and round field corners. When you doubt that you are on the right track because you come to a junction where there are options, scan far, far ahead into the distance looking for a small pole with a yellow arrow and a blue and white sign to guide you.

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Torness shining in the distant sun, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Next was a farm yard with very pretty, nervous calves inside a barn, and three barking dogs, enclosed. Crows lined up on the telegraph wire. A sheep with a horrible rasping cough was on my left. It was if something had gone down the wrong way, most distressing. In the road in front of me were two running, waddling birds (game birds? I did hear shooting earlier). Every now and then they took off, their wings whirring as fast as those of flies. More cottages were ahead and smaller, brown birds with white tail feathers twittered away. They looped horizontally in and out of the hedgrows as if they were hanging the decorations.

Cow parsnip hogweed (heracleum sphondylium)

Flora and fauna -Old Cambus

My eye was drawn to the catkins flibbaling in the wind, snowdrops harbouring under a stone ledge, pussywillow shining white, and hogweed/cow parsnip in flower. Thoughts flitted in and out about a book I was recently given: Melissa Harrison’s Rain. I wasn’t sure about it at the beginning, but it was starting to grow on me – four, easy essays written about seasonal walks in different parts of England, all about rain and the effects it has on animals and the earth – interesting facts, well written.  I wondered to myself if she learned from books / the internet or if it was local lore from people she had spoken to along the way.

‘Here and there hazels have produced their yellow catkins; there are hips bright as blood, too, and beside the path a straggle of field mustard, most likely a farmland escapee…’

This was Old Cambus and I went straight on, as far as the T-junction, and there I thought I must be wrong. I was right! Retracing my footsteps (right hip and soles sore from road walking) I asked a woman getting into a car and she pointed me to the seagreen shed. I had to go past the garden with the tin / metal sculptures of a sheep and a pelican.

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Turn right at this cottage, walk straight down the left hand side of the field and then, although it is counter-intuitive, turn right (do not go across the farmyard full of wood even though there is a sign pointing left there). Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

So, now I was going back in the opposite direction (sea on my left) to another sign in the corner of the field. Then, straight downhill (not left) towards the sea. There was a ruin up ahead.

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The ruin seen from the other side. The day was brightening as it came to its end. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Siccar Point

Although the path goes inland here, I was able to get a photo, later, looking back towards the famous Siccar Point or Hutton’s Unconformity.

Siccar Point (Hutton's Unconformity)
Siccar Point or Hutton’s Unconformity, of immense geological interest, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

‘In 1788, James Hutton first discovered Siccar Point, and understood its significance. It is by far the most spectacular of several unconformities that he discovered in Scotland, and very important in helping Hutton to explain his ideas about the processes of the Earth.’

 ‘At Siccar Point, nearly vertical sedimentary rocks of Silurian age – greywacke sandstones and mudstones – are covered unconformably by a younger sequence of red sandstone and breccia.’ The Geological Society

‘Hutton used Siccar Point to demonstrate the cycle of deposition, folding, erosion and further deposition that the unconformity represents. He understood the implication of unconformities in the evidence that they provided for the enormity of geological time and the antiquity of planet Earth, in contrast to the biblical teaching of the creation of the Earth.’

Over a cattle grid I traipsed, and took a right with lots of signposts giving mileages to Cockburnspath which turned out to be erroneous, but kept me forging forwards at the time. A long stretch along the edge of a fence was very steep with very little space to walk.

Pease Bay

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There was Pease Bay  ahead – how did they ever get planning permission to fill the bay like that with caravans? Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland
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I sat for five minutes and ate some sugary snacks before stumbling down a long flight of wooden steps to Pease Bay, Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Up a very steep road on the other side, past some houses, I joined the very end of the Southern Upland Way (which starts at Portpatrick, south western Scotland 214 miles / 344kms). More tough steps, this time, up.

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Crossing a burn with little waterfalls on a boardwalk, I came across a sweet bay which could not be reached except by boat.

Beach cusps link to Coastal Wiki
Beach cusps – scallop-shaped patterns made by the sea at the edge of the shore where waves have collapsed into a thin bore. Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland
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The complicated coastline of Berwickshire with the picturesque houses of Cove and Torness Power Station in the distance, looking towards Edinburgh, Scotland

Cove and Cockburnspath

At Cove, there are caves in the red rock and stacks to rival Orkney’s. Striated rock comes down into the water. I spied a single cormorant on a rock with another swimming towards it out at sea. A solitary, brown, fluffy caterpillar was at my feet.

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On one side a man mended his car, on the other, a funny dog jumped off the ground in his enthusiasm to be petted – cute or what! Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

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Past a field of prize-winning sprouts, this stretch is noisy with motorway traffic and, as I passed under the railway, yet another train sped across. I viewed the peace and biscuits graffiti which was exactly as ‘Ettrick Shepherd’ on the Walk Highlands website stated (long distance walks / Berwickshire Coastal Path / St Abbs to Cockburnspath). I am indebted to him for his account, which I read before I walked.

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Never mind the spelling, it’s the sentiment which counts! Berwickshire Coastal Path coming into Cockburnspath at the end – hooray! Scotland

I arrived at Cockburnspath at 4pm, before it was dark. To get the bus back to Edinburgh, you need the stop on the Bowling Club side of the road. It turned out I could have got the 4pm bus, but I went for a celebratory cup of tea at the post office and village shop (which very sadly closes in 5 weeks due to bereavement) and so, missed it. I waited over an hour, regaled by very loud rock music coming from the house nearby, as it got darker. My right cheek was glowing hot from walking all day, much of it with the wind in my face. Thankfully, it’s a nice old fashioned bus stop with a covered wooden seat but, being wet throughout from the sweat of the walk, I chilled very quickly and so snuck behind and changed into dry clothes from the day before.

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Berwickshire Coastal Path, Scotland

Birdwatching on the Berwickshire Coast

Really good leaflet on wildlife of the Welsh coast, many of which species can be seen in Berwickshire too. pdf

You might also like Day 1 of the Berwickshire Coastal Path and North Berwick to Dunbar

My Feathered Friends

Today was all about the birds. 13th November 2019. And it prompted me to look through some of my other recent, avian memories of Portugal as I speed into Spain.

You can’t really see them, but this gorgeous tree in Vila Nova de Milfontes was home to hundreds

I was up on the roof today in Vila Nova de Milfontes (western Portugal) at 5.30am (that’s my favourite place to go on waking, wherever I am, if possible) doing my tai chi and yoga and standing around like a tree, as you do, when a wee gaggle of sparrows joined me. Lightly they hopped, pecking with their tiny pointed beaks between the ground mosaic for tid bits.

Clear signs of webbed beachcombers

I sat down to meditate and a ringed dove came a-paddling. She dipped her head every now and then to drink from the previous night’s rainwater. Pale grey with a black choker, she was tinged with pink and very pretty. I didn’t spoil the time by reaching for the camera – just enjoyed it.

Today I listened to the dawn chorus drowning out the school kids. A week earlier it was the starlings who entertained me outside the hostel window, while I watched four, then six, then eight egrets foraging in a faraway field.

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An egret photographed from a distance 

While I waited for the second bus later in Lisbon, I visited the Zoological Gardens (a stone’s throw from the Seite Rios bus and train station. The entrance is guarded by these pair of handsome eagles.

Stone eagles guarding the front gates of the Zoological Gardens in Lisbon, Portugal

Sitting across the water from me, my green tea and pastel de nata was a heron, just like he was the first time I visited two months ago. Like a humfy old man in a great coat, he stood patiently.

Heron, Zoological Gardens in Lisbon, Portugal

Lodging my rucksack in the cafe-staff locker room, I took a walk under now Autumn trees and moving cages with happy boys in them, waving, to the seagull side of the lake. She too was bathing intermittently.

Overhead viewing cages which you could ride in and see the Zoological Gardens from above
Although not in this photo!

And then I heard this whistling! It was so loud and repetitive that I thought for a moment it was a machine or recording, but after some investigation I found the parrots.

I watched and listened for ages: some were completely scarlet right up under the roof and they skweeked; smaller green, yellow and pink ones squwarked while crowding next to each other on a branch, one helping himself to the green leaves hanging out of his brother’s beak (no hard feelings!); some cuddled up close and preened each other; while a fourth species were tilting their heads and whistling like there was no tomorrow.

And then this beauty came to eyeball me.

I had been interested in her talons before (four per claw) which were large, but able to delicately hold the thinnest of twigs (the thickness of a blade of grass) while she bit off sections one at a time with her hooked beak and crunched it.

Now here she was using both feet and mouth to manœuvre into place and cling to the fence not more that 6 inches in front of me, so that these photos are real size. Positioning herself so that her eye was in a gap, she silently observed me.

I was being shown her belly, the soft, downy grey with spectacular tail feathers underneath. While her sisters hooted over the other side, she kept me in her sights, but didn’t talk back.

A pair of mallards, Zoological Gardens, Lisbon
Free range ducks, Almograve

These ducks were white balls, sound asleep until a rowdy truck disturbed one.

A deserted beach, just me and a pair of waders
Information board along the Rota Vicentina, western Portugal

I was mesmerised by a falcon amidst a flock of much smaller birds in Carrapateira. They seemed to be surrounding and then flying straight at him. Occasionally, he separated and made dive bombs, but minutes later he was caught up with the swarm again. Were they trying to warn him off?

Silves storks

Storks can be found all over the Algarve, particularly the Silves area where I had a perfect view of them gathering in the early mornings down by the river.

Stork, Silves

They perch on their massive nests which are balanced on top of poles, turrets and church spires.

Feathered fact: “White Storks are faithful to both their partner and nesting place each year and the building of the nest is carried out by the male and female together”
From Algarveblog

Unusual ocean setting for a stork

However, I was astonished to see one so close to the sea at Cabo Sardao.

Storks on Japanese ceramic, Tanzan Kotoge, 2015, Museo de Zaragoza
The motorway insersection I crossed from Seite Rios to the Zoological Gardens, Lisbon

My final memory is of swimming in a swirling sea, rocks all around me, when an oyster catcher plopped in just a little way away. I think I must be getting stiller for these birds don’t seem to be frightened and come surprisingly close. It’s a joy.

This was the setting but I didn’t have my camera in there for obvious reasons, so you’ll just have to believe me!

Quiet moments – Picardy 3

Nearing the end of October, Northern France

Yesterday I lay down on my back to do my exercises under a tree with my eyes closed. I was focusing on my breath and muscles, moving through my paces. I opened them on hearing a tweet and there, in the spreading branches (don’t they always spread?) and bright leaves, was one, no, two, a whole flock of little birds with long tails bobbing up and down, jutting their tiny heads and flitting fast from place to place. I couldn’t see their backs because I was underneath, but there were hints of pink adding to the brown and beige. They took no notice of me, which was nice.

As I watched, a beastie with many legs crawled up the edge of my arm and onto the top; another one went in and, thankfully, out of my ear; an ant went all round my knee.

When I went to the loo I sprayed soft moss fronds and scratchy bits of autumn twig on the floor!

Later sitting at my desk, writing, the lime greenery was only broken by the odd brown leaf and matching beech nuts opening their hard lips to the air. From the first floor I am half way up where the branches are thinner. It all shivers and sways gently, not much, almost settling, continuing its dialogue with the breeze.

Shadows on my bedroom wall from that same tree outside, like an old sepia shot.

This morning I stood beside another one to do my T’ai Chi. Just as I got to move 134 I found myself back at thirty something so I completed almost a whole second round (140 in total). I got slower and slower. In the fog I saw the tips of my fingers, covered in fine rain, shift in my peripheral vision and I felt myself sink a little.

A bit sun bleached, this photo, but it shows the thin horizontals between branches. I’ve not noticed them before.

It’s trunk was very quiet, half in, half out of the ground. I couldn’t see it move although I knew it was, inside. It stood there before I got here of course, and stands there now. I tried to emulate it. I thought of the tree, being in all weathers; watching people, animals and insects coming and going over the years. The wind rustled it. Then did the same to my hair. I stood, learning.

Then I stood still, ‘standing like a tree’ (it’s a chi gung exercise). It was lighter now (approaching 7am). I enjoyed it.

First in shoulder stand and then bottom in the air – the world looked lovely even upside down looking between my legs.

After I gave Shiatsu to a wood worker this morning, I left him on the mat and walked to the window. High on the second floor I was level with the top of the tree and there was a woodpecker. No, really. Right there. Black and white all down its back with a red top knot and knickers. The window was closed, but I saw it noiselessly tapping inbetween tilting its head to the right as if looking to see if anyone was coming.

When I looked back into the room and asked how L was doing, he said “floating” and then there was a wait. From inside himself with his eyes tight shut he added, “my body’s fizzing”.

I didn’t try to take a photo of the woodpecker in case I disturbed it. However this little critter, a ladybird, was on my last piece of apple (from the tree in the garden) when I came back in.

Via de la Plata Camino – Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos

Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Guillenna to Castilblanco de los Arroyos. 18 kms. 38 degrees heat on arrival.

Off I set on day 2 of the Via de la Plata. I wonder what today’s adventures will bring?
Magical to watch the sun rise as I walked.

There was a crescent moon high over Guillena as I left in the cool air at 6.15am. There were already birds singing and the cats were skittering around the deserted village, scouting the bins and very nervous of me. There was that Spanish smell: a mix of plants, food, perhaps even the building materials – very hard to describe. The cock was heralding the dawn of my next stage. As I walked I felt really happy, happier and happier, and the kittens did their tree climbing practice while their mum looked on.

If I had walked past here, extending the kilometers covered as the Germans did yesterday to the next town, I would have missed this. As it was I was refreshed and ready for the journey. I realised that I was only wearing a T shirt and the temperature was very pleasant. Only a few clouds bordered the horizon.

I traversed the River de Huelva, bats flying around me, and ah! I remembered that I had left my food in the hostel fridge again. I hoped it would be enjoyed by others.

My camera could not see the sunrise the way my eyes could. I rehearsed the description in my mind so I could try and conjure it up later: the colours – red and blue at the top, a stippled layer of dark purple underneath pale yellow, under pink – not like anything reproduced in fabric or paint. All this above a silhouetted horizon of palm trees, like pineapples on sticks. The top edges of ordinary farm or industrial buildings stretched right across my vision, pulling my gaze towards the destination away from the hedgerow. That sillouette got stronger and stronger as I walked the long stretch of road, and as always on the outskirts of towns, there were very few arrows as guidance.

And then it lightened.

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I came to an industrial area by the main road intersection. My mind was generally quiet except for the mini-panics over finding the way. Passing a blue, white and yellow warehouse there was a lot of rubbish littering the deserted tarmac and there was an air of danger. I am not religious, but I felt as if the cross which hung around my neck given to me by Pedro the night before I left was protecting me. Perhaps his wish for me to have a safe journey was imbued in it.

These rather boring pictures are for those who might be following this blog and trying to find their way, like me, without a guide book.

 

I was prepared for difficulties because there was no translation of the website when I planned my route the night before. After an hour I came to farm land, crossed a dry river bed, and there were the wonders of nature laid out before me.

Wild flowers I am familiar with from Scotland.
Side by side with tropical plants.
Whole fields of beauty.
My phone camera did manage to capture these gorgeous sights.

Obviously there has been no rain here for a quite a while.

My Shiatsu and its theory is always with me and I muse: I guess all of us who love to walk, feet on the ground, have to be balancing our Earth element. It then follows that worry which is associated with that element can be a normal thing for us, and the walking helps with it. I spotted a rabbit and bees were collecting. My thoughts are interrupted by what surrounded me.


Soft grasses stroked my arm. The warming sun released the smells which changed from a damper, cool, morning green smell, to an earthier, warmer, sweet brown smell, and then to the searing fiery red emanating from the soil which has absorbed so much sun over so long. The track stretched straight into the distance and now I could see that there was a single pilgrim ahead of me and 3 Italians behind. I had spoken to one the night before as we both had some French. There was a Spaniard with a stout stick and an Alsatian dog coming in the opposite direction.

I stepped carefully, picking my way across the stony, pinky-brown earth with olive groves on one side, and crops on the other. Each had a narrow strip of flowers and grasses where the pesticide had not killed them.

Kind peregrinos had gone before me, making the way clear.

I kept asking myself why I walk. Maybe to prove myself to myself, to learn to be with myself without judgment, so I can do that with others. The quieter I am, the more accurately I hear, and then I know things before they happen. When I am attentive, things come into my mind before they take place outside and so I am not surprised by them when they happen. I am pleased with this. It releases some of the anxiety, but it is still new and unfamiliar. I believe that this sixth sense is one of the things babies have but then lose, getting replaced with fear. I am trying to unlearn the fear.

A walk was her answer to everything. It was her way of saying she did not want to talk.’                                                                                                                                                                       p. 190 The Words In My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd

I heard amazing bird song: some songs are simple – one or two notes; others start with one, but complete with a different rhythm altogether. They repeat, as if they were giving me lots of chances to understand what they were ‘saying’.

Ahead was a wonderful sight – a tiny castle in the distance amongst a huge field of sunflowers.

Getting closer and closer!
I measure the sunflowers which are exactly 4 foot 11 and a half inches – my height. Am I really that short?!

As I walk memories surface, triggered perhaps by things I see or other thoughts. Today I was thinking a lot about my mum and I when we were in Menorca many years ago. Maybe she was thinking about that too.

I had entered the Natural Park which signaled the start of the Sierra Norte and the Cortijo del Chaparral with its terracotta-coloured earth pathways. It was still flat and I was heading in the direction of Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

There are the mountains of the Sierra Norte far away.
Again, the camera does not pick up the colour well, but those who have walked this way will know that the paths are the hue of old earthenware pots.

Glimpses of last night’s dreams floated frustratingly in and out of consciousness. I reflected that part of this happiness was knowing that I had set off at good hour so that if anything went wrong there was time to put it right.

The Sierra were getting nearer.

After more thoughts and observations I returned to the walking, my breath, and the feeling of my feet and core. I called ‘hola’ (hello) to hard working farmers as I walked. I must have been losing fluids because I was regularly tightening my rucksack straps. (It must fit me snugly to avoid back and shoulder ache.)

A group of men who were working hard in the fields, miles from each other but still managing to converse, did not notice me passing until I was past. Then they unfolded, absent-mindedly standing, curious. Someone was hand-pruning a peach orchard. Here were pregnant long-horned cows and rabbits in among the olives, and I heard a new bird call: a hoot coming in 2s and 3s that was being responded to in kind from sonewhere else.

As close as I got to the pregnant cows – so as not to cause alarm.
Not sure if you can see the rabbits white puff of a tail.
Hardy grasses fanning out from their exposed roots growing healthily in the arid ground.

One bird screeched, its long tail beating up and down. It was collecting from the ground and doing a sort of bouncy hopping from 2 feet to 2 feet, right alongside the rabbits, taking scraps to the excited babies in its nest. One bird daringly swooped in festoons from tree to tree, brushing past my head. There was lavender, rosemary and sharp cistus bushes, with sage too, and later a pungent fragrance like-sweet peas.

It was rocky with lots of yellow arrows. My advice if you are walking this way: if you have not seen a sign in the last 5 minutes, retrace your steps.

I was tempted by the sounds of fellow travellers and immediately took a wrong turn. One turned out to be the first Brit I had come across, a cyclist with good advice. He ‘buen camino-ed’ me from a distance later, unsure for some reason whether I spoke in English, and that little exchange changed my energy. I saw him again, once in a village as he was looking for a post office to send back his guitar. He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time, but actually it was a nuisance on the bike and unused.

The ants hurried along in opposite directions. There was a buzz of pylons as I passed underneath that sent my brain fizzing. I was so glad that I did not walk this part yesterday in what was a 38 degrees heat at the end of a 35 km day!

The solo peregrino who I thought was behind me passed as I sat quietly on a rock and ate my pear.

To avoid the curled-forwards posture of the everyday backpackers I saw around me I was using Bill Palmer’s concept of buoyant / full organs to keep my solar plexus open.

There were butterflies galore, some almost black.

I thought as I walked: our words live on inside others, so it is important to take care with them, to take responsibility for what we say.

I make the least imprint on the earth I think, walking like this, compared with bikes, cars, trains and planes, and I hope I give lots back in return for the joy I am getting.

In case you get lost after leaving the park, you turn left into the road, cross over and there is a path through the undergrowth on the other side. It has to be eyes down for the arrows.

The final part of the day’s pathway is by the road, but you can pretend you are in the open country.

 

Entrance to the town.
Two doorways, one inside the other. This camino is full of portals to new parts of me.

Walking the Caminos alone is good for people who usually try to behave correctly in life, as it is often the first time they can please themselves.


If it is early when you arrive in Castilblanco (11.30am), do as others do and and sit outside the first bar you come to because the albergue doesn’t opens until 1pm.

All hosteliers are volunteers.
There are lovely gardens in front of the Castilblanco albergue / hostel. Get the key at the petrol station if it is shut.
A long, wide, main street, Castilblanco  Spain. 

I went for some food and it was quite a performance. The English version of the menu did not have the same meals as the Spanish version did. The bar owner explained that the reason they did not have the fried anchovies was because it was not on the Spanish side! I said ‘sin carne / no meat’ (ah, yes, I remembered the way this went!), and the first thing ge brought (when I ordered chickpea salad) was meat stew. I reminded him that I did not eat meat, and he said, ‘what, not chorizo?’ and so he offered spinach salad. After a long time he reappeared with a delicious spinach and chickpea curry and fried bread. I definitely did not say, ‘but you said there was no spinach’and it all went beautifully with the red wine.

This was 2.45pm after 5 hours walk.

The ‘pilgrim’s menu’, much later in the evening was 8€. The calamares (squid) came the way I expected it to. That was one reason why I asked for it. I thought it would be simpler. Why do I insist on speaking in Spanish when he has some English and my Spanish is so limited?

I have never had one of these before – it is ice cream.

The hospitalier at the albergue / hostel was charming  It doubles up as a day centre for people with disabilities and there is space at the front to sit and watch the world go by. The dorms are upstairs and follow the usual format – everything is provided for the washing of self and clothes, for sleeping and preparing food, and it was spic and span.

In 3 hrs my washing was dry, even the thick things and by then the roof terrace tiles were too hot to walk on. It was decorated and full of others congenially chatting in multiple languages.

My bunk was bottom left so that I could make a quick get away the next morning.

Guess which ones are mine! 
‘Walker, you walk, stop, and watch, as life goes by.’

 

‘Castilblanco de los Arroyos, Via de la Plata’.

The light went out at 9pm and the snoring began.