Pilgrimage for COP26 – why am I walking?

Blog 2 – Why am I walking? 17 October 2021

There are lots of things I could do to face up to the serious climate crisis I find myself part of. I could stay at home and recycle, join a committee and work towards political change, lie down on the M25 and get put in prison to raise awareness, I could throw myself in front of a horse to get attention.

Why walk instead of doing anything else? Why would I stop earning (I’m self employed), pay for someone to be at home to look after my cat, and walk in the unpredictable Scottish weather?

The statements of intent of Pilgrimage for COP26 are these:

  • We’re walking to raise awareness of the climate and ecological crisis. 
  • We’re reflecting on that crisis as it relates to our own lives, the communities we pass through and the lives of those already impacted; both human and more-than-human.
  • We’re building a community of witness and resistance committed to climate justice now and in the wake of COP26.

Yet still I find myself asking, but why walk? I could run or cycle and there are lots of other ways to raise awareness, to reflect, and build a committed community.

My answer: because walking is special.

  • It is very slow, a counterpoint to the speed of life. (Google tells me it would take me 1 hour and 24 minutes to drive from Dunbar to Glasgow now, but it will take us 8 days to walk).
  • It leaves very little trace; although I disturb undergrowth, probably inadvertently step on unsuspecting creatures, and leave my temporary footprints, it is the least destructive way of moving across the country.
  • Each step reminds me that I rely on the earth to hold me up and that the earth relies on me to stand on it – it’s reciprocal.
  • The vibrations that my stepping cause are not the same as the shaking of the ground by a lorry, say, rolling on tarmac. The moving through air I do at my pace (approximately 3 miles an hour) contrasts with the displacement a Boeing 737 makes.
  • Walking interacts with weather. Not knowing whether I will be walking through rain, sun or snow at the beginning of every day is, yes, not abnormal for this country at this time of year, but the attentiveness I have when I walk, and the fact that I have walked here before, means that I will notice the climactic differences. The skin on my cheek will be aware of the relative warming, my muscles of my back will sense the increased wind speeds in comparison to last year, the joints of my feet will register the dwindling peat they walk on.

The quality, and energy of walking is different, and it matches the quality of focus and the listening energy I want to apply to this issue.

Natalie Taylor who devised the Keeper of the Soils cape and and Roxy Ambrozevich wearing it

What we have collectively wrought (most of us) upon the environment, is so very complex. There are strands of destruction, fibres of difficulties and damage which have become interwoven over centuries, a fabric of knots and snags and imperfections brought about by misinformation, neglect, greed and thoughtlessness. And when you pull one thread, it all starts to unravel and that’s scary and huge to see; it’s hard to know where to begin to stitch it all together again in a more durable and compassionate way.

Natalie Taylor with her Keeper of the Soils cape

Though I am not a religious person, my belief in the act of walking gently and kindly, allowing myself time to notice and reflect, is like the nun’s faith that sitting quietly and performing her daily duties mindfully will make a difference; that opening her heart to the way things really are and facing that, will affect change, that it will alter the fabric of life the way it is now.  I am a Shiatsu practitioner and those of us who give Shiatsu know that because the whole universe is made of the same stuff, chi, we can affect it with a thought, touch or word.

Or a step.


Walking for Water

Walking for water is not
going for a breath of fresh air,
a pilgrimage,
a stroll,
a hike.
It is not
a parade,
a protest march,
a sponsored whatever.
It is not a way
to stretch your legs,
or have that conversation.
Walking for water is not
to see an unmissable sight.
It is not on any body’s bucket list.

It is the flight of a migrating bird,
a cruel calculation of distance, fuel
and energy burned.

by Lydia Kennaway from A History of Walking (2019:25)

The Pilgrimage for COP26 has now begun.

Slow Walk in Dunbar to launch the Pilgrimage for COP26 with Karen Gabbitas. 30 people participated

#pcop26 @pilgrimageforCOP26

Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog #1 for the Pilgrimage for COP26

On Sunday 17th October I will embark on the Pilgrimage for COP26 with a group of like-minded others. We will assemble in Dunbar for a celebration of Natalie Taylor’s the Keeper of the Soils, a speech from Alastair McIntosh (author of Poacher’s Pilgrimage), and other activities organised by North Lights Arts.

On 29th October, all being well, we will walk into Glasgow after travelling parts of the John Muir Way and St Ninian’s Way, on foot, in a collective effort. We will make “A walk and a learning journey … to reflect on the climate and ecological crisis in anticipation of the COP26.”

Our route visits

  • Dunbar
  • North Berwick
  • Aberlady
  • Portobello
  • Edinburgh (where we will stay on Saturday and Sunday)
  • South Queensferry
  • Bo’ness
  • Falkirk
  • Kirkintilloch
  • Glasgow

taking in coastal, cycle, urban, industrial, canal and river paths.

Many of you will know that I enjoy walking secular pilgrimage, that the act of stepping out each day with a simple pack on my back satisfies something vital in me. Walking sequential trails which connect town to country to village to city, whether the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Via Sacra in Austria or the St Magnus Way in Orkney, is a way to reflect on, process and enliven my regular life.

This pilgrimage differs specifically from any of the others I have done before because it will be done in community. I am a solitary walker and I value my privacy highly, even though I do meet people along the path and enjoy their company at times. This COP26 pilgrimage, however, is a group activity. It invites people to walk together for a few hours, several days or the whole, and to be a part of a growing conversation about the many facets of the climate emergency in the light of the international meeting of world leaders at the beginning of November in Glasgow. We will discuss, think about, and inevitably come up with questions, maybe even solutions (practical or ideal) in the face of the situation we find ourselves in. Whatever happens we will be able to support each other in our feelings – grief, frustration, anger, hopelessness – in the face of what is happening to our beautiful world right now.

My focus for the pilgrimage is on the link between grief and walking, something that arises over and over, not just for me but for others as well (see the book Marram by Leonie Charlton for example). My enquiry will build on my previous writing (Working with Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice’ (Singing Dragon 2020) and articles/blogs) and the Shiatsu client work I have been engaged in over the past 30 years, as well as my own personal rambles.

I will continue to collect a feather a day, usually the first I come across, as these long-time symbols of freedom and transcendence and their common use in ritual are often connected with the feelings we have when we are grieving or bereaved. It remains to be seen what the feathers will be used for or come to represent in the context of this pilgrimage.

If you would like to join us for some or all of this walk. Please read about it here and sign up here. You will be most welcome.