Berwickshire Coastal Path: Berwick upon Tweed to Eyemouth

12th January 2019

The second highest cliffs on the east coast of Britain are to be found along this path.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry

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Sunrise as I waited for the bus in Edinburgh

In the middle of winter I headed south on a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed along the coast of East Lothian with the sea on my left. It was just after 9am and I could see brown fields, a slate grey sea, even darker land on the other side of the Firth of Forth and the silhouettes of the trees without their leaves. As it lightened there was more detail: cows in coats; four-by-fours speeding between fields; ruined castles; and low, red-roofed farm buildings. The train was quiet.

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Just a light pack today, including my new flask which Isobel gave me for Xmas

I am hiking part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (45.5 kms / 28.5 miles in total = a recommended 3 day walk). Berwick upon Tweed is technically in England (although their football team is Scottish!) and my destination is Eyemouth, 17km (11 miles) away.

The fields become green as I travel and on my left is the point of Berwick Law, the only high place in this flat landscape. Combine harvesters are frozen mid field; barrels of wrapped up straw lie waiting; there are borders of louring pines in the distance; and beyond, a complicated sky: wispy dark clouds against a bright blue though pale background and at the same time, little bands of cotton wool balls stretching from east to west.

Found photos of (from top left) Torness Nuclear Power Station, Dunbar Town House, St Abbs Head Lighthouse.

A few golden strips of corn have been left lying in the fields, birds are black shapes in the bright sky, the bare bones of the trees are like hardened and flattened seaweed fans. People were sniffing and blowing their noses all around me.

There were acres of half-built houses as I drew near to Dunbar, birthplace of John Muir, friend to all walkers and nature lovers. A small town with the arrow-head tower of the newly-painted-white, 16th century Town House; Saturday people with pushchairs; glimpsing the sea between buildings.

Then once more rolling by the deep chestnut loam, and a more varied landscape. We were edging further from the sea where the iconic Torness nuclear power station like children’s blocks which have been fitted together wrongly. Sheep grazed in miles of brussel sprouts fields; low, dry stone walls divided; and a solo bird perched, waiting for the morning to come. We skimmed past the St Abbs Lighthouse, where I was planning to walk to today (see below).

I could see the path I was going to be walking at the top of the cliffs as they tumbled down to the rocks and the white waves below. Men in red and blue were playing golf, their trolleys angled beside them, pools of sand dipped in the ocean of green turf.

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Arriving at Berwick-upon-Tweed station
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A detour almost, before I started, through Castlevale Park to the riverside walk, to take a photo of the brick bridge across the River Tweed

As always, it was difficult to find the beginning of the walk, so, here are the directions for you: come out of the station, go up the little slope, turn left and then take the first right.

A man with 2 dogs stopped while I was taking a photograph of the Round Bell Tower , not knowing that I was waiting for him to come into shot so that I could include him! He told me that he used to work for the local newspaper and one April Fool’s Day he took a photo of it leaning, said it was toppling over, and published it with the caption, The Leaning Tower of Berwick. Crowds of people came to watch it, he said!

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The upright Round Bell Tower, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Next to the tower is Lord’s Mount, Henry VIII’s gun tower (completed in 1542). Its massive wall contains six gun positions and a latrine. The artillery included ‘the falconet’ which fired a solid ball 1000 yards (914 m).

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Lord’s Mount, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Before I even got to the sea I lost my pole, which I went back for and luckily found, and a glove which I didn’t.

The Northumberland people I met were lovely and friendly and gave me directions out of the town and onto the path.

Oyster catchers were wading and ridges of diagonal rocks showed dark against the washed yellow sands. I went down the steps to a tiny cove, and along the well-trodden beach full of footprints and seaweed. There was the sound of trickling water as I made my way up at the other end.

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The first bay
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A dead seal was washed up on the shore. A disturbing, though not an unusual sight

Up above were ranks of holiday caravans where shells had been hung between railings.  I could see a red and white lighthouse beacon at the end of the pier in the distance and hear the single, shrill whistle of a bird overhead – just as if he fancied me.

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Looking back to the bay, Berwickshire Coastal Path
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Winter seedheads and kind grass underfoot, the sounds of waves crashing and my Camino shell clinking at the back of me

Immediately I came round to the next bay. It was larger this time with delightfully pig-pink cliffs and tufty tops. The wind was trying to blow the pale, beige stalks seaward. Once again it was just me and another man with his dog. Vestiges of yellow flowered gorse gleamed on the bank opposite.

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Clattering seed heads above and the odd flower low down sheltering from the winds; a nettle, some brambles and litters of rubbish

The squawk of the train reminded me that the railway line matches the path to the left, and I was walking between that and the sea.

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Wind turbines lazily turned despite the knots, and there were rusty metal steps down to the beach
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The path curved round a mixture of natural rock and man-made straight lines with a very enticing cavern underneath

The links (golf course) was on my left; slippy mud down to a little wooden bridge over a trickle of water; the sweet tweet of a leaf shaped bird overhead, its wings fluttering fast. It was a very narrow, windy and uneven part so I was glad that I had found my pole to steady myself – it is definitely not accessible to wheelchairs or baby buggies.

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Marshall Meadows, a lovely name – the first signposted stop, 2.5 miles

The path follows the highly eroded coast line in and out; my nose was running, tickling; and my mind returned to other similar trails: Normandy,  Brittany, and Orkney.

It is an impressive landscape: thin horizontal layers of pink rock, tiny slices but massive boulders. My eyes were getting a welcome break from the computer as I gazed out to sea and admired the hues and cries of this stimulating view and the birds who live here.

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The camera is not doing the colour of the rocks justice. They are almost carnation pink, practically unnatural except that they are all real

The sky was opening up; I could identify the peeps of oyster catchers and see sparks of black ravens; I was scanning the sea for any sign of whales. My forehead was cold as I walked straight into the northerly wind. How I appreciated not heaving the heavy rucksack for once.

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The upstanding and nearly empty sorrel had turned the same deep chestnut brown of the fields

I only stopped for a couple of minutes for a comfort break and to put some chapstick on my lips, but I was already cold afterwards. There were single, brown birds with long curving beaks (curlews, probably), and others in huge crowds sweeping around in the sky above me, sticking together in formation, communicating wordlessly. I was entranced by these murmurations.

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White horses and rolling waves

For a moment I wondered why I do this, especially in winter when it is so chilly. Then I looked out to the horizon and saw the world – so much bigger than me, and down at the rocks and the majestic sea stack – the land simply missing between it and the cliff; and it was good to be reminded how small I am.

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A sea stack – close-up

I saw the people in their cars rushing between Edinburgh and Newcastle on the A1, and the high speed train making its way down south to London. Here I was being blown and buffeted by the wind, breathing the fresh air, listening to the natural sounds around, the brushing of my feet as they passed through the grasses, stumbling and toppling over uneven ground which is good for balancing my brain, and looking ahead. Things were coming into perspective.

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A natural, geological arch

Up a short wooden ladder, over a stone wall and I discovered I was in a caravan park called Marshall Meadows. Much to my disappointment it was not the pastures I had imagined!

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It afforded me a few minutes of shelter away from the sea’s edge and the wind though

Back onto concrete I immediately felt my sore feet and realised I hadn’t been aware of them since the pavements in Berwick.

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Aah a sign! As I pass through the site, I wonder if the people who hire these caravans realise that their windows will look out onto the railway

By this time I was looking for a place to shelter and sit for a cup of tea and a banana to keep my sugar levels up. I didn’t want to lose my sense of proportion, which has happened in the past.

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Crossing the border into Scotland (the sign is written in English and Gaelic)

The Cuddy Trail is here. Cuddy is Scots for a donkey and the ‘beasts of burden’ were used to transport coal and fish from the shore to Lamberton and the Great North Road.

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I hastily put my hood back up over my woolly hat and found myself walking between two rows of barbed wire fence by signs saying to clear up your dog poo (it can be poisonous to farm animals)
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They were scared of me, yet interested. I think they were female sheep because they were multi-tasking: walking, eating and going to the toilet all at the same time!

I had to climb over the gate as the farmer, in his wisdom, had padlocked it shut despite this being a public right of way and well-known footpath.

Then I curved back towards the wild cliff corner and the sound of the crashing water. The wind was causing shadows on the ocean. It had that look about it as if it was rising up to the horizon and down to the beach. It was heaving. The surface colour looked flat and even, until I really paid attention to it. Then I saw the variations of the olive, seaweed and sage green, with slate, business suit, and pewter grays, all edged with white lace and set against a peach sky.

There were lots of helpful signs indicating that badgers, yellow meadow ants and peregrine falcons can be seen here, but not by me. I did get glimpses of the fulmars on the ‘cliffes’, nesting in their flint and white plumage, so far away that all the photos were too blurred to be reproduced.

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I was interested in a ruined bothy on the steep slopes which only the sheep could negotiate, and went to the edge to take a photo. That might have been where I mistook my way

Twenty minutes earlier I had passed two men getting out of a car and preparing to surf, clad in black wetsuits with their white boards. I bet they had a good time in those rollers!

It was then that things started to go wrong.

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A bowl of dark boulders – I shouldn’t have gone down there!

But I did. I thought, ‘really?’ but I couldn’t see anywhere else to walk as the railway came so close to the edge, so I went anyway.

I skirted the steep slope first of all, grabbing handfuls of grass to stop myself slipping and edging my feet into the side, until it became too hard going. Then I dropped down onto the rocks. They didn’t look too bad from a distance, but they were – it was really hard scrambling over them. I could see a way out on the other side and I still assumed that was the right way. I pushed and tore through the brambly undergrowth, I fell down and got myself back up. I persevered. My pole kept collapsing itself and up at the top was a sheep’s face peering over at me. I could see hoof marks where they obviously managed fine, but I sure was struggling. Was there a way? What could I do?

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Go back, that’s what! It was impossible. I was very hot and bothered and there was nothing for it but to retrace my steps, which was easier said than done and something I don’t enjoy. I traversed the rocks closer to the sea which were slippery as well as treacherously uneven.

I had completely lost my cool until I came across such a beautiful sight that I just had to stop and breathe.

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A calm pool between the jet volcanic rocks and the pink cliff profile

It took a lot of time (perhaps three quarters of an hour) and I used up a great deal of my available energy. And it took quite a bit of serious tramping to get over the anger and frustration of the experience. On the back of the BCP map it says: It may seem unnecessary to provide directions other than saying – walk north or south keeping the sea on your right or left!’ Am I the only person to have missed the most straightforward path?

Slowly I realised I had to relax and get back onto the right path. I had to let it go or I couldn’t enjoy the remainder of the walk, so I focused on anything but my feelings and picked up pace.

In my recording I said that I chose not to walk where two others were, around a field when I could clearly see a short-cut straight across the top of it. I saw the trampled down barbed wire and said to myself, I’m not falling into that trap again!

Next was a straight and concrete side road to Homestead, and I spotted a brightly coloured lifeboat chugging along. When I turned round, there was a deer lolloping in the undergrowth very close by with its beacon of a white tail. It seemed to be rather a special sight. The Medicine Cards say that when deer appears, ‘apply gentleness to your situation.

At 1.50pm, my phone battery was already down to 32% and I quickly came across another conundrum. I took a second wrong turn. This time I crossed a field to the left because it looked as if the alternative went over the edge. It was not clear, so I stood and debated and as the gate was open I chose to go through.

Right to the end of that green field I went, past all the sheep who may well have been watching wisely for all I knew! And then I didn’t know where to go but back – it was a dead end. Never again will I walk without an ordnance survey map, I declare to the sheep!

So I went through the other field (not in a straight line), climbed over a stile, and doubled back (presumably the path avoids the farm land).

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Burnmouth – not a sign of life, not a soul

There was the village of Burnmouth below me at last, tucked under the heights. I zigzagged steeply down in the opposite direction from the yellow arrows, behind the gardens and at last found a BCP sign. Amazing how this often happens at a time when there is absolutely no other possible way anyway! For some reason the walk is not as enjoyable if I am not going in the right direction.

Apparently Burnmouth was ‘once a hotbed of smuggling’ (tea, brandy, silks etc) engendering lively stories from 1780. A pretty but secluded village, it is divided into two halves with a harbour inbetween. Candy coloured cottages seemed to be for visitors. The tide was out leaving streaks of low rocks, as if someone had painted on a glassy surface and the paint had separated unevenly.

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Burnmouth from the tops of the cliffs

A man stopped to do up the zip of the woman he was with and my black mood meant I could barely manage to say a friendly hello. My knees hurt going down and my insteps going up. The sign pointed in the direction of two roads, one to the right and the other uphill. I took the path which ran to the right of a dour chapel, curving through woods, over a planked boardwalk, then up a steep hillside with a horrible groaning noise going on – something to do with the fishing in the harbour.

There was a handy bench ‘Dedicated to William Telford, born Burnmouth 1925’ for resting my weary feet and admiring the vista but I was very stiff when I got up. I hadn’t been walking for a month of so and it was showing. I thought I wouldn’t need the chocolate I bought yesterday and wished I hadn’t left it at home.

Blue tits played in the briars, zipping in front of me; silvery green lichen covered the branches. Humbled and cut down, I did not recover quickly. I was reduced to little more than zero miles an hour.

Once up high again and back into the windy onslaught, I needed a hat and two hoods – it was a mere two weeks after the winter solstice.

Then, halleluja! the sun started to show its lovely self. 3.15pm. What a wonderful light.

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The colours deepened, became lucid and my mood eventually mellowed
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Faint and fragile fingers against a mackerel sky
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See how the coastline meanders!
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The sky and sea got bluer and bluer. There were two options and I went over the wall, hoping it was the right decision. I found myself out of the sun’s warmth
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Self-portrait
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A yellow clad fellow walks southwards – that’s the right idea – wind at the back of him!
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I simply loved the contrast between the orange lichen on the wall and the blue and green beyond
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Rock macaroons
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The sun was starting to set. I felt chastened, very quiet inside
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I only got as far as Eyemouth, having lost valuable daylight time going the wrong way and needing to get the bus back

I had to ask for directions from a group of teenagers heading out for some fun, giggling. I wound my way along the jetty and around the end remembering that I was here for my birthday with Lesley in 2016. The wandering geese took no notice. I was aiming for the co-op store at the centre (ye cannae miss the co-op, it’s the biggest building in the toun I was told) and the most helpful girl who checked the bus times on her phone for me – my fingers were too cold to work mine and it was threatening to run out of battery.

I was focused now on getting warm and fed as I always am after a long day’s hike. I had to spend a great deal of time in a Wetherspoons in Berwick until my return train to Edinburgh, but I warmed up and rested my weary limbs.

I didn’t make it to St Abbs so I will have to start next time at Eyemouth and cover that stretch on day 2.

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All’s well that ends well! (one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ from around 1600)

Train: Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed (Scotrail £14.60)

Fife Coastal Path: Wormit to Newburgh

The final stage of the Fife Coastal Path (FCP)

Date: 3rd February 2019

From / to: Wormit to Newburgh

Distance: 15-18 miles (25-30 kms)

Direction: Walking east to west

Facilities: There are none on this stretch

Timing: Beware! the official coastal path website says this day’s walking takes 3-5 hours. I defy a human to do it in 3 hours – I think it is a mistake. I am not the quickest walker, but it took me 7 hours with 3 x 15 minute stops and a last minute detour

Overall: I would not recommend that people do this all in one day, especially immediately after the previous stage of the FCP, and with the transport difficulties and wintry conditions

Dundee to Woodhaven via St Andrews

My day began in Dundee where I had unwittingly spent the night. See Leuchars to Wormit for details. I took the earliest 99B bus to St Andrews (8.19) which was straightforward.

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Crossing the Tay back to Fife as the sun rose

Unfortunately when I arrived at the St A bus station the bus company no longer operated out of it. I phoned up to find out where I could get the 77 back to the Wormit road, connecting to the ’emergencies’ line and feeling a little guilty as it was not exactly a life and death situation.  I was concerned that I would not get to Newburgh before dark. The exceptionally kind man on the phone explained that there never has been a Sunday service of the sort I was waiting for! In the end, on hearing the note of desperation in my voice, he came up with a plan and 5 minutes later a second gentleman appeared in a van to pick me up. He had been called out of his bed to fill in for someone who was sick, left his own car at the depot and was on his way back to get it. He took me along with him!

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Woodhaven Pier, between Newport and Wormit, River Tay, Scotland

It was half an hour’s walk from Woodhaven to Wormit, first along the B946 (a residential connecting road where the pavement was all slippery from the snow which had hardened into ice overnight)……

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The air was very clear as I looked across someone’s wintry garden to Dundee, Scotland

….then taking a right onto Bay Road…..

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Tay Rail Bridge

….bypassing Wormit proper and heading straight to the beach where the FCP runs across the strand for a bit.

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I could see where I would be walking, Wormit Bay, Fife, Scotland

Wormit to Creich

It took half an hour to get to the start of this stage, so yesterday would have been exactly 7 hours if I had finished and today I must add an extra 30 minutes to the walk if I am to reach the final ending point in Newburgh.

It was raining / snowing – a dull, grey day.

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Tay Rail Bridge Memorial at Wormit Bay

The local lady was right that I was due for a climb, despite the way it appeared on the map. She said she had avoided it because it was so slidey underfoot. I passed through the metal gates to keep the cattle in, and further on I appreciated the landlocked wooden seal sculpture.

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Looking down onto the waterside
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Icicles in the dells
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The path wound through woods away from the coast, up and down steps and across wee burns
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Then it opened out – the arable fields were slopes of white and the copses made of bare twigs

Catkins dangled olive green, and other peoples’ footsteps showed me the way.

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Drawn to making more of my marks in the snow – the dynamic relationship between the elements of fire and water, sun and ice, passion and reflection
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Stripes of muted greys: snow, stone wall, shingle, the estuary and the white covered hills of Tayside in the distance
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There were occassional dwellings along the way. I saw no-one

There was a quiet, gentle lapping of waves on the shore as I went between two houses.

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A massive boulder covered in gorse-yellow lichen on the half-white beach. The rest was grey. A flock of oyster catchers whizzed past, low to the water, followed by a loner, white stripes flashing to match the snow

oyster catcher  A flying oyster catcher, from Wikipedia.

Near here were plaques with children’s poems about the sea on them: I liked, ‘River lying patient and flat’

There is a stretch of stony beach at Balmerino – unusual for the FCP. I checked with three extremely well armed fishermen and yes, for sure it was along here and then through the woods. It was a great curving bay of bleak beauty.

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Two little girls in their pink all-in-one ski suits pottered with their parents

I missed Balmerino Abbey which was marked on the map – it must have been inland, off the path.

At 11.30 I was having a lovely, peaceful, early lunch with my back against a gorgeous trunk with ivy vines twining up it, when the sounds of a boisterous group signalled they were clearly approaching from whence I had come. Surely they would have caught me with my knickers down had I followed the call of nature, so I didn’t do that! I hastily moved on and almost immediately passed another group going in the opposite direction. This pretty stretch is obviously popular for Sunday morning walking.

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The Fife Coastal Path between Wormit and Newburgh, February 2019

My thighs were tight and stiff this morning after yesterday, and I could feel the effects of carrying the heavy pack such a long way.

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Leaving the water behind, I started on the long, steep and icy uphill part. I realised that perhaps the official website meant 3 plus 5 hours not 3 to 5 hours, and I worried that I would not make it before dark. I was not sure what to do, so I picked up pace.

Up high and with a right turn I was on hard ground which was much quicker to walk on, near a residential area. I was trying to remember to keep my eyes open for the signs which are always harder to see in this type of situation.

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The hard climb rewarded this view – there are not many wide open vistas like this on the FCP

They made me think about hiking the Via Sacra in Austria and of some places I have walked in Switzerland.

I passed places with names like Hazelton Walls, Creich and Pittachope (perhaps meaning ‘farm of the willow-place’). Black Craig Hill (203 m) was on the right.

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Ruined castle at Creich, Fife

Pittachope to Glenduckie

At 1.30 I was hauling myself gradually up a rural road with the cold wind on my cheeks. There was good visibility but with damp and wet in the air. It was a bit of a plod but I was focusing more on the moment than the future.

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Then I took the left off the road to a steeper incline, passing a bearded man who cheerfully greeted me. His two boys were brightly clad in winter gear, and all three were pulling scarlet sledges up behind me, to play.

Ahead was Norman’s Law (285 m), the very same which was mentioned in the information I saw yesterday in Tentsmuir Forest. A law in this context, is a round or conical hill, often in isolation. It is at the eastern end of the Ochil Fault and you can walk in this place using the Walk Highlands directions. Also a hill fort site with its neighbour, Glenduckie Hill (what a great name!), you can follow Fifewalking’s instructions here.

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Serious, dark pines and red-brown crags, FCP, Scotland

What with the website duration being erroneous, gates which say ‘push’ when they mean ‘pull’, and these signs which say ‘keep left’ when they mean ‘right’ at the turn – nothing is as it seems – which exactly sums up my life right now!

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Looking back I admire the Tay from a height

It was misty at the top of the steep climb. Some of the snow was like soft egg-whites and therefore hard to walk on.

There was a gorgeous smell of burning pine, presumably not a natural occurrence in this icy weather. Maybe, I mused, it was not mist or snow blowing, but the smoke. I thought I was at the top and about to go down at last, but maybe not.

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A tree platform had been erected; the puddles were deeply frozen; I spied various animal tracks in the snow as I passed Red Fox Wood

I sat for a cup of tea and meditated for 5 minutes. There was a cave opposite and rustles were coming from it; a bird was making the sound which a dog makes when it has a squeezy, squeaky toy in its mouth. It was a peaceful moment.

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I was coming to terms with the fact that there was more climbing ahead which meant views revealing bodies of dusty blue water including one shaped like a bagel somewhere in the vicinity of Blinkbonny (another wonderful place name)
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Going slowly downhill but there was another challenge ahead: Glenduckie Hill

I zig-zagged around farmer’s fields – cows in one, sheep in another. It was 14.45 and the sun had come out.

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A brief lowland patch, past attractive cottages, well-loved gardens and woodland, nurtured sunshine anemones and snowdrops with their heads swaying from side to side in the breeze

Glenduckie was indeed an even steeper trawl uphill, albeit not to the actual summit. The path curved round and round, and up, and then there was a tiny slope down before another arduous climb.

I felt totally exhausted, but stopping meant that starting was well nigh impossible. It was still frozen underfoot – an icy rockscape and, beyond, windswept sheep.

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With great views of the mouth of the Tay Estuary, Fife

The approach to Newburgh

A steady descent, bumpy and slippery, meant I could see what I assumed was Newburgh in the distance for a long time – tantalising!

Lindores Hill (172 m) was on my left and to the right the estuary looked wonderful. The water was almost completely smooth, like glass. It reflected the tufty grey clouds and already there were the very faint hues of the sunset.

It struggled to stop thinking how tired I was, how much my body hurt, and that I hadn’t understood how long the day was going to be in advance. I spent some time using Clean Language questions to honestly ask myself why I was doing this. I knew I would get there eventually and that I wouldn’t do this again all in one stage. Once started it was tricky to stop, especially as I was so close to the end.

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No danger of getting lost on this continual farm track. Or so I thought…

According to the map, at Old Parkhill there should be a right – Newburgh was clearly there, but the sign was to the left, so against my better judgment I took it. Of course it was wrong! I went through one very difficult gate and then straight on where there were lots of roots to negotiate at the bottom of a tree-lined slope. I admit I felt a tad miserable.

I had to climb over two fences. There was a huge hay bale and the barbed wire had been pushed down, suggesting that I wasn’t the first person to make this mistake. I couldn’t get over because I was too short and had the rucksack, so I found another way through.

I was back on the A913, the Abernethy Road, going into Newburgh past the church where the bus I planned to take later rattled past me. I found my way to the water’s edge using google maps as the sun was going down.

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Oil-slick-smooth harbour water and a trek along the front to the park where the FCP ends, Newburgh, Fife

This last trundle seemed very long and the signs were once again poor. A helpful dog walker directed me at the last. Under the arch in Mugdrum Park, Newburgh I went, alone as I started….

the end!
Hooray – I had finished. How peculiar I always look in selfies!

From a public sign: ‘The Kings have gone but the kingdom lives on! Locked between the Firths of Forth and Tay, Fife is island-like, resolute and proud. It was the Pictish province of Fibh, last rules by a king in the 9th century. Today, Fife’s wealth lies in the variety of landscapes, seascapes and townscapes which you can savour. Some say it taks a lang spoon to sup wi a Fifer, but you can be sure of a warm welcome from the people of the Kingdom.’

I went through the car park, took a left down Shuttlefield Street and left again along the High Street, where I found the bus stop by the Co-op supermarket (chocolate was needed). Opposite was The Bear Tavern where I toasted myself with a reviving Famous Grouse (whiskey) at the fabulous price of £1.20. The pub is run by the friendliest of folk and full of locals who were curious to know why I was there.

The 36 bus took me to Glenrothes where I narrowly missed the connection to Edinburgh. Fortunately there was an X54 along soon after at 18.55, and I was back home in Edinburgh around 9pm.

You may like to know that there is a highly recommended Shiatsu practitioner and yoga teacher (Heidi) in Balmerino.

St Magnus Way – final reflections

St Magnus Way – reflections

Reflecting is a vital part of taking a walk. It helps to embed or integrate the walking experiences – where I have been, and what I have learned – in the hope that any changes wrought will last.

Most of all, though, I failed to comprehend that the best things in life aren’t things that are visibly sexy on the surface. They don’t scream for attention, and they rarely invite adrenaline. Rather they come from quiet commitment, respectful engagement, and a love of something greater than yourself.

Design Luck

Where lies the greatest learning?

Before a sitting meditation I start by acknowledging or noting any issues which are bothering me, either to clear my mind, to problem-solve, or create focus. Then I try to simply sit. I have been doing that for years. As a result I sometimes come up with creative ideas, solutions and greater understanding, or at the very least a recognition of patterns of behaviour.

Walking is a kind of meditation and the more I walk, the more I realise it’s the pilgrimage itself which presents the learning – simply by starting, trekking, and getting to the end of it.

I have habits that I try to pretend aren’t there, aren’t really so bad, or that I can’t help. These come to the fore when walking a pilgrimage. It is in the planning and facing of the realities of the land and the practicalities of accommodation and food which bring me face to face with myself.

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A cross by the roadside in Spain (Via de la Plata) with an inscription by Pablo Neruda. May 2017

Is walking pilgrimage synonymous with being religious?

I do not follow a recognised religion. I was christened into the Church of England by my parents and had to learn tracts of the bible overnight for reciting in primary school the next day. Joining in assembly every morning at secondary school was obligatory, and I sang and read lessons during services; went on a Sunday School holiday; and spent years in the Girl Guides where Christianity was important.

I was steeped in it – the tenets of it seem to be in my soul (or my cells). Religion provided me with a moral and ethical language at the time when I was learning to speak, and I have discovered that it is hard to shrug off.

I might be on a mission to get rid of the destructive part of what I was taught in those early years: I was encouraged to feel guilty; it was assumed that I had Original Sin; and I was told that I was bad in my core, like every other human being. Perhaps I take ecumenical walks to give myself the time to recognise the impact of this and to let go of such negatives.

Nowadays I visit churches sometimes, and I certainly respect believers, but I do not take communion. I have read widely, listened and discussed with friends, but I cannot follow a Faith which seems to exclude or criticise people for being the way they are or believing what they do.

So, I do understand why people keep asking me why I walk pilgrimage. After all, historically it was a religious practice.

Thereafter, his (Bruce Chatwin’s) religious faith became subsumed in his nomadic theory: he believed that movement made religion redundant and only when people settled did they need it.

From Nicholas Shakespeare’s article about Chatwin’s visit to Mount Athos.

Why pilgrimage?

This question is asked of Guy Stagg who wrote The Crossway. Personally, he knew why he had set out – it was primarily for his mental health – but he repeatedly asked himself, ‘Why pilgrimage, why not just a nice trek?’ The astonished monks asked him too, as he battled through the alps in the middle of winter. Not having been satisfied with going from London to Canterbury he decided to go on to Jerusalem no less.

Tim Moore in Spanish Steps, Travels with my Donkey asks himself, why he is doing the barmy thing of finding, caring for and walking with a donkey along the camino in Spain when he is not religious.

For me, it is a walk but with added zizz! There is an in-built beginning, middle and end; it’s a project all in itself, and it is so much more than a wander round my local park.

it is essential as a reunion with oneself and with others. It’s almost a phenomenon of resistance: walking does not mean saving time, but rather losing it, making a détour to catch one’s breath!

David le Breton, on the Via Compostella

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Seville, Spain. April 2018

Spirit, soul and understanding

In Chinese Medicine I was delighted to learn that there are a number of different ways to describe the spirit or soul. In Icelandic there are more words for snow than we have in English; in the Orient the parts of ourselves which relate to spirituality, to nature or to our innate relationship with other people are as important as our physical and mental aspects. Although the spirit is amorphous, hard to define, it is something I have a tangible sense of, particularly when I walk in nature. Although sometimes I am content to ‘be’, at other times I become curious and try to understand this puzzle.

When I sit and meditate in my Shiatsu room in Edinburgh I can simultaneously be in Tibet or Japan or China. I don’t know why that is or how it happens and I ponder on these things as I walk. I privately think (well, not so privately now!) that at least one explanation is that I was a nun and a monk in former lives. It is the best explanation I have come across so far.  The feeling I had, for example, when I crossed the sands, barefoot, to Mont Saint Michel was real – I ‘knew’ I had walked there before.

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Walking across the sands to Mont Saint Michel, France May 2017

What is ‘knowing’?

We have discovered in the last 100 years or so that our physical cells destruct and reconstruct, so the ones I have now shouldn’t be the same ones I had when I was a baby, never mind the ones my mother or grandmother had. And yet we know that we share genetic material.

There is a theory that there is a collective knowledge which accumulates from the generations which came before. It could be this wisdom which tells me where to go to find what I seek, and what has got me here in the first place. However, current scientific methodology and outcomes deny me entry into this collective unconscious. It insists that I enter through the portal of logic and I am not sure that logic is the right way into that sort of understanding.

I have an intrinsic sense of the English phrase, ‘I know it in my bones’. My bones are made up of cells and therein lies my genetic material, yet in every text I read about pilgrimage something inside me recognises it. I seem to share the centuries of that collective knowledge, it is familiar.

Osteocytes

* . . . live inside the bone and have long branches which allow them to contact each other …

https://depts.washington.edu/bonebio/ASBMRed/cells.html

There is my DNA and my body. There are my mind and my thoughts. There is my self, my soul, my spirit. In my work and my walking I am enquiring into the connections and (re)discovering dissociations between these.

It’s all about love

The more I listen to myself as I traipse, and to my clients in the Shiatsu room, the more I think that what we all seek is the connection to LOVE. It sounds like a familiar new-age thing to say, it is straight out of the ‘all you need is ….’ 1960s, but I keep coming back to it.

I have a hunger for that ‘something for which we search’. And I know it isn’t just me, because when I tell folk what I do, they say, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that’ or, ‘I have wanted to do that for ages’. Or maybe they too have already started!

I seem to be part of a contemporary pilgrimage movement in which it is possible that we are seeking ways to integrate, comprehend and connect our-selves, personally and in community.

Pilgrims walking the Via de la Plata, Spain; Tourists flocking to the Sacre Coeur in Paris, France.

Restlessness

In addition to all this, I notice a compunction to move on, to save my soul, to find, to seek. The ‘thing’ I am looking for is at the same time inside me right now and just ahead of me. It is that towards which I reach or walk. It isn’t new. Everything I have done in my life so far is part of this instinctive movement towards being purer, ironing out the creases. That’s what I believe we are all doing wherever we are.

I know that inside me lies this knowledge just as tangibly as I know my organs are there. I recognise that I am part of a continuum, a humanity of seekers. What is necessary is the time and space to better hear what is happening, and that is hard to find when I am at home looking after people and my surroundings, doing what most of us do in our adult Western lives.

The answer, it seems, lies in introspection. Without trying to be precious, I go quietly back inside myself when I walk to hear the still, small voice.

But it takes intentional steps to change our pace and encounter one another as pilgrims on a journey along with Way. In our time of frenetic political intensity, within a culture addicted to speed, we need to hear and heed the call of this step by step pilgrimage.. Wes Granberg-Michaelson https://sojo.net/articles/all-are-pilgrims

And so it appears I am descended from the ascetics and hermits of my history. I’m reborn into the liberated 21st century. I am, at one and the same time, part of a shared community -walkers and pilgrims, fellow monks and nuns, a group with shared values – and I am alone for to ponder.

Some things are proving intractable and I expect that’s why I have to keep on doing it!

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Scapa Beach, Kirkwall, Orkney. May 2018

Clean Language practitioner and author of Words That Touch, Nick Pole

Bone cells https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/why-cant-bones-grow-back/

 

Walking the Camino

Do you want to walk the Spanish Camino?

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Monte Gozo – the last stop before Santiago de Compostella, Spain
What does camino mean?

Camino means both the act of walking and path in Spanish. There are many caminos and they all end up at Santiago de Compostella in the top left hand corner of Spain.

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Traditional pilgrim statue, Finisterre
Where is the camino?

When you hear someone talking about walking the Camino they usually mean that they are following all or part of the east to west route called the Camino Francés, the most popular.

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Following the yellow arrows is easy – you don’t even need a guidebook for the Camino Francés
In what part of Spain is the camino?

This camino starts in France at Saint Jean Pied de Port (Saint John at the foot of the pass) in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, crosses the Pyrénées mountains to Roncesvalles, passes through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, ending at….. you have guessed it, Santiago. You can start anywhere along this route.

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The final way marker of the Camino Francés, Finisterre, Spain.
Sorry, what is it called again ?

Also known as The Way of St James (Sant (saint) iago (James) in Spanish), The French Way, or The Camino de Santiago, it is 500 miles long (near enough 800kms), and takes between 25 and 50 days hiking. You can also cycle it which is quicker, but that’s another story.

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Free wine – early on the Camino Frances, Spain.
Pilgrimage

The Way is a pilgrimage and those who walk it are traditionally known as pilgrims – peregrinas (female) or peregrinos (males) in Spanish.

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Carrying everything you need. Pilgrim crossing an ancient stone bridge in Galicia, Spain
Pilgrim Passport / scallop shell

Carrying a pilgrim passport or Credencial del Peregrino which gets stamped every time you stop for the night is a great way to keep a record of your hike. Hanging a scallop shell, symbol of Saint James, on the back of your rucksack is a proud way to indicate your sense of belonging to this famous confraternity.

Camino shell and credential
A record and mementoes of my first camino in 2016
Who can walk the camino?

People of all ages and nationalities make this trek and they do so for many reasons: religious (especially Catholic); social (it is a great way of making friends); fitness (sensible walking is good for your breathing, circulation and musculo skeletal system); and personal (at times of major life changes, or for the benefit of their mental health).

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Jolly Spanish house sign
Do I have to walk ALL of it?

You can walk as much or as little as you like. Some go the length and others do sections several times a year or year-by-year. The most popular part is the final 69 miles (111 kms) from Sarria to Santiago which earns you a Compostella, a certificate in Latin. Aficianados come back time and time again.

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A typical rural chapel on the camino, Spain
How far will I walk every day?

I highly recommend that you take it easy, at least to start with, whether you are young or old, male or female. This means 9 – 12.5 miles (15-20 kms) at the beginning. Even if you are fit and feel fabulous in the glorious Spanish sun, beware! You will almost certainly get blisters and a sprain or strain if you walk too far too soon (unless you honestly walk 9 miles (15 kms) or more every day at home in the same shoes or boots which you intend to wear).

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Autumn colours along the Way, Spain
Where do I sleep?

Most pilgrims stay in hostels or albergues. Their facilities vary, but almost all offer a basic bunk in a dormitory for between 5 and 12 euros (£4.50 – £11) per night. You do not have to book in advance, indeed sometimes you cannot. There are also hundreds of hotels and private hostels, usually at a higher cost with greater luxury.

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Statue of Saint James whose relics are supposed to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella
What do I take with me? How much do I have to carry?

Historically everyone would have carried their own clothes and equipment in a backsack. (see What to Put in Your Rucksack). Nowadays there are many companies who offer to transport your stuff from hostel to hostel so that you can walk with a daypack and water only if you choose. You can even hire a donkey!

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walkingwithoutadonkey.com
Food

Many hostels offer a basic breakfast, and shared meals in the evenings can be a highlight. Kitchens, with (or sometimes without) utensils are the norm. There are cafes, bars and restaurants all along the way and at every stop where the food is often delicious and cheap. There are plenty of shops which will sell you most things you need such as suntan lotion or a single egg wrapped cleverly in a paper cone.

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Space for thinking quiet thoughts on the camino in winter
Time of year to walk the camino

All times of the year are good for walking the camino! It is hot in the summer (and crowded); cooler in the Autumn with great natural colours (it can also be really warm but with cold nights); pretty with wild flowers in the Spring (lots of daylight); and peaceful in Winter (though some of the albergues will be shut).

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The wonderful chestnut woods of Galicia
Speaking Spanish. Yo hablo espanol.

It really helps if you speak some Spanish. It’s polite, respectful and fun to be able to communicate with the local people. You are also more likely to be served what you have ordered.

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The familiar sign of the Galician albergues, Spain.
Travel from the UK

You can take a boat to Santander (71.5 / 155 kms to Burgos) from the UK; There is an airport in Santiago itself (from there you can take a bus back east to the place where you want to start walking) itself, as well as La Coruna (82 miles / 132 kms from Sarria). Also, Asturias airport for Leon (from Stansted only), Bilbao (from Edinburgh, Manchester and others) for Pamplona, and Biarritz (33.5 / 54 kms from Saint Jean from Birmingham and others); Overland, there are trains taking 5 hours from Paris (4 per day, approx. 35 euros) and the Eurostar from London is smooth and efficient (around £50 and just over 2 hours). You can also take Alsa (long distance) buses or try Bla Bla Car (car pooling).

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You can tack on an extra 3 days of walking after Santiago and to to the sea at Finistere.

There are many books and online guides to help you find your way, pointing towards places to stay and eat. Gerald Kelly and John Brierley’s are the best known in English. Using this guide means that you will inevitably walk the same steps (stages of the walk) as other English speaking folk and will therefore have pals to walk and share meals with before long. The municipal hostels at the end of these stages are the busiest.

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There is wifi and places to charge your phone at most hostels, Spain
Top tip!

Start slowly, in short stages, do not be too ambitious until the second week, and that way you will avoid going home early and in pain (I have seen this happen many times). It doesn’t matter if other people are going further. You will either catch up with them later or you will find new companions instead, ones who are enjoying the scenery as much as you.

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Misty mornings herald a hot day, Spain

There are also other caminos in Spain: The Via de la Plata which starts in Seville and goes through Salamanca; the Camino Norte along the coast passing through San Sebastian; the Inglés from A Coruña; Mozarabe through Malaga and Cordoba, and many others. Criss crossing this stunning country, the walking is delightful, the people colourful, and the experience one which you will remember for the rest of your life.

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Getting into my stride – the Camino Francés 2016

Have you walked the Camino Francés or any of the other ones in Spain? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Tweedbank Station to Melrose, walking the Scottish Borders

December 2018 – a rail journey from Edinburgh to Tweedbank and a short but stunning walk to Melrose in Roxburghshire, where you will find the ruins of a magnificent Medieval Abbey.

The Tweed River, Scottish Borders.

I took the train to Tweedbank in the Borders – it’s the end of the line. It takes 1 hr and the service runs every half hour. It costs £9.30 with an Over 50s Railcard ( I booked the ticket and renewed the rail card last night online through Scotrail for £15 for the year and it took about 5 minutes). Then it’s a 40 minutes walk each way into the town of Melrose, although that doesn’t allow for what I call ‘astonishment time’ ie time for stopping at intervals because, Oh my, look at that, oh I must take a photo, I just can’t believe it, it’s so gorgeous!

The Tweed River between Tweedbank and Melrose, Scottish Borders.

If you like you can stop reading this now and open YouTube or Spotify and find Fording the Tweed By Savourna Stevenson, so that you have something magical to listen to as you continue reading and imagining you are taking this journey with me.

Choose a day where it won’t go above 2 degrees celsius so that it stays white and hard underfoot. Wear thermals under your normal clothes, plus a coat, woolly hat and cosy gloves.

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Jack Frost was at work overnight.

You know what they say, it’s not the weather that’s the problem in Scotland it’s having the right clothes! Not being able to bend your elbows because you have a thick jumper on under your not-quite-big-enough jacket is a small price to pay for all this beauty.

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You can see Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland hills from the train.

You will travel on the Waverley Route, so called as it refers to Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels. Start by facing in the direction you are coming from and sitting on the left. This way you will have wonderful views of Edinburgh – Arthur’s Seat. Ignore the rest unless you enjoy the industrial outskirts of cities.

When you hear the nice lady announce Gorebridge, change seats so that you are looking the way you are going and you can either plump for right or left (the views are equally attractive) or, like me you can leap from side to side because, well because the views are both enticing.

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Expanses of farm land in the sun, Lothian Region, Scotland.

People seem to have it in for Galashiels, so I will blog separately about that. Suffice to say that it is impossible for a whole town to be boring and I know some lovely people who live there and they like it a lot. It has an excellent brass band for a start.

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Leaving Galashiels. Straight out of the 19th century! Scotland.

You will not need a map nor must you look up the way in advance or use your phone. Believe me, if it’s possible to get lost I would have and it’s not. I promise. Sit back and relax. Feast your eyes on the hills, rivers, pretty houses, and majestic trees. Over on one side you will spy the traffic – be pleased that you are not driving, have a nice cup of tea and a comfy seat – you can just gawp.

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From the train window between Edinburgh and Tweedback on a chilly morning, Scotland.

Tweedbank station is new and modern with a massive car park. There is one line, two platforms and everything is properly signposted. There is a bus if you prefer.

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The end of the line, Waverley Route, Tweedbank Station. Waiting areas and ticket machines in the middle.
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Connecting buses, Tweedbank Station, Borders.

Otherwise, walk along the only way you can and straight ahead you will see the cycle path.

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Cycle path from Tweedback Station towards Melrose, Scottish Borders.

Today I was enchanted by the way the hoar highlighted the seed heads, fence posts, and each individual blade of grass.

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The stalks were as tall as me, upstanding!

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You won’t get lost – there are multiple signs: Melrose Link on the left; National Cycle Network on the right.

 

 

There will be aluminium buildings to your left. When the SPPA (Scottish Public Pensions Agency) is ahead, admire their gardens and peer at the poor folk inside working on such a wonderful day. Smile. Then walk to the right of them, following those signs.

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The SPPA gardens.

You will see that you are joining the Southern Upland Way.

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This little walk forms part of the Southern Upland Way.

Very soon there is a road to cross and opposite, through a little wooden gate at waist height, is a path with steps going down and there is the Tweed River, burbling on your left.

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Lowood Bridge over the River Tweed, Scottish Borders.

On the right you may be lucky enough to see two Highland cattle, and if it is cold enough it will look as if they are vaping with condensed air coming sideways simultaneously from both nostrils in opposite directions.

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Highland Cattle, Scottish Borders.
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Can you see him steaming?

I scraped the ice from the tourist board telling about the fantastically named Skirmish Hill where King James V’s men fought those of the Duke of Buccleuch and won. The 14 year old monarch is said to have watched from a safe place.

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Skirmish Hill hidden behind the tree, Scottish Borders.
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Follow the thistle signs!

At the kissing gate go to the left of the houses and you will see signs. Almost immediately continue through the woods to the left. The way goes uphill with a wooden handrail, green with lichen.

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Holy Trinity Church, Melrose, Scotland with the Eildon Hills behind.

The ferns were all flattened by frost as I came into a clearing, going gently downhill. Here I spied more information, this time about fishing: grayling and salmon who make the courageous journey from sea upstream to fresh waters to spawn, often against all odds.

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Honestly, the water did really look like this: shiny and luminous. Rver Tweed, Scotland.

There is a choice coming up:
You can either go past the hedge which is too high to see over (I stood on one of the handy benches to get a shot), ignore the sign and keep on going for a while to see the Chain Bridge, but then turn back and take the Town Centre sign. This will take you between the rugby club (left) and the green park (right)

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Taken on the way back when the sun was lowering, here is the bench mentioned above.

Or, keep walking past the church to the Chain Bridge and around behind the town centre coming in by the road directly to the Abbey.

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The impressive Chain Bridge, near Melrose, Scotland. Ice still on the ground at 11am.

I took the second option because it was signed Abbey Walk.

Everyone is very friendly as are their dogs. A collie politely laid her pink ball at my toes, her nose flat along the ground, eyes expectant. The second time she came back she showed me the tricks she could do with it, presumably as encouragement and to distract from my muddy fingers. The third time, the gap between me and her owner having widened considerably, I informed her this would be the last, before hurling it behind me.

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You can halt to admire the horses on the left, or perhaps the motorbikes on the right. (You can pick up a copy of their free magazine too.)

You will continue onto a small road. Turn left if you wish to visit Newstead.

Hang a right at the main road where the signs mysteriously disappear (sorry, I guess what I wrote above was wrong at this juncture).

Walk past the Abbey Woollen Mill shop, or visit if you like. Carry on by the houses and careful because it’s a busy road, but not for long.

Don’t take the next right (St Marys Road) unless visiting the Harmony Garden. The nearby Georgian Manor House is available for holiday lets.

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Instead go straight on see to see Melrose Abbey on the left, behind the wall. David I founded the first Cistercian Abbey in 1136. The heart of Robert the Bruce is believed to be buried in the chapter house there. The opening hours and link to the Historic Scotland page are at the end of this blog. The bus stop is to the right of the monument.

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Public toilets, Melrose, Scotland.
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The magnificent medieval Melrose Abbey ruins.

The town centre is in the middle of a triangle with a unicorn on an extremely high pillar in its middle. Originally this would have been the Mercat Cross where all typesiof goods wouldhhave been for sale, proclamations were made and criminals punished. The heraldic unicorn is the supporter for the Royal Arms. Here you will find a pharmacy, and library plus The Roman Centre. There are lots of hotels, cafés and nice independent shops, particularly bookshops, partly because the people who live there like to read, and there is also a Book Festival. Explore!

 

 

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The Bookroom at the bottom of Dingleton Road, Melrose, Scotland.
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One of the inscriptions on this window is ‘Outside a dog, a book is a man’s best friend – inside a dog, it’s too dark to read!’ This is the local library, right in the centre of the town where it should be, Melrose, Scotland.

After your browsing and sightseeing, you can return the other way if you did what I did: to get back to the station, walk out of town along the A6091 road with the Co-operative store (food) on your right, and head towards the Melrose Rugby Club. Anyone will be able to point you in that direction as rugby is THE sport in the Borders.

If it’s still light, enjoy the grand trees, admire the mole hills, and tune into the water as you wander.

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A gentleman and I passed the time of day as we recognised each other from the morning when we were then also going in the opposite direction.

Remember that things look different when retracing one’s steps! You must cross two roads and keep both the SPPA and the aluminium buildings on on your right. Keep following the white Scottish thistles and yellow arrow. The final cycle path part is fully lit when it’s darkling (3.30pm at this time of year).

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Birds twitched: robin, chaffinch, blackbird, pidgeon, crow, mallard and a heron unusually crouched by the riverbank. Luckily there were still plenty of berries available for them to feast on.

 

 

Station facilities:
There is a little shop at the station selling hot drinks, snacks and G’n’T. I was reliably informed that passengers usually buy it on the way up in the morning!

Don’t believe all the moaning complaints you might find on the internet. The trains are great. Well, we were only delayed 10 minutes homeward bound. I know I am not a commuter but.. take a leaf out of our school girl days (I took a daily return to school for 7 years) and if the train is cancelled don’t go to work, go for a walk instead. Look around you and inhale.

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Silhouette of a beech tree in its winter glory.

Tweed walking: Peebles, Coldstream etc.

I went there to see friends and give Shiatsu. I might go back so if you live there and would like a session let me know. Many thanks to the Chris (designer of my lovely website) and Penny for lunch and chat.

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Melrose Abbey is open all year round. April to September 9.30 – 17.30; October to March 10 – 16.00.

The McInroy and Wood Lecture featured Robert Peston in 2018.

Samobor, Croatia – a walk

A hike from Samobor through Cerje to Okic and part of the way back. November 2018, Croatia. Approx. 20kms.

Samobor is on the eastern slopes of Samoborsko gorje. Situated 20 kms from Zagreb, the journey takes about half an hour and cost 31 kun there (from the ticket office) and 28 kun return (from the driver) .

Samoborsko gorje (Samobor mountains), Croatia

I took the tram to the bus station and then the Samborcek bus to Samobor, a regular service. Platform 610 is in the furthest corner of Zagreb bus station and it is just a matter of going and waiting there. Don’t expect to find anyone official to ask or see any signs – simply look on the ground for the number and trust!

The River Gradna

There is not much of note along the way to this popular summer and weekend destination for those who live in the capital city and tourists.

One of the many bridges across the Gradna Stream, built in 1906

It is a 10 minute walk from the bus station in Samobor to the centre – follow the signs to Centar.

A stall holder at the market in Samobor, Croatia

I visited the market first, walking round initially to see what was on offer, and then choosing certain women for their fresh looking produce.

Seasonal greens and sunshine crysanthemums being sold at the market, Samobor, Croatia

Long tables were punctuated with stallholders wrapped in shawls sitting in front of a handful of spinach, a pile of rosy apples or bunches of parsley. Without a doubt everything was local, seasonal, and had just been picked that morning.

It was very difficult to make myself understood, even with gestures and smiles. I wanted to buy from every one as they all seemed so keen, perhaps had come a long way with a paucity of goods, presumably relied upon sales for their livelihood.

I checked out a bakery kiosk looking for the speciality Fasnik, I had read about. It looked like a custard tart. What I found was yoghurt based and I was unsure if it was the right thing so I waited.

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View of Samobor, Croatia

After a brief visit to the King Tomislav square with it’s cafés, and having failed to find the Tourist Information, I made my way towards a spire on the skyline (I had read a little before I came and had a list of places in my notebook).

The Parish Church of Saint Anastasia (above and below), Samobor, Croatia.

From there I followed my nose, as they say, climbing through the woods. It was the lure of the red and white circles I think, reminding me of previous treks.

Past the municipal cemetery, Samobor, Croatia
It was really misty although at ground level the leaves glowed all the same.
Tepec Hill, Samobor, Croatia
St Anne’s (patron Saint of Samobor) Chapel, Samobor, Croatia

As I stepped up from one Station of the Cross to another I relished the fresh smell and feel of the soft earth beneath my feet.

A pavillion in the woods, Samobor, Croatia
Here is St George fighting his dragon again (see Zagreb 9).
Stations of ther Cross in the oak forest, Samobor, Croatia

More red and white waymarkers, Samobor, Croatia
St George’s Chapel , Samobor, Croatia

The second Chapel (St George’s) was plainer and round the back was a young dog who barked at me. The man with him had made a beautiful yet simple sculpture of stones and sticks which complemented the architecture and natural surroundings.

I started spying an array of fungi taking me back to the Via Sacra last Autumn in Austria.
Chestnut and beech foliage now
The Anindol Pyramid

There is probably a magnificent view from up there but my tummy turned over at the thought of it and as there was zero visibility I didn’t feel too bad.

In fact the sun was beginning to stream between the trees as I got higher and it was warm on my cheek. It was breathtaking. I couldn’t help myself going on and on.

I stopped to admire the dew laden spiders webs and I smiled

Suddenly I was on a road and soon a sign indicating the village of Cerje. I was still going steeply uphill but the red and white waymarkers continued to draw me.

Vines, laden orchards and layers of red rooves
A wayside shrine

People were working on the land and apples littered the path which I juicily enjoyed. I skipped from side to side where there was a pavement, to be safe on the tight bends.

I knelt to capture wild flowers with my phone camera and, as I relaxed into my stride thoughts pestered me

Note to self: learn legilimency (as J K called it) to develop the ability to push out the unhelpful memories and worries, once acknowledged!

High up now I could see down to the valley and had to choose between there and uphill. I chose the latter

I spent time at a bus stop because I knew I was on a one-way walk and that the daylight of course ends at 5pm here in November. I photographed the timetable and carried on, confident I would get back to Samobor that way (a bus had passed me earlier).

The homesteads were strung out and I began to wonder if I might actually turn back if the trail was going to continue on asphalt.

 

Caffe Bar ´Uzbuna´

A sign to a café with a stunning view didn’t yield the desired result: open from 5pm, presumably because it is dark by then and there needs to be somewhere to meet up during the long evenings.

Feast your eyes
Barking dogs and basking cats; turkeys with red gizzards huddling
Autumn squash to last the winter
Horreos full of sweetcorn, first seen in Spain but because those ones are stone you cannot see what’s inside.
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A Galician north west Spain) winter storeage unit.
Hay packed up to the rafters. Literally
The bridge was down across this stream so I took a great leap (across a narrower part!)
Through woods where I lost the signs more than once

I had to retrace my steps sometimes because the way is generally so well marked that as soon as 10 minutes passed without a sign I knew I was wrong.

Still new green ferns, even at this time of the year

There were lots of trees down blocking the way, but walkers or cyclists had been there before me if I looked carefully.

 

It was downhill at times at this stage and tantalising signs to Okic, which when I looked on Googlemaps said it was a tourist attraction.

As I neared, worrying a bit about the time, I wondered if it would be worth it.

 

It was: Okić, a Medieval town perched on top of an isolated hill south of Samobor is mentioned in 1193
Another magical vista

I didn´t let myself stay long (although long enough to admire the woman with the chain saw) and her produce. I rather rushed up the hill, despite my tiredness, and almost immediately lost my path. What made me plough on regardless I do not know, but I ended up in one of my fixes – very steep, knee deep in nettles, several dead ends and my head started to popund. In the end I went over a fence into someone´s garden and out through their front gate, only to hear a loud noise behind me – a bus. I was not at all sure where I was but I flagged down the bus and begged and, yes, he was on his way to Samobor.

wp-1541705606261..jpgSlowly I calmed down, somewhat embarrassed , and my head stopped throbbing. I was all but out of water. Up and down and round he drove at top speed, letting people off, driving round the village square and going back the way he had come through pretty places with shops, bars and attractive churches.

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Blurred as I took it through the coach window

Until we arrived back where I had started at the bus station in Samobor. I could not quite face a traipse back into the town, so instead I drank my green tea in the station cafe (full of smokers, so I sat outside) where the waitress the age of my daughters spoke customarily wonderful English and refilled my bottle adding ice. I marvelled at the table tennis room, the pop-up cinema and creche, all making up the modern station complex (free, clean loos as well!)

There more to see if you visit: a museum, a cave and a castle for example.

Lonely Planet on Zagreb

15 things to do in and around Zagreb

Bus timetables

King T Square

Visit Samobor – great site which even had a donkey on the front page (my patron saint – what does that say about me?

Have you visted Croatia? Leave a comment below with your favourite places if you like – I would love to hear from you.

Yalding – circular walk via Nettlestead

October 10 2018: Kent – parts of the Greensand Way and Medway Valley Walk.

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A host of walks around the Garden of England, Kent

Distance: 6 miles / 9. 66 kms

Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours

Weather: glorious throughout

Green fields and the Downs in the distance, Kent

Stiles crossed: numerous

Railways crossed: 2

Boats sailing past: 3 yachts, 2 dinghies with outboard motors chugging away and 3 canoes

Churches: St Mary the Virgin, Nettlestead

Grand country houses : 2 – Roydon Hall and Nettlestead Manor

The River Medway, busy with water traffic, Kent

I started walking across the Lees in Yalding around 9.30 am after a starry night and a misty morning.

Crossing The Lees, Yalding, Kent
Over a tributary of the River Medway, Yalding, Kent

The Lees, a low-lying meadow, flood regularly caused by two rivers joining the Medway here – the Teise and Beult. Indeed my father once crossed the submerged road thinking he would be fine and became stranded, having to leave his car and wade back.

Hampstead Weir Bridge, Yalding, Kent

On a day like today, the water looked beautiful, producing stunning reflections on its smooth surface.

Hampstead Weir Bridge, Yalding, Kent
Where Hampstead Lane crosses the River Medway, Yalding, Kent

After some confusion caused by my thinking that the locks beside Teapot Island were the ones mentioned in the leaflet (details below), I set off along the pavement towards Yalding Station from where I walked a few days before using my phone torch in the pitch dark. With the canal on my left and the incongruous new wooden houses appearing upside down under the bridge, it was only a short way to the Marina and Hampstead Lock.

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River Medway, the B2162, Kent

 

Skirting past the new building, I took the left fork and crossed the first railway line. Then a series of fields and woods, easily found for the most part.

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Camomile growing at ground level, and at the edge of a field were delicious windfall pears.

There was a path which is accessed beside a sweet cottage and that is hard to find but a kind woman noticed my confusion and pointed it out.

Walk to the left of this white cottage even though it looks as if you will go into its garden. If you are lucky, you too will enjoy the roses poking over the fence and the geese in the field beyond.
Crossing the railway near Yalding Station, Kent
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The walk takes us over the middle of a ploughed field, dry from the lack of rain and dangerously close to farmers spraying chemicals, Kent
Some sort of brassica had dew drops glistening on its leaves

The low point of the walk came when the leaflet directed me to cross straight through the middle of a huge field. It looked pretty but there was no obvious path as before and I spied a large red farm vehicle in the far corner, so I decided to skirt instead, through the long, wet grass. To my utter dismay the farmer was spraying green chemicals and went as close by me as he could without actually running me over. There was no way to avoid it and the smell hung in my nostrils for the next hour. (I arrived home with a most unusual headache and had to go to sleep. On waking I searched the Internet, discovering what they were and how harmful they can be up close. I showered and am hoping for the best).

Traditional farming country, kent

The noxious fumes abated temporarily as I made my way through the welcome cool woods, away from the acrid smell I thought, to the altogether sweeter scent of chestnuts. The fences made me wonder what they were protecting and brought to mind the small trucks I came across in the Austrian mountains where single men collected wood. There was no sun except in dapples and a grey squirrel leapt across the path. I could still hear the warning parp parp of the train as it came to level crossings in the distance and the drone of far-off traffic, but also the birds squawking and crawing and tweeting.

Public Footpath, Greensand Way, Kent
Soft and rolling (private) countryside, divided by landowner with barbed wire fences, Kent

Sadly, despite the wonderful view, once out of the trees the very strong fumes were evident for miles.

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Sweet chestnut in its prickly cases, Kent
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Beautiful native trees allow dappled sun to light up the first fall of autumn leaves, Kent

The fences became much stronger and the gates quite serious, when I came across the deer on my left standing still, observing me. I startled a reclining stag and away he bounded, taking off and landing from all four feet at the same time which always makes me laugh.

A herd of majestic deer with developing antlers, Kent

Then the flock of curious youngsters gathered and crept closer until one of the stags stretched forward his neck and bellowed, causing them to pause. He moved into the centre, whereupon the second, smaller male departed. The others continued to stare, their ears pricked. It reminded me of the grounds of Knole House in Sevenoaks where I grew up and where I first saw deer roaming like this. Further on, three more lazed in the shade of a great oak until I disturbed them. They had fawn spots on their backs and white bottoms with black stripes down the middle!

Three stags under an oak tree, Kent

The red brick Elizabethan Manor house, Roydon Hall was on my left now, with its stepped roof edges and old-fashioned chimneys. Apparently it has an escape route below the cellars, but it appeared to be boarded up although the the lawn was newly mown.

Roydon Hall, Kent

I expect they call this prison-like fencing, ‘managed land’.

Keeping us off his land, protecting us from the deer maybe, Kent

There was a square tower with a turret and lake to my left (though later I thought perhaps it was plastic-covered crops) and satellite dish to my right.

This was the only slight incline and at the top was what I assume was a folly. Its yellow stone and Grecian columns were set amidst lush foliage in the midday sun.

A bit of a folly amongst the foliage, Kent

As I strode down the lane, two women and four walking poles approached me to ask directions.

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There were beech nuts and conkers on the asphalt.
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Wild clematis
Glorious Autumn colours

Several miles along the road took me to the St Mary the Virgin church at Nettlestead with its simple 13th century tower and possible Saxon foundations.

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St Mary the Virgin, Nettlestead, Kent
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Stained glass at St Mary’s the Virgin, Nettlestead, Kent

Set in an equally charming churchyard, the building was started by the magnificently named de Pympe family. It has six notably large windows commissioned by Reginald de P.

At the top of each window stand angels with curiously feathered legs. (taken from the history leaflet)

In addition, I was shocked to read that

The original glass of this window with the rest of the 15th century glass in the church suffered damage by impious hands at a time unknown. (Taken from the plaque)

And furthermore, that the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury in July 24th 1895

… was well nigh “a visit of surprise” so short was our prior notice… And here let me say at once how troubled I am to think that in the hurry of the moment some members of the Parish Church Committee were overlooked. (From an account in the church).

Not far away was an entrance to the Medway river path where I stood back as a cyclist whizzed past.

It was a gentle stroll back to the Hampstead Marina alongside various water crafts including one propelled by a man with a long white ponytail and no shirt, sitting behind an infant in a baby seat and a woman who talked incessantly.

Tall trees shushed a plane and helicopter and the smells were all fruity or woody, wet or damp.

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Hampstead Mariner, Yalding, Kent

On arrival there were three men with two boats watching as a fourth opened the lock. I joined them as the water slowly filled the space between the gates, fascinated as they floated through and boarded for “a couple of miles down and back, and then a pint!”

Hampstead Mariner, Yalding, Kent
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New houses and the deep blue sky reflected in the water at Hampstead Mariner, Kent

I retraced my steps to The Boathouse for a half of Shepherd Neame’s Autumn Ale. I was admiring the hops when a couple stopped to tell me what they were and that they had been hop pickers years ago. Hundreds used to come from London to join the workforce at the picking season.

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Wild hops growing on the railings, source of the beer industry and more, Kent

The sign said,

Cheers! Yalding has always had a strong connection to alcohol! At one time it was producing more hops than any other parish in England. It is also famed for its cherry orchards and the (sic) remains of the Medieval Vineyards have been found in the area. The various crops have been used to produce wine, beer and cherry brandy..

It was a ‘driving with the top down’ sort of a day.

You can download the pdf of the walk leaflet here. It is pretty good and contains useful and accurate photos of fields with superimposed arrows showing where to go. The second paragraph of number 2 is a repeat so ignore this.

Roydon Hall info

Lundin Links to St Monans

Sunday 21st January 2018 Lundin Links to St Monans, Fife Coastal Path, Scotland

This is the second day of a winter walking weekend. Here is the sister blog!

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Acres of caravans for the pickers, polytunnels reduced to skeletons

At 9.30am I left my air bnb with numb feet. Snow was on the ground, there was a pink sky, and almost no-one else about.

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Largo Law now in the morning light
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It turns out that Silverburn Park is not a secret Garden as I thought last night!

I walked briskly between ploughed fields towards the sea, across the main road and through the park. Past the sweet wee red brick cottages (not open on Sundays) I went and met the first lot of dog walkers including a woman in high heels with her breakfast hot chocolate.

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By time got to the beach (10.15am) my toes were all but thawed but I was walking slower than usual on account of a dodgy left knee. Joggers went past and dogs were constantly barking and disturbing my peace.

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Another of Fife’s sublime beaches

The tide was way out revealing water with a smooth metallic look about it. It was the light catching the shallows sands which was so beautiful. Wind was on my right cheek today, rather than heat, as I made my way eastwards along the coast.

Mountain bikers took the path well trodden. I went across streets which were treacherously icy with puddles deeply frozen, and the only sign of the sun was the pink rim on the eastern horizon.

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I never pass up a wee swing

As I swung forwards I surveyed the changed shoreline with its diagonal black rocks familiar from stage 2. Then straight on I went, past the orange house where a white-haired saunterer in shorts returned from getting the morning paper. Readers of my blog know that I love my shorts but not in this weather!

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Lower Largo

Lower Largo is a very pretty village with brightly painted doors and model yachts in windows.

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Here is Alexander Selkirk, view haloo! Lower Largo

Alexander Selkirk, mariner, is the original Robinson Crusoe, who lived in solitude on the island of Juan Fernandez for 4 years and 4 months.

It has to be said that it was all a little bleak this morning with only a weak sun.

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The Fife Coastal Path

Multi-coloured rocks and bright green pebbles with shiny brown seaweed and opaque glass pieces could be found along the shore. Oyster catchers were peeping and others trilling. A couple held hands and battered shells littered the ground.

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It was a hard walk in a good stretch of nature. I saw a couple of thrushes and a tall, friendly man with a ruddy face. His long-legged red setter had a neon tennis ball clamped in its jaws as we crossed the Dumbarnie Links Nature Reserve. Here there were raven-esque, empty mussel caskets (I was directly opposite the town of Musselburgh!) and I felt melancholy.

It was what I call wonky walking where one of my feet is on higher ground than the other. The strand stretched out ahead and while gulls swooped, black and white waders dipped orange beaks.

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Berwick Law in East Lothian to the south, was snow covered too. Here was only one other human in sight. There seemed to be miles of those lumpy sea creatures’ corpses, all rubbery, and simply trillions of shells on their way to becoming sand creating quite a different crunch underfoot compared with the ice and snow.

To follow this part of the coastal path, just keep walking along the beach before a long line of dark green trees with appear across your view. Then you will see a sign to the left heralding a change of terrain.

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Shell Bay: evergreens signal a change of landscape, Fife Coastal Path
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Between bleached grasses, round and over the peedie bridge
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Brilliant clear air and the stillest of waters makes for magnificent reflections
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A World War II look-out post  – what a cold job that must have been!

Up and over the cliffs runs the way, some roughness and muddyness, steep but not very high. Sadly I missed the part where there is a chain to climb up. Apparently people have died so on second thoughts that was probably a good thing, although being me I would have liked the challenge.

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Earlsferry Beach, Fife, Scotland

Around 1.30pm I arrived at Elie beach with its yellow brown sand and a headless seal. People were foraging for cockles and a feathered wren hopped by my side.

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Cove after cove was made of delicately hued sands

The next urbanisation, Earlsferry, seemed to be a well-to-do area with mansion turrets and BMWs all over the place.

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Earlsferry Church, dated 1872, Fife, Scotland

There is a library and care home but no shops or pubs. The sky was fair lowering (getting dark – looks like rain!) and I was getting hungry, so I took a detour until I spied a golf club and the Pavillon Cafe which was busy. What incredible luck as ever!

Inside I not only found warmth, hot victuals and a distinct lack of wind, but I unexpectedly spotted a familiar face. I ordered my food and said ‘Hi’ to a colleague from long ago. We struck up a conversation and with true kindness he and his partner announced that they lived in St Monan’s (my destination) and asked if I would like to stay the night. I gratefully accepted because I had nowhere booked and transport back to Edinburgh from small Fife villages is hard to find on a Sunday evening. I declined a lift though, and made my way back out into the slightly rainy and dull afternoon (3.15pm) with a cosy tummy and glowing heart.

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From the evocatively named Ruby Bay (pink sand), Fife, Scotland
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Elie Ness Lighthouse Tower, Fife, Scotland
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Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower, Fife, Scotland

There’s a great story here about Lady Janet’s sea bathing!

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Ruins, Fife Coastal path, Scotland

The last stretch is full of interest : a lighthouse and a palace, two castles (Newark and St Monans), divers ruins and a famous church (but it was too dark for a photo).

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Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower, Fife, Scotland

With wilder, darkening waves pounding I walked through pinkish bracken and I approached St Monans around the fields, arriving as the day the darkened at 5pm.

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What a pretty village! I was really taken with it.

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Here is the wellie garden, St Monans, Fife
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Typical architecture with outside steps up to pink doorwars, St Monans, Fife
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My camera cannot cope with the dark, but the colours and reflections were worth reproducing here. St Monans, Fife

I am told that the East Pier Smokehouse is well worth a visit, however it is shut between October and June. There is famous parish church and a Heritage Collection. The hotel I saw was also shut in the winter months so it’s a good thing there are air bnb’s nowadays and Margaret’s sounded great when I made enquiries. I was lucky and stayed with J and J whom I had fortuitously met earlier and had a lovely evening and comfy bed.

I travelled back by car with J to Kirkcaldy station across the flat lands as dawn revealed another wintry sky. Then we got the train to Waverley Station in Edinburgh. To get back to Edinburgh from St Monans by bus would cost £10 with a change at Leven and it takes ages.

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Sometimes when I walk I crunch, sometimes my footsteps thud on the grass or whisper on sand. Occasionally there is a rumble of small stones or snap of stick, splinter of ice, even hollow bump into the peat or squelch because of the wetness. These things I notice as I walk the paths of Fife early in the year.

Montamarta to Tábara, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 21 (Montamarta to Tábara). Tuesday 10 April 2018. 27.5 kms.

I took the Camino Sanabrés rather than passing back through places on the Camino Francés (Astorga etc) which I had visited the year before.

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The best view of the day – unless you count the sight of the albergue in Tábara when I eventually got there.
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Telling you all about Montamarta – not somewhere I ever want to go back to I must say.
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Just like yesterday, except duller.
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Yep, under another motorway tunnel.
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I took the right, turned back and went straight on, then retraced my steps and went around the motorway flyover.
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Kilometer after kilometer on the tarmac with road works as a view.
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Spring primroses amongst the rubble and stones.

There was a small village strung out along the road, not so far from Tábara, with a cafe.  I sat on the bridge and sunbathed – it was glorious.

Once I got going again it started to rain and I stopped, de-rucksacked and covered up. Then there was a rumble and a thunder and it got dark. The lorries were roaring past and spraying and I was ducking in and out of the ditch at the side of the road to avoid it when there was a fork of lightning at my left shoulder. I have never been so close. I wondered what I should do. Looking around there was nothing and nobody – just trees. I did think perhaps the metal batons weren’t such a good idea, but I couldn’t exactly abandon them and they had rubber handles and tips to earth me. I hoped. (Two days afterwards I met up with the American women and one of them did throw her sticks into the fields because she said she was so scared of being struck.)

Then the hail started and brought about a total landscape transformation.

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In two seconds flat the road was covered in white, the traffic had completely ceased and a hush came over the world. I walked on, telling myself ‘it will be over soon’.

It did stop eventually and on and on I went, every part of every mile seeming an age. I was very wet, too sopping to be able to get the map book out. Then again, there was only the one road to choose from.

There was a service station on the outskirts of Tábara and I stumbled in to get some cover and ask for directions to the albergue. There was pandemonium in there because the electric storm had shut down the till and no-one could pay for their petrol. I waited with heaviness on my back and realised how exhausted and hungry I was. And I waited.

In the end, I did something I have never done before: I took a chocolate bar off the shelf, sunk to the ground, sat with my legs splayed out in front of me like a rag doll, and devoured it without paying for it first. It was wholly necessary.

To my horror it was a further 30 minutes walk to the hostel and I had thought I was at the complete end of my energy. Hey, I simply had to find more.

It was uphill and a very long road, and just as I was despairing that it would not end, there was a shriek and who should I see coming towards me but Marie-Noelle and her smile, someone I had not seen for several days. She gave me a big and welcome hug on her way to the bar.

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The hospitalero made me a cup of tea when I needed it most, and proceeded to cook for us all that evening. He describes himself as a ‘spiritual author’, is resident at the hostel all year round, and something of a Camino VIP.

There were 10 people round the table drinking wine and eating simple fare. Some I had met before, some I had not, each of us from a different country, and of course we made ourselves understood – a true camino experience at the end of a most trying day.

 

 

 

St Magnus Way – Finstown to Orphir

Walking Finstown to Orphir

I am walking the St Magnus Way on Orkney, and this is one of the blog series – 27th May 2018. Below, you can find links to all the others (introduction, transport, accommodation, resources etc). The overall walk is 55 miles (88.5 kms) over 5 days plus a visit to the island of Egilsay where St Magnus was said to have been murdered and, initially, buried.

Day 5 – on timelessness, forgiveness, and dialect

  • Criss-crossing the west mainland of Orkney: Having started in Evie in the north east; curved around the cliffs to Birsay in the north west; walked coast-to-coast eastwards to Finstown; today I would drop directly south to Orphir. I didn’t know what I would find
  • Why to Orphir if Magnus’ bones weren’t taken there? The organisers of this route write that today’s trajectory ‘shifts attention to Haakon, Magnus’s cousin who ordered his death and ruled the united Earlship afterwards.’
  • Highlights: A traditional Scottish moorland, some slopes, and the wonderful shoreline between The Breck and the Bu
  • People met : a record 3 (between Finstown and Orphir), then loads after that
  • Theme: forgiveness
  • Favourite and unusual animals encountered: 1 donkey, Shetland ponies, llamas
  • 17.1 kms / 10.65 miles
  • Time: 6.5 hours  Finstown to Orphir village; another 2 minimum to St Nicholas church and back, but I did have a sleep
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Last night, on the way ‘home’ from the concert, the haar had cleared and there was a beautiful sunset which this photo doesn’t really capture.

A screech of tyres heralded two carloads of revellers needing the toilet at 2am (I was camped beside the public conveniences in Finstown). I got up to retrieve my walking top which I had unwisely washed the evening before (unwise because it was too cold to dry properly), and it was cold on my return so that I stuffed my coccoon with newspaper. As I was awake I texted Heather, my lodger about cat litter, and finally dropped off.

When I woke again the sun was shining on me through the tent and it was warm. I think there may have been dew on the outside of my sleeping bag, but thankfully not on the inside!

I had dreamt my recurring dream of being lost in a big house full of rooms. I am convinced they began when I moved from my small town primary school in Sevenoaks to the much bigger secondary in Tonbridge and could not find the right classrooms. Ah, but this time it was my own house. Now, that’s change for you!

I crawled out and found the calm waters ahead, guarded by the pier on my right with the already warm sun rising behind it, and Snaba or Cuffie Hill to my left. Ahead, I guessed from my map, were the Holm of Grimbister, Scarva Taing, the Skerries of Coubister with perhaps Chapel Knowe broch in the far distance. (A holm is an islet, a skerry is a rocky island, and a broch is a stone tower dating from prehistoric times.)

7am was so quiet. I was delighted to see a sleek headed seal swimming in the bay, watching as it made its way across to the other side and then back again and then climb out onto the jetty. Oh, not a seal, a mermaid, I mean, a woman taking her Sunday morning exercise! She changed in my / the toilets and I couldn’t stop myself going to say ‘hi’. She was as surprised as I was to see someone up at this time, not having noticed my tent.

None of the remaining matches would light my stove, so there was no tea for me, worst luck. (How come I didn’t bring a lighter? It’s not as if I haven’t been camping many times in my life before). Instead I had the Rhubarb Soda I had bought at the post office (made by Bon Accord in Edinburgh £1.50 – delicious).

I was on permanent battery saver now which, because there was no signal anyway, meant I could not book the homewards ferry.

A million drops sat on the blades of grass, shining in the sun, gleaming, a simple collection of diamonds, of miniscule, suspended orbs.

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The jetty where I saw my mermaid! Bay of Firth, Orkney.

Having charged my phone at the Community Hall the previous evening, I received two air bnb booking texts, making that five in five days – lucky for me August is busy in Edinburgh with the festivals.

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Half way up the hill I was looking the first St Magnus Way marker of the day and, turning, I saw back towards The Bay of Firth where I had spent the night.

I climbed up and onto the moors, first on a path and then into the wilderness. I met a lovely jolly South African lady with a white bun and skyblue clothes. She didn’t have a rucksack or a dog. Once again a woman had appeared, as if from nowhere, to advise me. She said she had searched and searched and there were no St M Way signs, and predicted that the haar would come in again from the east. ‘I’ve walked all these hills but they don’t cater for walkers here on Orkney’, she said.

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Getting higher – Finstown in the distance. Orkney.
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Along the warm grassy track, Cuween area, Orkney.

Of course the higher I got, the more I could see behind me when I stopped to catch my breath: the green lilypad islands in the blue ocean; flashes of silver indicating the main road. It was hard going with the backpack on the uneven ground, though I was glad that I did find the markers when I cast around for them – perhaps I had my eye in after three days.

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A frog could very easily sit on these islands (see Beatrix Potter)! Seen from Cuween Hill, Orkney.

I was already hungry, but it was OK because I had a whole lettuce in my John Lewis bag (my children would be able to explain, it’s because I believe I need my greens every day!) And talking of rabbits, they were bounding around, keeping me company as I stumbled.

It is simply not done in hiking circles, to have a carrier bag but there was no room in my rucksack for food. I hung it from my straps where it swung annoyingly when I got into my stride and had to be restrained when clambering over stiles. It lasted the whole 10 days! Maybe I should have got people to take photos of me and tried for sponsorship – missed a trick there.

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Beautiful view, Finstown, Orkney.

There are clumps of Lady’s Mantle down in the ditches, out of the wind and by the side of the stony track.

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Man-made stacks in a stunning setting, Cuween, Orkney.

Forgiveness is an end-point: only after a proper process of understanding both points of view, acknowledging the hurt or the sadness, and coming-to-terms with all of that can we forgive and then act on it. I shed terrible tears on watching the part of the film ‘Calvary’ where the main character (played by Brendan Gleeson) goes into prison to see his son and you know he has been forgiven. My reaction was testimony to the power of this in my life. ‘I think forgiveness has been highly underrated’, says Gleeson’s priest.

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There is a tomb you can visit, but I only read about it afterwards.
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You can see the clear division between farm fields and wilder moorland.

After a while the track peters out and it was just me surrounded by hillocks of heather and bog cotton – rabbit tails on spindly stalks. Mossy mounds had green spears poking out of them, and there were the sort of birds which hover and flutter just above the ground in constant conversation. In places there were canine and then human footprints.

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Bog cotton (the white dots) and heather on the moors, Orkney.

Gradually the landscape started to remind me of Highland walks with its peat banks, bogs and pools. Scrambling through the scratchy shrubs was painful on my knees but I avoided squelching underfoot. It had become very, very quiet. There was no bird song.

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Shelves of peat and a St M sign in the middle of  nowhere.

Forgiveness is offered to those who ‘follow the faith’, on earth by priests, and elsewhere by God, so it is said. To promise it to a child, who early on has no understanding of sin – not of others’ or their own – is to immediately puzzle her. It is a suggestion that there is already something wrong with that child, that she has already transgressed, and if there is no internal cognition of this, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. What else, but that child grows up with an aura of mistake, not able to make an actual connection between the forgiveness and an awareness that forgiveness is necessary.

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A typical peaty pool on the moors, Orkney.

Yes, in fact there were odd snatches of various sounds – the distant thrum of an engine, for example. And I could see oil tankers far away on my left. Amethyst violets and rose quartz orchids were glinting at my feet, and then I was on a soft downhill track again.

I came across a pregnant donkey and two brown-and-white Shetlands. She came up close, sort of in-breathed at me and flicked her left ear. It was the ponies who got the carrot which was intended for the donk.

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The namesake of my blog!

And … what’s more, to be an adult who can offer a child forgiveness sets the offerer apart, as is often the aim. Again, the child is reduced to a transgressor, and what’s more, encouraged to understand that the adult is even more powerful than adults already are compared to children, and yet it is most painfully obvious to them that adults are not always good. How to make sense of that? These things I was with as I walked.

A bird mewed, a flap-fast one, its wings tipped with white. There was rather scaredy herd (or flock) of llamas (with crias which is what the young ones are called), and the ubiquitous wind turbine at Kebro Farm, where like all the places I passed farmers were working even though it was a Sunday. In this area there are many incredibly confusing signs saying to go back up (arrows and ‘To Oback Cottage’ etc). Note: Ignore them and keep on going down. There is eventually a St M Way sign at the junction when you get there!

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A flock of llamas. At the bottom of this road there is a St Magnus Way sign, Kebro, Orkney.

In the same way as Reading is a town of roundabouts, and Glasgow’s all traffic lights, so Orkney’s made up of a complex network of fences, poles upstanding and barbed wire, deadly taut and ready to snatch enough wool to knit a sheep or catch an unsuspecting elbow in passing.

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It was lambing time on Orkney in late May. Just look at their little faces!

With four per cent of battery left on my phone I could check the time, but why bother? Instead I watched a butterfly doing what butterflies do, and let a chunk of Orkney fudge melt in my mouth leaving a too sugary, but addictive residue.

There was no need for me to be anywhere by any given time – being close to midsummer and because I was so far north, there was endless daylight. In fact there was almost no night. It has been said that stress levels are particularly high when deadlines of time and distance are combined (ie I have to get across town by 8am), so it is a good sign that I can let that go and relax into the walking. I will get there when I get there, that’s my motto.

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Baked earth – not something you expect to see in Scotland.

I noticed, that like the three guys last night who accompanied the lead singer of ‘The Once‘, the sheep looked identical but had different voices – some bass, some treble and some soprano, or is it counter tenor?

I liked the grey cows – I was not sure I had ever seen grey ones before. (No photos, for the above reasons). I went past birds doing that spectacular balancing thing where they sway on top of stalks so thin that the human eye cannot see them, thinner than one of their own legs. How do they do that!

The farmers forked the deep brown, well-rotted manure onto a trailer; an ideal lane between fields offered springy soil that actually massaged my feet from the underneath; there was only one place where I had to step into an empty blue trough and cling onto the, yes you guessed it, the barbed wire, to avoid the too-marshy path. There were bog grasses there, honed to a calf-tickling tip, but space enough to walk inbetween.

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I was heading for the nearly-full moon. Every time I needed a pee I had to take the rucksack off and it required a sort of humpfy-jump to get it back on and arrange all my layers – the tucking in was the worst. I cracked my knee which certainly got the blood flowing again. ‘It’ll pass’, I reminded myself.

I was just as I was about to head off up the hill to the right across the moors towards Orphir after the last sign, when I most unexpectedly spotted a couple coming up. She was pregnant and telling amusing stories to the man with her – great to hear them laugh! My phone was dead by then so how lucky it was that I saw them, because Orphir wasn’t on the right in that direction at all!

Down I went, taking the correct course. There was a bed of irises, a red bridge and the delightful sound of trickling, peaty, crystal-clear Scottish water. I found another bird’s wing, pure snow-coloured with bones attached, and a patch of curly white feathers to mark the spot. Butterflies played above like the very spirit of the bird which had died, like the petals of today’s flowers come to life.

Barnacle is a beautiful poem by Roseanne Watt about finding a goose wing on the salt marshes of Shetland.

It was hot by this time with a welcome breeze by the burn. There were no signs (although the notes I had made from the route description last night were pretty good from here on), so I trusted my instinct, tripping on downhill now.

For some reason I had put my single double-layered sock into the rucksack before leaving home, and now it had come in useful because I dropped one of yesterday’s pair down the loo when changing in a tight space with an armful of clothes, and after washing it hadn’t dried in time. (I had no idea what happened to the pair. I left them both to dry on a rack in Salamanca and one wasn’t there on my return).

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I guessed the repeated but uneven banging up on my right must be people hunting. On the far left I could see a gorgeous beach – Waulkmill Bay I identified from the map – and I would have enjoyed a paddle there and then. Despite another internal debate about the way I decided to keep going on straight. The cuckoo called and I had a sudden memory – did my dad collect butterflies? I must have been very, very young.

Much as I deplore the waste and emissions of plastics, and of course a wooden staff is more traditional for the pilgrim, this baton is better: wood ones chafe the palms after several hours. What a marvellous view I had from up there! It was still a bit misty to be sure, but I could see all the islands, tankers and trawlers, big ships and little boats, as well as what looked like a submarine.

I always talk to the animals I meet, especially the farm ones. I expect they have a relationship with humans already, and probably my mum used to do that and I learned it from her. Perhaps she still does!  I was so glad to have my map because I couldn’t connect the Route Direction info with the reality on the ground and got confused.

The two wooden men either end of a bench wi flooer pots atap thar heids cheered me up. In the same way I think in French or Spanish when walking in those countries, I seemed to be rocking some variation of the Orkney tongue in my head.

Then I came across a field of delightful weeny Shetland ponies, foals and their families – somehow I felt a bond! I was gutted that I couldn’t take any photos.

‘Bin fer a dander?’ (Have you been for a walk?), a gentleman asked me as I turned onto the road. There was a further man hanging out washing in his boxers at the next house – he scuttled inside sharpish when he saw me! At the brow of the hill, the wooden fella was half way up a ladder. And as I walked into Orphir there were full-sized horses who looked gigantic in relationship to the mini ones from 15 minutes back.

Then I was in civilisation: coachloads, a duet on a tandem, ‘sites available for eco-new builds’ the sign said, and another wooden bench – this time there was a bear at one end and a fish at the other and the top of the back of it was the fishing line connecting them both. Whoever makes these garden ornaments is very inventive.

Orphir (say ‘offer’ like the Queen does, or ‘Or’ followed by the ‘fa’ from ‘titfer’)

I went straight on through the village initially, towards the round tower of Earl’s Bu in the hot sun. But then I changed my mind and went back to set up camp first. Thank goodness I did – it was miles more by road and path so I was glad not to have the pack on my back.

Note: Allow at least two hours to go to The Breck, St Nicholas Church, Earls Bu, the Bu of Orphir and back, and take a picnic with you!

Orphir is a collection of grey houses with wooden garden sculptures and people mowing their lawns. At its centre is a church with a milennium garden where I pitched my tent, hidden from view by the shrubs which dripped dew the next morning. There are no shops and one hotel with a bar/restaurant – in other words there was nowhere to charge my phone until the place opened later. A woman on foot passed the time of day with me, a cyclist did too.

I enquired about food and asked what the time was – 3.30pm – gutted – it was two hours before I could eat, and not one cup of tea had I drunk all day. I had my shorts on and there was a slight wind. Oh, but what absolutely idyllic countryside and what a gentle perambulation it was!

I took the sign to Gyre from the Orphir A964 road, and then a left which was signed to Breck. I was confused again just before the sea, but now I know the correct way I would  recommend you keep to the right. The soft, flat turf of the coastal path around Scapa is even more beautiful on the cliffs above the rocks and the sea was there too and the birds were wheeching. Wonderful.

I slept a while, perched on the edge between the track and a small fall to the dark stoned beach, prickly with heather underneath but therefore cushioned. Further along is the broken-down bridge (which I crossed anyway) and the churchyard of St Nicholas. The ruin made a big impression on me, and I tried to record it in a sketch.

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Only half of the tower remains, facing you as you arrive through the gap in the wall with its grassy hair and rugged exterior.

As you come around, the inside is exquisite – pale, smooth stone with a single arched window. Plain and undecorated, it seemed to encapsulate a holiness I rarely felt in the gold and silver interiors of the many cathedrals I have visited.

Nearby is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre which tells the story of the Norse Earls of Orkney. It closes at 6pm and I didn’t get that far. When I went on the Viking Hiking tour a couple of days later and the lovely Ragnhild ‘quoted oft’ from this famous text, I wished I had, and when I got home I thought with hindsight that I could have carried the tent and spent the night there, but I didn’t quite understand what I would find at the time. Even the bit I did see was one of the highlights of this trip.

There were 10 times as many walkers on this little stretch then ever I saw during the entirety of the past days. Probably because it was an unusually sunny, Sunday afternoon. The scenic loveliness probably also had something to do with it.

The long, winding return walk was equally enjoyable under trees which met above my head, a flood of bluebells beneath. Hoardes of almost-golden gorse branchlets reached out, so crowded with mouths bursting open I could almost hear them, ‘me first, me first’; while the individual kingcups presented their simple faces imploringly sunwards. The feathered petals of the only-slightly-paler dandelions on their juicy stalks were any moment ready to transform into translucent orbs of parachutes. I didn’t need to look where I was treading, so birdwatching was easy: jet black crows picking in fields of alabaster daisies; the now-familiar voices of mew and maow and peep (birds); and the gull-gliding, goose-flapping and sparrow-fluttering were all present and accounted for.

Walking when hungry at the end of the day can lead to morosity, but after a while it’s only walking – finding ways to release hip pains, just one foot in front of another.

And then I got to order my food at The Noust Bar and Restaurant – what a shame British restaurants don’t bring bread while you wait these days! – but I did enjoy the beer (the second from the Orkney brewery) which unsurprisingly went straight to my head.  The service was good. The food would have been delicious whether or not it was, if you see what I mean. The monster, beer-battered fish, well-cooked chips and frozen peas hit the spot, as did the blackcurrant crumble and ice cream (£20 with a cup of tea to round it all off). At last I could charge my phone somewhat and as I had wifi access I took care to write notes ahead of the next day’s hike.

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Finally I went off to my sleeping bag between the leaves of the garden, and halleluja! I was hot. I got up once in the night, and it was all mist and ghostliness. I even had some battery power to take this photo.

St Magnus Way official website.

Undiscovered Scotland on the Earls Bu with photos

Viking Hiking on the Visit Orkney tourist site

Links:

Introduction

Transport – how I got there

Accommodation – where I stayed

Day 2 – Evie to Birsay

Day 3 – Birsay to Dounby

Day 4 – Dounby to Finstown

Day 5 – Finstown to Orphir

Day 6 – Orphir to Kirkwall

Resources – what I took with me

The Last Day

Resources – shops, cafes, pubs etc

Finding your way

Reflection