A walk from North Berwick to Dunbar, part of the John Muir Way, East Lothian. July 13th 2019. 30 kms / 18.6 miles
I remembered: the binoculars – definitely worth taking because East Lothian is a birdwatcher’s paradise. I saw 5 spoonbills through a kind man’s telescope (he had to lower it considerably so I could see, which was sweet of him). They looked like huge fluffy white poodoodles (or whatever they are called), with Edward Lear beaks (you know how he made drawings of amalgamated animals and kitchen utensils!) Also my walking baton pole which came in handy for the mud caused by the torrential rain. I forgot: tissues / toilet paper and my mobile phone charger – when will I learn? I lost: my sun hat. Twice. Once a motorist stopped and rolled his window down so I went back quite a long way to get it – all run over it was with muddy tyre marks. I wore it when the sun came out and then lost it again. Never to be found – not by me anyway.
I had not done a long-distance walk for a long time and I managed to get quite stressed to start with, meaning that more little things went wrong, until… I got into the first green part and the butterflies (some chocolate brown and others white – twice one kissed me on the cheek) were playing, and the raindrops sat bulbous on the bramble flowers catching the glint of the sun, and I got bitten by black and white flying beasties. I was back!
The man in a green National Trust for Scotland t shirt said ‘Lady on a mission’ as I swung through the gate and skirted around Berwick Law. I have been up to the top in the past and it’s well worth it, but today I was headed south through meadows and woods, around fields and coastline – it was delightful.
Two runners in electric blue went jogging slowly past, having a laugh. Several jaunty ladies wished me good day, and I rather rashly added to my brief conversation with a hiker going in the opposite direction, that at least it had not rained.
I squelched along a narrow way with piles of horse manure and single tyre marks which suggested other users I thankfully did not meet. When it rained I was on a long farm track which quickly became two channels of fast flowing water. There was a section which reminded me of a Kent walk, because it had serious new, silver metal fences on each side, and one smelly uphill section through the Drylaw Composting site where I discovered a make-shift children’s play area.
There was the unmistakable sound of a wild bee swarm several times along the way, and the hideous screech of racing cars around East Linton. One blissful result of the downpour was that they stopped, although they restarted when the sun reappeared.
There are lots of plants, a Victorian tea room (soup, salads, cream teas, delicious looking cakes), and a gallery shop selling all manner of paintings, cards and gifts. The staff were particularly friendly and helpful while I dried off a little in the sun – boots off and not so waterproofs laid out on the table.
You could be forgiven for thinking there was no bee or butterfly problems if you saw the number of them I did on this walk. There is a beautiful long stretch along the river where comfrey grows in abundance and the sliver green fronds of the willows dip into the water.
There were so many wild flowers I lost count: chamomile with green orbs which had lost their white petals – not just short stalked, but long and waving in the breeze;
elder flowers practically turning into berries as I passed; ripe cow parsley covered with Comon Red Soldier Beetles; ox eye daisies amongst the fields of bearded barley; brilliant scarlet poppies in the hedgerows; and miles of roses, sweet secented and in a variety of firey colours.
As well as the spoonbills (above), there was a buttercup headed yellow hammer bathing in a puddle, gaggles of very excited sparrows with their wings all a flutter near the horse paddock, and a piebald square tailed kite sailing overhead.
The more you walk the better it is because there are so many memories of other treks gone by, people met, places visited. The first black raven crawed and reminded me of Orkney. The second clearly warned me of the coming shower, which I promptly ignored and so got very quickly wet through. I was still damp 4 hours later when I marched into Dunbar.
There are three bays at the end of the day: the flat wetlands of Tyninghame, the red sandstone stacks of Belhaven (not to mention the real ale, the yellow house, and the John Muir Country Park with its caravans and little swan lake), and finally around the golf links I went barefoot to the gull studded cliffs of Dunbar itself.
It’s a hedgrow and fields walk
Its a meadows walk
Its a skirting round the hills and not going up walk
It’s a coast to coast walk with arable land in between
It’s a walk full of wild roses,
A very well signposted walk
While the birds call all you have to do….. is walk!
I arrived at North Berwick around 11.30am, and in Dunbar 7 and a half hours later, with an hour’s stop and an extra 2 kms in the middle to and from the Smeaton Nursery tea rooms off the main route. I was reliably informed that the tea room at Tyninghame is also lovely.
I took the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick with Scotrail (who very kindly refinded my fare to Dunbar which I made by mistake – thank you). It took 45 minutes and cost £7 single. I might have rather annoyed the gentleman in a cravat opposite, but had lovely chat with a Northern Irish dog walker from Glasgow on his way to follow Mcllroy round the golf course.
Walk from the station in NB to Lady Jane Road, turn right up it and after a few minutes on the right you will find the John Muir Walkway signs. Alternatively start at the Seabird Centre and walk through Lodge Grounds by St Andrews Well. There is a lot to see in NB.
My return was by bus from Dunar on the Edinburgh Express which leaves at 29 minutes past each hour on a Saturday afternoon / evening and costs £5.70. It takes an hour, leaves from the high Street, and doesn’t put you down at the bus station but at Waverley Railway Station, 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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, andOrkney.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Back onto concrete I immediately felt my sore feet and realised I hadn’t been aware of them since the pavements in Berwick.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Train: Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed (Scotrail £14.60)
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.
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!
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)……
….then taking a right onto Bay Road…..
….bypassing Wormit proper and heading straight to the beach where the FCP runs across the strand for a bit.
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.
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.
Catkins dangled olive green, and other peoples’ footsteps showed me the way.
There was a quiet, gentle lapping of waves on the shore as I went between two houses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I zig-zagged around farmer’s fields – cows in one, sheep in another. It was 14.45 and the sun had come out.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
* . . . live inside the bone and have long branches which allow them to contact each other …
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.
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!
Clean Language practitioner and author of Words That Touch, Nick Pole
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Way is a pilgrimage and those who walk it are traditionally known as pilgrims – peregrinas (female) or peregrinos (males) in Spanish.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Have you walked the Camino Francés or any of the other ones in Spain? Leave a comment and share your experience.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Otherwise, walk along the only way you can and straight ahead you will see the cycle path.
Today I was enchanted by the way the hoar highlighted the seed heads, fence posts, and each individual blade of grass.
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.
You will see that you are joining 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Melrose Abbey is open all year round. April to September 9.30 – 17.30; October to March 10 – 16.00.
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) .
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!
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.
It is a 10 minute walk from the bus station in Samobor to the centre – follow the signs to Centar.
I visited the market first, walking round initially to see what was on offer, and then choosing certain women for their fresh looking produce.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Note to self: learn legilimency (as J K called it) to develop the ability to push out the unhelpful memories and worries, once acknowledged!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slowly 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.
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.
October 10 2018: Kent – parts of the Greensand Way and Medway Valley Walk.
Distance: 6 miles / 9. 66 kms
Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours
Weather: glorious throughout
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
I started walking across the Lees in Yalding around 9.30 am after a starry night and a misty morning.
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.
On a day like today, the water looked beautiful, producing stunning reflections on its smooth surface.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Sadly, despite the wonderful view, once out of the trees the very strong fumes were evident for miles.
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.
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!
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.
I expect they call this prison-like fencing, ‘managed land’.
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.
As I strode down the lane, two women and four walking poles approached me to ask directions.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Lower Largo is a very pretty village with brightly painted doors and model yachts in windows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next urbanisation, Earlsferry, seemed to be a well-to-do area with mansion turrets and BMWs all over the place.
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.
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).
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.
What a pretty village! I was really taken with it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.