Via de la Plata Camino – Day 16 (Mérida to Ourense). Friday 6 April 2018. 20 kms.
I am walking in Castilla y Léon and this part is very flat with a deal of road. The albergue in Calzada de Valdunciel is on the opposite side of the town, making it very simple and quick to find the way out in the dark.
‘Lodging facilities were generally provided outside the city walls to enable travellers to come and go after the gates of the town were shut at night’. The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins.
The long straight path was not overly attractive but as the sun rose, everything changed colour, even the barbed wire fence took on a precious shine.
I came across a small forest of teasal, all turned towards the sun. They stood tall and prickly in the light, old and brown but glowing at the same time. I have never seen so many of them at once. Perhaps because I knew I would be walking past a prison later in the day, they reminded me of inmates pressed against the boundary fence (there was not enough light to take a photo).
Opposite the sun, in the same cobalt sky, was less than half a lint moon, a wafer-thin gauze of a slither. Where the warmth had not reached it, the grass was still stiff with the haw frost.
I followed the footprints of the people who had gone before me until a significant detour due to flooding. I was under a motorway bridge and the warning signs were easy to see except they were back-to-front, so first I took the left fork, met with the un-passable path and retraced my steps. Then it was not easy- arrows everywhere – and it was counter-intuitive winding back and over where I had already been. It seems that this diversion has been there a long time.
Soon it was lovely and warm. Straight, straight on, cars rushing past and I somehow missed Huelmos, the only pueblo between setting off and my destination. Shame about the sore feet. This type of stage often seems much further than it actually is, but I revelled in the wild flowers: the same selection from last week. I had hardly seen any since then and I wondered if the wheat spraying was responsible for the lack of them.
This time the accomodation, a private hostel, was just off the first road I came to on entering El Cubo, sort of round the back and next to what looked like a derelict area. It had a spacious garden surrounding it and those strips of plastic hanging in front of the front door.
As there was no answer I phoned and the owner appeared very quickly, offering me a welcome beer. The books say people are welcome to pop in for a drink and a seat – a nice idea that I had not come across before. As I sun-bathed, I remembered that I had forgotten to leave a donation at the Salamanca donativo hostel and resolved to ‘pass it forward’, as the cyclist from Malta who came briefly by for a coke and to fix his bike, suggested.
Later I went into the village to buy my tea and next day’s breakfast. Two women sitting on a bench outside their house pointed me in the right direction. I am now familiar with shops which are in apparently residential dwellings. In Edinburgh it is the opposite – many of the old shops have been made into homes. White doves flew up from the church.
Being private, there was no pilgrim’s kitchen but the retired owners allowed us to sit at the table alongside the others who were eating the supper provided. There were six of us including a young couple who are walking the camino, weekend by weekend, travelling by car from home on Friday nights, to the start of each stage, walking for two days, and then returning to their vehicle on the Sunday night for work the next day. It was a really enjoyable meal and the wine flowed freely – a delicious local white for the starter, red for the main – which I was (happily) encouraged to sample.
I was still meeting up with the duo from Seuil regularly. They always cater for themselves, being on a strict (almost impossible) budget, and the youngest is an avid footballer (he played for Rennes when he was younger) so despite walking every day, he goes out for football practice every evening – E, his ‘accompanying adult’, is consequently improving his moves!
They also washed our clothes for two euros, and there was plenty of hanging space in the garden. Unfortunately, having bought almost all of my stuff in before the storm except my double-layer socks which dry very slowly, I left them out all night. I padded out in bare feet through the puddles in the early hours when I remembered, but it was too late for them to dry for wearing that day.
I had a rather luxurious night: although I was in a shared room and had arrived first, picking the less expensive bunk, the whole establishment was full by 8pm and I was moved to a double bed – presumably because I was the matriach!!
It is Saturday: poor unsuspecting Spanish men are running and cycling in the vicinity and they are therefore besieged by the dogs! After 2 hours plus of careering out of the house in full-bark, I bribed them (the dogs that is) with biscuits and locked them up inside. More for me than for the populace really!
At 6. 30am I received message number one of many from G. (the owner of the house in which I am ‘sitting’) telling me about her car break-down on leaving France to return home, so maybe this will not be the last blog after all …
Perhaps if she knew what I did with her other car on Thursday night, she would be here sooner: Sue, G’s colleague, had kindly offered to take me in to Valencia for Las Fallas, a celebration of the coming of Spring. I drove to hers with the aid of Google maps (on the opposite side of the road, remember; in the dark; in a car which is so big for me I need two cushions to reach the peddles), and as usual I got lost.
One U-turn later, I was speeding along a cami (which is a smaller road which runs parallel to the main A-one) in the wrong direction, and, after stopping to ‘recentre’, I followed the instructions and took ‘a very sharp left’ – there was a diagram and everything. In fact I got out of the car to look before I did it as I seemed to be very close to a roundabout and … yes, there was a ridge with black and white chevrons painted on the edge of it, but for some reason I believed Google instead of my instinct. Why on earth? It was hard work, but I persevered. And then the car got wedged – I mean, really stuck: the two front wheels on one side of the bit you were not under any circumstances supposed to try and go over, and the two back on the other.
In retrospect, I do not have any excuses – it was simply stupidity. I got out of the driver’s seat and had a look, disbelieving; I got back in and tried to go forwards; I got out and had another look and then back in again and tried to go in the other direction; I wondered if I might be in danger of being crashed into so located the flashers pretty quickly; then I stood on the road a third time and looked at the vehicle.
Immediately a Citroën stopped and two couples got out. Not long afterwards, another sort of car did the same, and, to cut a rather long story short, one of the brilliant women thought of jamming stones under the front wheel and someone else moved the car and bit-by-bit it was freed. Meanwhile, I stood around and remembered the odd word of Spanish and not one person criticised me or shouted – they just helped. And later when Sue arrived it was just like in Edinburgh: she knew the wonder-woman who had ‘done the trick’, she had actually been her English teacher. Well, that is Spain for you – help coming out of my ears wherever I need it (if you get my drift). Oh, and the car is undamaged.
We did not get into Valencia until about 11pm but it was worth it. Basically Las Fallas seems to be a festival of lights, fireworks, and Disney-style erections in every available plaza (square) designed and built by groups of local residents in a massive competition. Some of the women and girls dress up in national costume with flat circular plaits over their ears. I think the photos speak for themselves. While you look, imagine the loudest possible firecrackers going off unexpectedly behind your back while you run for your life. Perhaps my nerves were a little on edge.
On an altogether calmer note, I visited the San Vicente National Park near Llíria with it’s attractive chapel and fish/duck ponds. Here are some more images for you to feast your eyes on.
This morning I sent in my latest book review and here I am quoting Thomas Traherne in his Centuries of Meditation, (a book I will certainly be reading later). He was a mid-17th century thinker who said that the Hobbesian world view of a material and mechanistic life was likely to make humans feel depressed, afraid and cut off from the cosmos (p. 198 of The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans). I am a firm believer that we all need a well-rounded and vast life, one which contains joy and ecstasy, and adventure as well as peace and quiet. That is why I set off to Spain in the first place in Autumn 2016. Never looked back!
I trained as a dancer between 1981-85 at The Laban Centre which was then part of Goldsmith’s College, University of London. I was extremely unhappy a lot of the time and it was really hard, but even now I am glad for the part where we were taught to listen to the rhythm of the body. Walking is a pleasure for me, and when I pace I can hear the melody of my movements, not because I am any more balletic than any other, but because I learned that skill and it is a conduit for mindfulness. Being aware of each step, the quality of the flow and the balance, brings me into the moment and allows me to stop focusing on the past or future.
Then I can make observations: thyme’s little purple flowers between the stones, and the weird, fluffy and speckled seed heads draw my attention; the volcano-shaped anthill are all a-busy; the heather is clad in its girl colours; and, as my sense of smell returns, the pine, the dogs’ breath.
It is a funny thing, fitness, you only know it is improving if you measure it: a hill which was a struggle on day one is easier now. With the full backpack (which is supposed to be 10% of one’s bodyweight), I find myself leaping up little boulders and breaking into small runs; taking it at a fair lick; the dogs and I overtaking each other; and my ankles, thighs and centre feeling a lot stronger which gives me confidence for the upcoming Camino.
Like all Shiatsu practitioners I know, once the terrible afflictions have passed my clients simply forget and it is only when I ask them, ‘So how’s your..? that they remember and reply’ Oh, that, I have not thought about that since I last saw you!’ You see, it is the same thing – if one is in the moment, life just is the way that it is.
The Via Sacra pilgrimage runs from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. This is an account of my day 7, 11th October 2017, the first half of Stage 4.
I was on foot with my backpack, not walking overly far each day although there was a lot of uphill. Without stopping for more than 10/15 minutes twice, I was savouring the countryside because such beauty should not be rushed. Moving slowly from a to b to c, this is wandering rather than hiking at speed, so it took me longer than the guide said it would. Taking photos was, as always, almost obsessive: to share and to show those who have not visited. I also answered messages sometimes (unnecessarily), and constantly checked the map as I went along to avoid getting lost.
‘..follow the Buddha’s simple advice: “When walking – just walk!”‘ quotes Adam Ford in ‘Mindful Thoughts for Walkers, Footnotes on the Zen Path.
Today’s route: Annaberg, by-passing the towns of Joachimsberg and Wienerbruck which are on the road, up Josefsberg (berg is mountain in German), that is, over the Türnitzer Alpen and down again to Mitterbach. It was the gentlest morning followed by a terrible climb, but all in glorious sun.
Birds trilled as I left the youth hostel (Junges Hotel). It had been a strange and rowdy experience there: no-one spoke any English and indeed, the mirror in my room was framed with the word ‘Welcome’ in every imaginable language except English which is unusual for an internataional place. The staff were friendly enough, despite being so very busy.
I startled a single deer under the trees – no wonder she did not usually expect any one to be there as it was thick undergrowth: nettles, twigs, a steep slope and a river to cross. Of course I had taken the wrong route but I could not turn back – somehow that was the worst of ideas. I emerged scratched and panting, to admire the wonderful mountain.
There were sounds of cow bells, as you might expect, and again, memories of the story of Heidi (by Johanna Spyri) with the mountain and its squat houses with brown balconies. They were all girdled by a majestic raptor: was it an eagle? It had a big fanned tail and a hooked beak and it circled through a sky blue enough to rival an Iberian one.
Once I got my breath back it seemed a good time to visit the Catholic Parish Church which I had seen from the outside the day before (a mixture of medieval and early Baroque features). The crocheted seat covers, the stained glass, the late Gothic vine painting 1440-1444, and the detail on the organ (1898, Max Jakob) where the angels seemed to be having a real drama, were all worthy of admiration.
Then the path descended, downhill through the village and out along the Annaberger Kreuzweg, into the cold shade where modern Stations of the Cross can be found at intervals. As with the Camino Frances in northern Spain which is 500 miles (800 kms) long in its entirety but can be shortened to the final 62 (100kms) in order to get the compostella (the certificate at the end), there is a shortened Via Sacra which begins here in Annaberg rather than in Vienna but still ending in Mariazell.
I crossed the Brücke uber den Tannbach (built in 1870) and admired the trickling brook and pretty homesteads in the distance.
It was a very steep and hot climb to Josefsberg (the third Sacred Mountain) but a relaxing stop for a snack by the horse exercising ring of white sand, and the spectacular view from the top. I peeked into the tiny square (also Baroque) chapel because my information had told me about a series of fascinating wall paintings in the presbytery. There was no sign of them inside.
There was a woman moving boxes of flowers outside the house next door, so in my broken German I asked her where were the frescoes. She did not understand! So I tried in English and unusually, happily, she did comprehend that. Lo! she was the key holder and proudly unlocked doors, showed me around and told me all about them.
It was a fascinating interlude and I would highly recommend them to other visitors.
My mind this Autumn time, turned to grief and the passage I read on Facebook (and now cannot remember the source) rang true. I had time to reflect as I made my way.
‘You have to pick it up, hold it, feel the weight of it in your hands, on your heart and within your life. You have to feel the whole loss. Grief demands to be felt with an insistence that needs no sleep. You either allow yourself to encounter the feelings or you remain encased in a shell of yourself under a misguided sense of self-protection.’
A few days before I had checked out Shiatsu practitioners who lived in the area, and to my delight I received a text in reply last night offering me a bed in exchange for a session. Petra is native to Mitterbach and she lives there with her baby son Amor, his father Mao from El Salvador, and a delightful friend Gudrun. They are very active in the town, giving Shiatsu and baby Shiatsu, yoga, chi gung and dance classes, hosting festivals and being patrons of architectural murals.
I came down from the mountain with quiet echoing in my ears. I was earlier than I had anticipated so I sat in silence on the outskirts of the town, acclimatising to the busyness and noise up ahead. My meet-up with Petra was by a pond outside a cafe at 4pm. A father was playing guitar while his children played in the sandpit. Nearby a family carried a baby in a papoose with 2 other kids shrieking delightedly on a make-shift raft. Older women sipped pink wine in the sun. I felt mellow and more at home than I had so far on this pilgrimage.
They live by the Erlauf river on the main street, with a garden where we had our evening meal. I brushed up on my Spanish at the class Mao gave that evening for people in the town, and was generally made very welcome. Many thanks to these kind people who opened their home without ever having met me before.
A dander along the Fife coast from Burntisland at low tide 9.15am to East Wemyss at high tide 3.45pm. Twelth Night – 6th January 2018.
Fantastically well signposted (almost impossible to get lost if you pay attention). Distance: 19.5 kilometres (12.25 miles). Duration: the website said 4.5 – 5.5 hours, but if you have short legs and are out of practice (or both), and want to stop to take photos and have a cup of tea etc, then it takes longer. I took the 8.39 train from Edinburgh.
Terrain: mostly flat: there are a few sets of steps (ascending and descending), and a couple of sloping roads (out of Kirkcaldy, for example). There is some tarmac, but it is chiefly sand, grass, small stones and once (I am sure you could avoid it) a great tumble of rocks.
Linking the Forth and Tay Estuaries (Kincardine to Newburgh), the Fife Coastal Path runs for over 183km (117 or 105 miles according to different websites), through the varied landscapes of Fife. The route links some of Scotland’s most picturesque former fishing villages as well as the home of golf – St Andrews with its ancient University. In between are miles of golden beaches, attractive woods and nature reserves but the route also threads its way through industrial towns such as Kirkcaldy and Leven. History is everywhere, from the winding gear of the former coalyards (see below) to ruined castles and the pictish and prehistoric carvings in the Wemyss caves. (Mostly taken from Walking Highlands, with info from Fife Coastal Path and Birding the Fife Coast).
I started at Burntisland, opposite my house on the other side of the Firth of Forth, regularly spied through my binoculars on a sunny day. A ferry used to run between the two.
A few minutes from the station, the path begins near the links (links are green spaces in Scottish places, often on the dunes and used for golf courses). Straight down to the beach, I was going briskly to keep warm and happy to watch the dogs, spot shells (razors which I tasted for the first time in Santiago de Compostella at the end of the Camino Frances, cockles and the odd strongbow can.) All who passed wished a good morning, and that it was.
The path runs adjacent to the railway with its occassional very short trains and fumes punctuating my rural idyll. A bubble of joy was in me to be setting off on a hike again.
I chose the low tide route across the grass littered with droppings (deer? rabbit?). There was a sea odour; a raven with its dipped, dull head; the plaintive cry of the gull and peeping of the oyster catcher. Ahead was an obstacle and, immediately, boulders to clambering over. That definitely raised the body temperature. Anyone who follows my exploits knows this is business as usual, and it did not last long.
After pacing the pavements of the city the sand was oh-so-soft away from it all.
There is the constant background sound of the most attractive white horses rolling onto the edge of the beach. My peace is interrupted by a train or car, but otherwise I can focus on the wonderful sands and the marks of the dog who had been there before me. With a quietening in my belly I surveyed the uncreased sands.
Kinghorn is the first of the dainty villages with its 5 or 6 boats tucked into the first harbour. Round the corner is a second with a lifeboat and pretty church. There is a smell of chips as I pass the cafe and another jolly greeting from those sitting outside at 10.40am.
It turns out that you can skip the ‘A’ road mentioned in the directions as I did, and get all the way here by beach, but you would miss the monument to Alexander III ‘who fell to his death nearby in the 13th century.’ (Fife Coastal Path website – see below for the link). The sand along the coast is black as well as golden, a reference to the once profitable, now plundered coal seams of this area. I glory in the muted palette of winter, similar but different to the Yorkshire Dales I walked 2 weeks ago.
Out at sea are the ubiquitous oil riggs and red bottomed tankers. On land the municipal toilets are shut for the season. Perhaps, I wonder, I should have paid 30p at the last ones. There are lots of folk around so I cannae squat now!
The path is well waymarked but I get very easily waylaid by views and ideas when I walk. The path moves away from the coast here under the aforementioned railway into a playpark, and through a little tunnel. It was nose-running weather but as per normal I was lucky – no rain and not too much wind though it was very cold even when the sun came out in the last third of the day.
Men from the train passed, going in the opposite direction. I stood aside and one kind one said ‘we are making you walk on the grass, go on, you go past’. What a sweetie.
The increasingly beautiful scenes meant I just could not stop taking photos. My weight felt heavy on the ground now and it was lovely. More tramping than skittering as at the start. Here was the promised rugged coastline with its horizontal striations of gentle sandstone, pillowed volcanic rock, columnar jointing of basalt and great hunks of black volcanic dolerite (a reminder of an eruption of The Binn volcano over 300 million years ago).
A gentle incline led to a sunny path and the blue sky was reflected in the rock pools below. Real crowds of ramblers went by, and whereas the local people were friendly to a one, those from Edinburgh were not all, especially the women.
The yellow lichen contrasted with its grey and brown hosts, and I remembered the Judi Dench documentary about trees from last night, a new sense of awe at the immense benefit of the connected aspects of nature. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09jxnv4
I listened to the unknown, feathered singer of dee doh dee doh dee doh dee doh deee.
This tall beige and tan, broken 16th century castle with its 5 feet thick walls, stands above the beach where happy hounds bounce in the sea air, and there was a long legged, curved-beaked curlew at the waters edge. The chunks of rock cubes and parallelograms, the regular flat-topped mini cliffs of Dover, and occasional man-made stacks of concrete were all fascinating.
This poster was on the outside toilet wall and wholeheartedly subscribed to during my wanderings. Unless, that is, I have given Shiatsu, when a deep sense of relaxation is a happy thing to have left.
Walking over bumpy terrain is reputedly good for the brain. http://mxplx.com/meme/2622/ Plus, the inner ear has to constantly re-balance. My legs are starting to feel heavier but I am so glad this will not end soon.
I pass through the three quarters circular metal gate (a contrast to the stiles with tiny wooden ones in the Yorkshire Dales) into the Seafield carpark where there is a woman in her nighty and white ankle socks walking her dog. A man with purple lips at the end of his constitutional makes pithy conversation: ‘That’s a good walk that is’, he said, when I regaled him with my route, ‘I was a member of the Ramblers. Walked all over Britain we did.’ He corrected my pronunciation of Wemyss (say ‘weems’). ‘There’s a cafe in Dysart’ (say ‘die sut’) he went on ‘and toilets’. A fount of local information he was.
I made it to ‘The lang toun’ (meaning, the long town, which Kirkcaldy is known as) just after midday. There was the Raith Rovers football ground and a Morrisons. It is a large sprawl with inevitable industrial outskirts, space-age covered esplanade seats, and a weird public sculpture. I popped into Lidl for chocolate and a free pee where I saw what rosy cheeks I had developed from the wind. Then the way resumed by the really extreme sea wall of white concrete blocks which was a project for relieving unemployment in the Great Trade Depression of 1922/23. The Link Sands were softer, again, for my feet but with a smell of, what was it, chutney?
The Hutchison’s flour mill is like our very own Chancellot Mills in Newhaven, Edinburgh, and rows of birds made a dotted silhouette on its roof like decorative braid. There was an unpleasant, burning plastic smell. Past ‘Ultimate Reptiles’ and hideous car parks I went, past the derelict Nairn Floor Cloth Manufactory (1847) which facade hid a modern place to learn fighting, and steeply up past the Nether Street cemetery into the spacious Ravenscraig Park with its Three Tree Legend. Apparently the three trees were planted over the graves of the trio of Sinclair brothers who, mistaking each other for robbers, killed the other. The dark shot of the nearby castle (built by James II for his wife Mary of Guelders) and bay behind was suitably sinister.
At the top of a flight of steps is a rather gruesome fishy poem by C W Berry (1927 – 1998). Here is the last stanza:
‘The gear’s aboard reclining in the blood. The slaughter’s done – The silver’s down below.’
There was an option here to go by the beach instead of following the signs, but this would have been missed. The sun’s rays splayed out over ripples of the rounded bay and in the distance the hills of Edinburgh showed in varying shades of grey, all lit up behind a path of silver sea.
Stone art comes next, situated amongst foot-crunching beech husks. It is by Kenny Munro and features the poem Stanes by Duncan Glen (who ‘fittingly ascribes his achievements to his wife Margaret of 51 years’) with ‘Scots words [which] allude to the many stone features around us.’ (Quotes from the information sign nearby). There is also a doocot (dovecot) which provided the king and his court with meat.
Next are a series of little coves divided by what look like noble curved walls. Many are entered through tumbledown arches and are seriously narrow. Here are what one of Judi Dench’s experts called arboroglyphs (a great word for man-made tree carvings). As directed, I take a right at the four forks and trip under the railway to Dysart, ‘claustrophobic’ (as described by the Walk Highlands website) or idyllic, depending on your outlook. Here I saw ancient mariners in their wee huts flying the Scottish ensign; a handsome harbour master’s house (much mentioned as it is the official Fife Coastal Path headquarters but shut today despite the number of hikers and it being a weekend).
There is a thunder of waves now, and another sculpture made up of wooden uprights in pastel blues and greens of the sea when seen in different lights. A herring gull with a gruesome beakful stands on a wall. A cute looking baby seal stranded on the beach was causing a right to-do.
Further on were many slightly incongruous, what I call Narnia lamp posts; gleaming white-washed stepped gabled houses; and I finally got my cup of tea which was a mere £1.50. It came with a sugary round of traditional Scottish shortbread, and I bought a piece of tablet (a sort of hard fudge made here – popular and delicious if you have a sweet tooth) for my daughter.
The next part of the path was sodden and my waterproof boots let the cold fluid in. The last remnant of the local coal mine has been left on this part of the Coastal Path as a reminder.
Down a flight of steps I joined the very attractively stacked West Wemyss, and on the way in I passed another castle, this time with blue conical Chinese-looking hats atop its turrets. Behind the walls was an impressive hidden garden glimpsed through cracks. In the misty distance I spied Berwick Law (a low, lone peak in East Lothian- too far away for the camera to pick it up).
The area has been decorated with lottery money and spring bulbs are starting to push upwards.
The tide was now crashing against the rocks and on the shingled and seeweed-covered shore there were more wonderful pinky orange rocks (colour-matched in the clouds). The words ‘gentle’ and ‘benign’ came to mind as I enjoyed their appearance in the glowing late afternoon sun. It was really so very pleasant.
At the end of the day I enter East Wemyss, the home of Jimmy Shand (1908 – 2000) one of Scotland best known musicians (think ceilidh jigs and The Bluebell Polka). you tube link
Do not turn off the path as soon as you arrive. Instead, stay on until you find Back Dykes (as I did not) on your left. At the end of that road turn left onto Main Street and then take an immediate right onto School Wynd. The bus stop is past the Primary School on the same side of the A955 High Road. If you are not sure, everyone is friendly and helpful, so ask.
On the Stagecoach bus it took 15 minutes to get to Kirkcaldy, where it took me 3 hours to walk, and I drove home into the sunset, crossing the new Forth Road Bridge as the moon rose.
In case it is of use: for this cold January walk I wore long-legged thermals under thin jersey trousers with an elasticated waist (easy to pull up and down quickly when needed), my double layered walking socks (invaluable for avoiding blisters), a vest top, cotton long-sleeved blouse (better for the sweatiness), under a walking hoodie and jacket with a hat, gloves and scarf. I was cool enough what with all the movement, but also protected from the weather. Oh, and I had my sturdy boots on (thanks again, Sabine).
Scotrail. £6.70 for a one-way ticket from Edinburgh to Burntisland (it takes 35 mins). There is a toilet but no refreshments on the train. https://www.scotrail.co.uk/
Stagecoach buses: £10 one way, £10.70 for all day and any bus. Buy on the bus or via the app. The journey takes 1.5 hrs Edinburgh to Burntisland with a change at Inverkeithing (which is why I took the train in the morning). In the evening the 16.03 from East Wemyss arrived at 17.15 in Edinburgh, and there were heated seats, wifi, a place to charge your phone, and a toilet. All 3 drivers I spoke to, though helpful, were very abrupt.
Timeless Tearooms, Dysart near the Tolbooth (no website). Not perfectly clean but there is a decent toilet, the staff were very friendly and helpful (she lent me a device so I could charge my phone while I drank). It was full of locals having a chat and crocheting, and there was a nice atmosphere and a good cup of tea. There are other cafes open in the summer season.
http://www.fifecoastalpath.co.uk/ This is the official Fife Coastal Path website, with the circular blue, yellow and green sign which is used to show the way. It has interesting facts but no detailed directions so I did not find it as useful as the Walk Highlands one below. Also the 2 websites divide the walk into different stages.
Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 10th October 2017. Day 6. The second half of Stage 3.
On foot with my backpack. It was 6 hours of spectacular climbs, rushing rivers, scary footbridges, and astonishing views, all in sparkling Autumn surroundings.
Route: Türnitz (Gasthaus ‘Goldener Lowe’ where I spent the night and had breakfast), 2.5 hours to Falken Ravine, then Ulreichsberg, Ebenbaueralm, and Annaberg.
‘If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.’ Thich Nhat Hanh.
As I left Türnitz at 8.15am with its prettily decorated houses, I was minded of some early reads which have walking in them and which I still have a clear sense of. My mother read to us and gave us books throughout our childhood, and I am very grateful for the enjoyment she encouraged. ‘Mary Jones and Her Bible’ was one I often returned to for some reason.Mary (16 December 1784 – 28 December 1864) was a Welsh girl who saved her pennies and then, at the age of fifteen, walked twenty-six miles barefoot across mountainous countryside to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible because she did not have one. I think it was her determination which impressed me, and it was a rare true story of a young girl’s strength.
Then there was ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri. Heidi was another girl with spunk (though fictitious this time), who also lived in the mountains, not in Wales (UK) but in one of Austria’s many adjoining countries, Switzerland, where I was headed at the end of this trip. I had not thought about these tales for many years, but now I wonder what effect they had on me at an impressionable age.
I followed the River Traisen out of town and focused on the tiny lovely things around me: a small, darting bird, dark with a white throat; dams and pools with fish just visible in slow motion under the surface; tiny waterfalls; the sun on the back of my neck; a quarry creating a natural bathing pool; the water jostling and stressing in its rush; trunks and stalks blackened from the old year.
I was living a real life folk tale: First traverse the land…
…visit sacred places along the way….
… Ford the river five times (twice the socks and boots had to come off, 3 times it was a matter of balancing precariously on the tips of rocks which weren’t submerged and hoping I would not topple because once I start to go the weight of the rucksack takes me all the way!)
Carry your worldly goods on your back looking carefully for signs.
There will be obstacles on your path.
Finally climb the Three Sacred Mountains (this is truely what they are called) and only then will you…. what? Achieve enlightenment / win the heart of your true love / be forgiven?
My heart sang as I watched the leaves meander to the ground which was itself glowing golden and bronze; as I observed the white waters cascade and crash between dark green rocks.
As I hike, I am constantly reflecting on what I am about, travelling through countries, going on foot wherever I can. Why am I drawn to this life? And I wonder if it might be that it is easier to do this in foreign countries rather than at home; in a place where no-one knows me and I seem to be easily welcomed. In Spain, for example, they said yes when I asked to stay, and let me sleep on the floor and then gave me an apple to take away with me in the morning. Simplicity. Nothing expected from me except human courtesy and attention, although I always offer Shiatsu.
I have an urge to do this, to keep on walking, treading ancient pathways, like The Sisters of Mercy, a non-cloistered institute where the ‘walking nuns’ cared for the poor outside a convent; or the blind practitioners of Anma (Japanese folk massage, linked closely to Shiatsu) ‘who were often nomadic, earning their keep in mobile massage capacities…. in the 19th century’ (ref. Wikipedia). It seems that another woman I read and re-read about in my childhood, Helen Keller, interceded on behalf of these practitioners after they were banned from practicing during the Occupation of Japan after World War II, and managed to overturn that edict.
As I climb higher, there are the deep blue mountains in the distance. I take one of those videos entitled ‘here’s some of my silence!’
It was a steep descent out of the forest and then a climb back up to Annaberg, perched high on a mountain of its own, where a funeral procession was reaching the Pilgrim’s church. In 1985 I arrived in a Sicilian mountain village by bus (many years before my walking days) in the middle of a wedding, and in Naples a week before I had almost interrupted an ordination ceremony for bishops in the only open venue due to the Holy holiday. However, this was the first funeral.
Most bars and cafes were closed for the village event and people were in traditional Austrian dress playing folk music. After a cup of green tea and a slice of cake, I made my way down the other side taking one of my short-cuts to save my tired back which meant crawling through undergrowth and squeezing under barbed wire – a bad idea which I do not recommend.
The Junges Hotel did not seem to have the booking. Strange. Until it transpired that I was not at the youth hostel, but at a much more expensive establishment next to the ski lift. As always I was treated with immense kindness. I was bundled into a van, and driven up the way I had just come, past the church again, and down (in fact only a small way from my original forest exit earlier) to the right place.
What a setting! Green slopes, grand trees, spire towering above in Annaberg.
There was no-one at reception although crowds of children played behind the building. I sat and waited and was eventually assigned my bed. The kitchens were full of preparations for the evening meal so I could not use them (although one kind man did pass me a flask of hot water over the counter). The wifi was intermittent, and what a lot of energy such large school groups create. As I was the only solo adult traveller and, moreover, in a dormitory of my own, they did not know I was there so in the end I had to ask them to quieten down in the corridor (2am), but they were very well mannered and friendly in response.
Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 9th October 2017. Day 5. On foot with my backpack. The first half of Stage 3.
Route: Lilienfeld, Moosbach, Türnitz.
‘She had a long and uncertain road ahead of her, but once she was free again her serenity returned.’ from Gertrude Bell, ‘Queen of the Desert’.
The architecture of Lilienfeld Monastery is impressive, and somehow felt like home, although I got lost many times and was late to Matins (the morning service) for that reason. I had been given a key and shown around when I arrived the day before, but it was dark in the early morning and all the doors looked the same. I opened them one by one, circumambulating the cloisters and finding myself repeatedly back where I began by the inside fountain.
In the end I discovered the monks’ way in and sat silently behind the altar until the break between services when I moved into a pew. I had received news of my Great Aunt’s death (she was an impressive 106 years old) and recalled happy memories and inevitably shed some tears.
There is a very famous library here with amazing sounding manuscripts, but nothing I could say would persuade them to allow me access. You can find information by clicking here.
‘..taught at least some wisdom by solitude, taught submission,….’ Gertrude Bell from ‘Queen of the Desert’.
It was a chilly, almost sunny day when I got outside. The hours of silence between 4.30pm and 8am meant that speaking to the kind people in the bank was rather weird, and I felt shy with my limited German. Although many inhabitants of Vienna and nearby have great English, once in the countryside I found that I had to dredge my mind for my O’ Level deutsch. I was very grateful to receive helpful tips to find the path.
Looking back towards where I had walked the day before, it seemed as if there was a large beast behind the buildings breathing cloud and mist up in front of the mountains.
That drifting cloud made the slopes look other-worldly up there where it is so quiet. There was a smell of wood smoke down in the valley, and a roar of lorries driving through the industrial area, all against a backdrop of wooded hills draped in their early autumn colours. Everywhere during this period were orange, green and yellow pumpkins on doorsteps, window sills and in shop windows, heralding Halloween and harvest.
50 kms to go – half way to Mariazell, my destination – with a cold wind about my ears once again. Men were at work and my footsteps felt gentle in this world of contrasts: a good balance between active Yang-type movement, and contemplative Yin-type peace by the River Traisen. Of course industry and nature both co-exist in the landscape.
The path was lined with silver birches and I was juggling my walking poles in order to take photographs.
Further along there are two tunnels and the river is a jade green below.
I attempt to watch and follow my moods. Rather than fixing them in advance (deciding that I will feel good today, for example), or stopping myself by being critical (no, you can’t feel x), or practicing denial (of course you are not hungry, you have only just had breakfast), it can be interesting to follow them as they flow. In reality they constantly respond to the environment or to thoughts, and I observe that they change and morph if I do not focus on them too much. Moreover, very difficult ones do pass, perhaps more easily if they are not ‘trodden on’ or ‘pushed underground’.
There is more widespread logging at Moosbach, and bright yellow houses with pink pointed rooves. The slopes are steep and stony and there are Xmas trees growing. The concrete paths are physically hard on the soles of my feet and mentally challenging with the repetition.
As I hike, family memories flit in and out of my mind; I spot Highland cattle and multiple funghi in all shapes and sizes; free range chickens seem to be enjoying their day.
Myriad fascinations: Himalayan Balsam the colour of my magenta scarf; spears of grass spike through the mottled leaves, dark brown at the edges; green-fronded moss softens rock oulines; wild strawberries send out lifelines to enable their offspring to live before putting down their own roots; hard ash nibs are just waiting for a sheet of paper to write on; wild marjoram and self-sown beech saplings sprout in the undergrowth.
There was more: a green field with a crop of solar panels; jolly geranium window boxes whose rooves sit over them like wooden bob caps; huge calving heifers; and inside an internal battle where I tell myself off all the time.
There were rows of houses which might have been the first you drew and coloured in when you were wee. They have four square windows in front but no door. I note that, in line with the principles of Fung Shui which protects against negative, invasive Chi (which like all Chi moves in straight lines), the owners can see what is coming but because the door is round the side it does not let the unwanted energy in every time it is opened.
Well, it happened again! I arrived in Türnitz which was effectively shut for the winter, and although my leaflet gave me names of several places to sleep the night, the woman in the shop said there was only one option. I popped into that hotel/bar, disbelieving, to have a cup of tea and something to eat and she assured me her rooms were full anyway. But after investigating, it was clear that hers was indeed the only venue, so back I went to get my rucksack and to plead, and very kindly she allowed me to stay.
A rural walk: Hammeren to Frognerseteren via Ullevaalseter, November 2017
I stayed a night with Sarah Huby, a Shiatsu School Edinburgh graduate and Oslo Shiatsu practitioner specialising in mothers and babies; and the rest of the time with Guro and Chris with whom I renewed acquaintance after many years. I was pleased to give Shiatsu sessions to say thanks for all the hospitality which came my way, and I particularly enjoyed the conversation, delicious meals, Zen morning meditation and the countryside walk.
Oslo is the capital city of Norway, with a centre which wraps around the edge of the fjord rather than in the middle of the sprawl. Did you know that there are 40 islands within the city limits?
That is where I sat the only other time I visited, on my 25th birthday (or thereabouts), before a women’s theatre ‘Magdalena Project’ took me to Porsgrunn where I stood on a bee.
More than 25 years later I spent 5 days here and I took simple ‘a to b’ utilitarian walks for visiting purposes or to the workshop venue, appreciating the scarlet houses, exposed millefeuille banks of rock on which the city rests, and a spectacular waterfall which is part of the Akerselva River.
The countryside walk began with a gentle pavement climb from the flat along the bus route and, though freezing, the sun lit up the primary colours making a real contrast with Austria’s pastel shaded buildings.
Once uphill we entered the forest, slipping on ice, inhaling the freshest air, and ‘putting the world to rights’ in compulsive conversation. It is not often I take a walk with others and I enjoyed the informed companionship of friends who could enlighten me about local customs and show me the way.
Others jogged by at quite some speed and made fascinating crunching noises leaving me wondering how they were not ‘coming a cropper’. Later, as I donned a pair of crampons for the first time (so simple – they just stretch and hug on to the toes and heels of walking boots), I realised why these athletes were safe: the tiny spikes on the soles break through the ice and hold you steady. I was like a child discovering something everyone else knew.
I had been promised ‘rubber pancakes’, so we stopped half way at a large, warm hostelry with a great many dead beasts’ heads on the walls – moose and the like, as you would expect. It transpires that the local delicacy is so called because they are made in the morning and are considerably less fresh by 4pm! They are thicker than crêpes but not as deep as Scottish drop-scones. Served cold, they are pasted with butter and jam and I would not recommend them. The apple cake, however, was yummy.
In the airport, everyone said ‘hi hi’ to me and were very pleasant, but as a rule Norwegian strangers do not smile easily at strangers. My friend tells me it is out of respect for ones privacy and space. It is weird for me when I am used to smiling and exchanging a greeting when walking in the Scottish or Spanish countryside.
As I left Oslo, the flakes were falling once again, children in the playground had their tongues out to catch them, the edges of the motorway were edged with icing sugar, and I admired the neat pink and yellow gable-ended flats and very tall pointed trees. Of course the Norwegian people are very tall too, compared to me. The Oslo temperature was raised to a high 4 degrees, matching the Edinburgh weather we were flying into.
Gardermoen Airport (Oslo) is a peaceful and calm place: no-one seemed to be rushing or stressed. I wondered why and came to the conclusion it was because there was no canned music – fantastic. I had 50 NOK for refreshment which turned out to be very little, so in case you are in the same situation here is my advice: have a personal stock of tea bags and get a cup of free hot water which is available in all the kiosks (cold is available to fill your bottle too – after all this practice, I now remember to empty it before security). Add to your hot drink, a bag of nuts (29 NOK), a bread roll with chocolate bits (I thought they were sultanas) 17 NOK, and a piece of fruit (4 NOK) and you will have a feast.
Note: In the duty free shop you can use £ sterling but any change will be given to you in NOK so try to be exact.
I just cannot resist taking photos through windows when I travel.
I have to report that the Edinburgh Airport loos were for the first time cleaner than those of the country I had recently visited. And I am also proud to say that our Airlink buses have tourist information on video in BSL sign language. (Take bus number 100 to the city centre; 200 to Granton, Newhaven and Leith; 300 to Ingleston, Gyle, Saughton etc for £4.50 single, £7.50 open return (have the exact cash ready or download the m-ticket app (minimum £10 spend)).
I flew Norwegian.com which was affordable because I booked months in advance.
Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 8th October 2017. Day 4. On foot with my backpack. The second half of Stage 2.
My route: Starting just outside Sankt (Saint) Veit an der Gölsen, Staff (approx. 800 metres), Wiesenbach (approx. 600 metres), Vordereben, Lilienfeld Stift / Monastery.
I wanted to be clear about my reason for this pilgrimage before I started and it surprised me to realise that I was doing it to ‘develop my soul and atone for my sins’. At least, these were the words I heard in my head when I asked myself the question. I am not religious (although I was bought up firmly in the Christian faith) but this language definitely comes from that tradition. It is now understood that terminology and ideas laid down in infancy are prevalent through life, tricky to shake off. Whilst I subscribe to some Church of England core beliefs such as kindness, the notion of being born a sinner is one I struggle with. That gave me something to ponder as I wandered.
The first three days had been quite hard in terms of terrain, blisters, wind and rain. I got lost a lot, but the landscape I was walking through was so beautiful I forgot all about those tribulations. Given my aim in walking, it was fitting that I was to find myself at the door of not one but two monasteries (see day one) where I attended a number of Masses, sitting quietly, interested in the ritual, and absorbing the atmosphere.
Today was a grand day.
After a good breakfast, and having recovered from the previous day’s struggles, I made my way back down into Sankt Veit an der Gölsen where I had failed to find accommodation the evening before. My plan was to visit the Austrian market which the kind people who had helped me (see Via Sacra, Day 3), had been setting up their stalls. I had been promised traditional dress and local food.
I was close to the central square and stopped to ask the way from a woman with a dog. She spoke some English and asked me what I was up to, what with my backpack and all. Then she offered to walk with me towards Mariazell, so I changed direction and set off up the steep hill with her. (I am getting better at being spontaneous and accepting the invitations as they present themselves!). We had a lovely conversation and she told me stories about her two sons and said, ‘getting a dog was best thing I ever did to avoid a nervous break down!’ It gave her an excuse to get out of the house on a Sunday morning, she said, and walk in the beautiful countryside.
We traversed the pine forest which turned to beech and that was where we parted company. The pine part is a dark olive/seaweedy type of green, whereas the beech trees are a brighter spring green and they let more light through. As we came to the edge of the darker section it was like standing back-stage in the wings, looking onto the lit stage. It was interesting to note the inadvertent change in mood as I moved from one to the other.
My thoughts turned to memories of a previous shared hike, the delights and problems, acknowledging my part in the relationship difficulties: my bad habit of unhappily holding on to slights, not finding it easy to let them go. I found myself turning these things over and over with my footsteps, ‘maybe if…’, ‘perhaps if…’, but then caught myself at it, drew my attention back to the present, one step at a time, heel, toe, heel toe, heel … and that allowed me to see more of my surroundings.
I was making my way along flat paths which stretched into the distance. The wind was strong and it was cold, but fine. In fact as the hours went by, it was decidedly good and I was not lost – hooray.
The Gutenstein Alps are a mountain range in the Eastern Alps of Austria, and the northeasternmost part of the Northern Limestone Alps, reaching heights over 1,000 metres.
Downhill from Staff then up again to Weisenbach I went, taking the steeper option described in the leaflet as ‘a very rewarding mountain trail with two successive ascents’. I followed the effective red and white markers towards Lilienfeld Monastery, my destination. The leaves shone, the wild cyclamen peeped out from between tree roots, and there was peaceful thinking time. Autumn leaves drifted all around and I had the luxury of making very slow progress because the stage was short.
Suddenly in the middle of nowhere (11.15am) were the first two Via Sacra signs of the day, 2 hrs after leaving Wiesland.
It started to spit with rain and I stopped to cover my belongings. A dream from a few days ago flitted into my mind: A man and I settled down with our children (his and mine, 2 families together) to sleep. When the baby cried I left her. I tried not to anlayse it.
The recent fantastic bodywork I had exchanged with Alice Whieldon at the Shiatsu congress in Vienna slid into my mind. Walking gives me time, you see, to ponder and remember important things, to mull them over and observe them from different angles.
For two days I had been unable to wear my shorts but it was a shade warmer and that meant air around my legs. It also resulted in scratches but it was worth it.
Some of the wild flowers were familiar from British hedgerows, and others we have in our gardens. The geology was interesting: striations reminiscent of herring; and the sheer size of one huge crag was awe inspiring (too dark for a photo).
The path wound through a seemingly abandoned settlement where a zimmer frame stood at an angle in the middle of the farmyard as if a UFO had just dematerialised its owner and left it standing – a curiously poignant image. Then a car drove in – it was the first person I had seen in three hours.
On I calmly traipsed until the need to stop to search for the next sign. A great squarking and squeaking gave me quite a surprise.
I gobbled a quick sandwich in the drizzle, in the silence, and watched a single bird of prey swooping over the landscape. There was a chill meaning the trousers had to go back on.
Note to self: Add a thermos to the luggage if walking in October anywhere east of Lyon.
It was 3.5 hours to Wiesenbach Gasthaus. I was feeling very quiet after my silent walking and people could not hear my soft voice. I tiptoed through. It was very slow service and the truth was that I did not want to talk to anyone. I felt peaceful inside myself and welcomed a seat in the warm with a cup of green tea and yummy zucchini (courgette) cake. The smoking and fried food caused stinging eyes. Ah! of course the smells were all about Sunday lunch – they serve very large portions with lots of carbs in these places.
Once back in the fresh air I was completely surrounded by steep wooded slopes and it was all very pleasant indeed.
In fact towards the end of the walk I did get a trifle lost and chose to roll with the backpack, under two make-shift fences which I had previously tested for electricity. Then I made my way down the slope and got to a farm, stooped to pick up a windfall apple and promptly got a shock. The farmer pointed down the road and there was a Via Sacra sign which took me to my destination.
In Austria when you arrive somewhere or pass friendly people on the path, they say Grüss Gott meaning good day or more literally, may God be with you. (Thanks Sabine for clarifying).
I arrived at the Cistercian Abbey at 4pm for the night. The monks reside in long, low stone buildings with port-hole type windows, one per cell, opposite square pools of water.
I was initially told that there was no room. You can imagine my heart sank, but I said I was a pilgrim and they gave me a bed in a 3-person room with a beige velour sofa and access to a toilet/shower room 5 minutes walk away (a long journey in the night).
Vespers was in the Baroque chapel. The nine monks dressed in white habits were joined by a smaller man in black who came in late. Most were elderly looking with tonsures except the one younger man with a skinhead of Scottish red hair. He continually adjusted his neck and wore Vans (trendy trainers). Another sported a sweat band around the perimeter of his bald head, had specs and a beard, and rested his hands comfortably on his belly.
There was no Gregorian chant as at Heiligenkreutz; it was mostly spoken in Latin with some German, and there were periods of silence. They turned in unison to face the altar, a ritual back and forth, sitting and standing, bowing and straightening, and every now and then one turned the pages of a huge prayer book. They took it in turns with call and response.
For 8.80 euros I was served a cheese toastie with an egg on top, a small red wine, cake and peppermint tea. It was a very early night as the monks rise in the small hours for worship.
Dry cardboard leaves and wrinkled skin. It is autumn. The smell of decomposition heralds the beginning of winter, but the azure skies are reminiscent of last year in Spain on the Camino.
These happy memories inevitably lead to sadness, made worse by the season’s proclivities. There are almost no leaves left on the trees and part of me doubts if summer will ever come again.
I feel contentment not happiness as I climb in the silence and contemplate this solitude.
In the distance Swiss flags are flying. Nearby there is dung on the path after last week’s flitting when the cows were brought from the slopes for the winter. Lambing is in progress. I can distinguish now between the different timbres of cattle bells ringing round the mountains, their walls creating a huge singing bowl.
I move between open grassy slopes to dark fir woods where no photos are possible. There is also very steep, carefully managed woodland to the tune of bing bong ben. Underfoot are, variously, beech leaf-piles and phallic cones. I breathe heavily with the effort, my muscles toning and strengthening (so I promise myself) as I strain up and higher.
Blue birdseye to match the sky crouches next to the mini-suns of a dandelion-type flower. It is shorts and T-shirt weather and I come across a mountain cabin with a veranda just for me to bathe on.
Here I meditate and muse for an hour facing away from the sun to warm my kidneys and let the rays shine between my vertebrae. It feels as if I have a back of velvet. I hear axe on wood; a bee busys by my ear and it is easy to imagine it is trying to tell me something. If I lived here what would happen? Would my mind be quiet or is it just that I would be able to hear things which usually the world is too loud for?
But no, other noises disturb my reverie. I am not scared, I only want to know what is in the forest over there. However much I watch nothing is revealed. I settle back. It is so still that an inertia or reluctance to walk has come over me. My skin feels caressed by the breeze.
A wood pecker taps. I see spider skeins in the air made visible by the rays. Far away, wisps of cloud sit in the lap of the mountain. Diagonal ribs of grassy slopes ripple down below an opaque turquoise, which in turn sets the rocky teeth of the horizon into relief.
My eating disturbs the silence but then again so does my tummy rumbling. As if this place is my private domain, I sit in my bra. Last night I dreamt of a conversation with a Border collie, and today I congratulate a mother sheep whose newborn couries doun beside her. This landscape is having an influence!
At 927 metres is the closed Carthusian chapter of Chartreuse La Valsainte, Cerniat. It is fitting that nearby there are silent and solitary monks secluded from the rest of the world.
I spot a pair of the raptors I saw yesterday and when they are further away they do sound like the rare bearded vultures on the internet. They certainly looked like them from a distance.
Eventually the sun leaves my idyllic corner, although the wooden door I lean against remains cosy for ages. I didn’t see a soul though I fancied I heard the odd voice wafting up. Maybe they were spirits, given it is so close to Samhain (31 Oct / 1 Nov: the Gaelic festival where a sort of veil comes down between harvest and winter’s dormancy).
Meanwhile aeroplanes create white crosses looking like cotton wool when you pull the whole length out of the bag.
What grand old trees I move between! I am hot again as I negotiate the steep.
Then I am at the first summit and I know what is there below me: Lake Gruyère. I can identify the town of Bulle, and the 2002 metres of Moléson which I climbed 3 days ago, to the left. I have the urge to run uphill – mountain goat madness.
Soon afterwards I am on Mont Bifé.
Sitting down to manage the vertigo ‘in the pit of my stomach’ I feel waves of sensation in my base chakra. I open up the map and the land is open in front of it. There is a viaduct over the Lac de la Gruyère, a castle or quarry (maybe Verchaux), and a black and white bird suddenly flies past in front of my eyes. There is no wind. It is warm, warm. Harebells dangle, and I smell the odour of wild thyme in bloom.
The ear splitting aircraft is a violation of this landscape.
After this, I wander gently downwards, find a helpful signpost, and start to negotiate more slippery, damp-smelling and slightly treacherous pathways on the Yin side of the mountain facing away from the sun.
I have come over the other side of my morning’s world into a shadier environment with places the width of one foot to walk on as I totter round the edge of precipitous rocks on boards which have been laid there to enable access. Then it is down a steep ladder, through undergrowth and over the many fallen tree trunks, before I come out once again into the open by one of the occassional stone houses which shepherds use in the summer.
Now where do I go from here? There follows an hour or traipsing over and under, through and around, until I finally accept defeat and retrace my steps through the tricky part and back to that signpost. I find this very difficult. I like to move forward from a to b and have never enjoyed going back and starting again.
In fact, the way down is easy once found, and I even meet two friendly women coming up, although their conversation seemed so loud.
I get cold and hurtle on to get my circulation going, arriving some six plus hours later back where I started and ready for a cup of tea.
Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 7th October 2017. Day 3. Starting just outside Kaumberg and walking to Sankt (Saint) Veit an der Golsen, Austria. On foot with my backpack. The first half of Stage 2.
My overnight accommodation in a secondary building separate from the main house was cold and dirty. Having arranged for breakfast at 7am, I braved the cold morning across the small yard and attempted to enter via the backdoor. It was locked. When I looked up, all the upstairs curtains were closed and the house silent. I scoured the perimeter and discovered there was no way out. There were some huge rabbits in stacks of tiny cubes, a series of hutches with wire fronts; a great deal of rubbish and minor farm machinery; and the back of the gates which I knew opened onto the road. I had no choice but to return to my dormitory, wrap myself in my sleeping bag and wait. On the third attempt the door opened and I was welcomed into a completely contrasting environment: a warm, clean and bright pub bar with many large wooden tables (I was the only guest) and served with a wondrous breakfast of hot bread rolls, homemade jam, yummy butter, tea, juice and then a boiled egg! Both the lady and gentleman of the house were friendly and kind and with a full tummy I was ready to leave at 8.40am.
It was a very short dander to the town and I arrived at almost the same moment that crowds of walkers were collecting, it being a Saturday morning. Not one of them appeared to speak English or understand my German, and all were too taken up with greeting friends to be helpful. However, I did eventually find a helpful woman behind a stall who pointed me in the right direction and, at the top of a steep flight of steps, I came across the town church with beautiful views.
The hiking crowds were ahead of me, lively and chattering with a guide (reluctantly indicating with a shrug of a shoulder where I should be going), and there followed a long steep climb, arduous both physically and mentally. A cold, cold wind invaded my layers and some spitting rain wetted me as we wound our way through farm land. As I skirted a field I watched kids at play while their mum worked at fencing. It was soggy and muddy underfoot but not too bad.
Araburg Aussichtstrum (observation tower) sits at 799 metres and was built in the 12th century. It continued to expand into the 17th century and during the first Turkish siege of 1529 it was a refuge for the local population. Araburg also played a role in the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. In 1683 it was destroyed during the second Turkish siege and since then has been ruin. It is a hostel and although the shop and cafe were open, the accommodation was not. I was glad to climb staircase after rickety ladder for the view from the top, but it was vertigo-inducing and impossible with a rucksack so I left it with my poles at the midway point. Half an hour later I had to retrace my steps to find the said poles which I had forgotten in the toilet.
As I continued (no need for a cafe stop an hour and a half after breakfast), I passed people who did not look at me or say ‘hello’- a great contrast from previous pilgrimages. In my notes I wrote that it was the ‘hardest climb I have ever done’. Day 3 of a walk can be the hardest and today was challenging in various ways: the path was not clear, the weather gloomy, and the thoughts and memories sad. Sometimes, I reflected, you just have to sit down and weep. As I rested at the foot of the hill there was an extremely loud wailing siren sounding for I knew-not-what reason, but it mirrored my inner state of mind.
If you happen to have a similar sort of a day, and arrive in Ramsau (a pretty stone village further along the Golsen river down at 470 metres) at lunchtime as I did, perhaps you will also need to eat ‘apfel strudel’ to cheer you up. Maybe you will also then slowly recover and dry out with the aid of hot tea. If you are as lucky as me, you could be seated by 3 generations of sweet males sitting at the next table: one in his highchair who will offer you his book to read and the others who speak English, recommend a hiking app to help you find the way, and eventually the world will seem a better place again.
And so I set off feeling somewhat brighter and the sun came out and I meandered along a cycle path with the chain-saw-sound of forestry around me.
The leaflet I was following states six hours of trekking to Stankt Veit an der Golsen (371 metres) and suggests you go on a further four but that is too far for me in one day, so once again I divided that stage into two.
I arrived in Sankt Veit with very little energy to spare, only to discover that the single place to stay at this time of year was unexpectedly shut due to bereavement. I was in the middle of another adventure – it was nearly dark and I was stuck. Time for some deep breaths.
I spotted some people outside a cafe and stopped to ask them where I might stay for the night. They were setting up for a special Sunday Austrian market the next morning. Within minutes they were bringing me a free half pint of wine and were all on their mobile phones searching for me.
After a few sips I remembered that I had stopped at a bar the day before and a very willing woman had taken the time to print out a list of bed and breakfasts. I handed this over to my new-found friends and by the time I had enjoyed my drink in the evening sun, which helped to calm my perturbed spirit, I begun to trust that all would indeed be well.
Not long afterwards I was bundled into a car with a young woman and her little brother, driven out of town (up a hill which I honestly do not think I could have climbed, I was that tired), introduced to the inn owner, and received a translation of the breakfast and room details (it was very expensive by my normal standards at 35 euros but I was immensely grateful for a roof over my head). Once again I had ‘landed on my feet’ or, as the Americans say, ‘lucked out’. Oh, the kindness of strangers!