#walkgoesviral March 2020 (This event has now taken place)
A virus is a tiny particle and needs a host cell to be able to live and spread. If each of us takes a short walk this weekend; if we all listen and record the sounds around us and the feelings which go with them; within a 2 km / 1 mile radius; and if I host a platform for collating these – then we can co-create a record of our extraordinary times. For those who cannot leave the house or hospital, we will collect the sounds of the outside for them to hear indoors.
You might take a circular walk or a there-and-back one. On foot, in a wheelchair or buggy.
For children and adults, dogs and tortoises.
Aim to be silent throughout – don’t speak (although don’t be rude. If you do have to talk, make a note of why and when)
You have 5 tasks to complete –
You will need a basic smartphone – nothing fancy. If you don’t have a sound recorder or video option on your phone, simply listen and record on paper:
Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
Stop at another spot and listen for 5 minutes – write down what you hear at the time (or you can record yourself speaking on your phone and write it down when you get home) – you can make a list or be creative
Take 1-5 photos at any stage of the route. Write down when and why you took them. (I do not recommend that you take a photo of yourself or your house, for privacy reasons)
When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form.
Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Please note these things when you share:
Time: Start and end time, recorded sound at… Sat down, listened and wrote at… Took photos at…
Location: My route began and ended at home / where I am staying or living now (give general location). I went this way …. (list route or places or make another sort of record of it)…
Here is an example:
I walked between 5 and 5.30pm; recorded sound at minutes 7-8; sat, listened and wrote at minutes 24-28; took photos at minute 4 (because it was pretty),14 (because she reminded me of my mum), 24 (because that’s my favourite cafe) and 28 (because I was interested in the shadows); My route began and ended where I am staying now in Yalding, Kent, England. I went across the road, through Kinton Lane, around the field, through the gate at the far side…. … And ended back where I started (or I might draw a picture of my route or use my phone technology to digitally produce my route etc. You choose)
Note down anything else you think is interesting eg if you take your donkey with you, please note this down as well.
What is the point of doing this?
To take a walk, focus on your environment and how it makes you feel
To notice how the area has changed since we have been in ‘lockdown’ and again, if repeated, how these things change over time
To know that when you will be walking with other people who are doing the same thing in different locations around the world, thereby creating a walking community at this time of separation
For fun / exercise / to boost your immune system / be more grounded
To see what happens
To create a record of this event for posterity
You can probably think of more reasons – please tell each other
Facebook group called Walk This Weekend
I will use my twitter for sharing info @walknodonkey
Once you have shared, I will
Collate the data and share in a blog
Record how many people walked and where
I will make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help appreciated as I am an amateur)
I will not reveal or use any personal information or data (if you do share your email with me for the purposes of sending recordings etc, I will keep it only for that purpose and delete after. It will never be shared with anyone else)
Hopefully, we can each repeat the same walk the following week so that changes in you, in nature, and in your environment during that time can be noted.
Please share with others you think may be interested. This is a Walking Without a Donkey event. Please feel free to comment below.
16.3.20. This blog is unashamedly full of flowers, birds and other natural phenomena. I was very grateful to see that nature is carrying on (perhaps a little less interfered with than before) while all this is going on. It is intended as reassurance, and as a reminder that walking is allowed in the UK, even if you are at risk or at home because others in your family are unwell! I never thought I would have to use that phrase – how is it possible that walking needs to be sanctioned by a government? These are mighty strange times.
I walked across the Lees (more here) and tried to go under Twyford Bridge but it’s still flooded. I took the pedestrian way that bypasses Hampstead Weir (see above link for sunny photos from an earlier time) and comes out at Teapot Island. From there I took a left to walk along the towpath with the River Medway on my right. There were no fishermen today, but there was a man in wellies and shorts, his knees looking rather vulnerable, having a smoke, and another further on, busy weeding. They were outside the new fixed caravans which are lined up neatly there – rather liable to getting wet, I would hazard.
The sun shows up all manner of miniscule details: a strand, a filament of spider’s web stuck to a bramble new-leaf which is coexisting with the old ones on the same stem. There are also aged twigs, dry leaves, spent old man’s beard alongside the new blackthorn flowers and buds. We are all together in this.
I began in a thwarted frame of mind: It was about when you want to walk from a-to-b-to-c, but have to settle with there-and-back. Then, quickly, it was just as glorious as it could be. I had planned to walk The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. I even had the Pilgrim’s Passport sent to me by a very helpful woman at the Cathedral in C. Another time!
Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short, was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself. He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his Stoutness Exercises …Well, he was humming this hum to himself, and walking along gaily, wondering what everybody else was doing, and what it felt like, being somebody else, when suddenly he came to a sandy bank, and in the bank was …..
There was the scent of wood smoke, and the sound of water under the bridge and through the lock, of twittering, and an occassional parping from a train that was still running even despite the reduction in passengers due to the crown shaped virus.
There were regal foxgloves – no flowers yet, just a fascinator of leaves tilted at a jaunty angle on a mount. Many, many wood anemones were spread across the earth. Copious bird calls either drowned out this winter’s new tinnitus (mostly in my right ear) or it just stopped. There was, however, the thrum of engines from somewhere offstage (which was not the sound in my head!)
I spied one or two little settlements almost hidden by trees over the water, indications that people are living there quietly, in those beautiful spots. At a little bridge, I crossed to investigate the white flowers on the other side – were they wild garlic? No, instead a veritable sea of anemones. And, I spotted a large dead fish with a long nose – a pike – which I thought must have been flung there when the water broke the banks, because the greenery around it was all covered in a film of earth-dust. However, there was a hole in its side, so it must have been hoiked out by a human and not returned.
In the essence of full disclosure, I actually like the way northern pike taste. However, many would rather eat the aluminum foil the pike was cooked on than the fish itself. Well, with that in mind, one chef in Canada is about to change all that.
Coming up onto the road, I was in East Peckham with the food Co-op to my left. I spotted footpath signs up ahead pinting to the industrial area where they burn acrid things in backyards and the flooded woods are full of metal rubbish. Nevertheless, birds sang, woodpeckers clacked their beaks against bark, I spotted mallards and blackbirds, a thrush, a chaffinch – simply delightful.
I was not clear which path to take at Sluice Weir Lock #6 located between the ‘River Walk Junction (Junction with the northern route to the railway bridge) (5 miles and 7¾ furlongs and 5 locks to the west) and Yalding Wharf (2 miles and 1 furlong to the northeast)’ also known as Branbridge’s Whark, Arnold’s Mill Lock, Pinkham. ‘Straight on to Hadlow and Golden Green, or over there to East Peckham which is very pretty’ said the male half of a couple I had been playing overtaking with for half an hour or so. They had a massive dog called Rudolf who, when he jumped up, was taller than me! I took the attractive route and they took the other. After all, we were supposed to be ‘social distancing’ which is possible but a bit weird – speaking to others with a 2 metre gap.
Note: a furlong is an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or 201 metres
I explored the lock a little and then perused the woods where a huge bumble buzzed around my feet and a robin warbled and squeaked alongside me. There was the first butterfly of the year – bright orange like the redbreasts chest – on my return I saw a uniformly delicate yellow one.
I meanered through the trees, across a pedestrian bridge and came out at a big house and paddock, then a row of cottages. The house plaque reminded me of Dick Whittington which I took as a good sign – a pilgrim if ever there was one, with his staff and pack over his shoulder.
Popular legend makes Dick Whittington a poor orphan employed as a scullion by a rich London merchant. He ventures his only possession, a cat, as an item to be sold on one of his master’s trading ships. Ill-treated by the cook, Dick then runs away, but just outside the city he hears the prophetic peal of bells that seems to say “Turn again, Whittington, lord mayor of great London”
I came out by bus stop on Old Road, East Peckham, opposite the street with the General Store and post office. The sun was warm and my 1.5 hours almost up before turning back. Retracing my footsteps and having a seat on the steps of the bridge, an satsuma revived me. I watched a cat emerge from the woods. She caught sight of me and took a sharp angle to avoid contact. There was a squirrel, but no chatter nor conversation.
I waved at a woman sitting under blossom reading. She had on a cardi which exactly matched the house and brown-red bush to her left. It tuned out to one of my mother’s friends – a village is a small place. She was bemused, not knowing me at all.
This walk took me just under 3 hours from yalding High Street to Pinkham and back along the river (allowing plenty of time for photo taking!)
Walking keeps my energy flowing so I find I can be kinder. It does no-one any harm, and it feels as if it boosts my immune system. Do you like to walk? What effect does it have on your spirits?
October 2nd 2019. The final leg of the Portuguese Camino de la Costa or Caminho da Costa from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. 125 kms in total, today was a walk of approximately 15 kms.
Retracing my steps from the night before, I left the albergue at Teo at 7.45am and began the last leg of this Portuguese camino. It was misty, cold and the path went steeply up. Thankfully the weather cleared later. I had to take painkillers for my foot for only the second time on this way. It didn’t hurt when I was sitting down – a clear message.
Overall, this way into Santiago de Compostella is hilly and it was hard going, however it was lovely countryside. I breathed in the fresh air before entering the city.
We hiked forested paths, up and down hills, crossed rivers and railways, passed shopping centres, went down narrow alleys between houses, climbed a steep hill beside a hospital, and then walked on city streets. Spencer Linwood’s blog of this final day
According to tradition, after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the Magdalene…boldly presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with an egg in hand to illustrate her message. Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!” The emperor, mocking her, said that Jesus had no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately, the egg turned red as a sign from God to illustrate the truth of her message. The Emperor then heeded her complaints about Pilate condemning an innocent man to death, and had Pilate removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure. Mary Magdalene continued her mission as an evangelizer, contemplative, and mystic in the heart of the Church.
By Grechen Filz (link under photo above)
At one point there was a cacophony of hunting dogs and two men wandering around looking very guilty, a huge 4×4 a little further on. The hounds seemed to be nosing around for something, but it wasn’t clear what and otherwise the area was deserted. Moving away, up a inclinne, I passed a female backpacker going in the opposite direction, so I repeatedly glanced back. I knew she would be passing the men and wanted to keep an eye out for her in case she needed back-up.
Much to my disappointment, I started to feel some back pain as I traipsed up towards the city centre, searching for signs and arrows to no avail.
Tip: Remember that google maps is all but useless in the Poruguese / Spanish countryside, but great in towns and cities, so at this stage when there is a dearth of directions, you can switch on the GPS.
The outskirts seemed to go on and on and so I took an elevenses pitstop in a city cafe enjoying some green tea and sweet Santiago tart which I remembered well from my first visit in 2016, when my life had already started to change.
I arrived in the main square at 12.15. Someone asked whether I was going to lie down. I didn’t know about this, but apparently there is a tradition to prostrate, head towards the towering building and admire it upside down, so I did. Of course.
This was my second time in Santiago despite having walked three caminos. When I walked the Via de la Plata, I initially headed south, towards Seville (1000 kms away). Later I started there, walking northwards until I got back to where I had finished that section the year before. I didn’t do the final stage for a second time, and so didn’t visit Santiago. I didn’t go to the special Mass this October 2019 either, for the same reasons.
I had booked the Roots and Boots hostel in advance and was very happy with it. Very close to the centre, the rooms are small (no extensive dormitories) and mine had a magnificent view of the cathedral. There is a pretty, enclosed garden with tables and chairs by a reasonably priced, hole-in-the-wall, cafe. I sat out there until quite late at night, getting slightly chilly but enjoying the situation, especially given it was October.
I had lunch in a large restaurant, very popular with pilgrims. I was surprisingly tired and the large portions and very quick service suited very well!
Then I left clothes to be washed at a rather nice launderette (as launderettes go) on Rua das Hortas which had a decorated and flowering courtyard. You can also get washing done at Pilgrim House, a veritable Santiago institution.
I had not planned what I would do next until a few days before, when I came across a post on the Camino forum which set me off on a new trail. I contacted the redoubtable Rebekah Scott at her Peaceable Kingdom to ask if I could stay with her at Moratinos on the Camino Frances, in the name of research. She kindly obliged, but later sent me an email saying that she couldn’t host me after all because she looks after a hostel on the Camino Primitivo and had to go up immediately. Unless, she added, I wanted to go too. More on this adventure later…..
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Day 14, October 2nd 2019
It is 25 kms from Padron to Santiago and I was not confident I would manage that with the extra 3.2 kms from Herbón to Padrón, so I decided to break my journey in Teo, making two, admittedly short, days out of one longer one.
They played music to wake us up at the Herbón monastery and then there was a return to the large dining room for a shared breakfast. Although we had arrived through countryside, the path out, towards Padrón, was almost immediately into a village and then along a main road.
I was on the Ruta dos Xardins da Camelias, heading towards the home of padrón peppers which we had been told the previous evening didn’t really emanate from Padrón at all. It doesn’t stop them being one of my favourite dishes.
I waited in a bar for the pharmacy to open so I could get some anti-inflammatories for my left foot which was still very painful.
And then I was in the rural landscape I love so much. Grass and sheep, scarlet willows with yellow branches stemming from a single point, just a few green leaves left now as winter approaches – nothing too carefully kept.
The country roads were lined with almond trees, almost neon in their greenness, and forming a backdrop to lush undergrowth, rough-stalked bracken. I happily trotted along, constantly overtaken by others rushing to the finish line.
The albergue Xunta de Teo (municipal albergue at Teo) is in a beautiful spot, a drop down from an extremely busy main road, but accessed by the walkers from the opposite, safe side. There are cafes both down and uphill, and they are equally idiosyncratic. Shops can be found even further on: the one at a service station is often open, the much smaller village store is shut for hours at lunch time.
The albergue was closed on arrival, only opening much later (4pm) with a queue, and filled up very quickly, so that many were turned away. It is run in a haphazard sort of a way and there are no utensils in the kitchen.
While I waited for it to open, I sat under a plastic awning and wrote and read and ate p. peppers and drank beer and it was expensive, in comparison to other places.
In all I went up and down that road a few times, eventually getting supplies for the evening meal, and then wandered back through the forest, past the church and other very smart looking buildings, several of which were supposed to be a restaurant and up-market accommodation, but both looked uninhabited. It was like a rekkie for the next day (in the opposite direction), very pleasant, and I returned to sleep when it was almost dark.
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 7 and 8, September 25th – 27th 2019
La Guarda / A Guarda, Galicia, Spain
La Guarda is in Spain, even though it is a town on the Portuguese Camino. I was happy to be back in Galicia, one of my favourite parts of Spain. I should have liked to see the Celtic hill fort and village of Castro de Santa Trega which connects with Scottish history (I live in Edinburgh) on the top of the hill that La Guarda sits beside, but I was not comfortably ambulant.
In the morning, I walked a short way (30 minutes, 2 kilometers) from the Albergue Municipal in La Guarda where I had spent the night, to visit the churches, but it was a strain and took me much longer than it should have. As a result of the pain in my foot, I decided to turn back and take a different route.
The two churches (above and below) are almost next to each other and I was the only one there. A few people were on their way to work and school, on the main road, and the churches were closed as they always are unless there is a service on. However, I admired their grandeur and solidity, the Santuario de San Roque having seen many pilgrims over the centuries.
Then I rested for 20 minutes and took the bus. It runs from Salcidos to Tui (get off / on near Repsol gas station (estacion de servicio) on N-550) regularly and takes around an hour. This was the second day that I could not walk, something that had, thankfully, never happened to me before, and it was very hard to accept. The journey took me through urban areas with grey stone buildings boasting elegant balustrades around the windows, along the northern side of the River Miño, and deposited me opposite some public gardens bright with bougainvillea and sporting a grand metal statue of cantering horses, the Monumento al Caballo Salvaje.
Tui is a busy city, full of hustle and bustle and with all facilities you could possible need. There is an excellent market, with cafes and shops galore. Not far from the Albergue is a friendly eating place / hostel (Albergue Ideas Peregrinas – not the cheapest, but with a European atmosphere and great, healthy breakfasts, including vegan food), and that is opposite one selling crêpes, and so on…! All tastes are catered for and many people holiday here even if they are not hiking. There is an extensive Natural Park to the north west with hills, Monte Aloia, for excellent views of Baiona, Vigo and the whole region.
I picked up a copy of Jim Crace’s The Melody in the hostel the night before and made the most of my enforced resting time to have a good read. Described as a meditation on grief, it connects with all my recent writing on the subject – there’s no such thing as a coincidence!
I was early into the town from La Guarda and encountered a difficulty: the hospitalera behind the reception at the hostel was talking animatedly to a gentleman who was lounging nearby. On seeing me, she launched into an attack on pilgrims who pretend to be walking, but actually must have come by public transport because they would never, otherwise, have arrived by this time. She laughed, he laughed, they compared notes and got increasingly irate about such behaviour.
I was dying to get the weight off my back and feet, and trying to explain in Spanish that I had not done this before, but had no choice with my foot pain. She ridiculed me and said I shouldn’t be carrying such a heavy load. It was most upsetting and as I became distressed she started to shout, saying that she wasn’t being nasty, just that ….
It is true that the municipal Xunta (the Galician council) albergues are for the pilgrims and that, increasingly, people are either not carrying their own packs or are taking buses and trains some or all of the way. It may have been an external voice, too, uttering the very words which I was hearing inside my head, and been part of my having to come to terms with being human and not always strong. Anyway, I said I would go away and then she started calming down and took me through the familiar process: passport check, credential stamp, payment (cash), and bedding. I was shaken.
It is a large hostel with solid wooden bunks. Although there is a sitting area where you can eat inside at the back, the kitchen is across the little garden and so I sat there for my tea as the sun set and it cooled down.
You can see the beautiful cloisters and internal gardens of the Santa María Cathedral de Tui in the photos on their website.
The tourist information is also in San Fernando Square and the staff are extremely helpful and kind there.
Tui to Mos
It is 25 kilometers to Mos and even though I had rested up for 2 days (well, a lot less walking than usual), it was too far, so I took a bus part of the way and trekked the rest (only 8 kilometers) to see whether I could manage. It was such a beautiful day and I was so happy to be on my feet again under the blue sky.
I am walking along the Via Romana XIX linking Braga and Astorga, enjoying listening to the birds and smelling the countryside after being in towns for the last few days. Sometimes the signs are hidden amongst pink roses. In the distance the open fields are empty now after harvest.
There is a native, milky coloured drink called horchata de chufa or horchata de Valencia which is the region where I first came across it. It is made from the tubers of the nutsedge (not the type in the photo above). (Thank you to floral_uk on the ‘name that plant’ forum of houzz.com for this information). It is similar to a Mexican version except that the latter is made from rice, not this sedge.
Mos, Galicia (Redondela Region)
I stayed at the Casa Blanca hostel near the Santa Baia church where I sat in the evening. The albergue is new with a bar that serves ice cream and snacks, and there is a restaurant oppostite which cooks wonderful Padron peppers and does breakfast as well as evening meals. The accommodation is in a separate building and all are situated on quite a hill. There is a coin-operated washing machine and I shared a load with others after much negotiation, however there is not enough room to hang the clothes to dry outside and, anyway, it was already cold at night so my things had to come in at bed time to avoid being damp by morning.
I went up looking for a fruit and veg shop. Instead, I saw a man on the top of a ladder picking grapes who told me I had gone in the wrong direction. On the way back down a woman pulled up in her car and spoke to me in French. She took me through to the back of her gradmother’s house (derelict) into the stepped garden full of fruit trees and picked figs. We stood and chatted over these juicy fruits and then she introduced me to her husband. He filled my shopping bag with massive bunches of black grapes for sharing with the other pilgrims back at the hostel. I laid them on large fig leaves in the self-catering kitchens for folk to help themselves.
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.