Pilgrimage for COP26

25 October 2021

Today I am leading the Pilgrimage for COP26 walk from the Sculpture Workshop in Leith, Edinburgh to South Queensferry. The theme is ‘The Five Phases and the Ecological Crisis – a walk using the five elements of East Asian medicine to reimagine what it means to be ecological’.

Pilgrimage for COP26 at the Sculpture Workshop, Leith. Photo Olga

There is a brief introduction by Jonathan Baxter, the organiser of the pilgrimage, to the Keeper of the Soils, the carrier of the Stitches for Survival (you can read about the latter two here), and to my walk supporters, Natalie and Ewan. Then a brief introduction to YinYang which underpins Shiatsu theory.

  • I explain how the circle represents the cyclical nature of things, a circumference of continual existence, whether in this form or another
  • The curving line which divides the circle, symbolises the dynamic interplay between Yin and Yang and the transformation of one to the other to maintain balance – the rise of those who favour respect and listening over those who opt for profit and power, for example
  • The black and white sections reminding us that we must address both sides of ourselves and our planet if we are to achieve balance, both the angry and the peace-loving, the scientific and the artistic
  • The small black and white spheres which sit in the opposite sides showing that the law of nature says there are no absolutes.

Stage 1 / the Metal Phase

We start with the Metal Phase which encompasses the lungs and exchange of air in humans and with the wider environment. The Edinburgh cycle path is sometimes thought of as the city’s lungs and we take the branch from Leith to the Trinity Tunnel, Active Travellers focusing on air pollution and how we would like it to be.

The Trinity tunnel is where my sound/art installation, No Birds Land, is situated. Sadly, on arrival it was clear that it had been vandalised while I was walking the first week of the pilgrimage and the bunting was all broken and in the mud. My pilgrim friends tried to help, but we didn’t have much time to repair.

Phyllis from the Edinburgh Reporter was walking with us and wrote about the Keeper of the Soils and No Birds Land. Her article, with links to video and audio, is here.

Many thanks to my friends Lesley and Andrew who went along the next day to repair and rehang.

We stop briefly at Granton Harbour as our numbers swell. The core group are joined by others who will come all the way to Glasgow with us and there are many day walkers too. What a jolly bunch, particularly as there was no rain!

Granton Harbour

We continue along the coast of the Firth of Forth, through the industrial outskirts and past the entrance to the Granton Walled Garden where the cape was dyed. A small group peel off to collect a soil sample before rejoining us further on.

Stage 2 / the Earth Phase

Our next stop is for tea and coffee in the corner of the Lauriston Farm, kindly donated free of charge. We are immensely grateful to Lisa, Toni and Dave for their time and generosity.

Lisa serving us much needed tea and coffee, Lauriston Farm, Edinburgh. Photo Liz.

Transforming an existing farm into an urban food production and community hub that benefits, supports and regenerates the environment and all those connected to it.

Lauriston Farm website
Second soil ceremony of the day with Natalie Taylor wearing the cape and Dave, at Lauriston Farm. Photo Liz.

Here we pause to consider the second of the 5 Elements: Earth. There is a soil ceremony and the small sample is put in one of the cape’s pockets to be carried to Glasgow. The focus for the next stage is the physical awareness of our feet on the ground, reflecting on the ‘give and take’ which is happening on this walk – the kindness and generosity of others, and what it means to be able to accept that; and the nourishment and nurturing between us and the earth. We have our first silent period and muse on the role of sympathy and empathy in the climate crisis.

The next section is along the sea front at Silverknowes and on the beach to Cramond.

Silverknowes, Edinburgh. Photo Liz.
Having a snack and taking it in turns to use the public conveniences
At Crammond. Photo Liz

Stage 3 / the Water Phase

Here we pause for a few exercises and some Water Element exercises. We focus this time on the harnessing of the sea’s power and other renewables as we flow along the River Almond path, recapping the first week of the pilgrimage, and reflecting on the fear engendered by the climate crisis – for ourselves, our children and other-than-humans.

The River Almond approaching the Cramond Brig

We wait for even more walkers to join us, say goodbye to others, and continue past the hotel and back down the other side of the River Almond through the Dalmeny Estate. Here we eventually have our picnic lunch. Thanks to Ewan for the delicious, home-made oatcakes.

Stage 4 / the Wood Phase

Moving into the woods, we take the chance for a second period of silence. In single file we appreciate the trees, the lush undergrowth and occassional glimpses of a wider landscape between boughs.

Through the woods. Photo Olga

Later, there is more dynamic discussion and expression of any anger we feel about HS2 and other developments which have involved felling trees. We attempt to harness and direct it towards decarbonising action plans.

The sun is low at this time of year, but there’s so much to appreciate when we stop to allow everyone to catch up and regroup

Everything is going well and someone makes a suggestion for a little detour. I think, why not, we’re making good time. However, we lose half the group and that means there are rather stressful phone calls back and forth as we try to find each other. Note to self: stick to the plan!

Stunning landscapes along this stretch of the Firth of Forth

Stage 5 / the Fire phase

Our final phase is the Fire element and we are very close to our South Queensferry destination.

Renewing our community spirit with a song, we practise smiling in the face of difficulty as we swing into South Queensferry with open hearts and with hope for the future. Many thanks to the pilgrim who sings for us so we can join in.

We are staying at the Priory Church, but we are too early and it’s started to rain. We bid farewell to the day trippers and retreat for a well-earned drink to warm up and dry off.

The Priory, South Queensferry

What a wonderful welcome we get at the Priory! Although there’s only one toilet and no showers for us all, local people open their homes for some. There is a fascinating presentation about the Chapel and its history, a sumptuous meal and we are very happy to bed down on the church floor at the end of the day.

Once part of a medieval Carmelite Friary at the hub of life in the Royal Burgh of Queensferry, the Church is situated very close to the Binks where the St Margaret’s Ferry used to take pilgrims across the water to Fife so they could walk on to St Andrews. That was before the bridges were built, and is what gives the town its name.

It is thought that there was a building here in the 11th century. Certainly, the Carmelites were in the area around 1330, a monastery was in operation in 1440 and that’s when this ancient church dates from.

St Margaret on the screen, Priory Church, South Queensferry

When I was planning the day, I tried to find someone to row us over the foot of the Almond. There used to be a boatman there who lived in the cottage opposite, but no longer. It would have meant that we missed the gorgeous river walk, but would have shortened the day. As it was, we all seemed to have coped well with the distance.

Reimagining what it means to be ecological

At the heart of the philosophy which underlies Shiatsu and East Asian medicine is the innate relationship between humans and other-than-humans. We are all one, all made of the same chi, and our learning and understanding of ourselves and the communities we live with is intrinsically linked.

The cyclical and interdependent relationship inherent in YinYang means that it is impossible to imagine one part of nature separate from another. Every thing morphs and melds into the other, particularly in extreme situations such as the current climate change scenario. We can see this happening: the more we pollute the atmosphere, the faster and stronger the winds are having to move the air around, in order to preserve its quality, and so that we can all continue to exist. Balance will happen, or at least the whole is trying very hard to achieve that.

We must, of course, do our bit. We must notice what is happening and see where we are needed, work alongside other participants of the nature which we are part of, those who are trying desperately to right things. We must listen to the messages and this is easier to do if we walk rather than run, reflect as well as act, and connect with compassion, as well as protecting our own.

The system offers hope in this way, and although this is hard to hear, if things do worsen, we are part of a very grand cycle. We will be composted along with the potato peelings, sooner or later, ready to sprout again, so in the meantime, let our pledge be to do the best we can while we’ve still got time.

Today’s feather

All photos by me unless otherwise stated.

Coming soon South Queensferry to Bo’ness.

Pilgrimage to COP26

18 October – Blog 4: Dunbar to North Berwick

All ready to start the Pilgrimage for COP26 outside John Muir’s birthplace, Dunbar
Lauderdale Park, Dunbar, where we stopped for some introductions and announcements
Stitches for Survival Mass-craftivism to put the Earth centre-stage at COP26
Pilgrims all strung out along the East Lothian coast
And beside Winterfield Golf Links
Across the Bridge to Nowhere
Following the John Muir Way – yes, it rained!
Beautiful woods of Scots Pine
Past donkeys and llamas and emus
Stunning scenery
Stories Park, East Linton Climate Change phone box
Coming into East Linton and Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot on the River Tyne, which is run by the National Trust for Scotland

Phantassie Farm donated the day’s soil sample to the Keeper of the Soils, and it was tucked away in the inside pocket for safekeeping. Conceived of and made by Natalie Taylor with others, this wonderful cape has been hand-made using natural dyes. @northlightarts and @natalietaylorartist

Natalie Taylor , Keeper of the Soils cape with North Light Arts
Pockets inside the Keeper of the Soils cape for storing the samples of soil between Dunbar and Glasgow

We were treated to a delicious lunch at Prestonkirk Church – a much appreciated rest out of the rain – and when we reemerged, the sun was starting to show its face.

From East Linton, we headed to North Berwick,skirting Berwick Law, before arriving at our evening’s rest.

Changeable weather – some silent walking and fascinating conversation as we start to get to know each other
Across the fields in silence after lively lunchtime chats
I was bringing up the rear today, to ensure no-one got lost or left behind
Picking up my daily feather as I listened to people’s stories of grief and walking
First sighting of Berwick Law, luring us to our first stop on the Pilgrimage for COP26
Oak woods reminding us of the environment we are walking for
Scots Pine in the late afternoon sun
Gillian – Berwick Law closer now

There were four of us at the back and we got lost here – tiredness causing a momentary lack of attention! Luckily it was only brief and GPS came to the rescue

Final circle in Lodge Grounds, North Berwick for each of us to share a word which summed up the day

Many thanks to:

Adrian for leafing today’s walk.

Cian, Finnán and Valerie for their hospitality for me overnight in Dunbar on 17th.

The kind people who provided a delicious lunch at Prestonkirk, in East Linton.

And St Baldred’s in North Berwick, who provided our evening meal and accommodation.

Pilgrimage to COP26

Blog 3 Dunbar 17 October

As two pilgrimages converged in Dunbar yesterday, the YCCN in relay from St Ives , Cornwall and this Pilgrimage for COP26, we merged happily with the people of East Lothian – women, children, men and umbrella-holding, violin-playing stilt walkers together with a green-faced witch.

The YCCN are calling on the government to lead the way on their climate finance pledges which have not yet been delivered in full, particularly for those countries who are suffering extremely from the climate crisis. It was announced that the
Labour party have agreed 3 out of 4 of the pledges on their website


Climate change conversations erupted in the corners of fields, while waiting for delicious soup at the Wishing Tree by the Sea Cafe, and at the pizza oven.

 
In the centre of town, we began a slow walk, lead by Karen (see yesterday’s blog), curving around the garden at the front of St Ann’s Church where we were read sections of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Policy on Climate Change).

We stopped the traffic.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.

John Muir, Our National Parks

A huge crowd were waiting at the Battery at the sea’s edge for a ceremonious show. Representatives from John Muir’s Birthplace Trust and Friends opened proceedings. The Keeper of the Soil was gifted samples for the cape’s pockets, notably from land which Eve Balfour visited as a child. Founder of the Soil Association, she was one of the earliest women farmers, and the speaker, Chris Yule and his 6-year old daughter did her proud.

The beacon flashed as the nearly-new moon rose and we walked to the Belhaven Church for a Pilgrim’s meal arranged through Sustaining Dunbar with sourdough bread from the Station House Bakery.

Karine Polwart wrote a song for the Dunbar Youth Choir which we all joined in with – smiles all round.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine

Mary Oliver, The Wild Geese

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Alastair McIntosh who cautioned us to cease despairing, lamentation, yes, but not despair, and this chimed with the Mary Oliver quote which was shared on stage earlier that day.

Alastair quoted Alice Walker

Be nobody’s darling;

Be an outcast.

Take the contradictions

Of your life

And wrap around

You like a shawl,

To parry stones

To keep you warm

Alice Walker, from Everyday Life

Question from the floor: How do we make use of what we learn on pilgrimage when we get home?
Alastair’s answer: It’ll be in your presence. People sense if you’re connected spiritually. People share their stories with you because they intuit that you can hear them, it’s in your comportment and your bearing. Ask yourself, regularly, if you are still being honest, remember how you move to ground yourself, recognise the way it is and it isn’t.
He spoke about the phrase, Om mani padme hum, from the Hindu tradition, meaning ‘when mind and heart come together’, adding, when you do what you are doing from a spiritual place, ….. , that work is love made visible.

Pilgrimage for COP26

Blog #1 for the Pilgrimage for COP26

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

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

Our route visits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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