Pilgrimage for COP26 – South Queensferry to Bo’ness

26 October 2021. The day’s walk is led by the Reverend Willie Shaw, Rector of St Mary’s, Grangemouth and St Catharine’s, Bo’ness Episcopal churches. . Distance: over 10 miles.

We leave the Priory Church close to 9am and walk through the residential streets and warehouse area on our way out of South Queensferry, getting a good sight of the bridges from the other side.

A great view of the ‘new’ Fife Crossing from South Queensferry

Today’s walk is in the area that is part of the Inner Forth Initiative, a collaboration between the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds); Scottish Heritage; Central Scotland Green Network Trust; Clackmannanshire, Stirling and Falkirk Councils; Sustrans; and Historic Environment Scotland. It reaches from Stirling at the Forth’s head to the Bridges at South Queensferry and takes in both sides of the estuary with beacons and markers celebrating the area’s history, wildlife and culture, including the John Muir Way which we are walking and the Fife Coastal Path on the opposite shore.

As well as the beauty and interest of the area, the Forth has many industrial sites, and as we near Grangemouth (its heart?) in a few days time, we are also getting close to areas in which fossil fuels are processed, received and disseminated.

Example of a mushroom ‘cloud’ flare from Mossmoran 13 November 2021 from top of Dundas Street, Edinburgh

The Mossmoran NGL (natural gas liquids) processing facility is located on the opposite side of the Forth. Owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, the former were fined in 2013, 2014 and 2015, with complaints made and investigated every year between 2017 and now (information source here). The plant is part of the North Sea Brent oil and gas field system, and should not flare, but does regularly, paying fines every time it does. The Mossmoran Action Group campaigns for safer communities in the area. The BBC reported that “up to 13,800 tonnes of CO2 could have been emitted from a Fife chemical plant during October 2020 flaring, according to figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).” It continued, “The Scottish Greens say that is equivalent to 9,140 people taking a return flight from Glasgow to New York. The Mossmorran flaring lasted three days from 4 to 6 October. Fife Ethylene Plant operator ExxonMobil said it was committed to minimising carbon dioxide emissions. It was the fourth period of elevated flaring at the ExxonMobil plant in 2020. Sepa receives over 380 complaints of plant flaring and Environment officers probe chemical plant flaring. Green MSP Mark Ruskell said it would take up to 13,800 trees 100 years to offset the same amount of carbon. He said the climate impact of the flaring was “catastrophic” and he renewed calls for a transition plan for the plant.”

The new Forth bridge is still just visible as we walk away from South Queensferry

We are veering between the depressing state of affairs which is evident in the form of coastal erosion and continuing CO2 emissions to name only two; and the sense that we are doing something significant by walking in this way. We are raising awareness, walking for those who also want to combat the effects of climate change but cannot leave their work / caring responsibilities, and taking the time to learn as much as we can about the reality of the situation, our place within the natural order, and what we need to do in the future. Most of us are taking annual leave or unpaid time off, simply not earning (many are self-employed) because we believe that we are doing something worthwhile. There is a history of this type of peaceful activism, and walking is one of the least injurious modes of transport, giving us time to feel, think, and discuss.

As citizens of the Earth, we have a responsibility to participate. As citizens massed together, we have the power to affect change, and it is only on that scale that enough change can happen.

Rebecca Solnit in The Guardian
Left or right? We did not carry on along the water’s side, but branched off here onto the Hopetoun Estate
Sue was Keeper of the Soils today. She takes long walks with her horse. More information on such walks can be found in the Facebook group Saddle Tramping UK
Chatting to a local woman outside her house when she became interested in what we were all doing
Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian

Hopetoun House and estate

We followed the John Muir Way and Cycle Path 76 through the Hopetoun Estate (6,500 acres including the villages of Abercorn, Winchburgh and Newton) where the house is home to the Earl of Hopetoun and The Marquis of Linlithgow lives too. The public are allowed to traverse certain parts.

Abercorn Church on the Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian
Abercorn Museum on the Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian

There is a cross from Lindisfarne (circa 7th century) and ancient burial monuments in the museum at the Abercorn Kirk. The chapel is said to have been the site of a monastery in 681, once the see of the Northumbrian King of the Picts. More information here, here and here.

Interior, Abercorn Kirk where we enjoyed a talk about the architecture and history.


Some random facts about the area:

  • In 545 it is known that there was a pre-reformation church here dedicated to St Serf
  • It has one of the oldest pagan festivals sites on the hill
  • Tam Dalyell, Scottish Labour Party politician, is buried here (d. 2017)
  • The Earl and Marquis are both known as Elders and they follow the ancient tradition of entering the kirk by a separate door and sitting high above the altar and the rest of the congregation in their own section called the Hopetoun Loft
  • There is a fine Romanesque Norman doorway with gargoyles.
We had a soil ceremony at the Abercorn Kirk

After a long stop to dry off, we walk on through misty riverscapes, along grand avenues of still very green Beech trees, by Sycamores which are changing colour and showing their ochre, marigold and tangerine leaves. Small stems of Ash are strewn over the path, emerald on one side and a paler pistachio on the other.

Through the greenwood past the Cornie Burn in the Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian
The local landscape through which we walked
The Rev Willie Shaw in his high-vis jacket about to brief us on the area we were walking through on the Pilgrimage for COP26

Blackness (nose of black rock)

Heading towards Blackness Castle, West Lothian

Nurdles are plastic ‘buttons’, little beads that all plastics are made of and which are found all over the beaches in this area. There is more information here on nurdlehunt.org.

Along the Forth foreshore where the tide is out and the mudflats bleak, we walk to Blackness Castle, a 15th century fortress where Franco Zeferelli’s Hamlet was filmed. We have a wee seat and a cup of tea from our flasks just in time to avoid the rain. There’s a dovecot here, a 17th century pigeon house where the birds provided eggs and ‘fresh meat’ to the inhabitants.

Dovecot at Blackness

We look across to Charlestown, owned originally by the Earl of Elgin. Site of 14 massive limekilns, now preserved Grade A listed, it was one of the hubs of industrial Fife, and shipped goods to the Baltic. More information here on Fife Photos and Art.

Through the late C18 and C19, the kilns were part of a major industrial complex of the time, including coal mining, ironworking and salt extraction. Coal and limestone were brought in from the local quarries, also on the Earl’s estate. The adjacent harbour was as well built by the Earl and used for transporting the lime products, limestone and importantly coal.

Wikipedia

Just west of Charlestown are the three Crombie gantry cranes, easily seen from where we are. They are part of the Armament Royal Navy Ordnance Depot.

Blackness village – a toilet stop


Antonine Wall

We go near to the site of The Roman Antonine Wall (named after Antoninus Pius) which protected the province of Britainnia from the Caledonian tribes. It starts in Carriden near Bo’ness and runs westwards to West Kilpatrick on the Clyde (Glasgow). With 37 miles of ramparts (20 feet high), ditches (20 feet deep), roads, and approximately 20 forts, it was occupied for over 25 years. More information here (BBC).

The next day Ian tells us about the Carriden (Karedyn) Estate. 900 Years ago, the monks from Holyrood Abbey were granted a tithe, the right to collect a tenth of the coal from there, around the year 1200. The property went over to the Cockburn family in 1330.

Carriden House information

From the Corbies Inn website

The Corbie Inn has a replica of a sandstone slab recording the Roman army’s building work on the easternmost part of the Antonine Wall, Bridgeness, West Lothian, 142 – 143 AD. There is a dedication to their Emperor, and the original is in the National Museum of Scotland.

Matthew was wearing the Stitches for Survival bag as we neared the industrial outskirts of Bo’ness
It was very wet! Towards Bo’ness, West Lothian
And blustery, although the silvery trees are spectacular
Ruth and Tom (with his pink umbrella) by one of Ivar Struthers’ three metal artworks on the Foreshore

Bo’ness

David and Michelle
The Bo’ness Buoy where we collect for a final information session and to say goodbye to the day walkers and those who are leaving us here. Ewan, Willie and Olga

Salt and coal, trade and taxes once made the Bo’ness rich, but the pits and mine shafts are now quiet.

Oh, it is one steep climb up School Brae to St Catharine’s Episcopalian Church where we were spending the night at the end of a good day’s walking! There we are given another lovely meal – thank you.

Today’s feathers, relics collected along the way. Some of us had a carpet to sleep on by a radiator which was heavenly

Though some complain now that no-one has any reason to go to Bo’ness, in fact we find it a lively place with an Art Deco cinema, the Hippodrome, and an acclaimed, annual Silent Film Festival. A film had been arranged for us to see there later.

Stained glass window, St Catharine’s Church, Bo’ness

The film, in collaboration with Take One Action, is Anote’s Ark. Made in 2018 by director Matthieu Rytz, it tells of the impact of climate change on the island of Kiribati, found where the international dateline meets the equator. It is anticipated that Kiribati will entirely disappear as sea levels rise. Anote Tong is the former president and he has repeatedly lobbied the international community to do something. It is a chastening watch and our mood is subdued as we go to sleep.

Spotted hanging on a post in the Hopetoun Estate

Fife Shoreline Management Plan

Via de la Plata Camino – Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén

Day 3, 18.5.17. Via de la Plata camino walk, Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén. 29.5 kms.

On and off through the night I was shaken from my dreams by snoring, but as I know I ‘give as good as I get’, I could not complain. Later I was woken by my alarm and was the first up. I  did try to be careful, indeed I had prepared everything the night before so I could creep out silently, but I forgot I had emptied my pockets and as I moved my clothes I dropped all the coins. They rolled loudly and far on the tiled floor – what a racket!

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The main street, Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

After breakfast, I set off confidently, but down and back I went looking for the arrows to show me the way, and I lost the time I had gained from rising early.

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Well, I really had to snap this very large statue in the centre of Castilblanco – man with donkey!

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Attractive house fronts with sign reading Venida Virgen de Escardiel. There is a hermitage dedicated to this Virgin 5 kms from Castilblanco, also a bar named after her!

The others were up and out, probably woken by my noise, and so I thankfully followed them. As I walked my head was full of questions.

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Was this some sort of folly, or a drinking trough for animals, or maybe somewhere to wash your clothes? The reflections of the sky in the water and the Virgin at the apex made a striking sight.

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Out of the urban environment, there was a long, straight road and glowering sky – the latter an unusual sight in Southern Spain even in May.

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A dog, black pigs (Spanish ‘jamón’ from this area is world famous) and cockerel, all happily sharing a field.

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I could not resist the wonderful light and the expanding sun’s rays in this sky.

I compared the luminous yellow arrows with the luminous sunny morning. There was no comparison! How does the sun pick out the edges of each leaf, as well as ripples of old bark, which has no shiny surface, and make them gleam?

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The sun is starting to illuminate the foliage.

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I hoped that I had built up enough strength during the previous two days for the 30 kilometers ahead of me, and that I would not therefore have to use super-human, prodigious will power. Ah, there was a thrilling bird voice – was it encouraging and reassuring me?

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It was day three of being on my own. Would I be content to be a hermit or enter one of those retreats like Tenzin Palmo? If I am alone so often anyway, maybe. Then again, like most others I enjoy companionship. It is all about balance.

”..the walk is solitary and rural, a means of being in nature and outside society.’               p. 18 Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

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I saw the first lake of this journey.

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The Canal blog says, ‘Be prepared for a long road this morning.’ (See below).

I moved between tarmac and softer gravel, along a bed of dry, brown leaves from last year – it is kinder on my soles. I hear French spoken behind me. It is crisper and much less passionate than Spanish. Later I meet the couple and exchange a while. He does most of the talking and was indeed a crisp sort of person.

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I passed beautiful irises – just look at that colour!

Then a tandem passed me – him with his long back in blue and black, she behind in pink, legs circling of course, in exact time with each other. ‘Buen camino!’ A little further on they get off and walk up the hill, and I realise I have been steadily climbing. There is a long, spider-legged peregrino in front of me, an older man without all the gear behind, and the wheeled couple coast down the other side.

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There She is again, guarding and blessing the homestead in her beautiful gold cloak and white dress with halo.

The walls I trekked between were white and had decorated name plates outside, even the ordinary ones. They have plants in the type of pots you might expect a genie to whisp out of, and they adorn the gatehouse, while the road stretches in to the land behind. It was much hotter by this time, even at 9am.  My right hip bothered me a little with the climbing. Crunchy old acorns littered the ground.

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Here it was more the azure water which stopped me in my tracks.

At 10.10am I enter the Parque Natural de Sierra Norte and am off road. The two French people were in front.

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Not much shade. Fellow pilgrims in the distance.

I take my first pee of the morning – oh to be able to stand up and do it like men! Next time I will wear those shorts which you can just pull up and down easily. It is a real struggle to squat with the money belt and rucksack, and then try and do buttons once standing up again. After repetitively walking a long way, bending the knees is hard, although having said that, it is probably good to keep them lithe. A bird sings ‘pee pee pee’!

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On the Via de la Plata the pointers are mainly yellow arrows, but here was the Saint James shell, the Coquille Saint Jaques, too.

I wonder about listening to music as I go along. Alain, who I walked with on the Camino Francés, used to play songs and sing to me, it was a way of getting to know each other. I try, but after a few moments I stop. I like to hear the sounds around me and potter along at my own pace not to the song rhythms. My head is full enough as it is.

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‘Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much, never have I been so much myself – if I may use that expression – as in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot.’ Rousseau, Discourses on Inequality.

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Very effective stepping stones.

Lunch was at 10.40 and what a cacophony of toads down in the stream. Such beauty.

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The wild flowers flourish near the river.

There were soft, soft, fine grasses curving over in the mild breeze, black olive trunks contrasted with swathes of yellow flower heads and hopefully, I mused, I was over half way to Almadén.

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Ancient olive trees. Only small pools of shade to relieve the heat.

I remember trying to pick up my pace but my feet were sore and my ankles stiff. I obviously was not yet into the swing of this amount of daily walking. A bird kept saying ‘bo bo boh’, one with a largish orange-brown breast and a black and white tail. At least I thought that was the one which belonged to that particular call. It can be hard to identify them.

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There were long, oblong stone troughs for feeding the animals, white-pink stones rather than crystal quartz, very tall trees reminiscent of the ones next to the albergue roof terrace last night. I had watched the leaves meditatively spinning whilst doing my T’ai Chi.

Banks of lavender fell down hillside, which when squeezed released a potent and wonderful aroma.

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Blue sky and fields of lavender.

As far as the eye could see there was only trees and nature and natural sounds: I climbed over some water, admired the lollipop pines and inhaled their resiny smell. It all prompted me to take deep breaths.

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The rivers Huéznar and Viar wind through the Park.

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And in good time, because there followed a very, very steep, though thankfully relatively short, climb of 550 metres. Half way up was a memorial to a dead pilgrim (Michel Laurent) which seemed appropriate given the gradient.  Many people walk the Caminos at the end of their life or because they are unwell and some do die on the way.

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A ‘mirador’ is a viewing place, somewhere to admire the surrounding countryside.

At the top there were three of us and we gave thanks for the cooling wind. I was excited to see the end in sight as well as tomorrow’s path running east to west on the slope opposite. That was to be rather important information the next morning.

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It was the first town or village I had set eyes on since 6.30am, 6.5 hours ago, and although it was also a very, very steep topple down, and I had to take enormous care because of the boulders and sheer rocks, the reward was at the bottom.

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And at last I arrived.

In Almadén, on the church tower, were 5 of the huge black and white cranes which I had seen in Northern Spain.

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I love the yellow and white architecture of this part of the north province of Seville. And there is a crane coming in to land.

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It was actually quite a long walk through the outskirts to the municipal albergue, and I had an unwanted guide, a man who attached himself to me as soon as I entered the town, and kept talking. I did not get a good feeling, perhaps it was because I was tired, but in the end I had to ask him to go away.

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A welcome bed. The poor French woman leaning over on the left, has blisters, which is hardly surprising given her husband insists they cover 2 days at a time. He is an experienced walker, but this is her first time. I donate my plasters which, thankfully, I do not need.

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And like most Spanish urbanisations, there were beautiful flowers by the side of the road.

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Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. ISBN 978-1-78378-0-396

Canal blog: http://viadelaplata.canalblog.com/archives/2015/07/01/32298926.html