Winter Solstice Walk 2

22.12.21 Please refer to the previous blog before reading this one as it explains the premise of the walk and my plan. Phrases in bold refer to the walking score prompts.

As we move towards a repeat of last winter’s restrictions on movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I took my Solstice Walk #52More No.16 as a collective endeavour – remotely with Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris who devised it, and with my friend T. We had planned to lunch at a café with our daughters (6 between us), but the Scottish guidelines changed on Monday to a maximum of 3 households at any one meeting, and B and A both wanted to limit the possibility of picking it up in case Xmas and New Year plans are jeopardised. So, T and I could not do away with the outside; instead, we had to do away with the inside – and brave the cold.

The walk, Silverknowes, Edinburgh

We met at Gypsy Brae and walk towards Cramond, through Silverknowes, a notoriously windy and exposed stretch of Scottish coastline.

I was invited to walk through a book and I stretched that a little by using an app called Tsubook which I contributed to a few years ago. It shows the Shiatsu channels on clever body maps which can be tilted and turned so that you can see all aspects and angles. There are views with bones, muscles and the internal organs to enable the practitioner to identify the location and relationship of the acupressure points in as much detail as they want.

I chose the Lung meridian story. The points all have Chinese pinyin names which have been translated into English, and they sound surprsingly similar to the names on Elspeth Penfold’s Map of the Forbidden City which she used for her walk. In addition, we were walking and asking, ‘how does walking function as a storytelling mechanism?’ and these channels have a sequence about them. The Yin meridians often begin close to the central core of the body, and as they flow along, carrying or containing the chi of the Organs which give them their name, the points or access places along the way reflect the journey that the chi takes. From large spaces (in this case, a Palace) through rivers and ever smaller tributaries, they move outwards along the limbs to the small bones of the fingertips and the border between us and the outside world, the people whose skin we touch with ours.

Chi

We struggle to adequately translate this amazing word because it contains so much. It can be thought of as energetic vibration. In earlier times, people were better tuned into this aspect of themselves than most of us are today.

Many centuries ago, the Chinese believed the body was sacred and should not be cut up. Even if it was damaged through an accident or illness, the aim was always that it should be repaired sufficiently so it could eventually go on to meet the Ancestors in as complete and whole state as possible. They didn’t dissect each other, nor examine their insides, but instead relied on how they felt, using metaphors and comparing the sensations to what they knew well, which was the natural environment in which they farmed, fished and lived.

The names of the acupoints are poetic and descriptive, encapsulating their individual and collective function (including that of the Organs) and the location. Thus, the sensation of the radial side of the arms, the internal sensation of the flow of chi which emanates from the lungs, which changes through our lives and at different times of the day according to our activities and the weather and external pathogens, is alive, it’s an on-going story.

From Elaine Liechti’s book, Shiatsu

I have known T for many years, since before the children were born, and we keep in regular contact. I consider the relationship with her to be one of the important ones in my life, and so it was good to share this time with her. When any of us walk, we don’t walk in isolation, not from each other, not from the landscape we walk through, and not from the world-situation in which we are situated.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar ‘Palace’, Zaragoza, Spain

Central Palace

The Central Palace is the translated name of the first point on the Lung channel, and it relates to the importance of the lungs. Their domed ceilings, interconnected corridors and meeting chambers play a the vital role in keeping us alive. It is in the lungs that we exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and maintain a balance of gases. From an emotional and spiritual point of view, their function can be extrapolated to encompass the quality of our communication with each other, the literal noise we make enabled by the air passing through the throat, and by extension the gestures and movements we use for the same purpose, whether speakers or not. They are associated with our corporeal existence, represented by the breath which situates us right here in the present, and consequently the loss of the ability to exchange, and the absence of the breath which characterises death. Covid challenges all of that, affecting the respiratory system (coughs, sore throat, runny nose, the struggle for breath), and our exchange with the environment (smell and taste) in addition to our need or instinct to withdraw from each other and feelings of alienation.

Lung 1 – 4

Our walk-story begins from our central location, home, and the travelling homes which are our metal cars, in other words our Central Palace. (I would usually walk there but I was going on to make a large Xmas food shop). Shiatsu practitioners and acupuncturists touch or needle this point to sedate the Lungs, to calm and smooth the Lung chi in cases of coughing. T and I are saying ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ and catching up with each other. We walk on stone, beside low walls where small dogs trot, and Cramond island, separate and stately, stands out in the sea mist. The air is fresh in my nostrils and I take a series of deep breaths.

Cormorant and Cramond Island, Edinburgh

Cloud Gate

Above our heads is cloud, a lid of unform grey which has been low down for days. Cloud Gate is an acupoint which descends and disperses the Lung chi, giving the body the chance to redistribute excess phlegm away from where it clogs and stops us breathing and communicating. T and I are swapping work stories now, the busyness of the end of term, and the urgency of the festive deadline. A solitary cormorant stands on a single rock.

The distinctive shape of a cormorant (from a distance)

Celestial Storehouse

Other brave walkers stroll and cycle past us in the opposite direction, and ahead is a café, a Storehouse for sure, but Celestial? Its musak is only just audible from a distance, and we hadn’t yet got close enough to see the Buddhas which decorate it. The surround-sound, high-pitched voices of gulls intersperse our family chat – who is doing what and going out with whom. It has been noted that Lung 3, as we prosaically call it, assists with depression, characterised by isolation and lack of communication, as well as the familiar respiratory disorders. The towering and distinctive Scots Pines which we walk under have a dark, olive canopy drawing our gaze heavenwards.

Silverknowes Scots Pine On another day when the sky was blue!

Cubit Marsh

By the 5th stage of the walk, we are onto the topic which sadly still dominates, and T told me that her G is ill with it in Glasgow, meaning she can’t join them for the holiday. We use Cubit Marsh, found in a small indentation at the elbow (cubitum), when someone is suffering certain types of pulmonary disorders. It is useful to think about the body having an internal weather system – prone to Heat and Cold for example – and, in this case, the acupoint is said to deal with Damp, something which is injurious to the Lungs, hence the name of Marsh, a wet and boggy place. It isn’t hard to understand why it is beneficial for infections, then, where there is discharge and snot. The water we are walking beside is very still, it barely circulates, and the Oyster Catchers simply sit, floating very slightly. Brine hangs in the air and the cold stings our cheeks.

Lung 3 – 11

Collection Hole

Reaching the café, we choose hot chocolate and wait at the hatch for our steaming drinks. The man who attends to us wears his neckerchief over his mouth and nose and serves at arm’s length, pushing the card machine across the surfboard which doubles as a counter. I tap without touching and try to make eye contact to say ‘Thanks’.

Down to the water’s edge

Broken Sequence

The Lung meridian now diverts to converge with the Zen Bladder channel (from the water element) and unblocks any stuck chi. At Silverknowes there is access to the foreshore where railings and steps break up the homogenous slate sea, leading down to the rocks and sand. Wind surfers like this spot and in the past I’ve watched them grasping the tow-line attached to a speed boat which zips and angles giving them the impetus to sail suddenly up into the sky, spray flying. It’s an exhilarating spectacle. We stop walking and choose a wooden bench, hoping it will be warmer to sit on than the metal ones. I had Covid recently and got off lightly with only a cold and a scratchy, irritable throat and tightness at the occiput (back of the top of the neck), which Lung 7, Broken Sequence, was very useful for.

Looking eastwards

Channel Ditch

Missing out no.4, we continue with the sense of depth that the Marsh at no.5 brought and the story continues with the second of four wrist points. With the prosaic chat now out of the way, T and I talk about matters close to our hearts and we turn tail under the spitting rain. We see the same landscape from the west now, the bay curving round to a finger of land that seems to reach out to the Kingdom of Fife. We are flagging a little as daylight thins and the haar descends, moisture palpable on jeans and bobble hats.

Lung 7 – 11

Great Abyss

The 9th point on the Lung Meridian goes even deeper, hence the name. It connects with the Po, often called the Corporeal Soul, the Lung spirit in Chinese Medicine. It connects with the spiritual aspect of ourselves.

the Po [also] allows for a tricky balancing act of living life as a human being, namely that of being a creature of spirit inhabiting the body of an animal.

Acupressure.com

T and I are nearing the end of our walk and we start to reminisce, remembering walks we took 30 years ago and relatives who have since died. It is satisfying to be able to connect with someone who knows my background so intimately. It stabilises me and gives a sense of shape to my life.

John Kirkwood continues,

Lung 9 is able to go down into the abyss, to the depth of the soul. It can retrieve a person who has lost their way, calm one who is manic, stabilise someone who feels like they are cracking up or losing control. In short, it can reach down into the very depth of a person.

Crossing the bar and, metaphorically, the wrist crease, we amble eastwards, an easy, flat trajectory which allows the focus to be on what’s said and on the feelings expressed, rather on the terrain. The short day (it being just after the solstice) closes in around us.

Walking west

Fish Border

We leave the edge of the Firth of Forth, home to cod and pollock where the tide is now receding, and head towards a gift exchange. We hug and make plans for the week between Xmas and New Year; T suggests we come to sit around their fire pit and drink mulled wine which sounds delightful. The Lung channel is nearing its end and the fresh air has renewed us. Our walk-story has merged interior and exterior, past and present, day and evening, sea and land: Yin and Yang. Two friends met in place, and in spirit I was with Elspeth, Blake and the other Solstice walkers, telling a tale.

Cramond Island

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 – why am I walking?

Blog 2 – Why am I walking? 17 October 2021

There are lots of things I could do to face up to the serious climate crisis I find myself part of. I could stay at home and recycle, join a committee and work towards political change, lie down on the M25 and get put in prison to raise awareness, I could throw myself in front of a horse to get attention.

Why walk instead of doing anything else? Why would I stop earning (I’m self employed), pay for someone to be at home to look after my cat, and walk in the unpredictable Scottish weather?

The statements of intent of Pilgrimage for COP26 are these:

  • We’re walking to raise awareness of the climate and ecological crisis. 
  • We’re reflecting on that crisis as it relates to our own lives, the communities we pass through and the lives of those already impacted; both human and more-than-human.
  • We’re building a community of witness and resistance committed to climate justice now and in the wake of COP26.

Yet still I find myself asking, but why walk? I could run or cycle and there are lots of other ways to raise awareness, to reflect, and build a committed community.

My answer: because walking is special.

  • It is very slow, a counterpoint to the speed of life. (Google tells me it would take me 1 hour and 24 minutes to drive from Dunbar to Glasgow now, but it will take us 8 days to walk).
  • It leaves very little trace; although I disturb undergrowth, probably inadvertently step on unsuspecting creatures, and leave my temporary footprints, it is the least destructive way of moving across the country.
  • Each step reminds me that I rely on the earth to hold me up and that the earth relies on me to stand on it – it’s reciprocal.
  • The vibrations that my stepping cause are not the same as the shaking of the ground by a lorry, say, rolling on tarmac. The moving through air I do at my pace (approximately 3 miles an hour) contrasts with the displacement a Boeing 737 makes.
  • Walking interacts with weather. Not knowing whether I will be walking through rain, sun or snow at the beginning of every day is, yes, not abnormal for this country at this time of year, but the attentiveness I have when I walk, and the fact that I have walked here before, means that I will notice the climactic differences. The skin on my cheek will be aware of the relative warming, my muscles of my back will sense the increased wind speeds in comparison to last year, the joints of my feet will register the dwindling peat they walk on.

The quality, and energy of walking is different, and it matches the quality of focus and the listening energy I want to apply to this issue.

Natalie Taylor who devised the Keeper of the Soils cape and and Roxy Ambrozevich wearing it

What we have collectively wrought (most of us) upon the environment, is so very complex. There are strands of destruction, fibres of difficulties and damage which have become interwoven over centuries, a fabric of knots and snags and imperfections brought about by misinformation, neglect, greed and thoughtlessness. And when you pull one thread, it all starts to unravel and that’s scary and huge to see; it’s hard to know where to begin to stitch it all together again in a more durable and compassionate way.

Natalie Taylor with her Keeper of the Soils cape

Though I am not a religious person, my belief in the act of walking gently and kindly, allowing myself time to notice and reflect, is like the nun’s faith that sitting quietly and performing her daily duties mindfully will make a difference; that opening her heart to the way things really are and facing that, will affect change, that it will alter the fabric of life the way it is now.  I am a Shiatsu practitioner and those of us who give Shiatsu know that because the whole universe is made of the same stuff, chi, we can affect it with a thought, touch or word.

Or a step.


Walking for Water

Walking for water is not
going for a breath of fresh air,
a pilgrimage,
a stroll,
a hike.
It is not
a parade,
a protest march,
a sponsored whatever.
It is not a way
to stretch your legs,
or have that conversation.
Walking for water is not
to see an unmissable sight.
It is not on any body’s bucket list.

It is the flight of a migrating bird,
a cruel calculation of distance, fuel
and energy burned.

by Lydia Kennaway from A History of Walking (2019:25)

The Pilgrimage for COP26 has now begun.

Slow Walk in Dunbar to launch the Pilgrimage for COP26 with Karen Gabbitas. 30 people participated

#pcop26 @pilgrimageforCOP26

Freiburg im Breisgau

wp-1541599133717..jpg

Freiburg October 2017, a friendly, open-minded university town awash with complementary therapists.

The town gate Martinstor, Freiburg


The highlight of my visit was the walk on Schauinsland, a mountain in the Black Forest with an elevation of 1,284m (4,213 ft) above sea level. I was lucky with the sunshine and wandered through leafy, cobbled suburbs before starting up the hill on the left.

It was a sweaty start, stony underfoot, but some smiley ladies cheered me up. There were sweet chestnut trees and some fir. Later, a beech and the odd oak, silver birch and sycamore, delicate Michaelmas daisies delighted me, with scarlet berries heralding the winter season a few months away. The higher I got, the more wonderful the views.

The Autumn leaves were falling and there was ample signage in places. A bird squeaked to get my attention – it was black with red under its tail, very smart. Then I heard knock knock – a woodpecker? Hmm, probably a European green if it was, with its red cap. There was the sound of cow bells and blue tits seemed to be playing. I stopped for a rest and a sun bathe, closing my eyes and taking in the peace. To start with I was a little overwhelmed with memories of other walks, but I breathed deeply and let other thoughts float in and out.

There are simply miles of wonderful strolling and one could easily get lost on purpose so that it never ended, although for that, I thought, everything would have to stay the same and inevitably my feet would tire and I would have to stop.

Crags and rocky passes, Schauinsland

I used my new staff, and my footsteps sounded hollow on the springy earth and piles of pine needles. Sometimes there were shush-dry heaps of fallen leaves, wind in the trees, and the slosh of water in the bottle in my rucksack.

There were little huts to rest outside with your feet up. Schauinsland, Freiburg, Germany

The day had less light in it than I needed and I had to rush to get to the top so I could get back down before dark. In fact, there wasn’t time so I took 11 euros worth of gondola instead which was extremely steep and not for those who suffer from vertigo. It arrived at the official starting point where you can then take a tram into town rather than walk for two hours. I would recommend setting off at 9 am if you come during this beautiful season of the year.

Classic shot of the Black Mountains, Germany

More info: the drinks at the cafe at the summit are also really expensive but there are good, free toilets top and bottom. Find a way to avoid the motor bikes and serious male cyclists in all their gear as they zip past and are almost all unfriendly. You can drive or ride all the way or part of the way up. Tram #2 connects the town to Dorfstrasse. The 21 bus costs 9 euros.

Late Autumn afternoon
There’s a pub with a beer garden at the bottom of the slope if you want it. I didn’t go in, so cannot say if it’s good or not
I can vouch for the Storchen – warm, wi-fi and delicious pastries

I stayed at the Black Forest hostel in a 20 bed dorm for 17 euros. You need to provide your own pillow case and sleeping bag or pay extra for them. There is a good, small kitchen and friendly communal area with computers to share and board games. It wasn’t too far (20 minutes) from the bus station, but was full of football fans when I arrived. The staff at reception were very helpful.

The view from the back of the hostel of vines growing on the hillside

10 mins from hostel along the pretty River Dreisam under charming cast iron bridges was the supermarket.

Cycle paths in the town of Freiburg
Jesus Sacred Heart Church, Freiburg


Typical architecture, Freiburg

From Freiburg you can easily reach Colmar in France on the Alsace wine route and Strasbourg, straddling France and Germany on the River Rhine. I highly recommend them all!

On the way to the train station

Beware – there are no buses between Basel airport and Fribourg in Switzerland, or at least there weren’t when I tried to get one. If you find one, do double check that it is to the west, into Switzerland and not the east into Germany. Because of the two languages spoken in Switzerland, Fribourg is also known as Freiburg, so you can see the confusion. That was how I got to visit this lovely place and I don’t regret it, but it was quite a big mistake!




Via de la Plata Camino

Via de la Plata camino (The Silver Road, it is sometimes called)

Via de la Plata camino day 1 Seville to Guillena

Guillena to Castilblanco los Arroyos

Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almaden

Almaden through El Real to Monasterio

Seville, starting place of the Via de la Plata, Spain

Monasterio to Fuente de Cantos

Fuente de Cantos to Zafra

Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros

Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejia

Torremejia to Merida

Merida to Aljucen

889 kms to Santiago de Compostella, Spain on the Via de la Plata camino

Aljucen to Alcuescar

Alcuescar to Aldea de Cano

Aldea de Cano to Caceres

Caceres to Casar de Caceres

Casar de Caceres to Embalse de Alcantara

Embalse de Alcantara to Grimaldo

Grimaldo to Galisteo

Galisteo (to Oliva de Plasencia) to Aldeanueva de Camino

Aldeanueva de Camino to Calzada de Behar

Camino Frances credential and iconic scallop shell with memorabilia

Calzada de Behar to Fuenteroble de Salvatierra

Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to Pedrosilla de las Aires

Pedrosilla de las Aires to Morille

Morille to Salamanca

Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel

Calzada de Valdunciel to El Cubo

El Cubo to Villanueva de Campean

Villanueva de Campean to Zamora

Zamora, Spain

Zamora to Montamarta

Montamarta to Tabara

Tabara to Santa Marta de Tera

Santa Marta de Tera to Vilar de Barrio (coming soon!)

Vilar de Barrio to Xinzon to Ourense (again)

Xunqueria de Ambia – Vilar de Barrio

Ourense – Xunqueira de Ambia

And the few days before that: Laxe – Castro Douzon – Cea – Ourense

The last few days, which I walked first going backwards from Santiago de Compostella – Outerio – Bandera – Laxe. In the direction of Seville (north to south)

Galicia, Spain in December 2016

A May walk -Touching with my eyes (only)

May 17 2020, 7.10-10.10am 

This walk was inspired by a prompt from Alisa Oleva and The Resident’s Association which went like this: ‘Go out on a walk, take photos of all the things and surfaces you would like to touch, but don’t touch them.’

I tried, I really did, but I failed at the first and last hurdles (and several in between if I’m honest). Who would have thought it would be so difficult? Although, given I touch for a living it’s not so surprising. I can’t give Shiatsu because of the Covid-19 virus restrictions, so this brief is apposite. 

It was my phone I touched at the off – to take photos. Smooth and cool and about the weight of a nice big juicy apple, it quickly heated up in my hand. I was on a walk I have done once before which ended on a road (link) so I wanted to find a better way back. 

Stinging nettles

As soon as I started I wanted to reach out and feel the difference between the nettles and the dead nettles, even if one sort would surely sting me. It didn’t take long for my toddler instinct to kick in – ‘But I want to touch!’ I resisted.

When a wall reared up in front of me, my protesting teenager was taunted – ‘Just cos you say I shouldn’t touch, doesn’t mean I can’t!’ Though I was grown up and I didn’t.

Buttercup (Ranunculus)

As I passed the buttercups I could imagine the smooth, silky petals. I’m a tactile person. I have honed my sense of touch to a very sensitive degree over tens of years. The mere sight stimulated the part of my brain which remembered the feel from before (as it does with most people) – my brain’s sensory cortex.

“When asked to imagine the difference between touching a cold, slick piece of metal and the warm fur of a kitten, most people admit that they can literally ‘feel’ the two sensations in their ‘mind’s touch,’” said Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of a study into touch.

“The same happened to our subjects when we showed them video clips of hands touching varied objects,” he said. “Our results show that ‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch.”

Rick Nauert on Psychcentral.com

Hollow stalks with rough ends
Ivy like a rattlesnake coiled around a tree
Common Ivy (Hedera helix)

I saw stalk ends which I was convinced would be dry and rough. The torn-off strands might feel like threads, but I couldn’t be sure. The gnarled tree, all crooked and twisted, must feel just as dessicated, I conjectured, but harder. I was pretty sure I could lean into it and it wouldn’t fall over whereas the stem would have, of course. Colder than the trunk, the Hedera helix (a better monica than ‘common ivy’ in this case) would feel the least substantial, but the shiniest. Isn’t it fascinating that we use visually descriptive words like ‘shiny’ to describe the feel of something?  

While it is customary to assert that we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and hear with our ears, we live in a simultaneous universe where sensory events and their constituent elements have a natural tendency to overlap.

Brain World
Undergrowth still covered in dew where the sun hasn’t yet touched

The undergrowth to my right was still opaque with dew, its wetness indistinguishable from its colour. But I didn’t touch; my eyes just feasted. (There’s another of those sensory comminglings). As I wandered on, I wondered, can you feel a colour? Would that pale grey-green feel the same as the vibrant gloss-green of that ivy I had just passed? It would be impossible to subtract the wetness from one in order to compare I reckoned.

My feather collection

In this part of the countryside, the cascades of hawthorn are over now, their slightly feathery, petally droplets have fallen. Black crows were feeding, sharp-beak first, in the field. I would certainly like to touch their glossy feathers – I have been collecting feathers every day on my walks. If I hold the white tubular calamus, or hollow shaft of a long corvid’s plumage and twiddle it, the vane catches the light and gleams. There was a matching black horse lying down nearby and she observed me, haughtily. I might not have been brave enough to touch her.

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) or ‘Sour Ducks’, red-brown between the buttercups
Yorkshire Fog

The wet grass touched my boots – I could see, but not feel. My legs brushed past the seedheads and they tickled my shins. They touched me, I didn’t touch them. In the same patch, I was alive to the contrast between the sorrel, which I knew would be bitty like toast crumbs between a thumb and forefinger, and the emery board, might-cut-you blades of grass. I remembered how I like to slide up the sheath of the softer Yorkshire Fog, just turning to seed now, gathering a mini bouquet before spilling the seeds up in a fountain and spraying them all around. I could just ‘feel’ the imprint of it on my fingertips.

I had to edge behind the tree with my arms in the air

I crossed the first stile which I’ve been not hand-touching for weeks anyway, so I am practiced at that. I had to steady myself for a moment or two at the top before ‘jumping’ down off the second. Then at the next hurdle, I had to slip around behind the tree because the gate was shut. It was, I admit, impossible not to touch the trunk with the edges of myself, but I lifted my arms up as I squeezed through.

There was the familiar parp of the train as it approached the first of a ring of level crossings, making its announcement. I couldn’t touch that train even if I wanted to. I spotted the first chamomile and stooped to collect a feathery stem and have a sniff, transported back to my allotment where I grew swathes of it for medicinal purposes. It was not until the end of the walk when I scanned back that I realised that that had been a touch I didn’t even think to forgo. 

Wild dog rose (Rosa canina)

I feared to reach out to the wild roses in case I dislodged their fragile petals, so that was no problem. Before I knew it, I scratched my nose because it felt like a fly was crawling there. Damn! Turns out that I’m not great at this game.

Goslings and their parents

I took a detour and there were the goslings, much more grown up, motionless on mirrored water. So still were they, that I assumed they were asleep, but then a parent dipped her beak and very slowly rotated to face her brood. The sun was behind, low, and I saw a drop dripping off. Mid way, it sparkled as the light shone through it, refracting into a star as it fell. Without actively moving she sailed closer to them, the space narrowing, and then she nudged the nearest chick. 

It was the second hour and others were waking up and walking their dogs: a puppy scampered towards me and jumped up, so there was a wet-tongue touch without a by-your-leave. The owner and I forgot to move to opposite sides of the path two metres apart. Not so the woman with the stick – she avoided me like the plague as we have been instructed to do.

Pendulous Sedge (I think)

The birds were busy weeding in the arable fields, their heads bobbing. No doubt some seeds hadn’t yet germinated. A bramble scraped my upper arm leaving a long, bloody slash. Grasses caressed me and wind swept my sweaty brow – I felt it.

A fully grown tree with clusters of small, white traumpet shaped flowers (below)
What is the name of the tree (not a shrub) these sticky flowers came from?

I stood under an unknown tree admiring its flowers. I flipped through my mental filing system, took a photo, and then the tree seemed to go ‘here you are’ and one white trumpet floated to the ground. There it lay amongst 10s of others! I picked one up (again, I didn’t even notice this touch until I started writing this) and carried it uphill. After some time I relegated it to my pocket for later perusal and it was, ooh, 5 minutes before I worked out what had caused the stickiness in my palm. 

Impossible not to stroke

I did find an alternative route towards the end and as I squelched through the mud (there has been no rain for weeks but was some sort of stream running down the bridle path) and surveyed the broken branches from recent winds, I instinctively stroked the burl (a knotty growth) of a nearby tree, I caught myself at it and withdrew my hand sharpish, but it was too late.

A fine specimen of Bracket fungus

The whole thing was pretty tricky. I wanted to know if the bracket fungus was hard or squashy. I wanted to warm my hand on the wall. I was curious whether the temperature of the inside of the log was different from the outside.  I would have liked to swish through the Quaking grass. However, I particularly enjoyed the newfound awareness of how much my senses interact. And I had a beautiful walk.

Quaking Grass

If you ever see something in one of my blogs that is wrongly named, please do let me know. I do a lot of research but it isn’t always easy to get it right and I would be very grateful to learn.

Uing the soft fabric of my scarf to open the metal gate to avoid cross-contamination from ‘the virus’- there was no other way to open it

And on I walk…

This essay was inspiried by reading this:

“In today’s twitter-centred terms, ‘ Exits to Edinburgh’ could be described as a hashtag that walkers used to refer to the type of walk I guided: one which would meet at Edinburgh castle, choose a location at the periphery of the city, and then walk an unplanned route in order to reach that location. A fourth stage might include sharing our creative responses to the walk afterwards.”

Lusa Bhuí

The walks I make have a beginning and an end, but I get lost in-between. I ‘lose myself’ in my thoughts and sensations, I ‘miss’ the signs and ‘find’ myself somewhere else. I start out with an intention, a stone in my hand perhaps, and I end up with a living plan(t) inside.

Having discarded the prompt-stone at a prominent juncture, it has served its purpose, I have turned towards a new East. (Did I take a ‘wrong’ turn?) I ended up who-knows-where in my quest.

What was related, tangentially, to what I started with, has metamorphosised and ‘become’. Appeared. Taken shape. 

I walk

I notice

it reminds me of

that connects with

and before I know it I am in a new here

I feel the thrill, I recognise it has to be done, followed through with, communicated.

Then my task is to ‘find’ my way back to the path and continue until I arrive at a place of safety for the night.

I sleep on it, like a mattress of new endeavours under which is a pea that cannot be ignored. It sprouts while I dream. In the morning, I discover that my subconscious has fertilised that small plant and when I step out again onto the continuation of that route the next day, it leads me somewhere else and the shoot inside continues to grow with the next set of new. 

‘The pathways get stronger with repetition until the behavior is the new normal.‘

Health Transformer

If I go ‘my way’, take the “unplanned route to reach the periphery” (which by its nature is just outside my forward-seeing vision), there I am in an unfamiliar “location”, the sort which contains new possibilities. New neural tracks are trodden and remembered, forging unexpected links which lead me in directions not previously imagined.

‘and like many of them he ceased to be lost not by returning but by turning into something else.”

Rebecca Solnit

And on I walk.

Walk This Weekend

#walkgoesviral March 2020. This event has now taken place and the completed film is here on YouTube and here is a link to the words and images.

Below are the project prompts:

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.

Share
  • 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 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:

  1. Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
  2. 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 
  3. 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) 
  4. When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form
  5. Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Listen

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 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 
Walk (2 m or 6 feet apart)

Social Media

The Facebook group is called Walk This Weekend

Twitter/Instagram #walkgoesviral

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
  • Make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help will be appreciated as I am an amateur filmmaker ) 

Privacy

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) 

The future

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. 

Link to the final video on YouTube

Please share with others you think may be interested. This is a Walking Without a Donkey event. Please feel free to comment below.