There is a spiritual-political-geographical link between Edinburgh, Scotland where I live, and Cataluña in the Iberian Peninsula where the Encounters are taking place (Girona, Olot and Vic). In both countries, we have long been engaged in matters of self-determination, with debates over separation and unity, community, national and inter-national relationships. Whilst primarily represented as a battle fought in law courts and parliaments, or between opposing protesters on the streets, this has often been a binary approach. It is necessary to spend time listening, sharing and making work with artists and members of the community in order to understand each other better and find possible ways forward.
Europe is defined, in many ways, by borders. They speak of crumbled empires, shifting boundaries – most of them, …. speak of unimaginable suffering.
Kerri ni Dochartaigh ‘Thin Places’ p17
As a walking artist, secular pilgrim, feminist and outdoor performer, I will carry the awareness of these issues from the Scottish hills to the Cataluñian mountains, from Edinburgh’s extinct volcanoes (Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and Castle Rock) to the volcanic land of Olot, and between Oak Wood in the Lammermuir Hills and the oak trees of the Plain of Vic.
I have been walking the St Margaret’s Way through the carboniferous volcanic rocks of the Burntisland area in Fife, Scotland, and will be able to carry my experiences with me on the ancient spiritual path which unites each of the three conurbations where the Encounters are happening, the Camí de Sant Jaume (Camino Catalán).
Separation and Unity
This is the artistic focus
in the human experience (notions of belonging and alienation, shared feeling and dislocation);
consideration of the other-than-human and our relationship to that realm; and in the landscape.
Collecting words, images, marks, and sound segments
Film and pamphlet on return to Edinburgh.
Collaboration with delegates during the International Encounters will take the form of walking sections of the urban camino together in each of the three locations. This ritual series of three mini pilgrimages will be a way of considering the spiritual aspect (in the widest sense of the word), and the trinity of psychogeographical outings will form a unity between the three sites for the purpose of comparing sensations, ideas and feelings. Each walk will start with an embodied exercise for individuals, a group game for unification, and prompt = one hour in each place:
Girona: starts at the Cathedral
Olot: starts at Plaça Major
Vic: starts at Pont d’en Bruguer
I will be making contact with women for whom this focus is pertinent, both in Scotland and Cataluña. As always I will seek Shiatsu practitioners with whom to exchange.
6 January 2022 – a winter walk between Winchelsea and Rye, East Sussex
I knew Winchelsea when I was a girl because my granny lived there for a while. My family and I visited for special occasions and I went to stay with her, once on my own and once with my sister. It was the time I was there alone which has remained in my mind.
I was allowed, perhaps encouraged, explore without a grown up. I remember ranging down slopes, across dried cow pats and over little, soft hummocks. I walked and ran, then I lay down and I can recall the feeling of being there all these years later.
I have a visceral memory of the give of the land underneath me, the warm scent of rabbit and sheep pellets, my nose close-up to the goldening strands of springy turf, the upright threads of harebells level with my chin.
When I returned, some forty five years later with mum, the first thing I saw was a dead blackbird on the pavement in front of the church where Spike Milligan is buried.
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; I left my shoes and socks there – I wonder if they’re dry?
It was such a fine-weather day to be walking out.
Mum and her friend asked, How will you get there? But I knew there would be a path, somehow, and there it was.
I walked from this small cliff-town – what is sometimes called New Winchelsea – to her sister Rye, larger and more cosmopolitan. Rye and Old Winchelsea used to be side-by-side until the terrible storms of the mid-13th century when the ocean drowned the Old Winchelsea, a vibrant Cinque Port trading in wine. Pilgrims once put out for St James of Compostelle in Spain from there.
There was ice in the ploughed ruts and water everywhere. I followed the designated way, but it was little more than a desire path.
I caught my foot on a plant and fell over, of course, arriving into the town to meet friends with mud all over my trousers. Then we walked some more, as the rain came on, along Camber Sands. My siblings and I used to make sand castles with dad there. I remember how the sea was so, so far out and we had to walk ‘miles and miles’ to get our feet wet. All those years ago.
There are holes in the sky Where the rain gets in But they’re ever so small That’s why the rain is thin….
This month was my idea for the Walking the Land artists collective First Friday Walk. I had been reading about ‘dynamic stillness’, a term used by geographers and complementary therapists. Also, of course, I was following the war in Ukraine.
I wrote, ‘Let us walk in solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are walking away from their homes and home country, searching, looking for another place where they can be still, to re-find themselves and safe emplacements. We will set out from a still-point (perhaps the place where we live, where we feel secure), and search for “the embeddedness of the sensing subject”.
‘We will ask, ‘Where do we feel embedded?’ ‘Where can we find a moving or still emplacement in the walk, or in the place through, or to which, we are walking?’
Some of us walked alone and others in a group, and we were spread all over the UK.
I sit in the sun and listen to the quiet, then a bee sounds by my ear and some birds chorus. When I stay myself some more, I hear the distant waves, and the odd car – one rattles, needs something doing to it. The tree has got my back. Do I feel safe here? Yes, mostly. This place is known, I’m within the boundaries of my garden, inside the gate. Gulls screech. I am grounded with my feet flat on the stones. Below them is the earth – I know that because there is a solitary primrose which has grown up through them. My sitting bones still hurt though.
Sketching, I have a metallic taste in my mouth and frustration in my wrist as I try a third time to get the angles right. I am attempting to draw the smell of the dead brown Xmas tree which I keep meaning to take to the dump.
1.05pm I begin my walk and am immediately struck by the fact that I am choosing to leave my home and the people of Ukraine have no choice. Yet, the dandelions are so cheery
Ominous skies and a horizontal rainbow – portents
As I walked, I thought about a story I watched last night on the Channel 4 news. A Ukrainian woman was knocked unconscious and trapped. When she came round, she dug out her husband and friend and they escaped from the bombed theatre in Mariupol. Hundreds were not so lucky. She said she felt no emotions, had no feelings. This, I know from my work, is a sign of trauma.
In Edinburgh, I heard a woman speak on her phone as she passed me: “No time to think about such frivolous things”, she said. A child’s swing in a nearby garden squeaked as it swung.
Fallen blossom petals are strewn on the pavement. I hear a dog walker saying, “All present and correct. Have a nice day” as she leaves the park.
As I passed someone else walking her dogs, and this man repairing his boundary, I wondered if the people I am walking with in spirit had to leave their pets behind, and how long it would take them to repair their broken walls if they ever get home again
Text 1 comes in from Richard Keating, my counterpart in Gloucestershire: “I’ve just walked a few miles from home, crossing the Nailsworth Valley and am now looking west towards May Hill. I have lived on this side of the valley for 25 years so feel very much at home here. … However the wind is cold and I’ll be glad when the pub opens its doors. Imagine how a refugee would feel as a door is opened for them. As a home is shared.”
Abandoned tank . Devastation . Clearing up the rubble
The mother said, “Grandma gave her toys to me” and her little son replied, “Do you ever see her?” And then I am aware of the importance of familial relationships, of the personal artefacts passed down, of interrupted generations and houses and possessions all lost.
On the pavement, I am treated with courtesy and kindness as a man, wordlessly, stands aside so I can pass, and smiles.
I hear the father say “Oh you want to touch that” and he lifts the back wheels of the buggy up so that the little one can stroke the leaves of the hedge.
I am wedged between two upright logs, one on either side, and there is a solid one underneath me. I teeter – I am not as safe as I might be. I can’t see behind and would therefore only know if someone was coming if I heard them. There’s a lot of noise coming from all over the place, from different directions so I can’t distinguish if one of them is someone approaching me or not. I can reassure myself, though, because there’s not a war raging here in Scotland.
I hold on and stretch back, the sun is warm. I hear a foot meeting a ball and it clatters against the goal posts. Her heeled footsteps pace beyond the hedge. A dog barks. Distant voices, nearby cars. Smooth wood under my palms, a taste of…of…cucumber… and cedar. Is that a taste or a smell? There is a breeze. Cold at my nostrils, of air, perhaps exhaust fumes, a hint of the warm wood. I have been worried that I’m losing my sense of smell, but maybe it’s OK.
I receive a second message from Richard: “We’ve made our first stillness and are moving on. Your script has been well used.”
Warmer, wider and flatter under my bottom, I have lots of space on this tree stump. My lower back tilts which relieves the pain. I am facing north now, but I have the same awareness of people perhaps coming from behind. Cars wheel beyond the hedge which doesn’t seem dangerous because, to my knowledge, one has never driven through it into the park. Then I realise danger can come from above and see that the tree top obviously fell down, though presumably in the recent storm and not on a day like this…
I can smell the sun on my skin and when I touch it, it is warm. I put my warm hand to my cold nose. The wind is coming towards me here bringing…. what? Ice from the Arctic? Again, my feet are off the ground and it strikes me that this is less safe as it would take me longer to put them down and run away. Footsteps behind me; I know they are male. They come up, go past, without stopping. The taste (yawn) is of old apple. Mhmm. And some metal.
Moving on, I thank the man who has painted the pavilion a gleaming privet-green. He’s busy clearing a thin layer of turf from around the perimeter. We chat about the public toilets they installed late in lockdown and then took away again because someone had to watch them all the time due to the vandalism. He said that there is already “a Ladies and Gentleman’s Cloakroom” in the building, so all they needed to do was to make it accessible for people with disabilities and then there would be a permanent facility. I said, no-one ever asks the people on the ground who know.
I am amongst insistent birds, beside the ever-running Water of Leith, on a hard log. The brambles are intrusive. Or maybe I am. I smell humus and rotting plants, someone smoking weed. I taste coffee (a mid walk treat), and there’s the touch of cool, smooth, dry bark on this knarled trunk.
People walk right past but don’t see me – I’m by the Rocheid Path but off the beaten track. The car sound pollution is distant. The rambling couples always come back in the other direction after a few minutes because it’s a dead end.
I wonder, will Putin withdraw, or are they just regrouping for a heavier bombardment? It sounds like he’s out of rubles but… . I am obviously carrying the story with me as I walk, snippets of it anyway.
Tickling leaves at my neck, ants (maybe) under my thigh.
I see drops of ‘blood’ everywhere
My scarf is getting ruined, snagging on the thorns – as if that’s a big deal, in the circumstances. When I try to wind it around my neck again later, I am scratched because portions of blackberry branches are still stuck in it. Invisibly.
I ask myself, how can I maintain awareness of these horrifying occurrences and still live comfortably here, and Richard suggests that we could focus on better understanding “this connectivity between us all”, and I know that this is what these walks are about. I’ll share the walk, invite a response, and celebrate others’.
At 15.35 I am tired and I wonder if the Gloucester lot are having tea. I try to imagine where they are and what they are doing, without the aid of a newsflash or twitter feed.
I start on my return home with the scent of wild garlic in my nostrils.
I pick off an individual leaf of lavender and squeeze it between thumb and finger tip. I inhale for the pleasure and calm.
In Walking the Land, we connect with each other via computers and phones. You can imagine these ‘meetings’ as emplacements, still places in which we innovate, stabilise and share our ideas. Then, see how we move out into the landscape on our walks, dynamically. If we stay in touch with each other as we walk, using What’sApp maybe, or even tweeting with a hashtag #, we remain in contact via a collective still-point while we move at the same time. If we post on social media after the walk, representing the body movement in ‘stills’ and fixed words, there is a further version of this ‘dynamic stillness’.
If you have work to share in response to this walking prompt, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Freiburg October 2017, a friendly, open-minded university town awash with complementary therapists.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10 mins from hostel along the pretty River Dreisam under charming cast iron bridges was the supermarket.
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!
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!