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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.‘
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.”
#walkgoesviral March 2020. This event has now taken place and the completed film is here on YouTube
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.
You might take a circular walk or a there-and-back one. On foot, in a wheelchair or buggy.
For children and adults, dogs and tortoises.
Aim to be silent throughout – don’t speak (although don’t be rude. If you do have to talk, make a note of why and when)
You have 5 tasks to complete –
You will need a basic smartphone – nothing fancy. If you don’t have a sound recorder or video option on your phone, simply listen and record on paper:
Make a sound recording (or video with sound) of one minute duration somewhere along the route
Stop at another spot and listen for 5 minutes – write down what you hear at the time (or you can record yourself speaking on your phone and write it down when you get home) – you can make a list or be creative
Take 1-5 photos at any stage of the route. Write down when and why you took them. (I do not recommend that you take a photo of yourself or your house, for privacy reasons)
When you get home, create an account of your walk in words, sound, drawing or other art form.
Share what you have made (see below for sharing platforms)
Please note these things when you share:
Time: Start and end time, recorded sound at… Sat down, listened and wrote at… Took photos at…
Location: My route began and ended at home / where I am staying or living now (give general location). I went this way …. (list route or places or make another sort of record of it)…
Here is an example:
I walked between 5 and 5.30pm; recorded sound at minutes 7-8; sat, listened and wrote at minutes 24-28; took photos at minute 4 (because it was pretty),14 (because she reminded me of my mum), 24 (because that’s my favourite cafe) and 28 (because I was interested in the shadows); My route began and ended where I am staying now in Yalding, Kent, England. I went across the road, through Kinton Lane, around the field, through the gate at the far side…. … And ended back where I started (or I might draw a picture of my route or use my phone technology to digitally produce my route etc. You choose)
Note down anything else you think is interesting eg if you take your donkey with you, please note this down as well.
What is the point of doing this?
To take a walk, focus on your environment and how it makes you feel
To notice how the area has changed since we have been in ‘lockdown’ and again, if repeated, how these things change over time
To know that when you will be walking with other people who are doing the same thing in different locations around the world, thereby creating a walking community at this time of separation
For fun / exercise / to boost your immune system / be more grounded
To see what happens
To create a record of this event for posterity
You can probably think of more reasons – please tell each other
Facebook group called Walk This Weekend
I will use my twitter for sharing info @walknodonkey
Once you have shared, I will
Collate the data and share in a blog
Record how many people walked and where
I will make a film with the photos, words and sounds (help appreciated as I am an amateur)
I will not reveal or use any personal information or data (if you do share your email with me for the purposes of sending recordings etc, I will keep it only for that purpose and delete after. It will never be shared with anyone else)
Hopefully, we can each repeat the same walk the following week so that changes in you, in nature, and in your environment during that time can be noted.
A 3 hour round walk, to and from Yalding High Street. March 2020
At this time, when we are not allowed to leave the house more than once a day unless there’s an emergency, and should only be doing it for the purposes of exercise, my awareness of the connections between nature and our situation is alive in my mind as I walk.
There’s a little lane off Yalding High Street, between the white-boarded, thatched house and the pale daffodil-yellow brick one with matching tiles (on the same side as St Peter’s and St Paul’s church). It takes you past the churchyard and through a gate which is now propped open with a sign saying it’s because of the corona virus. (It took me a while to work out why, but I think it’s so that you don’t have to touch the wood and possibly leave or catch germs). The cemetery with H’s grave and the rifle range are almost facing each other and you can see the controversial new builds and the rubble which has been left over. The Kintons is a well-used sports and dog-walking patch of grass with a children’s play area.
In the far left hand corner, past the bluebell woods, is a track which darts straight ahead – a field was being mowed to the right, a rather portly little dog scampering behind; and scrubby woods, with the back entrance to a grand mansion, are opposite. A woman was coming towards me and she couldn’t avoid being closer than two metres due to the narrowness of the track, but she awkwardly tilted her upper body away from me. I had a lot of bible teaching when I was a child and these stories often pop into my mind even though I am no longer a practicing Christian. So, I had been thinking about the image from the Good Samaritan bible story of people crossing over to avoid having to help the injured and needy. Nowadays, we are taking care of each other by doing just that: by-passing on the street. Equally, many of us are going out of our way to look out for others – the phone and the doorbell ring approximately seven times a day at my mother’s house where I am currently staying, with folk from near and far checking if she is OK because she usually lives alone and is over 80 years old.
Crossing Vicarage Lane at a slight angle, I clambered over the stile, sleeve pulled down over my supporting hand to avoid skin contact, tromped through the grass, crossed an access road, and followed the footpath signs (you do not have the Right to Roam in England as we do in Scotland).
Water weaves through this landscape at the best of times. It floods regularly, inundating the copses and arable lands; contrastingly, it is often so dry that great fissures appear and hose pipes are banned. Locals are constantly reminded of what is vital to life, forced to focus on conserving it and appreciating it when it is in balance. This virus we are now dealing with, is, maybe unwittingly, protecting our landscape (yesterday drones were spying on the Yorkshire moors to even stop hikers (for different reasons)). Although many fear that we have damaged it for good, we do also know how resilient nature can be.
The earth was bright in the sun, hardening and whitening every day now Spring is here. Often so solid and unyielding in the south east of England, there are still sodden patches and the odd sinkhole of wetness left from Winter and you might not be so safe if you stepped there. I reflected that it is change, especially unforseen changes, which challenge our sense of security. Although we want to trust that we will one day be able to plan and move around the world again, we do not know when that will be. In fact, we know deep down that nothing will be exactly the same; we understand that this is serious enough to bring about a new order. We don’t yet know what shape that will take. because, metaphorically speaking, the ground underneath us has shifted. This is why walking, even when we have to watch our footing, is such a reassuring activity – we still get from a to b and survive the experience. I could feel myself becoming grounded, and then I sighed and felt a movement in my heart area. (Chinese medicine practitioners: in the Five Phases, when the child’s happy (Earth), so is the mum (Fire)).
Walking towards Grove Lane, there is an almost imperceptible gap on the left which opens out to a small lake. It looked grand. Skirting it, I admired the wild flowers. What a beautiful setting on such a day, with the cool wind causing mini waves and turning the surface a myriad of shades of blue.
I crouched down to watch a bee collecting from between delicate mauve petals. He was only just about holding his own way in the breeze, but he kept on, goal clear. I admired the water birds and the Daisies with their sunshine faces. Bird’s Eye nestled at their feet, making another stunning combination of hues. There were sharply serrated Nettles and whorls of Thistles. Neon orange lifebelts hung at either end, and the whole was chicken-wire-edged so that I made an entire cycle before exiting precisely where I entered, stepping over the fallen fence.
Doubling back on myself by the lane which curves around the lake, my attention was attracted by men’s voices, the first of several groups I passed during the morning, working away hard in close proximity. They were setting the strawberry plants onto the stands under the plastic hoods.
I heard the coots before I saw them and I suspect that they were born here, that their life has been, and will continue to be, spent in this pond, (according to the RSPB they are resident here all year round), just as the trees in the wood next to it have stood in the same place for 100s of years. Other waterfowl return to their homes, well to their second homes every winter like Brits on the Costa Brava.
Witness the staying power of trees! There they are, in one spot, come month, come year. And what do they do while they’re standing there? It turns out they are very quietly, and probably slowly, fostering their community through their roots, just as so many of us are only now starting to do.
The word ‘Foster’ is associated with the Old English ‘fostrian‘ meaning to supply food, nourish and support.
At the same time as processing the CO2 (carbon dioxide) for us, looking beautiful and smelling divine, trees offer a home to insects, birds and other creatures. And yet, so many humans were living and suffering alone before this crisis and are now even more isolated. This can be an unnatural, even a dangerous situation for certain people. Questions arise: What can we do to make sure that those who want it can get support and companionship? How can we plan in advance for the next virus? Trees will grow taller and straighter, needing less pruning, if they are planted close to each other in the way that they naturally reseed in a woodland area. What a lot we have to learn! What a lot we are learning right now, thanks to the Covid-19.
The path took me around a corner where some old equipment was half buried and put out to pasture. Wide open fields were flattish, a gentle rise in the distance and the wind from the north was chilly except when sheltered by the hedgerows.
I took the Permissive Path (that is, not a public Right of Way, but one which is permitted by the landowner) over a tiny, planked bridge to West Street and stopped at Hunton St Mary’s church to visit my father’s grave. I took a quick photo of the Village Hall to send to my sister – she got married there – and then crossed back over, past the Engineering Works and went right. I wandered beside more agricultural land until I reached the junction between Barn Hill and the wonderfully named Lughorse Lane.
Clumps of proud daffodils with orange trumpets kept their eyes on me as I passed. There were also some plants which resembled long and upright poos, or if I am to be less disgusting, vertical pine cones in the deep grass (see above).
Before long there was a footpath off to the right and I started to climb quite steeply. It was peaceful. This was my exercise (in case any(official)one is reading this). There was stubble from what appeared to be bamboo on my right, but I doubt it; more likely wheat. There were mostly Magpies, Pigeons and Crows around although I did see a Jay a few days ago which was exciting. I spied a raptor nearer the top, most likely a buzzard, sailing on outstreched wings, but the photo was too indistinct to reproduce it here.
Although a dogwalker took the private road uphill on the right, I turned left on the official way and walked through the Buston Manor yard. First a jogger and then a proper walker with a staff who wore headphones, came towards me. But I was drawn aside by the gardens, architecture and tree bark design, never mind the extensive walled garden. I was told, later, that it is often used for filming TV and features.
Up again and a little sit-down to eat my satsuma, wind in my ears and at the back of my neck. We have to be careful of that as an acupoint GB20, aptly named Wind Pool, where Wind can enter causing headaches or worse (flu), certainly making us vulnerable. My (and my grandmother’s) advice – wear a scarf!
Through a metal gate, I went left onto a farm track of very dark loam, ploughed by machinery wheels and criss-crossed with tree shadows and sunshine-saturated grass. Steeply down now, until I unfortunately spied a Public Footpath stone and so took a right up a slight bank and out into the open again where there was one of the ‘footpaths’ I have walked the length of before in this area. This narrow enclosure drew me along and then, suddenly ending in a field, it showed me up to the right (where admittedly the vibrant green of ground-spreading chamomile was growing alongside left-over broad bean seedlings) and, without realising where I was heading, I was through another metal gate and onto Yalding Hill.
Yalding Hill is to be avoided at all costs if you are on foot as it is a very busy, narrow road with no pavements. Being very familiar with such situations, I was brazen and made sure every vehicle speeding towards me knew I was there (waving my arms, making eye contact, thanking them afterwards), but many were going too fast and several times I had to flatten myself against a bank. Had I known this in advance, I would have turned back.
Tip: Do turn back if you find yourself on Yalding Hill. Find another, safer way down.
I walked through the garden gate three hours to the minute from when I left – good timing!
16.3.20. This blog is unashamedly full of flowers, birds and other natural phenomena. I was very grateful to see that nature is carrying on (perhaps a little less interfered with than before) while all this is going on. It is intended as reassurance, and as a reminder that walking is allowed in the UK, even if you are at risk or at home because others in your family are unwell! I never thought I would have to use that phrase – how is it possible that walking needs to be sanctioned by a government? These are mighty strange times.
I walked across the Lees (more here) and tried to go under Twyford Bridge but it’s still flooded. I took the pedestrian way that bypasses Hampstead Weir (see above link for sunny photos from an earlier time) and comes out at Teapot Island. From there I took a left to walk along the towpath with the River Medway on my right. There were no fishermen today, but there was a man in wellies and shorts, his knees looking rather vulnerable, having a smoke, and another further on, busy weeding. They were outside the new fixed caravans which are lined up neatly there – rather liable to getting wet, I would hazard.
The sun shows up all manner of miniscule details: a strand, a filament of spider’s web stuck to a bramble new-leaf which is coexisting with the old ones on the same stem. There are also aged twigs, dry leaves, spent old man’s beard alongside the new blackthorn flowers and buds. We are all together in this.
I began in a thwarted frame of mind: It was about when you want to walk from a-to-b-to-c, but have to settle with there-and-back. Then, quickly, it was just as glorious as it could be. I had planned to walk The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. I even had the Pilgrim’s Passport sent to me by a very helpful woman at the Cathedral in C. Another time!
Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short, was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself. He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his Stoutness Exercises …Well, he was humming this hum to himself, and walking along gaily, wondering what everybody else was doing, and what it felt like, being somebody else, when suddenly he came to a sandy bank, and in the bank was …..
There was the scent of wood smoke, and the sound of water under the bridge and through the lock, of twittering, and an occassional parping from a train that was still running even despite the reduction in passengers due to the crown shaped virus.
There were regal foxgloves – no flowers yet, just a fascinator of leaves tilted at a jaunty angle on a mount. Many, many wood anemones were spread across the earth. Copious bird calls either drowned out this winter’s new tinnitus (mostly in my right ear) or it just stopped. There was, however, the thrum of engines from somewhere offstage (which was not the sound in my head!)
I spied one or two little settlements almost hidden by trees over the water, indications that people are living there quietly, in those beautiful spots. At a little bridge, I crossed to investigate the white flowers on the other side – were they wild garlic? No, instead a veritable sea of anemones. And, I spotted a large dead fish with a long nose – a pike – which I thought must have been flung there when the water broke the banks, because the greenery around it was all covered in a film of earth-dust. However, there was a hole in its side, so it must have been hoiked out by a human and not returned.
In the essence of full disclosure, I actually like the way northern pike taste. However, many would rather eat the aluminum foil the pike was cooked on than the fish itself. Well, with that in mind, one chef in Canada is about to change all that.
Coming up onto the road, I was in East Peckham with the food Co-op to my left. I spotted footpath signs up ahead pinting to the industrial area where they burn acrid things in backyards and the flooded woods are full of metal rubbish. Nevertheless, birds sang, woodpeckers clacked their beaks against bark, I spotted mallards and blackbirds, a thrush, a chaffinch – simply delightful.
I was not clear which path to take at Sluice Weir Lock #6 located between the ‘River Walk Junction (Junction with the northern route to the railway bridge) (5 miles and 7¾ furlongs and 5 locks to the west) and Yalding Wharf (2 miles and 1 furlong to the northeast)’ also known as Branbridge’s Whark, Arnold’s Mill Lock, Pinkham. ‘Straight on to Hadlow and Golden Green, or over there to East Peckham which is very pretty’ said the male half of a couple I had been playing overtaking with for half an hour or so. They had a massive dog called Rudolf who, when he jumped up, was taller than me! I took the attractive route and they took the other. After all, we were supposed to be ‘social distancing’ which is possible but a bit weird – speaking to others with a 2 metre gap.
Note: a furlong is an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or 201 metres
I explored the lock a little and then perused the woods where a huge bumble buzzed around my feet and a robin warbled and squeaked alongside me. There was the first butterfly of the year – bright orange like the redbreasts chest – on my return I saw a uniformly delicate yellow one.
I meanered through the trees, across a pedestrian bridge and came out at a big house and paddock, then a row of cottages. The house plaque reminded me of Dick Whittington which I took as a good sign – a pilgrim if ever there was one, with his staff and pack over his shoulder.
Popular legend makes Dick Whittington a poor orphan employed as a scullion by a rich London merchant. He ventures his only possession, a cat, as an item to be sold on one of his master’s trading ships. Ill-treated by the cook, Dick then runs away, but just outside the city he hears the prophetic peal of bells that seems to say “Turn again, Whittington, lord mayor of great London”
I came out by bus stop on Old Road, East Peckham, opposite the street with the General Store and post office. The sun was warm and my 1.5 hours almost up before turning back. Retracing my footsteps and having a seat on the steps of the bridge, an satsuma revived me. I watched a cat emerge from the woods. She caught sight of me and took a sharp angle to avoid contact. There was a squirrel, but no chatter nor conversation.
I waved at a woman sitting under blossom reading. She had on a cardi which exactly matched the house and brown-red bush to her left. It tuned out to one of my mother’s friends – a village is a small place. She was bemused, not knowing me at all.
This walk took me just under 3 hours from yalding High Street to Pinkham and back along the river (allowing plenty of time for photo taking!)
Walking keeps my energy flowing so I find I can be kinder. It does no-one any harm, and it feels as if it boosts my immune system. Do you like to walk? What effect does it have on your spirits?
Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 7 and 8, September 25th – 27th 2019
La Guarda / A Guarda, Galicia, Spain
La Guarda is in Spain, even though it is a town on the Portuguese Camino. I was happy to be back in Galicia, one of my favourite parts of Spain. I should have liked to see the Celtic hill fort and village of Castro de Santa Trega which connects with Scottish history (I live in Edinburgh) on the top of the hill that La Guarda sits beside, but I was not comfortably ambulant.
In the morning, I walked a short way (30 minutes, 2 kilometers) from the Albergue Municipal in La Guarda where I had spent the night, to visit the churches, but it was a strain and took me much longer than it should have. As a result of the pain in my foot, I decided to turn back and take a different route.
The two churches (above and below) are almost next to each other and I was the only one there. A few people were on their way to work and school, on the main road, and the churches were closed as they always are unless there is a service on. However, I admired their grandeur and solidity, the Santuario de San Roque having seen many pilgrims over the centuries.
Then I rested for 20 minutes and took the bus. It runs from Salcidos to Tui (get off / on near Repsol gas station (estacion de servicio) on N-550) regularly and takes around an hour. This was the second day that I could not walk, something that had, thankfully, never happened to me before, and it was very hard to accept. The journey took me through urban areas with grey stone buildings boasting elegant balustrades around the windows, along the northern side of the River Miño, and deposited me opposite some public gardens bright with bougainvillea and sporting a grand metal statue of cantering horses, the Monumento al Caballo Salvaje.
Tui is a busy city, full of hustle and bustle and with all facilities you could possible need. There is an excellent market, with cafes and shops galore. Not far from the Albergue is a friendly eating place / hostel (Albergue Ideas Peregrinas – not the cheapest, but with a European atmosphere and great, healthy breakfasts, including vegan food), and that is opposite one selling crêpes, and so on…! All tastes are catered for and many people holiday here even if they are not hiking. There is an extensive Natural Park to the north west with hills, Monte Aloia, for excellent views of Baiona, Vigo and the whole region.
I picked up a copy of Jim Crace’s The Melody in the hostel the night before and made the most of my enforced resting time to have a good read. Described as a meditation on grief, it connects with all my recent writing on the subject – there’s no such thing as a coincidence!
I was early into the town from La Guarda and encountered a difficulty: the hospitalera behind the reception at the hostel was talking animatedly to a gentleman who was lounging nearby. On seeing me, she launched into an attack on pilgrims who pretend to be walking, but actually must have come by public transport because they would never, otherwise, have arrived by this time. She laughed, he laughed, they compared notes and got increasingly irate about such behaviour.
I was dying to get the weight off my back and feet, and trying to explain in Spanish that I had not done this before, but had no choice with my foot pain. She ridiculed me and said I shouldn’t be carrying such a heavy load. It was most upsetting and as I became distressed she started to shout, saying that she wasn’t being nasty, just that ….
It is true that the municipal Xunta (the Galician council) albergues are for the pilgrims and that, increasingly, people are either not carrying their own packs or are taking buses and trains some or all of the way. It may have been an external voice, too, uttering the very words which I was hearing inside my head, and been part of my having to come to terms with being human and not always strong. Anyway, I said I would go away and then she started calming down and took me through the familiar process: passport check, credential stamp, payment (cash), and bedding. I was shaken.
It is a large hostel with solid wooden bunks. Although there is a sitting area where you can eat inside at the back, the kitchen is across the little garden and so I sat there for my tea as the sun set and it cooled down.
You can see the beautiful cloisters and internal gardens of the Santa María Cathedral de Tui in the photos on their website.
The tourist information is also in San Fernando Square and the staff are extremely helpful and kind there.
Tui to Mos
It is 25 kilometers to Mos and even though I had rested up for 2 days (well, a lot less walking than usual), it was too far, so I took a bus part of the way and trekked the rest (only 8 kilometers) to see whether I could manage. It was such a beautiful day and I was so happy to be on my feet again under the blue sky.
I am walking along the Via Romana XIX linking Braga and Astorga, enjoying listening to the birds and smelling the countryside after being in towns for the last few days. Sometimes the signs are hidden amongst pink roses. In the distance the open fields are empty now after harvest.
There is a native, milky coloured drink called horchata de chufa or horchata de Valencia which is the region where I first came across it. It is made from the tubers of the nutsedge (not the type in the photo above). (Thank you to floral_uk on the ‘name that plant’ forum of houzz.com for this information). It is similar to a Mexican version except that the latter is made from rice, not this sedge.
Mos, Galicia (Redondela Region)
I stayed at the Casa Blanca hostel near the Santa Baia church where I sat in the evening. The albergue is new with a bar that serves ice cream and snacks, and there is a restaurant oppostite which cooks wonderful Padron peppers and does breakfast as well as evening meals. The accommodation is in a separate building and all are situated on quite a hill. There is a coin-operated washing machine and I shared a load with others after much negotiation, however there is not enough room to hang the clothes to dry outside and, anyway, it was already cold at night so my things had to come in at bed time to avoid being damp by morning.
I went up looking for a fruit and veg shop. Instead, I saw a man on the top of a ladder picking grapes who told me I had gone in the wrong direction. On the way back down a woman pulled up in her car and spoke to me in French. She took me through to the back of her gradmother’s house (derelict) into the stepped garden full of fruit trees and picked figs. We stood and chatted over these juicy fruits and then she introduced me to her husband. He filled my shopping bag with massive bunches of black grapes for sharing with the other pilgrims back at the hostel. I laid them on large fig leaves in the self-catering kitchens for folk to help themselves.
The south coast of Portugal is absolutely stunning and I highly recommend it. There are some very built up areas and busy beaches because it is so popular with tourists (especially British and German), but the sections inbetween are amazing and very unpopulated.
I arrived in Albufeira by bus (Terminal Rodovario de Albufeira, just off Estr. de Vale de Pedras) from the airport. This was actually no mean feat, as the Rede Expressos poster information at the bus stop is erroneous. Rede Expressos is the national bus company and is usually an extremely good service (on time, efficient online booking system) which I used many other times with no trouble. I recommend that you use their website rather than written information, as it is up to date. However, do not allow your phone to translate it into English as it translates the place names which are also real words such as Sal from Alcacer do Sal meaning salt and Pias (a small town in the south east) meaning sinks! This makes it very hard for non Portuguese speakers to find where they are going.
This is the correct information, as of November 2019
When I arrived, I walked into the town which took 30 minutes. The road takes you past Lidl and other stores. I went in briefly, but it was so similar to home, that I resolved to shop locally and left immediately.
The Orange Terrace Hostel (Rue Padre semedo do Azevedo 24, 8200-167 through booking.com) provided everything I needed, including breakfast. There were some great people there and a delightful terrace! Cost 16 euros.
I hung out in a little municipal park with a sort of modern pond and benches overlooking the main strand, and shopped at a little shop at the top of the hostel street for bread and other provisions – very cheap.
A man was jumping from an enormous height into a big net when I went past the marina – the sort of things some people do for fun.
I did not follow a trail, but instead either ‘followed my nose’ or changed my google maps into the satellite setting where you can see all the tiny paths on the cliffs .
At one point I got rather lost in a maze of villas, trying to take a short cut as it was very hot and I knew there was a beach coming up where I could take my boots off and have a swim.
Then it poured with rained and I spent a good hour with a green tea in the restaurant. Most people seem to eat big meals at these places so they are not really suitable for a cake and a cuppa, although in this case it was after lunch and they were very friendly (as they all always were).
I stayed at the Lost and Found hostel that night (more of a motel on a busy road, but it had a pretty courtyard where I could do my morning Tai Chi, an amazing kitchen and it was scrupulously clean. There were two supermarkets nearby, with ATMs for getting money out.
I used booking.com again for this. Cost: 15 euros for a bunk in a dorm of four with a spacious shower room and toilet en suite. I shared with a Spanish man of few words, and had a good chat over supper in the kitchen with another who told me about the family restaurant near Granada where he works.
The next day I made my way through Sesmarias to Praia de Gale and thence Praia dos Salgados. There are many sections of boardwalks (like the Camino Portugal de la Costa in the north) and they often traverse through protected natural areas where there are birds (egrets, for example), plants and animals of interest.
It is basically one beach along the length of this part of Portugal.
Wide open sandy paths run amongst still-green undergrowth. Inlets and lagoons, sand banks with fishermen and high-rise, white-washed apartments in the distance: Armacao de Pera, where there is a fortress, and knowledgeable staff at the tourist information. Here I stopped to buy a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) for my elevenses.
My way wound through spiky bushes and always the sea was on my left. Brown and cream butterflies were warming their wings on hot stones which had been whitened by the sun; parched roots; yellow/green, soft pine needles; and palm trees in the rich man’s garden (Carvalho, the footballer, has a property above a beach named after him) where swans swam and lemons hung on branches of shiny leaves.
There are high class resorts with grounds kept fresh from constant watering, and just the most spectacular beaches.
I took a wrong turn and went down. This meant that, of course, I therefore had to go back up – about 150 steps, which was hard work with the rucksack in the sun.
Here I waited for a bus to take me to my lodgings as it had taken me longer than expected and I was reliably informed (by the surfing dude in the wooden cabin on the beach) that I would not make it by dark. He was right.
I sat by the wayside waiting for the local bus which a woman tending a clothes stall had pointed me towards. This took me to perhaps the most disappointing hostel of my whole trip. It promised a garden, but it was separated into various areas which all seemd private or had a vehicle of one sort or another in them. The kitchen and dorm was open-plan. The hospitalero was not around once I had booked in, and there was one other person who seemed to be a long-term lodger, a chef in a local cafe. It being cold at night at this time of year even in the Algarve, I prepared my tea on a temporary stove in the one mug that I could find, and huddled until the morning.
Once again I had been staying a little way inland and so had a short walk to the start of the Caminho das Promontorios (Trail of the Headlands). The route was harder to find and I lost my way several times, once bringing me to tears of frustration as I wandered around in circles. In the end I simply waited until someone else came along – a kind man who continued to look back to check that I was still following for the quite a long way. It was really lovely scenery and there were lots of hikers going one way without rucksacks and getting a taxi back.
I phoned up that night when I realised that I had not remembered to gather together my things. I asked if anyone lived in Portimao and I was lucky. A few calls and days later, I arranged to meet someone and eventually I got the costume back (never the towel – the travel one which D had kindly bought for me from Germany. I managed without a towel for the remainder of my trip (three and a half weeks). I am very grateful indeed for their kindness.
Smoke (by day) and fire (at night) signals were set by sentries to warn the populace.
From the Farol da Ponta do Altar (lighthouse) I made my way around the promontory towards Portimao and there was still a long way to go, so I took a water taxi, waiting on the beach with a cool and most welcome drink.
When I read the small print for the Plaza Real by Atlantichotels which I had booked (again through booking.com), it said I had to leave a deposit of 200 euros which I have never had to do before. Despite my best efforts to contact both booking and the hotel, I could not get it waived and was rather nervous in the run up. However I needn’t have worried. The kind receptionist explained that they do not take it off your card or need cash, just take details in case you make a mess in the room. It was a bit like hiring a car without paying for third party insurance – slightly nerve-wracking, but then again, I wasn’t planing to have a party.
It cost 24.67 euros and I had a whole apartment to myself, that was 4 rooms! (There was also the use of a pool, but I arrived too late to use it and it was in shadow and therefore cold). The supermarket was a good walk away (back towards the city, although the were two smaller ones nearby).
Early November 2019 and there are lots of hikers on this most beautiful Fisherman’s Trail, the Rota Vicentina along the south western coast of Portugal.
At Cabo Sardao for example, there were 11 in 5 minutes – in groups of 2, 5 and 4. A single walker and a pair spotted this morning on the beach at Zambujeira do Mar. Ranging from German to American, there are similar gatherings in cafes and hostels at the end of each stage that you would expect on the Camino.
1. Rota Vicentina
The trail runs from Cabo San Vicente to Porto Covo, or vice versa 350 kms in total, each stage is 12-22 kms in length.
You can be creative in choosing your route – the whole thing or part of it – to suit you, your physical capacity and time availability.
The two grand routes are divided by sections, which vary between 11 and 33 km. If you were to complete all of the sections at the rate of one per day, you would need the same number of days as there are sections that make up the Rota Vicentina.
Circular Routes are shorter, ranging from 4 to 16 km in length.
Ideally, you would prepare yourself before departure and take water and groceries with you for the day of walking, since not all sections cross places with coffee shops and / or grocery stores.
At most start and end of stage points, you will have no problem purchasing groceries. Check each village to see what they offer by way of food and drink.
Both the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Way have clear signs in both directions.
Mostly by the sea, the Fishermen’s Trail travels along the paths used by the locals to access the beaches and fishing grounds. It is a single track, walkable only on foot, along the cliffs, with lots of sand and therefore it is more demanding from the physical point of view. It is a challenge, but contact with the wind, the sea, the coastal landscape and the presence of a wild and persistent nature makes it worthwhile.
‘I booked it ahead, very easy as the accommodation is all on booking.com, but I didn’t need to. I got the details from the Rota Vicentina website which is very good, but there was more accommodation than was shown on the site and in most places you have a choice of near empty hotels.’ John Hayes