Walking through remote landscapes and reflecting meditatively has become a major part of my life. For extended periods of time, I explore and make pilgrimage, meeting fascinating people along the way. Then I return to my home in Edinburgh to write about it. Through this I weave Shiatsu, teaching and giving sessions as I go.
My most recent Camino was the Portuguese one from Porto to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain where all caminos return. That was in October 2019. Portugal page. I also walked the first 4 days of The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester towards Canterbury in England just as we were starting to come out of lockdown (July 2020).
“Whenever I was asked: ‘Why did you go to Santiago?’ I had a hard time answering. How could I explain to those who had not done it that the way has the effect – if not the virtue – to make you forget all reasons that led you to become involved in it in the first place.” Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Santiago Pilgrimage
tamsin‘these are the roads that bind us’ Roseanne Watt from Between Islands

Origin of the blog name ‘Walking Without A Donkey’

My adopted country is Scotland where I have lived for 30 years, and it was a 19th century Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes’ in which he wrote about a French walk and hired an ass, which he named ‘Modestine’, to carry his bags. His path is now The Stevenson Way, a French Camino or Grande Randonne (GR70).

Just as it is possible for campers to stay in a site where a tent is provided, ready-erected with a camp-bed in it – glamping – so there are many who take treks and have a mule, van or person to carry their bags. I haven’t yet done this. My first Spanish walk was with a rucksack on my back containing what I needed for a three-month stay which spanned three seasons. I plan to continue to do this until my body gives out – I am my own ass!

In Praise of the Donkey

Reading and Writing

My mother taught me to read before I started school and plied me with books, for which I am so grateful. Among them were first-hand accounts of adventure in foreign lands: ‘My Journey to Lhasa’ by Alexandra David-Neel, ‘As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee, and ‘The Songlines’ by Bruce Chatwin.

At that impressionable age who knows how influential they were. I certainly remember sitting on the daily train to school as a young teenager and longing to run off across the fields and be on my own.
I craved to go beyond the garden gate, to follow the road that passed it by and to set out for the unknown. Alexandra David-Neel

Previous Travels

I had one experience of solo travel in my twenties, when by chance the friend I had planned to go inter-railing with couldn’t come at the last minute. I started in Barcelona, Spain, travelled through France to Italy and thence to Barcelona in Sicily, finally reaching Switzerland for a stunning journey through the Alps. Otherwise, it wasn’t until I was 53 years old that I started to make journeys on my own.
Exploring is my way to search, to understand. Walking is my teacher.
Sarah Marquis, uber-explorer
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The Swiss Alps, 2017
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Arriving in Spain on the ferry from England, September 2016

Walking without a donkey – Travels in Spain

I penned some of the Spanish blogs while travelling – in the evenings, in cafes or on my bunk, but most I wrote on my return. My daughters will tell you that I was a tad obsessive about it, but I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t stop. I somehow knew, that it was a way of practising the discipline of writing and that, perhaps, it would lead to something bigger.

In the Autumn of 2017 I received a publisher’s invitation to make a book proposal and so 2018/19 found me in Estonia and Wales, sitting down rather more than usual, as I penned my first book, ‘Working with Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice, a guide to holistic bodywork in palliative care’. It was published by Singing Dragon (part of Hachette, formerly Jessica Kingsley) on 21 August 2020. What a sense of achievement that was!

‘But we are all …too, travellers with a donkey; and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many.’ Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Donkey fact: In January 2019 I discovered the Scots word for a donkey is cuddy. It was when I came across The Cuddy Trail on the Berwickshire Coastal Path stretching from England to Scotland.

Walking without a dog – travels in Scotland

I was not able to stop walking when I first returned to Scotland, and so set about exploring my home city and further afield with ‘a new eye’. I have given this group of blogs a slightly different name, in recognition of the fact that most people I meet are out with a canine friend – I don’t see many folk walking without one.

Scotland is as spectacular as Spain, although it must be said that the sun doesn’t shine so much.

I have always enjoyed a good conversation, and now I have discovered a joy of writing – inspired by the places I have been and the wonderful people I have met.

The words simply tumbled out of him and he listened to them in astonishment as they lined up, seemingly of their own accord, to create a meaning that became apparent to him with surprising clarity only after he had spoken them.‘ p 31-32 A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler.

Walking without a donkey – Travels in France

Happily, the year after I returned from my first foray in Spain, I was asked to teach Shiatsu in Paris. As I was already on the continent, I planned to walk in Normandy. Not long afterwards, I had been working on a Shiatsu mobile application, Tsubook, and was invited to visit its creators who were staying in …. Normandy. When I searched on the map I saw that they lived on the coast, a few days from Mont Saint-Michel. I immediately knew I needed to go there and so, another walking project was born, and that was where I walked in May 2017.

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One of the ‘randonnée’ way markers along the Normandy coast, France

I walked from Agon-Coutainville to Mont Saint-Michel along the Grande Randonée (GR223) and then inland to Pontorson. I also had a beautiful day on the Brittany coast.

Walking without a donkey – Travels in Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere

Later, in 2017, I visited Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France. My Via Sacra walk was featured in the Wanderlust Journal.

In 2018, I went to Spain and France again, and then in Scotland I started to walk the Fife Coastal Path. In May, I trekked the St Magnus Way on Orkney. I also added photo essays and other blogs of London and Edinburgh.

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Orkney, Scotland.

It is said that the hardship of a pilgrim journey invests the path with its power and that each step is an offering.

‘My Journey to Lhasa’ Alexandra David-Neel p. xii

Sharing a link to a post by Kym Wilson about safety for solo women walkers

Blog links

 Read travels in Spain

Read Travels in Scotland

Read Travels in Edinburgh

Read travels in England

Read travels in France

Read travels in Austria

Read travels in Switzerland

Read travels in Norway

Read St Magnus Way

Read Ireland

Read Croatia

Read Greece

Read Portugal

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