“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
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!
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.
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
Exploring is my way to search, to understand. Walking is my teacher.Sarah Marquis, uber-explorer
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.
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.
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.
One of the ‘randonnée’ way markers along the Normandy coast, France
Walking without a donkey – Travels in Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere
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.
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