Yesterday I took Rosie for a walk, Rosie being the dog we’re fostering for a dog rescue organisation until someone adopts her – and if anyone has a farm or acres of land and/or wants a working dog, she is a 9 month old 18 kilogram dynamo of energy who needs more space than is available in hipster Brunswick. Rosie is super friendly and super cute [and super chewing, biting, digging etc].
Australian cattle dog/Staffordshire cross. The body of a blue heeler and the heart of a staffie.
So, yesterday was cool and wet [again] and I dragged out my red waterproof jacket and had a rush of recollection. It is almost exactly one year since I did the Coast to Coast walk across England, starting at the Irish Sea, into the Lakes District, through the Yorkshire Dales and Yorkshire Moors until reaching the North Sea; 310 kilometres in 13 days. A lovely walk with a lovely group of people, through sun and fog, grass and bog. And, you see, I had not worn my red jacket until today and the memories and emotions flooded in. It was a brilliant experience.
This year I have only one six day walk in October [Kangaroo Island], next year hopefully will be the hike down Italy from Saint Bernard Pass to Rome.
In the words of the inimitable Leonard Cohen – ‘If I’ve got to remember, that’s a fine memory’, inspired by my old red jacket which has covered thousands of kilometres with me.
Isn’t is strange and wonderful how life throws up these connections and loops as long as we are open to them?
Oh and the gorgeous Rosie is lying at my feet as I write, more memories of the dogs who came before her. Shep, Beau, Bruce, Max and Geoff and not forgetting the lovely Matilda, going strong in Sweden.
Soon it will be time for another walk; I do 5 kilometres per day, but it is not enough for a working dog….
Today it is one year, give or take a day, since I walked the Pamplona – Leon Section and completed my 1530 kilometre amble from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago. Approximately 400 kilometres in 15 days. This year I have no long walks scheduled, hopefully next year is the Via Francigena. In 2016 maybe the 88 Temples in Japan.
The low light of last year’s Camino section undoubtedly was suffering a ‘march fracture’ in my right foot, fracturing 2 metatarsal bones only 150 kilometres after Pamplona. A lovely sunny day, pleasant country side and kapow. With no warning, my right foot suddenly felt like I was dragging a lead weight on it while at the same time going numb. Took my boot off that night and I had a swollen bruise from the ankle to the toes. Nothing to be done except to push on with no idea what I’d done, finally having it diagnosed in London 7 weeks later. Such is life. All is fine now apart from scar tissue pressing on nerves meaning that my toes feel tingly or numb most days: very much a first world problem, right?
Another disappointment though not actually a low light, was walking the Meseta. My reading had led me to imagine a wild high plateau of solitude and starkness, in other words, precisely what I love. Um, no. It was civilised – crops, irrigation canals, flowers, little birds singing – nothing like what I expected and so soft and colourful compared with the country Australia of my childhood.
Waling through the wind farms high on the hills after Pamplona, the air reverberating and humming like a giant pulsing heart so that my body sang for hours afterwards.
Staying with a family in Mansilla de las Mulas in a lovely little house and eating dinner with them in the courtyard at night, waking in the morning to storks preening and grooming in the church tower outside my window.
Meeting and walking with strangers who became friends for a while.
Celebrating my birthday in the tiny village of El Burgo Ranero, drinking in the bar and writing while the old men played cards with much shouting and laughing until their women came and swept them away home. The daughter of the family discovering it was my birthday and making a ‘special’ vegetarian meal for me.
Lots of other stuff.
Oh, and I remember having a snack near a creek, actually more of a swamp, and a family of rats coming out of the reeds to watch, eager for scraps, nervous of coming close, much twitching of whiskers and squeaking. Yes, I left crumbs for them as a fitting symbol of the Camino.
Next year I plan to be back on the pilgrimage trails, this year I shall miss it.
The decision is made. My next long walk will be the Via Francigena, the old pilgrimage route, from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to Rome. Some 940 kilometres, I plan a leisurely timetable of 6 weeks, allowing days to detour and wander on the way, commencing in June 2016 once the pass is open for walking and aiming to arrive in Rome late July.
Commencing here –
and finishing here –
I have walked from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago along the Via Podiensis and the Camino Frances, 1500 kilometres or so depending what book or map you believe and this one will be quite different in character and terrain.
This gives me 14 months to have my novel-in-progress published, in the process of being published, self-published into probable oblivion or consigned to the rubbish bin.
Step one: start learning Italian.
Step two: start pondering ideas for a novel set on the Via Francigena. Maybe a series of linked short stories?
Step three: stay open to this changing. The 88 Temples pilgrimage in Japan is tempting… or a stroll in the Cotswolds or the new walk along the Turkish coast or ….
Again, there is no religious element involved. It is the joy of wandering and writing and of meeting people and experiencing places the old-fashioned way; by foot.
1. It is less crowded, only 10-15% the number walking annually.
2. There is less competition for sleeping places each night despite there being fewer accommodation possibilities
3. It is prettier especially through the Aubrac plateau and overall the first section to Cahors
4. It is physically more challenging
5. The path leads through private vine yards and farms, it is often more intimate and personal
5. More of the little churches and chapels are open
6. Sorry Spain, the food generally is much nicer
7. Superior wine, especially in Gascony and not discounting the fine reds of Rioja (my apologies to them all)
8. Some days in summer you will not see a single other walker
9. Because of the smaller numbers, the whole 734 km feels less ‘commercial’
and less driven by the ‘Camino business’
10. Many of the villages are charming – again, apologies to the fascinating villages in the Montes de Leon
Both are great, my personal preference is the Via Podiensis and, of course, the crossing of the Pyrenees.
Remember Anika and Tom? You do? It has been only one month since I wrote here of their adventures, it seems longer than that as I have been busy on other tasks.
Both have been walking the Camino, they have met and (like in the Hollywood classics) have agreed to meet in a year. No contact during the year, no plans, they will find each other for true love always finds a way.
Back in Australia, Tom is gathering information on pilgrims dying on the Camino in Spain and on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France; in fact, some 10 or so people are known to die each year walking or cycling to Santiago, there may be more that are not recorded, and there are plaques here and there to commemorate their lives and deaths. This has always been a reality on pilgrimages, more so in the past when illness was rife and banditry a constant danger.
Now Tom is returning to Europe to cross the Pyrenees on commission and then to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port to gather more information re peregrino deaths and, of course, to meet Anika on 22 May.
He has decided to write a novel about love and death on the Camino as a cover for his research on the personal tragedies of the dead pilgrims. Yes, there is some old fashioned post-modern reflexivity at work as I write a novel about a guy writing a novel. Do not to be alarmed, there will be no linguistic tricks or theorising, it is simply a device for Tom possibly to earn some money (he has no source of income) and to put a little distance between him and the realities of pilgrims dying.
1. Not every walker is a pilgrim.
2. Not every pilgrim is a saint.
3. The one pebble on the path will always find the tender part of your sole.
4. The other side of the path always looks smoother for walking.
5. Not every albergue is a heart of camaraderie and communal food and wine.
6. Not very hospitalero is a welcoming and generous host.
7. Not every local inhabitant is enamoured of peregrinos.
8. No path is ever truly flat or straight, regardless of what the books or maps may say.
9. Not everything that happens on the Camino has meaning, let alone is a sign or a miracle.
10. Anything can be interpreted as a sign or a miracle if this is what you desire to see.
You take yourself with you when you journey and it is the journey and not the destination which is important. Unutterably banal, true nonetheless.
A few days ago I ambled down to the village square and saw some people whom I had met earlier on the Camino and they invited me to join them for a drink.
The following conversation too place; I am the respondent.
Which route did you take today?
What do you mean?
The high or the low?
Well, what did you see?
It was remarkable, I saw no other pilgrims all day! Where were they all?
Was it steep?
Yes! It was lovely and so isolated.
Okay, so you took the high route which is much more difficult and we went the low way.
Oh! Well, it was beautiful.
Didn’t you see the directions at the turn?
At the roundabout?
Long story cut short, I had missed the decision point and taken the perfect alternative and had a wonderful day. I would love to say this happened because I was lost in contemplation of the meaning of life or a deep literary problem, but it is untrue.
I feel sure this must be some metaphor for life.
Or pure serendipity, bless it.