Journey’s end

July 28th, 2017

24/7/17

There are two Tauntons. The first is the bog standard town centre with all the usual High Street stores, full of people and traffic and noise. The other is the one I met yesterday walking along the river Tone into French Weir Park. It is glorious, beautiful. I have been to Taunton so many times over the years and I never knew the beautiful Taunton existed until I walked here from Tiverton. It is in fact possible to walk the whole way through Taunton along river and canal. It isn’t all gorgeous it has to be said, but it is the most startling contrast to the Taunton I’ve known.

I spent pretty much all day in Taunton the terrible, all heat and hassle. It was 4 in the afternoon before I managed to set out again, having messed up right royally on the phone front (a boring story I have no interest in recounting). Such a relief to heft rucksack on back, tighten the waist band and return to the river.

And thence to the Taunton Bridgwater canal where

‘At intervals along the towpath are scale models of all the planets, set in sculpted concrete plinths bearing plaques which proclaim their essential characteristics. A model of the Sun is situated at the midpoint of the canal and the planetary replicas are duplicated in both directions, with Pluto’s model at one extreme, in the centre of Taunton, and again at the other, in Bridgwater. Both the distances between the model planets and their sizes are represented in exactly the same scale. The Sun model – a huge, orange painted concrete globe – has a diameter of over two and a half metres.’
(from The Dragon Path Steve Leighton and Johanna Von Fessem)

I really wanted to see this, the Sun in particular and have no idea how I could have missed it. I only found Neptune and Uranus (which co-incidentally are the two rulers of my astrological chart). Failing to see a huge orange concrete globe that’s two and a half metres high and wide is quite a feat.

I can’t find where I camped this night on the map. It was late. I was tired. It was near a railway.

25/7/17

Up early. In Somerset I find I am always within the soundscape of human activity, of cars, lorries, tractors, machinery. First the M5, now the A361. Whatever road it is from here on in, rarely am I free from the noise pollution of humanity.

And the ‘Welcome Pilgrim’ that is so much a feature of the churches I visited in Cornwall is absent in Somerset. The churches are locked. Creach St. Michael, North Curry, Stoke St. Gregory, all in the guidebook and all locked.

But the footpaths are wonderful. It’s impossible to get lost, to be unsure which way to go. I have, at most, three days to go and it is now, right at the end, that I have managed to be here now, with the butterflies floating up out of the grass in front of me and the rabbits scuttling away in the distance, the leaves murmuring. My present. Both gift and moment.

Burrowbridge. By the time I get here I am ravenous. And the pub, the King Alfred, is the most hospitable pub I’ve been in on my entire journey. What is it that makes up an atmosphere? I’ve encountered friendly bar staff before now but not a pub that felt like this does, warm, welcoming, the heart of a real community. There weren’t that many people there when I arrived but it was soon packed. And talk about value for money. If I’d a notion how much food I was going to get for a fiver, I wouldn’t have ordered the chips I hardly touched.

From the Mump you can see Glastonbury Tor. It’s an emotional moment, looking across to the horizon, seeing my end in sight. I have been saying for so long ‘I am doing a pilgrimage walk to Glastonbury’ and soon this will be neither future intention, nor present action, it will be a done deal. The Mump feels connected with both the Tor and Cadbury Castle. No explanation for this second but it is how it feels to me.

And this is where I give up on Churches. Both ‘The Dragon Path’ and ‘The Mary Michael Pilgrims Way’ suggest Othery’s St. Michael’s church as my next stop. It’ll be locked. There’s a depiction of St. Michael slaying a dragon outside but I have no desire to see this. I have had it with locked churches and the sense of unfriendliness and distrust they exude. And I can feel this tug, such a strange sensation but I can feel the Tor pulling me to Glastonbury now.

I am as far as Westonzoyland more or less. Hot and sticky and uncomfortable. I forgot to ask for a flask of hot water at lunch time so I won’t have soup this evening, and I should have got fresh water then. The water I have is more than 24 hours old and disgusting. But there’s something intimidating about posh houses that’s putting me off knocking on a door to ask for water. But now a family are arriving at their home as I walk past. They look ordinary, down to earth, so I ask for water. ‘Come in for a cup of tea’ says Sid. So I did. Sid and Emma, the final angels of the pilgrimage. Tea, hot and cold water, and the revival of the drooping spirit I owe them.

I had a bit of a time crossing King’s Sedgemoor Drain. Got lost in the abandoned airfield. But eventually I worked out that if I walked in the opposite direction to Westonzoyland, I was bound to find the path somehow and I did. Arrived in Sutton Mallet praying my evening prayer ‘I can’t do this much longer. Please can I have a place to pitch soon, soon, soon.’

My last night camping out. Even though it is a long way still to Glastonbury I just know this is it. And even though it is right on the top of a hill, there is no way anyone can see me. And it is perfect, as perfectly flat as any official campsite pitch and considerably more comfortable than some.

26/7/17

It is raining and raining hard at 7 which is when I’d normally be leaving. I’ve packed the rucksack but there’s no point in taking down the tent now and heading off in heavy rain. So I take the mat out and lie down again. It’s 10 before it stops raining and I’ve slept for most of it. I set out along another grassy path, again feeling that ‘how I wish I’d got to this blessed sense of now sooner.’ But I know that it is only by going through all those tests and challenges that I’ve got to where I am now.

The path turns into nettle beds. I come to a road and while I’m considering the possibility of road walking, enough cars go past for me to realise I’d prefer the nettles. And oddly after that there’s aren’t so many.

Shapwick church is open. I am not entirely sure but I think it might be the only one I found open in rural Somerset. It’s on the Mary line. It has a significant history but I am realising that it is not the age of churches that I tune into but the sense of a current community, and whilst there is no intentional welcome to the pilgrim here, unlike most of the churches in Devon and Somerset this church feels vibrant, alive with the presence of loving people.

Ashcott. If I stop for lunch it’ll delay me the length of time it takes to walk to the pub, eat, rest, and return to my current spot. So I don’t. I run out of water. I don’t have much food left. I don’t care. I can see the Tor at times and the tug is growing stronger. I stop at 3 and eat whatever I have. It’s not much. I’m exhausted. I keep finding myself no longer heading towards Glastonbury and having to change direction. Lost on the Levels. But not distressed, not upset, weary, worn-out but just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I phone Johanna. Her energy is so strong. I feel very out of tune with this enthusiasm and that’s difficult. I want quiet. I want to go to the Abbey and light a candle in the little church of St. Patrick like I’ve been doing for years, since before I ever lived in Glastonbury.

Today I have been walking for all the people who have helped me do this pilgrimage. For you my readers who I have felt at my back. For all the different people who helped me on my way, Mick and Sue at White Alice Farm, for Cadbury John, Sid and Emma, for more people than I can possibly list here but it was a lovely day remembering different people and how blessed I have been on the road.

I arrive in Glastonbury. I immediately start meeting lovely people I know here. I go to the Abbey. I light a candle. I give thanks.

27/7/17
My feet are almost worn out. They lasted pretty well but now there are places where the skin has worn away that are raw and sore. I have still the Tor to climb. My pilgrimage is not completed until I have stood on the Tor, at journey’s end.

Steve and Johanna accompany me on my last stage of my pilgrimage. That feels pretty darned wonderful, absolutely right. I would never have done this but for them. All along the line I felt that I had to be on my own because I am so slow. Now, without the weight of the rucksack, I can pretty well skip up that hill.

I am oddly disorientated. I am re-entering the world and it is all most strange. It is hard to adjust, a form of culture shock. I have mush for a brain. I didn’t realise how little conversation I have had over the last five weeks but talk is somehow so fast, such an intense experience.

To be able to have a hot drink at any time is amazing.

After the worst thing happens……

July 24th, 2017

Taunton Library 24/7/17
Please note that as I’ve lost both phone and address book I would greatly appreciate it if readers could email me addresses and phone numbers.

18/7/17
I’ve just discovered that this doesn’t just apply to travelling in India but to travelling per se.

I last blogged in Crediton Library on 18th. I then discovered that I no longer had my address book. Despite the fact that this is objectively a more significant loss than losing my hat, I did not get upset. I wild camped that night near Shobrooke and then walked to Stockleigh Pomeroy. Arriving in the church, I found I’d left the phone recharger in Crediton library – a nuisance but nothing major. But, and this I guess was ‘the worst thing’, when I went to leave the church, I couldn’t find my mobile phone. This is far more mysterious than it sounds in that I had it in my hand when I went into the church but when I was ready to leave, it was nowhere to be found.

I took out my angel cards (little cards with words on them for those unfamiliar with angel cards) and got ‘Gratitude’. Umph, not one I can quite manage under the circumstances so I chose another – ‘Faith’. My reaction to that was to feel like the phone had gone because rather than putting my faith in the Divine, I’d wound up far too dependent on the mobile and the downloaded OS map in particular. I wish I could say I took it in my stride but I was in a bit of a state when a couple who lived next to the church turned up. The phone had disappeared and my explanation made no sense! I was also horribly aware of being dirty and odorous!

This is the closest I’ve come to giving up. They offered me a lift to Tiverton so I could go home. I seriously considered it. I returned to the church to think about it. As I’ve mentioned before, each day I chose something to dedicate the day’s walk to. And this day it was ‘Peace in Syria’. Perhaps if I’d a less significant focus, giving up could have been an option. What was I saying if I quit now? That their suffering wasn’t important? That I wasn’t willing to deal with a little discomfort, a little stress when they are forced to flee their homes by the horrors they face every day? So no, I reckoned stopping was not an option.

The thunderstorm started as I reached Cadbury and after a short time in someone’s garage – that did not feel right somehow – I found my way to the church of St. Michael and All Angels.

I am I confess somewhat uncertain about Michael. As archangel, wielding the sword of truth, he is a necessary but not always easy ally as he sloughs away all illusion, all that no longer serves our soul purpose. In some ways the removal of the phone is one of those experiences. May be good for me but doesn’t mean I like it. But St. Michael as the dragon slayer is another story. The dragon represents Earth Mysteries, the magic of the land, of the spirit of the wild and I see the slaying the dragon as a metaphor for the rejection of nature. It relates to how Christianity paved the way for our alienation from ourselves as embedded in the natural world.

St. Michael aside, I am at home with angels. Been working with them for years. What came to me as I listened to the storm outside, was an evening back in my twenties when I lived in North Wales. I called to see a friend who had an elderly gentleman ‘George’ staying with her. He talked about the angels in the room. He was mesmerising, spell-binding, enchanting. I was in my first flush of feminist thinking, seeing all religions as tools of the patriarchy, yet listening to George I found myself drinking in every word he said, welcoming this version of Christianity. I left that evening thinking ‘That’s the nearest I’ll ever come in this lifetime to what it must have been like to meet Jesus’. And it is. Sir George Trevelyan was an extraordinary man and I was blessed to have had this encounter with him. I have never doubted the reality of angels since.

Every time I went to leave, the thunder would roll or the rain would start again. I was so tired and I felt safe with the angels. I had no idea where I could go, where I could camp and I had, as I have before on this pilgrimage, lost my nerve.

Then the bell ringers turned up to practice. And that’s how I ended up in John’s house for the night. A very different experience than the evening I stayed with the sad man in Bodmin. It was the best of evenings. The house, two cottages made into one home, restored absolutely beautifully by the man himself. An intriguing companion, he threw out threads I would like to pursue at such a rate there was no keeping up. ‘A young Vietnamese girl who was staying here….’ Vietnamese? How did she end up in Devon? What was your connection with her? But by the time the questions had formed in my mind, he was off on another topic entirely ‘When I was in Canada…’ He’s lived a rich full interesting life. It is odd that for myself, I have concerns about my environmental footprint, but listening to John, I found myself full of admiration for the way he has embraced the opportunities available to him, his adventurous spirit. The hill I’d struggled up on my way to Cadbury was one that used to form part of his running circuit!! The conversation flowed with such ease. I felt like a wilting plant that has been both watered and bathed in sunlight. It was extraordinary that in one day I could go from the depths to the heights. He washed all my clothes whilst I had a most luxurious bath and then slept soundly.

19/7/17
First day without OS map backup. I started at 7. I walked up to Cadbury castle, from there to Tiverton – where to my horror the library was shut. I walked all round Tiverton for a few hours trying to sort out the phone situation without success, visited the church, bought food and then I walked to Samford Peverell. I don’t know how long I walked but I have never walked so far in a day in my life before.

From Tiverton onwards, I was walking along the canal. It was beautiful, and best of all it was flat. But in the end I was so footsore and weary I don’t know how I kept going at all.

20/7/17
The Welsh couple who have taken over at Minnows caravan site couldn’t be sweeter but it is not a place set up for campers at all. It’s right beside a road, and the pitch I was given was rock hard, so the upshot was that I had no sleep to speak of. I did however leave my rucksack with them as I visited the village and had an excellent lunch at the local pub. Oh how amazing it is to be free of the weight I am no so used to carrying on my back every day.

I then set off along the canal again. I met more curious people on this towpath than I have on my travels so far. And after the third person had shaken their head and said ‘Weather’s bad tomorrow.’ I felt like I was being given due warning. And I was exhausted. When my daughter was a toddler and overtired, I had a choice between looking like the world’s most abusive mother, forcing her into the pushchair as she screamed her head off, or I could watch her fall asleep as she was walking. And this was the day when I found out what it is like to fall asleep whilst walking. I wasn’t aware of falling asleep, just of jerking awake and realising that I’d been asleep. WEIRD.

Upshot is that I walked about 6 miles (at most) to Gibbon’s Caravan and Camping site at Greenham and was delighted that there was a room to sit in.

21/7/17 The day off
I read a book. I sat in the ‘information room’ listening to the rain and read. It’s the first time I’ve read anything other than the guide book since I started walking. I didn’t pour over the map working out what comes next. I genuinely properly took the day off. And I met lots of lovely people. Ironically I don’t know the name of the person who helped me the most – recharging my ancient Nokia mobile, shopping, and letting me book an airbnb place in Taunton.

22/7/17
I can’t do this day justice in the time I have left here. But this was the best of days. I walked to Bradford on Tone. I walked along the river. I got lost without any distress and happily knocked on doors to ask where I was, where the path I was looking for was. I am so close to home. Panic over. I’ve had time to work out exactly why being lost is such a biggie for me and to discover it is so no more. Childhood stuff. Doesn’t matter what. What matters is that I can be unsure where I am and stay calm. May not sound like much but this is the gift, this is the blessing, this is the thing I could never have known if the phone hadn’t been ‘taken from me’. Had a bit of a number finding a place to wild camp and when I did it was unfortunately mighty uncomfortable.

23/7/17
And today I walked to Taunton. This time in the rain. At one stage when it was particularly heavy, I sheltered in the trees and enjoyed how the rain sounded. The airbnb turned out to be on the route into Taunton, so once again I’ve had the pleasure of time off from carrying the rucksack. Again got lost a few times. I have wasted so much energy in anxiety on this journey. But at least I am relaxed now. At least these last few days, and I will, I’m sure get to Glastonbury this week (a few days ahead of schedule).
Thank you all for your support. I genuinely couldn’t have done this without you.
Love
Dearbhaile

Go your own road

July 17th, 2017

12/7/17

As Launceston is well north of the Pilgrim Path, I work out which bus I need to get me back on to the trail. But the driver won’t let me off where I need to be so I find myself too far south. Then I find the OS map I can usually download on the phone isn’t working. This is when I discover that the compass I bought way back in Bodmin definitely does’t work. I work out between the map and common sense which way is east and set off with the phone switched on, the battery draining at a rapid rate, hoping that it will eventually kick in and I’ll be able to download the OS map so I’ve some sort of clue how to get back to somewhere ON the map I have.

Long story short I get in a right state. The road has twisted and turned so much I no longer am sure of my direction of travel. I think it is still east and I know I need to head north. Eventually I pluck up the courage to ask someone where I am. First place no answer, second, the door is open. But when the woman comes to the door, I find I can hardly talk I am so upset. She is another angel. Makes me a cup of tea and tells me about going sailing with her husband. She got seasick. She was terrified. She went into meltdown for a week or so after they returned. But now whenever anyone asks, it’s the adventure of a lifetime. She offers to give me a lift but I say no, the point is to walk. So she walks with me until I’m on the road that leads to Greystone Bridge and crossing the Tamar into Devon. From there to Milton Abbot is a right slog. Great views when I can see over the hedge which isn’t often. I attempt to leave the road twice and twice get lost, ending up back on the same road both times. The OS map on my phone hasn’t worked all day so I can’t use that to tell me where I am. But I get there. The great shop described in the guidebook has shut down. I end up sitting outside the church in bits. Phone a friend time.

Laura says you need a good night’s sleep and makes me laugh about possible outcomes of getting lost on Dartmoor. I stay in ‘Cornerways’ with its stunning garden. Carol is nice but Keith, Keith is a man who twinkles, and there’s something utterly charming about a man with a twinkle. They both tell the story of their walking adventure and fascinatingly the versions are quite different. Everyone has their own story to tell.

13/7/17

I walk the five and a half miles to Brentor in good time. I’m used to long steep hills by this time so the road to the tor is surprisingly unchallenging. It’s just long! It’s the point where I move from blue book to yellow book in terms of the Pilgrim’s Way guidebooks. It’s not his fault that half the promised resources are no longer there nor is he to blame for my inability to follow the off-road paths. I have walked two miles to avoid what he described as ‘frisky bullocks’. I’m at the stage where a field of cows is enough to put me off. They can’t help that they are intelligent, curious and big. Still not exactly my idea of a good time being followed round a field by a herd of cows pushing each other out of the way to have a good look.

And hence from Brentor to White Lady Falls. Again the guidebook misleads. ‘In the evening, access to the White Lady Falls is free.’ It’s a National Trust Property and I can’t work how you’re meant to get in unless he’s suggesting that the true pilgrim isn’t going to baulk at a little breaking and entering. Having walked a bit of the road towards Lydford I know it is hilly, twisty, with lots of cars going too fast (I’d walked the wrong way inititally) so I was delighted to find that there was a bus due in 7 minutes. I happily indulged in a 1 1/2 mile bus journey that took me through Lydford and as far as the Dartmoor Inn. I wasn’t especially hungry but having failed to restock as expected in Milton Abbot I decided to have something to eat here. Good call. I’d a starter – curried fishcake so good I had to have a pudding and coffee while I was at it. Throughly stuffed with the best food I’ve encountered so far. This place 100% lives up to its ‘certificate of excellence’ from trip advisor.

I camped by the river Lyd and slept well.

14/7/17

I said ‘No’ to Yes Tor. Ah, Steve, how much of a failure that feels. Led me to some dark, difficult and far too familiar mental landscapes. As if the entire feat of walking from Carn Les Boel to Glastonbury is nothing because I bailed out of Yes Tor. I excel at grasping failure from the jaws of success. Never yet achieved anything that I wasn’t able to turn into a failure to do better. It doesn’t help to have re-read the wonderful account of your and Johanna’s account of reaching the top of Yes Tor and saying Yes to life.

Kindness, awareness, patience and humility. I have a dodgy knee, a compass that doesn’t work, a lifelong terror of being lost, and good reason to have little confidence in my ability to navigate. I walked the alternative route suggested ‘for those less confident of their orienteering skills.’ It was beautiful and peaceful. I only got seriously lost once and then the gods smiled on me and the OS map on my phone worked so I was able to find my way to a path. If only I could have batted away the demons mocking me for not having the guts to go for it, I think I could have enjoyed myself. Coming down off the moor and encountering the sound scape of the A30 which the path follows all the way to Okehampton is a shock. So often the sounds of civilisation are an offence to the ear.

Okehampton and the shop where I was hoping to buy a decent compass has shut down. The fate it seems of every small enterprise in this world where bigger is so clearly not better. Shop local or there’ll be no local shops.

15/7/17
Disaster day. I didn’t sleep. It was too hot. I don’t like the YHA at Okehampton. I want to get on. I am in two minds about the next leg of the Pilgrim’s Path. The guide directs me to Chagford. What is this ruddy ley line? It seems to zigzag up and down the country like a piece of string thrown on the ground. Why did I come all this way north to then turn round and go south again? It doesn’t make sense. Do this Michael Mary Pilgrim Path actually exist? One person has made it up but no-one I’ve met yet has ever heard of it. ‘The Dragon Path’, Johanna and Steve’s account of following the Michael line makes more sense. I am tempted to follow that instead.

I set our for Belstone and have my lunch in the Nine Stones Cairn Circe that has rather more than nine stones in it. Good vibes. On the moor and once again away from the sound of the A30.

Belstone Cleave is where I come a cropper. I couldn’t find it. I got lost twice. The first time I returned to Belstone and asked a local for directions. He came out with that classic line ‘You can’t miss it.’ Oh, but I can, I can. The second time I was lost for a lot longer and when, thankfully, the OS map on the phone worked, I discovered I’d gone a good distance in entirely the wrong direction. I never did find the right path but I did somehow get as far as Sticklepath. And lost my hat. A moment’s inattention. A lapse of awareness. I realised and returned to the bench I’d collapsed on at the top of Sticklepath within 20 minutes but it was gone.

It’s totally irrational but I had become so attached to that hat, it felt so me, it made courage a possibility. It kept me going when I felt low. I looked like I was having fun even if that may not have been true. And someone took it.

I accept that it looks like a trivial loss from the outside but it is not trivial to me and it is hard to forgive myself for the inattention that led to the loss. I sat in the church, the St. Mary’s church that neither map nor guidebook seem to know exists and cried. I’m bone tired. I don’t know if ley lines exist anymore. A couple of people have asked if I’m doing this for charity as if to do so NOT for charity is pointless. It is feeling like some weird insane indulgence that I’m not even enjoying. God, if I can feel like this for the loss of such a little thing, how utterly horrendous must it be to lose everything. A friend of mine watched her home burn down and lost pretty much everything she had ever owned in the process. And refugees. Not only have they lost everything but they are then treated like criminals.

I give up. I have no energy to go anywhere or do anything. I hide my rucksack and then walk into, around and out of Sticklepath. I walk until I have reception and can phone my daughter. In the process I find the Belstone Cleave path which is just as lovely as Steve and Johanna say it is. She tells me it’s okay to be upset about losing my hat, that I don’t have to be grown up all the time. I also find a lovely place to camp for the night by the river Fal. Somewhere that feels safe and quiet.

16/7/17
There’s only one thing I know to do when I get like this. Count blessings. Count blessings until I can feel them. This is a blessed day. Here is a blessings list for today.

It stopped raining before 7. No-one came through this little park until after I’d packed up. There’s a place in Sticklepath that opens at 8 and serves food. The food tastes good. They fill my flask, so I have hot water. The day is not too hot. I have Steve and Johanna’s dragon path to follow. The shower doesn’t last long. I am roadwalking so I don’t get lost and it doesn’t matter that there’s no map on the phone. There’s a footpath where I have to cross the A30. I get to St. Andrew’s church in Hittlesleigh Barton by lunch time. It is open. It is cool, quiet, peaceful. I have lunch sitting on the bench outside. I am now further than I though I’d get today. I get to Yeoford (sadly all shut up). I can walk the hill up out of the village in a way I couldn’t have a couple of weeks ago. I find a great place to camp (eventually). The sunset is stunning.

17/7/17
I arrive in Crediton as parents are dropping off their children at school. Initially I think ‘typical little town’. No it is not at all typical. It has character. it has individuality. The ‘normal shops’ aren’t here and lots of individual local businesses are. The church – originally dedicated to Mary, and then the ‘Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him who Hung Thereon’, a mouthful they want to replace with ‘Crediton Parish Church’ and who can blame them? According to Richard (author of ‘The Guide Book’) it is where the Mary and Michael lines cross. Whatever. But it’s got something. No doubt about it. It feels good. Don’t reckon much to Boniface, but he’s another one of those ‘conquer the pagans’ sort so he’s not likely to be my cup of tea. Converted the German native tribes apparently.

What I would really liked to have found in Crediton was a laundrette but it’s gone apparently. Didn’t find a hat either. Spent too much time writing to you guys. Need encouragement. I’m not going to be enslaved to the guidebook no more, no more. Doing whatever mix of ‘The Dragon Path’ – following the Michael line as Steve and Johanna did and the Mary Michael Pilgrims way that takes my fancy.

Encountering Angels

July 12th, 2017

6/7/17
The single most unhelpful sentence in the entire guide to the Mary Michael Pligrims’ Way relates to maps. Having identified one as essential, it then claims ‘Others are available to buy in towns along the way.’ It was only when I got as far as St. Austell that I discovered that it ain’t necessarily so. I left Eden’s Yard in the morning setting out on my way to Lostwitheil, feeling well rested and refreshed. On the map, there was a footpath that would – if I’d found it – saved me a mile or so. Being me, I wasted the guts of an hour first finding my way to a builders’ yard, then someone’s garden and then, unable to work out how I’d got there, scrabbling around in scrubby undergrowth until I could see the path and threw my rucksack over the barbed wire and then got myself over it. Great start. I found and followed a cycletrack to and beyond the Eden Project which was hilly but afforded wonderful views.

Because I’d found some maps at the tourist info centre in St. Austell, I thought I could get the rest at the TIC in Lostwitheil, but as I’m walking along it dawns on me that I should phone and check. No answer. It’s lunch time so I wait til after 2 and give it another go. Still no-one there. At which point I decide I need to deviate to Bodmin. Which takes me onto the All Saints Way, a pilgrim path everyone has heard of, that’s properly waymarked, that I, yes even I, can follow without mishap.

Then I get to a stage when I realise that I’m not going to make it to Bodmin before the shops shut and whatever about wild camping in the wild, what the heck am I going to do in Bodmin? I go to Lanivet instead where I once again find a Christian welcome in the church and a magical hideaway in the woods for the night.

7/7/17
Yes, there are maps in Bodmin. And bloody steep hills to climb. Another misleading sentence in the guidebook ‘They (i.e. maps) should be available to view at main libraries.’ They should but that doesn’t mean they are. Not at Bodmin Library at any rate, which has been moved way out of town to a most inconvenient location. I can’t believe I’ve walked that distance to find there are a grand total of 2 maps there and I already have bought both those. I now have all the maps bar the last two which is enough to be carrying for now.

I catch a bus to Bodmin Parkway to get back on track and then sit in the station with a sweet and curious child of about 4 questioning me, as I try to match directions in the guidebook to the map without much success. Then I can’t find my compass. There’s no going anywhere without it. Unpacking everything, I establish that I definitely don’t have it. I can see the bench on where I reckon I left it. And at this point a pilgrim’s angel appears in the form of a woman who has ordered a taxi to Bodmin and gives me a lift so I can go back to the shop and buy a compass. I am so tired now. I don’t know how many miles I walked yesterday only that it is the longest day’s walking I’ve done so far. And walking round Bodmin hasn’t been a picnic either. I meet a man I met earlier on the way to the library again. He wants to buy me a drink. I go shopping and don’t appear for half an hour and he’s still waiting for me which is a bit embarrassing so I agree to a drink. A half of Guinness and, man dear, that is the best Guinness I’ve ever had outside Ireland. The woman pulls a pint and throws it away because it’s ‘been too long in the pipes’ and then waits for it to settle the way no-one ever does. RESPECT.

I’ve not had much to eat and that half just about finishes me. So yer man takes me back to his flat, feeds me, runs me a bath and I sleep on his living room floor. Another pilgrim’s angel. Truth is this encounter affected me profoundly. It reminded me of Eleanor Rigby (Beetles song for those of you from a different generation). This guy has grafted all his life, hard manual labour. He has ended up ill and alone in a town where he has no friends because he can’t afford to live where he has connections. He’s too ill to work but failed his ESA assessment so has to jump through the hoops for the pittance he gets on job seekers’ allowance. He lives in a dump he can’t afford to furnish surrounded by smackheads.

The lovely woman I stayed with in Stithians (airbnb) and I talked about an abundance course she wants to do. Someone had told her that you shouldn’t give thanks for life’s blessings because it implied you didn’t deserve them. But how could I possible ‘deserve’ all the help I’ve had? Without the support of a wonderful GP, a great person from the mental health team and especially Faith from the CAB, I would never have managed to get ESA. He had no-one to help him. It’s not fair. I am blessed and one of the many blessings was that when I was exhausted and stuck in Bodmin, this man helped me. His generosity was moving. He’s got nothing but whatever he’s got he is willing to share.

8/7/17
Left early. Another long day’s walk. Didn’t speak to anyone all day. Again I’ve no idea how far I walked and nothing about the day seems particularly memorable. Looking forward to Bodmin, to what I think of as the pagan section. When I go from churches which are less than a thousand years old to sacred sites, five and a half thousand years old.

When I think of Christianity, the line that comes to me is one from a prayer I knew as a child ‘mourning and weeping in this vale of tears’. I owe all those lovely people who open their churches to all comers a genuine debt of gratitude. But Christianity is based on the idea that we’re not okay as we are, that we are born into ‘original sin’, that God is good and we’re bad. Christ died for our sins.

‘Once you no longer know the land as holy,
accept the lie of your divorce from nature,
the strand you weave in wyrd is broken,
and all is pain, loss, grief, suffering.’

That’s still pretty much what I reckon to Christianity as a belief system. Lovely people. But we can only save this world by being in it, in this world, in this body, not seeking transcendence but embodiment.

‘Yet you live ever within the invitation
to come and join the celebration.
Be heathen, pagan, wild, free.
Embrace your earthy sensuality.’

is how that poem (Gwyn-ap-Nydd and St. Collen) goes on. I am experiencing all sorts of uncertainty about who I am but this is still what I believe.

9/7/17
Not up to much today. I walked more than ten miles yesterday but was hardly fit to move today. Met an absolutely lovely woman in St. Cleer’s Church and felt that I had my chance to say thank you for the hospitality. Not all, but many churches I’ve visited have provided hot water. I may have a drink there but mostly it means that I can fill the flask and have miso soup (best food buy this journey, sachets of miso soup) and that has been a huge help along the way. I envy the certainty of the collective. I pray but I can scarcely articulate who or what I am praying to. I decide each day the cause to which this day’s walk is dedicated. I give thanks.

I arrive at Minions. It’s packed. Find a great place to camp, in a hollow. You could be in the field and not know I was there. Love how safe it feels.

10/7/17
I can’t get up in the morning. Exhausted. For the first time ever break the ‘arrive late, leave early’ rule. Wait until it stops raining. I’ve taken down the inside tent. I spent ages the night before cutting out all the thistles so it is possible to just lie on the ground listening to the rain watching drops appear on the red tent above me.

The central circle of the Hurlers is the first time I can really claim to have felt ‘the power’. Some of the churches have felt peaceful but as I say I have my issues with Christianity. Don’t think it did humanity any favours to split the world up. This is like being plugged in, feeling power surge though me. The Ancestors. The ones who knew how to live in harmony with the world. The ones whose wisdom we need to access now. There is no going back. I do not romantise the times they lived in but at the same time I know there was a vitality, an aliveness that our petrochemical dependent culture dumbs down, destroys. They had no choice but to be aware, awake to the world around them.

It felt so good to feel that power flow through me. It reminded me of Beltony (a stone circle in Donegal) and then this huge grief surged through me. I promised them. Years ago, one of the many times I spent there, I had an exchange with the Ancestors in which they asked why it was only I who came to honour them, were the others were, and I promised I would bring a circle for Beltaine. I never did and my heart is sore for the failure to keep my promise.

Hot on my heels come a group of people with drums, doing their stuff at the Pipers and then in the first Hurlers stone circle. I don’t know what it was about them that I found so off-putting but it all seemed so self-consciously pretentious, an in-your-face announcement. Look at us. We’re conducting a ritual. We want everyone to be aware of what we are doing. We want everyone to notice us. It’s another version of the certainty of the collective. I moved on. I got out of their way.

Crossing Bodmin I got very scared, sweating with fear. Anticipating Dartmoor. How is someone who is as crap as I am at navigating to manage? How am I to cope with the physical challenge of it? And yet I found a path, not one on the OS map nor mentioned by Richard in the guidebook but checking the compass reckoned it was heading the right direction, followed it and found myself off the moor, on the road I needed and had my lunch in the company of a glorious oak tree that seemed most friendly to me.

11/7/17
Another day of exhaustion struggling up hills. Thinking of Steve’s KAPH – kindness, awareness, patience, humility. I get as far as North Hill and I’m struggling to be patient with myself. It’s the second day that I’ve not walked any distance to speak of. I made a serious error of judgement and stayed in the Racehourse Inn there. We all make mistakes. I wish I had camped wild again as soon as I met the utterly horrible man who runs it. It was expensive, none too clean. The bathroom smelt bad. The breakfast cereal was stale, the milk warm, the coffee stewed. It’s got 3 AA stars which shows how much that means.

Anyway today it rained and rained and rained. Looking out at the rain I played with the notion of staying there but the idea that that creep would get any more of my money was just too much so I left when the rain eased up a little. I walked a couple of hours in the rain. It got heavier. I had Johanna’s voice in my head saying to take shelter from the rain. I found a shed and stayed there. The rain went on and on. I had a couple of goes at walking on but that was serious rain.

I find Rose Cottage on google maps. It said it was 3 miles away. Walking distance I reckon. Only after I’ve phoned spoken to Karen and booked a room, suddenly it`s 7 miles. I walk back to the nearest village. No buses. I start phoning taxis. No taxis. I’m standing in the rain thinking I’ll have to cancel this when another angel appears. I’d met a woman walking her dog. We meet again. She asks me what’s up. I tell her. She offered me a lift to Launceston. On the journey we discuss angels and she says that she’s my angel and I don’t disagree. Pilgrimage would be impossible without the angels we encounter on the way.

12/7/17
And now I am ready to leave the library, find the bus stop, return to the route. I reckon I’ll make it as far as Brentor tomorrow all being well and then I move from the ‘blue book’ to the ‘yellow book’. I’m halfway there. Thanks to the angels that have supported me along the way. Bless all the angels in human and divine form.

Hills and spills

July 5th, 2017

Please note I have no spellchecker and therefore it is inevitable that there’ll be misspelt words in this blog post. And I just lost the editted version of this and don’thave the energy to redo it. Please forgive the bits that don’t make a stack of sense.

Saturday 1st July
Set off from the airbnb where I’ve been recovering and return to following the directions in the guide book. I get lost less often, am more confident in using the compass. My knee whilst not fully recovered is okish. I have a great knee support contraption which cost me an eye-watering sum when I originally injured my knee a few years ago but has proved to be well worth it. One of those things I’m very glad I have with me.

If I am now not getting lost every time I broach an off-road path (there’s a new challenge. Hills. I thought weight wasn’t an issue? Who was I kidding? Bloody thing is a nightmare. Going up hills, it cuts uncomfortably into my bra straps and weighs a ton. Going down hills, I am a dottery old woman with a dodgy knee.

Porthsanooth was the place I faced my first impossible incline. Someone on Commercial Hill for so it was called has a seat by their front gate inscribed ‘Rest a while’ and so I did and blessed their cotton socks as I did so. But that was nowt to Tanners Lane. First you pass lots of hostile ‘No entry’ ‘Private Property’ signs and then are confronted with this crazy gradient with the footpath washed away. A daunting prospect indeed. My ‘traverse pole’ which lost the bottom section in a battle with nettles somewhere along the line is now for the first time used for its intended purpose. I made it to the top and the breathtaking views from the summit were deeply satifying. I wasn’t impressed by Perranworthal Church, not indeed St. Prian’s Well. Beginning to feel somewhat disenchanted with the guidebook and what the author considers worth visiting. But I had my lunch and for the first time decided to go my own way.

IF the path I had chosen hadn’t been blocked, there’d be no story here but it was and what followed was a game with compass and map and if getting up Tanners Lane felt good, it was nothing to the sense of triumph I experienced finding myself back on the road almost at Devoran.

Pride comes before a fall and I managed to fall in the estuary mud attempting to walk the tidal path. The mud is thick, black, oozy and in the right circumstances would be something of a joy to wallow in! I fall a lot. I fall at least once a day often more. I’m covered in bites and scratches and bruises and, truth is it makes me feel like a child again. It’s contact. It’s making friends with being embodied.

I stop and read responses to my last post. I feel emotional. It is in some ways a lonely road I’m walking and these messages are an important source of nurture to me on my journey. I note in particular Steve’s invitation to try wild camping but I’ve already booked a campsite at ‘Come-to-Good’ farm. The name is linked to an old Quaker settlement here and appeals. Well when I’ve trudged up yet another hill I meet the rudest woman I’ve encountered so far and told to camp on what turns out to be a slope. When I ask where I can wash, she shows me to a tiny toilet, dirty, cramped and stacked with boxes of breakfast cereals. My knee, released from the support, is giving me real gyp. £8 I’m supposed to pay. And I thought the guys at St. Buryan’s were mean because paying £8.50 didn’t mean I could recharge my phone. We live and learn.

Upshot is I pack up and set out to find my first wild camp. So the ignorant woman did me a favour in a way. It was a windy night but I was in a sheltered corner and other than the sound, it did not impact on me at all.

Sunday 2nd July
Old Kea. In the guidebook he says ‘For a place suited to prayer and contemplation you would have to travel a long way to find its equal’. And he’s right. It is lovely. I got there just as the monthly morning service was ending so met the congregation of five. The vicar? parson? priest? Well whatever the right term for the celebrant is, asked me if I’d like her to pray with me I recoiled in horror and embrassment. How do I begin to explain that I as someone with all my ambivilences about Christianity come to be walking from church to church in Cornwall? She looks hurt and is clearly a lovely well-meaning woman so I relent. And what she said was sweet and touching.

The other event of note on Sunday was that trudging up the long, if not steep, incline from Cowlands, I run into Sue and her friend from Belfast. I’d just been thinking of Sue when I visited her, enthroned in her little cabin in her garden, at her most relaxed and happy. I asked her friend to take a photo of us, and of me. She reacted pretty much as I do when asked to take a photo and I’m not at all surprised to discover that we are beheaded in all the shots. Sue, who has acted the part of an angel in my life before now as her kindness to me when I stayed in Porthleven tranformed my experience of being there, showed me a lovely path on the map that took me to the King Harry Ferry. It was the one recommended in the guidebook but I hadn’t been able to make head nor tail of the directions.

Another night wild camping. I’ve walked a fair distance these last two days if I take into consideration the hills. Oddly, I don’t sleep well.

Tuesday 3rd July
It’s my sister’s birthday. I try throughout the day to leave her a ‘Happpy Birthdayl messge but everytime I check, the message has failed to send and in the end I give up.

I am not doing so well today. I walk as far as Tregony. I really am not clocking up the miles I need to. The difficulty with wild camping is that I don’t sleep and that’s two nights now. I hang out for ages in the church charging my phone. I get the irony that here I am re-establishing my relationship with the Earth, yet ultimately my fall back is GPS and the satelites that provide it. I don’t need it as much as I did but I am still using it everyday at some stage to check I am whereI think I am.

Whatever I may think of Christianity, I am impressed by the welcome I’ve received at some of these chuches. I charge my phone and make a donation. At Tregony they also have provided a kettle. Halleluia! I have a flask with me and hot water is all I need for the miso soup sachets I bought in Truro during my last break – when I also bought a new waterproof jacket that has yet to be tested.

I set off again. And quickly realise that I am shattered and my knee has failed to recover desite my long break in Tregony. I find the most darling little spot under cover of trees and wait an hour to see if anyone will come by. I spend my time removing twigs from where I intend to sleep and then spend my most comfortable night yet lying on ‘the forest’s ferny floor’. When I get up in the morning I feel most reluctant to leave my enchanted woods. It reminds me of childhood games in the trees where I would play ‘house’. I head for Golden Mill and I can’t find the permissive path to Creed Church. 20 minutes walking up and down and dealing with the embarrassment of passing and repassing two men working there. I find it. I climb over the gate(there is no other option) and fall backwards into mud. It’s another last straw moment. I do not have a clean dry stitch left. I need maps. The rucksack is far too heavy and I don’t know why and I don’t have a hope in hell of making it to Glastonbury.

In some ways this business of keeping going even though I now reckon achieving the goal is impossible is a metaphor for the changes we collectively need to make to move to living sustainably. Even if I don’t make it I’m going to keep heading that direction. Every day I pick a cause to which to dedicate the day’s walking. A bit like we do at the beginning of a ecopsychology session. It started with the rain and refugees and it means that whether I make it or no, I’ve done something. Only it isn’t rational and I find it interesting that it’s my right knee that’s the problem. What I’m up to makes so little sense.

I fell because my foot slipped on the gate. I struggled to right myself and now both knee and ankle hurt. I limp as far as Grampound arriving five minutes before a bus to St. Austell and take that. I end up in a huge argument with myself between that which wants to write myself off as one great big failure and the part that is simply exhausted and can’t take it anymore.

St Austell has a downtrodden sad vibe. Lots of shut up shops. The woman in the tourist information booth at the train station is a darling. I spend time searching for the maps I need in town and end up slogging back up the hill to her because I noted that she sold OS maps. But I have not managed to get 112 and that’t scary.

Today 4th July Rest Day

I have spent today at the delightful chilled out Eden’s Vale Backpackers. I booked it online in the mistaken belief that it was a couple of miles out of St. Austell and then found out it was nearer the Eden Project. In the spirit of being hung for a sheep instead of a lamb, I caught a bus part of the way here too. Today I have slept and lazed and written this. I have discovered that the reason my backpack is too heavy is that I have erred in the other direction and am carrying far too much food now.

Tomorrow I intend to set out at the scrake of dawn and get as far as I can before I rest in the heat of the day. I have not forked out the £27 for a visit to the Eden Project. My clothes are clean. I’m clean. My knee is benefitting from the rest. I begin again.