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.

Almost defeated

June 30th, 2017

I have found a way to write on my phone. It is far from easy but I can do it.Thanks for your comments. Some errors in the posts that I can’t work out how to change. eg Aramaic not Arabic I meant to refer to in the first post.

Mazey Day 24th June 2017

If there is a day in the entire year that you want to be in Penzance, well this is it. I didn’t go out to see the fireworks last night. Couldn’t face the ‘lonely old woman surrounded by happy people’ number. But every person I’ve met here has said something about how great Mazey Day is, so I thought I should give it a go.

I am wandering through the crowds and stop for a snack at what looks like a great wee stall serving local fish (and the fish here is delicious) and who is working there but Emma Harper! Some of you will remember Emma from the nights she’d show up at the Assembly Room community celebrations and belt out a song or two. She’s a grand singer and guitarist.

My connection with Emma stems from our involvement with the protest camp on the Hill of Tara. And my image of Emma is actually from a video someone made of her. She is standing in front of a bulldozer, singing of the sacredness of the land, singing with all the passion of a deep love of this great green Mother. Singing and weeping. I may not have seen Emma in years – she’s been living in Cornwall for the last four – but we have a bond, a connection, a shared love, a shared commitment and even though we hadn’t more than 2 minutes to catch up, seeing Emma did my heart good.

I saw the parade and it was everything you want a parade to be. Lots of drumming, singing, dancing. Wonderful huge papermache mermaids and pirates and other characters. Children waving flags, proud to be part of it. Not an electric light in sight, and no overloud pre-recorded music on a tannoy. And I reckon every single local band must have had a slot on some stage or other in Penzance today. The music was varied – both in terms of standard and style. There was a proper punk band such as I haven’t heard in years, popular and pretty awful. Elsewhere there was a trio with a guy on double bass who could seriously play. Whatever your musical tastes, they are catered for on Mazey Day. Streets packed with friendly happy people, a lovely atmosphere and seeing Emma was enough to carry me through the rest of the day.

I’ve bought new boots. Oh God I hope I’ve bought the right size as this is a serious investment. And I gave the Brashers to a charity shop, lecturing a rather bemused girl on the quality of what I was giving away. They are too small. They are not going to get any bigger. But it is still hard to let them go. The guy in Millets gave me an extra 10% off and sent me home a happy customer.

Where I have been staying is on the ley line and the guidebook recommends visiting the St. Mary’s Church on Chapel Street where I’ve been lighting candles every day since I got here. Tomorrow I walk along the sea shore. Tomorrow I begin again.

(written but not posted on 24/6/17)

25/6/17

I’m glad I was warned not to expect too much of St. Michael’s Mound nor of the walk there (thanks Johanna and Steve!) as the walk is mostly concrete and boring, and the mound so touristy, it’s not easy to connect with the energy there. But I went, I sat, I had a cup of coffee and I walked on.

It was a big mistake not to stop in Marazion and get food. Perhaps I shouldn’t reveal that at this stage as it was quite some time before this failure became significant. At the time I wanted to get on as I’d set out late. It had taken me considerably longer to get out of Penzance than anticipated. There is always one last thing to do, isn’t there?

Not even I could manage to get lost on the coast road, so the day was relatively uneventful. The church at Perranuthnoe was closed. I was late but I had my break there and found the setting peaceful. I thought about wild camping but I am not yet brave enough. I’m just not fast enough when it comes to tatting down. It takes me five minutes just to get the air out of the self-inflating mattress.

26/6/17

Perfect walking weather, not too hot, not too cold. Took forever to pack up. When I set out my stuff, I don’t have much of anything. But once packed, it seems masses. I have to repack endlessly because whenever I need something, it is never convenient and if I’ve made an error in how I’ve packed there’s a bit that sticks into my back and is most uncomfortable. Weight is not an issue so much as the awkward shape of things.

I loved the church at Germoe. Mary line through the middle apparently. The guidebook talks about monkeys carved in the porch but I couldn’t find them. The well, also mentioned in the guidebook, was a pool of dark sludge, most unattractive. Set off for Godolphin quite happily though. And it’s a gorgeous walk.

Oddly enough, I’ve been here before. My first ever outing with the wonderful walking group I met when I was staying in Porthleven was to Godolpin Hill. So I arrive in Gololphin thinking I’d find the garage, buy some food, and head to the camp at Polladras. By the time I get there, I’m pretty damd footsore and hungry. I can’t find the garage. I walk in and out of the village a few times getting more and more puzzled. Eventually I stop a dogwalker and ask where it is. Hasn’t been a garage here for 20 years apparently. Still on the OS map regardless. so this lovely man offers me a cup of tea and a sandwich. Talk about the unexpected generoisty of strangers. He gives me an OS map and tells me of a much shorter route to the campsite. According to the guidebook, there’s a shop there so I’m sorted.

Two shocks await me when I get to this campsite. One is that the guide book was seriously misleading regarding the price. it says ‘from £5pppn’ and when I got there it costs £14.50. Second shock – there is a shop there but they didn’t sell anything I could eat. Tins of stuff, barbeques, gas bottles but nothing I could see that was simply consumable.

27/6/17 and since

It started okay. I had to make food my first priority. I reckoned that catching a bus to Leedstown as it was going back on myself was allowable so I did that. The shop there is amazing. So creative. It is village store, coffee shop, post office and a takeway some evenings. Sitting with my coffee I am pleased with myself. Good move.

Yes I got lost. Added my now customary couple of miles to the journey. I also stepped in mud up to my ankles but I made it to Crowan church and another open, peaceful space. Have a late lunch in the porch.

Then comes the rain. If there had been any way of sheltering from the rain I’d have done that. As it is, I discover that my waterproofs aren’t in fact waterproof. I want to make it as far as Stithians where there’s a campsite. I can’t see beacuse I wear glasses. My phone is hating the rain so I can’t access the GPS I need to tell me where I am. I have worked out that I am (roughly) heading in the right direction. I am wet through and totally miserable. And I am giving myself a hard time. What sort of idiot am I? Incompetent fool. Should I be doing this when i clearly lack the necessary skills to do it.

And I think about refugees, about what it must be like to live with all that uncertainty. To go because whatever is ahead it cannot be worse that what they have already experienced. what it must be like to take all those risks, to step so far out into the unknown. I can’t say it makes me any less miserable but it does put what I’m going through in context.
‘Every step is a prayer. Every step is a prayer.’

Because that is what the difference is between a walk and a pilgrimage. I don’t know if I’m going to make it. Clearly this guidebook is written for people who are experienced walkers who can manage 15 odd miles a day. I’ve gone so far out of my comfort zone. I am incompetent but not incapable. It’s not that long since I could hardly walk the short distance from Manor House Road to the High Street in Glastonbury without needing to rest on the way. That’s incapacity. I do want to give thanks for the return of health. I am grateful that I can do this, I just don’t know how which puts me on the steepest learning curve ever.

And I wouldn’t be sitting up on a bed with this tiny keyboard writing this if it wasn’t for the endless kindness of the people I encounter.

First there were the two women who stopped and insisted on my getting into the car. I’d given up on the idea I could get as far as Stithians at this stage and was aiming for White Alice Farm as the nearest camping place mentioned in the guidebook. They take me there even though it is out of their way. And when I got there Sue and Mick -who run a B&B and don’t usually offer camping, let me camp in their garden. It’s still pouring the next day and looks set to go on raining so I stay with them that night and locate an airbnb place to wait out the bad weather.
I twisted my knee badly when taking down the tent. Which meant that when I left yesterday it wasn’t long before i could scarely walk. I stopped in the cafe at Stithians Lake and the woman who worked there gave me a lift to the village. And right now I’m trying to work out if I am capable of walking tomorrow as my knee is still mighty painful.

What have I learnt?
I owe a great deal to the kindness of people.
I need to carry more food.
I am not kind to myself and it is not helpful.
I need to be better kitted out for the journey.
I am not alone – thank you for your comments. They keep me going.
I may not ‘succeed’ but at least I’ll have given it my best shot.

On being Lost…

June 24th, 2017

I can present what’s happened so far as tragedy or farce and I’ve no more than an hour to say anything at all as they are strict here about how long you get on the computer regardless of the fact the library’s deserted. Mazey day in Penzance so the town is full of people all set on having a fun day out.

 

Carn Les Boel

Carn Lês Boel. I managed to get there pretty early on Wednesday morning. I envisaged being there alone, meditating, looking out to sea, sitting on the ley line and tuning in to it before performing a simple blessing, at peace with myself and the world, awed by the majesty of the place and my intention. Needless to say, that’s not quite what happened. Carn Lês Boel is popular and there appear to be people there all hours. There was a couple walking away as I arrived and two lads having breakfast by the rock specifically mentioned as a significant marker for the pilgrim which is where I thought I’d leave my offering. But there they are, babbling away and using the stone as shelter for their cooker. I wanted to be there alone but after a LONG time I realised that it just wasn’t going to happen. So instead of having an awesome and idyllic start to my journey, I discovered just how much resentment and hostility I can experience when my will is thwarted. I tried. Honest. I tried to ignore them and be still, but in the end I gave up and stomped past them in a strop. Maybe that inauspicious beginning to my journey is why I spent much of the next two days lost?

Bill Plotkin waxes lyrical about the delights of being lost in Soulcraft and Johanna (author of Walking in the Light an account of her 11 month peace walk from the Hague to Jerusalem) is cheerful about the inevitability of doing so. Not me. I hate it. I never did get as far as the holy well at Aisha – my first stopping point on the pilgrimage. Following directions given by a ‘helpful’ farmer, I found myself tramping round a field in the heat of the hottest day of the year, where there was no possibility of shelter which if there had been a way through would have left me near my intended destination but as there wasn’t, simply meant that I wound up hot and bothered and having to retrace steps back through three fields and eventually finding a place where I could get through the barbed wire hedge to discover myself on the road I’d been on 2 ½ hours before. I gave up on looking for footpaths entirely and stuck to the road to St. Buryan’s. Arrived there about 3 (having started out from Carn Lês Boel at 8ish), hot, sticky, tired and defeated.

The campsite at St. Buryan’s may be inexpensive but they’re mean. No way to charge a phone. Nowhere to set up the tiny (and terrifying) cooker I have. I’ve not had a hot drink all day and I’m not going to be able to have one here. I end up in the pub for dinner. Fish and chips and a half of local ale – which (and those of you who know how rarely I drink alcohol may find surprising) is utterly wonderful. I go to bed at 9 and wake up at 8. Hobbling around. And then I think about how different this normal muscle tiredness is to what it was like when I’d fibromyalgia and would wake up hurting all over and hardly able to move and my spirits soar. It is good to be alive.

Today I go to Boscawen-ûn stone circle. Now this is one that I referred to (rather inaccurately it turns out) in the Nine Maidens poem that won me the Gorsedd ten years ago. In the guidebook it refers to it as ‘one of the three great gorsedds of the island of Britain where the old Bards meet’. I set out following the directions given. I’ve checked this route thoroughly. I can’t go wrong. Only where it says ‘you reach a track leading right towards Pridden’ (yeap got that) ‘Ignore this, instead head towards the stile halfway along the boundary hedge facing you.’ No such stile exists. I walk up and down and it cannot be found. I look at the map, find an alternative and decide to follow that….

Two hours later I scramble through a hedge to find myself in a field with horse jumps and two rather irate women, one of whom says ‘you’re not on the path you know’.
‘Where am I?’
‘This is Pridden.’
They direct me back onto the path. Further on from the undiscovered stile and twenty minutes later I am at Boscawen-ûn. Yes there are other people there. All women and all deeply respectful of the magical space which lives up to the description ‘ an air of mystery and other worldiness.’

Okay I’ve had it with being lost. I have downloaded a free OS trial on my phone. It’ll tell me when I am on or off route because there’s a red triangle that tells me where I am and I just have to follow that. I decide NOT to go off road on my way to the Blind Fiddler because whilst following the phone works the battery is running out rapidly.

At Bojewan’s farm the entire public footway is barred. But you know what? According to the OS map I’m supposed to be allowed to walk that way so I just climb under whatever electric fences that are in my way. At Kerris I am harassed out of having a rest by a man who asks me if I know where I’m going in a way that makes it clear that what he’s really saying is ‘you are not welcome to stop here’.

18% charge left on my phone. I should stick to the road. 3 miles back to Penzance. But no, that’s a bridleway. I can’t possibly get lost. And the path, though overgrown is lovely and unmistakable to I ignore my decision and head to Chyenhăl. The phone dies in a massive overgrown field – theoretically on the track but there’s no path in sight. Anywhere.

The only way out is up a hill and through a field of nettles up to my waist. I go for it. I find my way back to a road somehow. A30. 3 ½ miles back to Penzance. It’s now nearly 8. I am so tired, so footsore. I’ve been walking since 11. I know I’ve walked further than the nine miles I would have walked if I hadn’t spent all that time lost. I’m stung all over. I’ve had it. There is nowhere to ‘wild camp’ because I’m so close to Penzance. I want to catch a bus. There are no buses. I hitch. Each car that passes I say to myself ‘There is much kindness in this world’. And so there is. It takes less than ten minutes for an elderly couple to stop. The woman driver says ‘There was something appealing about your face.’

What have I learnt?

My boots don’t fit.
I am rubbish at orienteering.
There is much kindness in this world.
I can carry my rucksack. (My feet got sore. My legs got tired. But my back and shoulders were fine.)
A hot drink after 2 days without is glorious.
There’s nothing like a bit of deprivation to make me grateful for a hot bath and a comfortable bed.