War is sweet to those who have not known it

March 16th, 2018

I return to blogging thanks to all of you who asked me when I was going to write again.

It’s Friday, my day off. I’ve been volunteering in Corrymeela centre outside Ballycastle this last week. It’s now a posh conference centre though that wasn’t what it was when I was here back in my teens.

I always thought Corrymeela was set up in response to ‘The Troubles’ but in fact Ray Davey and his band of Queen’s students started it up in 1965 which makes it the oldest Peace and Reconciliation organisation in Northern Ireland by a fair stretch. Back then, the only foreigners were the ‘International Camp’ who stayed for two weeks at a time in the summer, now a Northern Irish accent is something of a rarity.

Such a strange bubble communities create. I’m finding it wonderful and disturbing in equal measure. Corrymeela volunteers are mostly young and mostly American. Hardly any Northern Irish here – one lad? Maybe two. It’s a bit like being in a youth hostel. A smattering of older women, the odd older man, local kitchen and cleaning staff but that’s your lot. They are sweet, these enthusiastic young people.

They have a fortnightly meeting ‘Circle Time’ which was on Sunday night. I went along and bit my tongue a few times listening to them work out what they wanted circle time to be. Far better to simply be present and pay attention. Meeting this generation of peacemakers is doing my heart good. Couple of times I let myself pipe up. Circle time was set up so long ago that they no longer know why it even is called ‘circle time’. It comes from the Way of Council and it’s to do with the equality of all. We’re here as witnesses, participants and facilitators. All three roles weaving together. It felt like a contribution to say it.

And then when they got a bit lost towards the end, I pointed out that they had in fact generated a number of proposals they could vote on. They used the consensus decision-making process I learnt through training in non-violent direct action a few years back. Everyone there knew it. They have no idea how this simple system has revolutionised activism. Too young to know the laborious muddling through we got up to trying to reach consensus before this means of indicating ‘like’, ‘live with’, or ‘block’ was developed.

‘Worship’ on a Monday morning is compulsory so An Croí (pronounced Ann Cree meaning ‘the heart’) was packed. Now that was a powerful experience. The theme of the month is ‘Justice’ so there were two readings. The first was a short powerful first-person account of preparing for a ‘punishment shooting’. I didn’t know these still happen. It’s the barbaric practice of ‘knee-capping’ (shooting someone in the knee, causing permanent disability). In working class nationalist areas, summary ‘justice’ is meted out by paramilitaries to those who have offended the local community – usually through dealing drugs. I thought it was a practice that died out with the end of ‘The Troubles’. It is stunning and distressing to learn that it is still going on, still part of the culture.

The second reading was the bible story of the woman caught in adultery. ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ Jesus’ response to the demand that she be stoned to death ‘in keeping with the law’. Between the powerful singing with which the session was opened and closed and the juxtaposition of justice and mercy, I was very emotional when I left An Croí.

We then went into the weekly meeting of the whole community. The person asked to introduce the two new short-term volunteers, said ‘This is Dearbhaile. She’s from the UK.’ Why did I have such a problem with that? My concentration went out the window, Never ever in my entire life have I said ‘I am from the UK’ and never would I. This is a room full of people who really don’t give a hoot where I’m from and are unlikely to have so much as registered my existence given that they may never see or speak to me again. What does it matter?

If you ask me where I’m from, I say ‘Northern Ireland’. I think of myself as Northern Irish and the truth is not many people from here do, even yet. They’re British or they’re Irish but I reckon we’re a breed unto ourselves and when we realise that us’uns from the Black North have more in common with each other than with either the Southerners or them’uns across the water, we’ll find unity in our wee corner or the world. (Wee. Everything here’s wee. We don’t have teaspoons, we have wee spoons.)

I regret my attempt to explain to this sweet Dutch woman that I wasn’t happy with how she’d introduced me. I got wound up and she didn’t get it. I wish I had thought to say that it would be like me introducing her as being from Denmark. But the truth is I don’t myself understand why I reacted so strongly. Identity is such an odd thing. I’m fairly ambivalent about the Northern Irish. They/we can be bigoted and insular, mistrustful and duplicitous That said, my reaction to finding myself in a circle of Northern Irish women in Benburb a few months ago was a deep longing to belong, to be one with these women, to claim them as my own.

I’ve done a couple of days working in the kitchen and one day on ‘housekeeping’ when I spent so long cleaning windows I ached in muscles I never knew existed. We’ve been eating kiddies’ food for the last couple of days. There’s been 60 odd 8 and 9 year olds staying. The racket they make is something else.

And this is the disturbing element. One minute I’m interviewing a bright engaging 8 year old boy. He tells me this is the first time he’s ever been away from home, ever been without his parents. I never ever know when something is going to blindside me, when memories will surface unexpectedly.

I am taking a break from the intense holding of a huge circle of people waiting to hear news of the girl who disappeared when the bomb went off. They were leaving the shoe shop. She was in front and they’ve not seen her since. Her mother was walking out of the shop behind her and her hearing is still affected after the blast and the grandmother has suffered no ill effects at all.

I am standing by the stairwell in the leisure centre in Omagh and find myself in conversation with a man who is also taking a breather. His son is missing. A group of children from Buncrana had come to Omagh for the day with the Spanish children who were staying with them, a project organised by the school. His son was 8. It was the first time he and his wife had ever let him go away on his own. What neither he nor I knew when we had that brief conversation was that everyone still missing following the bomb that afternoon was dead.

I don’t know what to do with stuff like this. Corrymeela have linked up with a couple of other agencies to run a course on ‘Legacies of the Troubles’. I’m not sure what they are talking about but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it. Doing all that ‘healing trauma through eco-therapy’ stuff has left me too in touch with my feelings and the more aware I am, the more I reckon I do not fit here. I don’t fit here because I lived through the stuff they want to study. We never did have permission to feel anything and here I am, in the most famous Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Northern Ireland with no more permission to feel than ever I had.

So that’s it folks. I oscillate between thinking ‘yes, the power of love is here’ and feeling ancient and alien. If my contribution to peace on the planet is to clean windows til I’m sore, I’m up for it. But then this evening I eat my dinner while listening to a discussion on which film on the hunger strikers they want to watch and I don’t know if I can hack it. To them it’s history, to me it’s memory.

‘War is sweet to those who have not known it.’ Erasmus

And finally….

September 27th, 2017


Many people have said to me since I last wrote, that the blog feels unfinished and they’d like a ‘final chapter’, a reflection on the lessons. I agree but have continued to tumble forward – a trip to Cornwall to pick up my car, adventures in Ireland, a visit to London, a wonderful workshop with Gentle Radical, a multi-ethnic women’s group in Cardiff.

At this stage I have well and truly returned to ‘normal’ and wondering how the pilgrimage has changed me. Thank you all for commenting on my blog but my favourite comment of all never made it to the blog comments.

‘Are you insane? What possessed you to do it?’

How many times did I think that myself on the road! So yes, I possibly am insane. What possessed me to do it? I did it because I could. Because the fact that I could was the most exultant experience and this was the best idea I could come up with to express my gratitude for the miraculous healing that has occurred in my life. I first got ill in 1994 and I was ill with one thing and another from then until last winter. That’s twenty two years of managing health conditions. I won’t bore you with the details but it’s been quite a journey. So yeah maybe it was crazy but I wanted to say thank you big time. To be well in a way I haven’t been in years, to find that the limits I lived with no longer apply, is amazing. Not all miracles are instantaneous.

And I wanted embodiment. Before I got ill, way back when, I cycled everywhere, played racquet sports and swam regularly. Getting ill made me physically timid. Overdoing it when you’ve fibromyalgia is no joke. So I wanted to test myself. I reckoned this walk was doable. I knew Steve and Johanna had done it and when I went to talk with them about my plans, they believed I could do it and gave me lots of good advice and encouragement. I could not have done it without them.

But the gifts I’ve gained far exceeded any expectations. When I was driving to Glastonbury from Wales, it took me half an hour to get onto the motorway at Cardiff. Three roundabouts and I think I must have taken every wrong turn that existed before I found my way onto the motorway. But you know what? I didn’t get flustered or upset. The blasted satnav was a roundabout ahead of me and that was mighty confusing. I stayed chilled throughout so it looks like my days of having panic attacks in such situations are well and truly a thing of the past. Result.

To walk until I was tired and only then turn my thoughts heavenwards to ask for a pitch for the night was a ‘true trust’ experience. The trick is to stay calm and centred despite the uncertainty. I would love to be able to truthfully claim I can do this – but the reality is that it is still an aspiration but one that I find helpful as I continue to live on the edge of unknowing. I believe the right thing will come along when it’s good and ready and in the meantime, I’m doing my best to sit with not knowing until knowing comes. All that matters is that I have food and shelter and an opportunity to serve. Simple. The possibilities continue to proliferate while I wait for guidance, trusting that I will find myself ‘right time, right place’ again.


My relationship with Glastonbury and the Tor in particular has changed. Every time I see the Tor I feel again the power of the tug I experienced from Barrow Mump onwards. This morning leaving my car with my totally lovely trustworthy car mechanics, walking back into town, Di Milsten sails past on her bike, ‘looking good’ she shouts in passing. That’s Glastonbury right there and I love it. Love all the great people I know in this town, know I’m blessed to have been part of this community. I still feel like I’m on an elastic band and keep winding up back here but I did think doing the pilgrimage would free me to move on.

The most valuable lessons are simple ones. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even if you are heading ‘the wrong way’, you won’t know till you can recognise that it’s not taking you where you want to be. I got better and better at working out when the territory did not match the map, at calculating which way to go. Set the goal, then work out how to get there.

I am left in with awe at the endless kindness of the people I met along the road, all those people who provided tea and comfort and helped me on my way. When I went down to pick up the car, I stayed again in Eden’s Yard Backpackers on my back to Somerset and this time it was, if anything, even more fun. And I am grateful to you, readers of the blog, for knowing you were interested in my adventures made a huge difference to me as I walked. Thank you.

I need safe haven to write – I’ve promised to write a booklet for the Pilgrim Reception Centre in Glastonbury based on my journey which will give me an opportunity to say more than was possible in those manic writing sessions in libraries along the way.

Just as I always found a pitch for the night, I trust that I will be provided with what I need now. But if you’re that way inclined, do say a prayer for me cos I need to know pretty damned soon where I am to be!

Much love to you all,

Journey’s end

July 28th, 2017


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Go your own road

July 17th, 2017


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.