Carolyn Merry 24 Aug 2023
Day 20: Pennyghael to Fionnphort/Iona
And so the 300 year old Tibetan Singing Bowl that had rung last in St Mary’s Church on Lindisfarne following a blessing over 3 weeks ago to send us pilgrims on our way, rang once more in the Abbey of Iona following a blessing to mark the completion of the Long Walk to Peace Pilgrimage.
Katie, Natalie and I emerged this morning after a very wet night and managed to pack up Wendy’s tent, make breakfast on our camping stove, check feet, and organise ourselves for the day ahead in between rain showers. It really was a sign of things to come - mainly rain.
The plan we had agreed the night before was that Natalie and Katie would start walking from Pennyghael to Fionnphort and I would drive the van to Fionnphort and start walking from there - either on the road to meet them and return together or if Pace was still not able to go on the road, then we would walk an off-road trail near Fionnphort instead.
The only potential complication with this plan was that Katie had sustained an injury the day before. Nevertheless, they both bravely and in good-spirits set off to complete their walk across Mull. On my way to Fionnphort, I was able to meet up with Wendy (and her beautiful dog, Wallace) and return her camping gear that she had kindly loaned us. We have all been so grateful for her wisdom, support and encouragement for this final section of the pilgrimage!
My drive to Fionnphort reminded me of the beautiful and challenging coastal route that Natalie and Katie were going to have as they walked, including the avoidance of traffic on this single lane road. At my end, it didn’t take long to realise that Pace and I would be walking the trail rather than the road. The quietness of this route was just the tonic for Pace after yesterday (and nice for me too). This trail was partly a paved walkway/cycle path but then sets off around a loch and into the hills before coming back to the coast and along it until back into Fionnphort. It was a wonderful trail to notice things in both the grandeur and the detail of the varied landscapes.
I think it is fair to say that the weather overshadowed the walking today - all four of us ended up soaked despite our various waterproof clothing. Katie’s injury also took its toll and she needed transporting some of the way. So in the end, all of us did different distances and routes today, with Natalie doing an amazing job in completing the whole route from Pennyghael to Fionnphort despite the rain, wind and traffic.
One by one we gathered in the first pub as we entered Fionnphort to take shelter, sustenance and dry off (the latter never really being achieved, we just became cold and wet). Katie, Pace and myself venturing out only to meet Natalie as she neared Fionnphort to accompany her in after her great effort.
And just as what happened the previous Saturday, when rain had dominated the walking, the weather seemed to settle and clear after we had all finished - and there were even blue skies as we stepped off the Ferry onto Iona (after a quite rough crossing). It was an emotional moment for me as we arrived at the destination we had been heading towards for the past three weeks. We had made it and I bent over Pace and whispered so to Pace and gave thanks to God that we had safely journeyed all the way from Lindisfarne.
It was lovely to be greeted by Caro, the Warden of Iona and leaving Natalie, Katie and the luggage in her safe hands - I was able to walk slowly up the road towards the road from the Ferry to the Abbey with Pace and even the midges (‘the worst they have ever been’) didn’t detract from savouring the moment of seeing the Abbey against the backdrop of the blue sky and sea.
After being warmly welcomed and settled in to the Mac by the wonderful Tracey, the rest was a blur until we arrived for the Thanksgiving Service in the Abbey at 9pm. Despite all their best efforts to enable those not on Iona to watch, the wifi just wasn’t up to it. That was unfortunate as it was a simply beautiful service focused on pilgrimage and our commitment to making our whole lives a pilgrimage. There were many beautiful and sacred moments in the service but the most moving for me was hearing that ancient singing bowl ring out once again in the setting of the Abbey after receiving a sacred blessing to draw the Pilrgimage to an end. That reverberation of peace rang in two holy places, 290 miles apart to commence and close this pilgrimage …but in essence rang in every step, conversation and person over the past 3 weeks.
It has truly felt a Long Walk to Peace Pilgrimage - one blessed by the support and involvement of so many and I am immensely grateful to all. I pray that the reverberations of peace and reconciliation will continue to ripple out way beyond our own capacities and imaginations. The Long Walk to Peace Pilgrimage never really ends….it is indeed, as was said in the Iona Abbey tonight - a lifetime pilgrimage.
As Pace deservedly sleeps on the floor near me, I have yet to process all that has happened over this Pilgrimage but I know I am changed by it. I pray in some way, this Pilgrimage has left ripples in your life as well and encouraged you, that all of our small steps of peace and reconciliation can collectively make a difference.
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8
Peace and Blessings,
Carolyn (& Pace) with 0 miles to go.
Day 19: Craignure to Pennyghael
There have been a lot of tears today. All mine….but I get ahead of myself.
The day started off well in Oban with a quick meet at the Ferry Terminal with Natalie and Katie who have joined me for the final section of the Pilgrimage across Mull (yeah), before they boarded their Ferry for Craignure on Mull.
I was on the next Ferry with the van and Pace. Given the day was a 19 miler, the plan was that they would start walking from Craignure and once I was over, would drive to Pennyghael, where Wendy would collect Pace and I and take us to meet Natalie and Katie for the remainder of the walk (being by then within Pace’s capacity).
All went well and it was great to meet Wendy after all our phone conversations about this section of the Pilgrimage. Wendy supports Pilgrims across Mull professionally through her organisation Mull another Way (https://mullanotherway.co.uk) - and it would certainly be fair to say that we wouldn’t be able to do this section without her! Soon we had caught up with Natalie and Katie who were walking the ‘Old Road’ which runs parallel along some parts of the main road from Craignure to Fionnphort. Once off the road coming out of Craignure it starts to be spectacular scenery and particularly so after the Three Lochs, where the landscape opens up into vast panoramas of mountains and valleys and lochs…and then sea.
The three of us and Pace had only been walking for a short while, when the Old Road veered up to the main road for a while. It was soon apparent that something was wrong with Pace as he came to a fairly sudden stop. At first I thought it was just being on a main road again - not his (or my) favourite thing, but soon realised he was really scared about something. My dog has always been noise sensitive and I know that when things like thunder happen, there is no moving him as he shakes with fright and clings to the ground. I encouraged Natalie and Katie to keep going and that I would catch them up. Something had clearly spooked him - but what? And then I heard it - cars/motorhomes driving fast over a nearby cattle grid. This may seem a small and strange thing to be scared of, but I have long ago learned that fears don’t always make sense (to me) and what I had on my hands was a very scared dog. After carrying him past the said cattlegrid, it was a case of a mixture of kind encouragement and cajoling/distraction…..it was very very slow going, and I wondered how we were ever going to reach the Three Lochs meeting place where Wendy was waiting for us, let alone Pennyghael! Eventually, we got into some sort of rhythm with more forward momentum and then the sounds emerged again from in front of us - another cattle grid. From that moment, Pace wasn’t moving anywhere and just looked at me as he does in those situations, with terrrified eyes and shaking.
It was then I knew that I would not be able to walk this leg of the Pilgrimage (even if he was removed from what was making him scared, I would not be able to leave him with people he didn’t know and continue myself). I have to admit, the decision to call Wendy to pick us up was the hardest thing I have done on this Pilgrimage. A couple of weeks ago when walking with Ruth and Alan, we spoke about the expectations we have going into Pilgrimage. Today, I realised one of mine was doing the whole pilgrimage (give or take a few miles here and there), I never imagined I would sit out a whole day. It was partly a pride thing - Pace and I had come so far, and I didn’t want to miss any part of it and have to need others to walk for me - and in a way (for the same reason, I guess), it was a grief of letting go of that dream.
After a break for all of us at the Three Lochs, I tried again with Pace on the road, but it was clear it wasn’t going to work - and I gave in. Natalie and Katie were fantastic and went on to complete the whole 19 miles together in great time and I was so grateful they were here and could do so when I couldn’t. I will leave them to tell their tale of their mammoth pilgrimage journey - but they certainly did it with a sense of fun, a great sound track and a pace that was impressive.
We are all now settled for the night in the campsite here at Pennyghael looking out over the sea (which Natalie and Katie bravely took a dip in on arrival). It is a beautiful setting in which to rest tired bodies and spirits and I hope we all sleep well and feel refreshed in the morning.
Pilgrimage is many things - today it has been a hard lesson for me in love and humility. Pace was always the reluctant Pilgrim in this endeavour but he has risen to everything that has been asked of him (in what must seem a strange new life), but today he just couldn’t and my love for him to be at peace is much greater than my pride in not completing every section myself. God never finishes helping us to grow….I continue to be a work in progress.
Tomorrow is another day (the last day of this Long Walk to Peace Pilgrimage - how did that happen?) - and we will see what happens.
I pray each of you may know (as I have today) that things are always much better and bigger, when we give space for others to help us when we need it.
Peace and Blessings,
Carolyn (& Pace) with 14.8 miles to go….with the help of many.
Day 18: Taynuilt to Oban
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” ~ Robert Burns
Today promised to be quite a straightforward day, meeting up with Ruth Harvey and her husband, Nick and their dog Luna in Taynuilt and walking the back road down to Oban. That was the plan.
Putting aside the minor delay in their train from Glasgow, I was being driven up along the A85 to Taynuilt (leaving my van in Oban) when we came to a standstill, followed not long after by two road ambulances passing us. Clearly there had been an accident ahead and so we turned around to Oban to take the backroad to Taynuilt instead. However, that soon became problematic as the traffic from the A85 heading towards Oban started heading down the back road too. The issue being that the back road is a single lane road with only intermittent passing places, not really a road able to support the regular traffic of the main road to Oban.
The person driving me became worried that they wouldn’t make their hospital appointment and so dropped me half way to Taynuilt and headed back to Oban (they did make their appointment). So Pace and I moved to Plan B….and a few text messages later, I started walking towards Taynuilt and once their train arrived, Ruth, Nick and Luna started walking from Taynuilt.
It was a beautiful route - gentle hills, high enough to see a long distance horizon and wildflowers, trees all around mixed in with the grazing land for sheep and cows. There were even long-horned cattle, who were roaming free across the road and who seemed not too impressed with the number of vehicles everywhere, especially so close to their calves. Slipping through on foot with a dog in the midst of a traffic jam of cattle and vehicles on a tight corner in the rain provided a few interesting moments.
After an hour or so, we saw Ruth, Nick and Luna in the distance. It was a joy to have them join the pilgrimage and to walk together for the next couple of hours. There was an opportunity to catch up, and get to know each other a little better.
As we walked towards Oban for a while and then returned to Taynuilt for Ruth, Nick and Luna to get their return train - we discussed the essence of pilgrimage, as well as the elements of peacemaking. It was a blessing to walk and talk together in the spirit of Pilgrimage.
After farewelling them, I caught the train back to Oban with Pace and set out on the same backroad from the Oban end and completed the remaining miles. It was again pretty countryside with a loch thrown in for good measure. It was also a time of quiet reflection on all that had happened in the day, and then a strange feeling as I re-entered Oban and saw the ocean again - this was the West Coast of Scotland and somehow (with a lot of help from a lot of people), Pace and I had got there from the East Coast of England. How did that happen!?! It was an emotional moment.
Ruth shared a John O’Donohue quote today: “At its heart, the journey of each life is a pilgrimage, through unforeseen sacred places that enlarge and enrich the soul.” In reflecting of all the small steps it took to get this far on the Long Walk to Peace Pilgrimage, this quote resonated with me as like pilgrimage, life is also made up of many small steps and sometimes we don’t see the growth/change they bring until we look back and see how far we have truly come. That truth seemed even clearer to me as I looked out on the bay at Oban today.
I pray that you also feel encouraged when you look back sometimes and see the impact of many small steps in your life - steps of faith, steps of peace, steps of love.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (& Pace) with 34 miles to go.
Day 17: Dalmally to Taynuilt
Waking up in a campsite that had a view of the ocean was a wondrous thing this morning, and I suspect my late departure due to having a bit of a clean up of the inside of the van had more to do with that view and sense of closeness now to the west coast of Scotland ,than anything else.
Like yesterday, I already knew that an adapted plan would be needed for today’s pilgrimage walk as St Conan’s Way between Dalmally and Taynuilt can either be done down the A85 or via Glen Noe. I was told by someone who knows these things that it would be unsafe to try the Glen Noe way with a dog. So that left the A85, which as anyone knows who has driven to Oban is quite a busy main route, that does not always have walking access along it - again not ideal with a dog.
So taking the pragmatic approach again, I had worked out four sections of the A85 between Dalmally and Taynuilt that had adjoining pavement for a reasonable distance. The plan was to walk these sections towards Taynuilt and then back to the van. In doing each section there and back, it came pretty close to the total distance between the two locations.
What I hadn’t factored in was Pace’s take on all this. Although he clearly has his limits each day, I have been proud of how he has been good at just getting on with it generally, particularly in countryside that was interesting (aka off lead, includes the occasional burn to paddle in, and preferable regular shade), Clearly walking along pavements along the A85 did not fit this criteria in any way, and then we seemed to stop for no reason and return the same way to the van. I have often wondered what Pace has thought what all this walking is about, but whatever it was - today was clearly his line in the sand, with all manner of vehicle whizzing by, a humid and often sunny day (the rain of yesterday was much more to his taste) and not an interesting smell or burn to take delight in.
As a consequence, what should have taken 6.5 hrs took almost 9 (including more frequent rests/encouragement stops). The best part of the walking came when we finished the four road sections and found a wooded trail beyond Taynuilt to complete the remaining miles for the day….and to catch some rain for the last half hour or so.
All that aside, it was also such a completely different sort of day walking for me as well - on pavement, alongside a busy road (albeit one nestled often between mountains and a loch) and going back and forwards. The challenge of walking on paved surfaces always has an impact on feet (and I am sure paws), but I did find it fascinating walking the same sections both ways - how different things look and seeing things one way, that you didn’t notice going the other way.
One case in point was the Glenorchy Parish Church in Dalmally - I had read in the Pilgrimage guide that this is the only Hexagonal Church of Scotland Kirk and was built on the spot that St Conan started his community. I hadn’t seen it yesterday when I was in Dalmally and again didn’t see it walking through Dalmally out towards Taynuilt, but as soon as I turned to walk the other way, it’s tower sprang into view against the backdrop of the mountains…and allowed me the opportunity to go and visit and pray. It got me to thinking how working with people in conflict can be similar - that the stories we share first in a conflict are often the ones we have crafted (what we include, what we leave out) and they often need revisiting and looked at from fresh perspectives to reveal those things not evident in the first telling. I was also surprised a number of times by an amazing view that I hadn’t been aware might be there when walking and looking in one direction, but which took my breath away when I returned the other way…another good reminder, I am sure.
The absence of other walkers and conversations yesterday was not repeated today - although the people I encountered and chatted about the Pilgrimage with were generally not walkers really (except for the Iona Volunteer just heading home!) but rather people getting in/out of vehicles in tourist/beauty spots or eating places. It has been lovely to see how interested people generally are in the Pilgrimage - usually starting with being interested in Pace doing it, but then in the purpose of it more broadly, with a number even wanting to donate to the Pilgrimage and its message of peace (and being surprised that we are not looking for donations).
Most people that have walked with or supported the Pilgrimage in some way are people of faith, but most of the conversations along the road have been with people that don’t see themselves as religious but are concerned about the state of the world and the need for greater peace and will often share stories of local initiatives they have a passion for and are involved in. I pray that further conversations about peace have been sparked when those we have chatted to have gone home and maybe mentioned those mad people with a cute dog that are walking across Scotland for peace!
Tomorrow is a rest/work day for me - and a well-deserved rest day for Pace. He is a somewhat reluctant Pilgrim, but he is definitely been the best way to open a conversation about pilgrimage and peace over this journey - and he does so without saying a word.
I pray that in the coming days, you can also use the Pilgrimage to start a conversation about peace and reconciliation with someone you encounter.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (& Pace) with 46 miles to go.
Day 16: Bridge of Orchy to Dalmally
Today’s pilgrimage felt dominated by water. Firstly, the weather. We have often said how fortunate we have been with the weather over the past 2 weeks with only occasional downpours. Today was another story. After being lashed by a ‘hooley of a wind’ (my van rocked in its wake, so I can’t imagine what it was like for Russell in his tent!) and rain. Fortunately, there was a break in the rain long enough this morning for Russell to pack up his tent and then we headed off to Tyndrum for breakfast and to sadly part ways - Russell back home for family events and myself for today’s pilgrimage walk between Bridge of Orchy and Dalmally.
It seemed strange to head off without Russell, but good to know that today marked the start of the final phase towards Iona - along St Conan’s Pilgrim Way. This Pilgrim route links two holy places - Iona , where St. Columba brought Christianity to the Highlands of Scotland - and Dalmally, where St Conan, a disciple of St Columba, set up a community. St Conan’s Way starts from a little way out of Dalmally, and since the West Highland Way and St Conan’s Way don’t intersect, today’s walk was really a connecting route between the two locations. Pragmatism was also the name of the game today because there was no easy solution in getting back to my van in Bridge of Orchy with Pace in tow.
So today I drove to Dalmally, where I was greeted by a double rainbow and under its promise set out on the hiking trail in the direction of Bridge of Orchy. Hiking maps show this goes half the way and then I intended to return the same way, back to my van in Dalmally. The trail passes by the Craig Lodge Family House of Prayer - a Catholic retreat centre that welcomes Pilgrims and just nearby is the Oasis of Peace, which set the water theme off as a beautiful place to pause and prayer (in the rain) to bless the day’s walk. Unfortunately, the trail petered out after about an hour into dense (machete-needing) undergrowth, that reminded me of the last time this happened and ended up needing us to lift Pace over a padlocked farmers’ gate. So Pace and I returned the way we came a little earlier than planned.
We then moved to plan B, which involved driving to Falls of Orchy and heading out again towards Bridge of Orchy on the Mountain Access Route (an old forestry trail).
It was an amazing trail - that lived up to its name in terms of ascent, but also gave fabulous views of the hills nestling this river valley and a constant glimpse of the fast flowing River Orchy with many falls and rapids. As well as constant rain for at least the first half of the walk, water seemed to seep out of every pore of the mountain -through rivulets, mud and pools all along the track, and moss and fungi covering every surface. And although the rain eased off in the afternoon, Pace and I emerged from the Mountain Access Route 5 hours later looking somewhat soggy and wrung out ourselves.
I remember discussing how important intention was on Pilgrimage with Ruth, Alan and Russell last week - that was certainly true today. The intention to be on pilgrimage, with all that may entail was the only reason that kept me walking today in such conditions for so long. Working for peace can sometimes feels the same for me - rarely does peace work blossom in front of our eyes providing immediate encouragement for continuing - so the intention/focus on planting the seeds of peace with God rather than the resultant blossoms/fruit has to be enough - although that feels tough sometimes.
It did feel like the weather distinctly improved after the day’s walking was over with the sun actually appearing as we headed to tonight’s campsite. But as I write today’s blog in my van - I can hear the rain once again on the roof. How different rain sounds when one is tucked up safely inside, to when one is out in the elements, and my mind naturally turns to all those without regular shelter - near and far - seeking their own oasis of peace in the form of a safe, warm, dignified place to call home.
Today was also the first day without meeting a single person whilst walking - maybe not surprising given the weather and the obscurity of the trails trod today, but I missed what has become such a core part of this Pilgrimage - chatting to people about the Long Road to Peace and hearing their own take of that in their lives. I imagine that will return tomorrow, when back on more familiar paths.
I pray that you have had an opportunity to chat with people you encountered today about peace and reconciliation in some way.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (& Pace) with 60 miles to go
Day 15: Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy
Today seemed to have many phases to it - but the thread that ran throughout was that this was the last day on the West Highland Way and the last day that Russell will be joining me on the Long Walk to Peace. But more about both of those later.
It felt a chilly start to the day after the run of warm weather we have been blessed with for the Pilgrimage. The view of the nearby hills providing a lovely sight as I emerged from the van this morning, although it was somewhat dampened by discovering that mosquitos had taken advantage of the lack of midges the night before when I had been sitting outside at dusk and had a ‘jolly good feast’ courtesy of Chez Carolyn. This was soon forgotten with Pace’s latest technique to get out of walking for the day. He has tried a few over the past two week’s - hiding under the kitchen table at Alison and Michael’s house comes to mind. Today it was play being fast asleep on the grass and don’t open your eyes even when being levered up.
After some breakfast in a nearby town, we left the van at Crianlarich and headed back up the hill to rejoin the West Highland Way. It was lovely to hear Russell sing happy birthday to his mum on the occasion of her 93rd birthday at the top. The morning’s walk was to Tyndrum - our half way point. It was a varied landscape of hills, forests, burns and wooded paths. It also led us past the ruins of the church started by St Fillan who came from Ireland to spread Christianity in Scotland and nearby are the remains of a priory that Robert the Bruce established in honour of St Fillan (despite him becoming a recluse in his later years). The West Highland Way also passed through the campsite that Russell and I are staying in…which put a gleam back in Pace’s eye (is today’s walk done?). That question was soon answered as we continued on after a short break and eventually reach Tyndrum.
Russell decided to stay with Pace in Tyndrum and I continued on to Bridge or Orchy. It was an amazing trail dominated by several Munroes that the trail skirts, some of which had mist hanging over them. It was a bit of a challenging walk at times (mainly downhill bits, for which I was glad Pace was not tethered to me!) but the scenery was inspiring and gave me much to reflect on with God. Still, I was pleased to make good time and arrived into Bridge or Orchy just after 6pm.
All day, we kept overtaking/being overtaken by other walkers on the West Highland Way. It was great to see several of them in Bridge of Orchy, who we had first met at breakfast….a comradery builds when you are all walking in the same direction - all at different speeds and stopping at different spots to rest, eat, take photos etc, and stopping to chat at times, but at day’s end, there is a pleasure in seeing others who have traversed the same ground you have…and some understanding of what that entails. I wonder if we do that enough in peace circles - acknowledge those who also walk that path towards peace and reconciliation in different ways, and understand the cost that sometimes/often comes with (or even want to acknowledge it ourselves)?
After a quick catch up with some walkers, I caught the bus back to Crianlarich to collect the van and then collect Pace and Russell. As a treat, we headed up to have our last meal together on the Pilgrimage at Bridge of Orchy (it is much quicker when driving!), our northern-most point in the whole Pilgrimage and reminisced about the last two weeks. I am so very grateful to Russell - he has been great company and a wonderful supporter of the Pilgrimage….and I can’t imagine how Pace and I would have got this far without him. We will both miss him for the final section down to Oban and across Mull to Iona. He has completed 210 miles over the past 15 days - I doff my hat off to you Russell! Wishing you every blessing for the coming days and all the significant events they contain.
Praying that each of you reading this blog have also had a moment of inspiration today - maybe in something grand that you witnessed like the mountains that dominated my afternoon walk, or maybe a small gesture of peace or grace that shifted/change the course of a conversation or relationship.
Peace and Blessings,
Carolyn (& Pace) with 72 miles to go.
Day 14: Inverarnan to Crianlarich
After a surprisingly good night in the van (my makeshift midge-net on the window, held in place by bandaids seemed to work a treat), I emerged this morning to find myself in the alien camping world of people walking around doing their morning routine with headnets on. Pace refused to recognise Russell until he revealed his face from under his headnet.
I should say up front, I am not a natural camping type of person…give me an bed indoors with attached facilities anyday, but camping did allow us to meet three great young people this morning whilst we all tried to put together something that resembled breakfast, charged our phones and used various methods to keep the midges at bay. Two of the three were a couple taking a break before pursuing further studies - one in Conflict Journalism and the other in International Human Rights, and their friend was studying music - so you can see how the conversation flowed on all sorts of topics regarding conflict, peace and justice. Their energy, curiousity and commitment to make a difference in the world was a wonderful way to start the day and we promised to stay in touch.
Similarly we later met a number of people on the trail (unusually for us going in the same direction as we were) who started off interested in Pace and then the Pilgrimage itself. One lovely couple took a picture of us all, looked up Place for Hope on his phone and emailed the photo on to use in the blog.
The route today took us alongside the River Falloch - which was spectacular, with a number of falls. We stood and gazed in wonder (and took a few photos) and Pace enjoyed himself thoroughly. There were several climbs today (rewarding us each time with amazing panoramas). None were as big as others we have traversed, but we felt them nevertheless and I recognised that although I am probably fitter than when I began, I am also more tired. Pace, having left his beloved river, stoically navigated his way across long stretches of loose rock paths (without the benefits of hiking boots) and worse open paths in total sunshine - although he managed to locate shade where he could and flop himself down there until we caught up. All in all, a beautiful day’s walking that left us throughly tired!
There was a moment on the trail when we were taking a short rest, when Pace took off with Russell’s walking stick which he has carved the long walk to peace along the side. Happily he only chewed the word 'to'….and we are trying not to read any deeper meaning into his destruction of the Long Walk to Peace Stick!
On our schedule, we needed to at least reach Crianlarich, but we left it open as to whether we might try for a but further to help ease the miles for tomorrow. It became clear though during our rest stop at Crianlarich that we needed to opt for sense, and focused on the logistics of getting back to the van and finding a place for the night. We realised afresh how fortunate we have been - today was the first day, we had to use public transport to go and collect the van. That is a testament to the kindness of so many people from Lindisfarne to Drymen, who have provided that vital service each day of ferrying us to or from the van in the morning or the evening.
We are now in a region where we have few connections and so I left Russell and Pace in Crianlarich and caught the bus back to get the van (we learnt today that we are also now in an area where there buses don’t allow dogs on Board). Whilst I was doing that, Russell found us a campsite and booked us in. Pace just rested!
So here we are in an amazing campsite between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy with the Trossachs as back drop (happily I can report no midges here) and the day closed with a very happy Pace frolicking around in the grass with a stuffed toy (we usually have parked in sealed carparks, this seems like heaven to Pace), with Russell chasing him until it was clear it was a game that might never end and Russell has now retired to his tent and Pace and I to the van.
Watching the river today, particularly in those sections than flowed over rocks - Russell commented about how although the water flowed in so many directions, at different speeds, sparkled differently - it was all still the same river. We reflected how faith communities can sometimes be the same. Later I also reflected that Pilgrimages are like that too….there are some sections that seem hard and endless, others just fly past, on some days we have several walking, on others we are walking alone, many people have connected with this Pilgrimage in various ways, some moments have you crashing on a rock and other moments have you still as a mill pond, but they all the same journey. This morning as I looked at the river I saw it as an analogy of the Pilgrimage, but tonight I wonder whether the Pilgrimage is not so much like the river but rather a vessel floating on the river. Tonight as I sit in the van with the wind blowing outside, I take comfort that for me the river is God and before, during and after this Pilgrimage, I continue to be held and sustained by God’s loving presence.
I pray that you also feel held and sustained by that same creative force of love in your life.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (& Pace) with 85 miles to go.
Day 13: Drymen to Inverarnan
After a much needed rest day, in which I mixed some work and relaxation (aka not walking), whilst Russell made his way up the West Coast of Loch Lomond to be in position for our plan for today.
Given that vans can’t be driven all the way up the East Coast of Loch Lomond and it is not safe to walk along the road on the West Side, we devised a plan to cover distance of Loch Lomond by heading out from different points and then returning from where we started. This would also take into account the distance that Pace would be able to do in a day.
So I set out with Pace from Balmaha along the south-eastern path along Loch Lomond towards Rowardennan, while Russell set out from Inverarnan towards Inversnaid. Although the northern trail that Russell took was shorter, it was considerably more challenging (bless him!) than the southern section I was on with Pace.
In fact, the south-eastern stretch proved to be a great trail - with so many opportunities for Pace to paddle in Loch Lomond - making one happy (albeit tired) dog who arrive back into Balmaha 7 hours later! Loch Lomond was very still today and that added to the serenity of the day. I love water - just seeing it lifts my spirits and so a day overlooking Loch Lomond was a true spiritual one for me. A day when the question inside me is not what am I doing for peace and reconciliation but allowing myself to simply be a person of peace.
Being on the West Highland Trail proper now has meant coming across a lot more international hikers, including a significant number of Aussies today (who interestingly had all visited Iona at some point of their UK visit). It was great to spark up conversations about peace with people from all over the world…courtesy of my conversation starter, Pace. It was a narrow path in many spots today - the sort that people passing in opposite directions will step aside for one another. Pace in his usual fashion never deviated from the middle of the path, and all the walkers we passed by seemed to stand aside as if that were the natural order of things. Mildly embarrassing (from my point of view), but it did open up many a peace conversation with a bit of a laugh!
One of the blessings I was given before setting out on this Pilgrimage, contains the line:
“May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you”
Loch Lomond is certainly one of the many wonders I have seen on this Pilgrimage…one which easily connected me more deeply to the presence of God.
On my return to Balmaha, I drove up to meet Russell north of Loch Lomond, where he was already settled in a campsite where I will also keep the van tonight. It was great to see Russell again - it seemed so strange walking without him today and great to catch up a little on his adventures on the challenging trail to Inversnaid.
Unfortunately, the reunion was cut short a little by the other wonder of nature that we are encountering now as we head into the Western Highlands - the mighty midge. The southern end of Loch Lomond hardly had any, but the picture of Russell decked out this morning in midge head net, Smidge and ‘skin so soft’ gave me clear warning of what was coming….and indeed tonight’s campsite north of Loch Lomond appears to be completely midge-friendly! I have just made a home-made midge net for my van window that I hope will help ensure air ventilation but deter a midge midnight feast in the van. The air ventilation will be especially crucial tonight as Pace seems to retained the a strangely fishy smell from his frolicking in Loch Lomond today. It may well be a long night in our small, shared van space, but I remain optimistic.
It was an odd sensation walking up Loch Lomond today - for the first time, it felt like we had turned a corner toward our final destination of Iona. I am now in territory that I have travelled in my van many times to visit Iona for work. It has been important to remind myself of the nature of pilgrimage of being fully present in the moment, whilst keeping the destination only in my mind’s eye.
I pray that each of you have had an encounter today that has reminded you of the importance of being fully present in the moment - for your own sense of peace and wellbeing, and supporting the peace and wellbeing of others you may have encountered.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (& Pace) with 96 miles to go.
Day 12: Lennoxtown to Drymen
After saying goodbye and thank you to our wonderful hosts, Alison and Michael (who sent us our way with the most delicous plums from their garden), today's walk started in Lennoxtown outside the St Machan’s Catholic Church and picked up the railway trail we had been on yesterday. This time in the direction Drymen via Strathblane. Being a warm day from the beginning, it was lovely to walk along the Railway Trail within woodland and with a stream beside (which Pace enjoyed thoroughly). It wasn’t long though until the trail emerged from the shade and cut across fields. The views of the Campsies were wonderful, but the heat soon had Pace flagging earlier than usual. We were also privileged to get a Gaelic song sung to us by a young boy out with his mum and sister on their bikes - a joy!
Despite a few more rest stops than usual, we made good time to Strathblane and after a quick lunch stop (pretty near 5-star scones according to Russell, who rates scones, we headed out across the hills for a few miles to connect with the West Highland Way. It was delight to be back on an unsealed surface, giving our feet and joints a little respite from the tarmac of the last few days. I was also awestruck by the scenery on all sides, the Campsies on our right, the Trossachs in the distance and closer in, amazing rock formations and rolling hills bathed in light and shade. It lifted our spirits and walking seemed easier.
Another lovely encounter we had today was with a walker named Carol, who we ended up having a long conversation with and who offered us a prayer of blessing for our journey - it was a really special moment for all of us.
The heat eventually meant that Pace had done his best for the day by the 10 mile mark and so he stayed with Russell outside a pub along the West Highland Way (closed on Monday’s, so we discovered on arrival). I remain so appreciative to Russell for his willingness to look after Pace when he is struggling, allowing Pace to rest and myself to complete the day’s journey. I could not have got so far in the Pilgrimage without him.
With Russell and Pace settled in a shady spot under a tree, I set off on the final 5 miles of the Pilgrimage for today. It remained an unsealed and beautiful trail for the first 2.5 miles, but then I was on the road for the remaining 2.5…although a relatively short distance, it was hard going being back on the hard surface. I have always had great respect for feet, but never more so than on this Pilgrimage. Like Pace, my feet probably are wondering what happened to their previous easier life!
I finally arrived in Drymen and was so grateful to see Fiona, who we met yesterday in Kirkintilloch, and who was kindly driving Russell, Pace and I back to my van in Lennoxtown, before we all headed over to Strathblane for a delicious meal with her, Garry and Gordon. The nature of the pilgrimage has meant that seemingly chance encounters turn out to be with people who quickly become an integral part of the journey and who you want to stay in contact with. A huge thank you to all three for their kind and generous support and company.
Tomorrow is a rest day (with a little training work thrown in) and so I (and Pace) are happily resting in a hotel, while Russell has managed to find the best campsite I have ever seen and even secured a shepherd’s hut with all modern conveniences, which is reportedly John Muir’s own. He deserves it!
I was struck today by the thought of how different things are when you are focused on the end goal (whether that be end of Pilgrimage daily walk, or something else you are working towards to when you are focused on enjoying the journey and not the end goal. Watching Pace often challenges me on this - when I am looking towards an end goal, like most animals, Pace is in the moment and enjoying whatever comes his way - whether that be a smell, another dog, a burn, some grass to roll with delight in. If left to him, we would never get to the daily destinations of this pilgrimage, but he may well appreciate more along the way. Maybe working on peace and reconciliation is sometimes the same - we (insert me) can become so tunnel-visioned on the end goal, that I may miss some of the joys along the way. The pace of Pilgrimage (the ‘pace of God’?), means you do get more chance to appreciate more along the way - but maybe by drawing in one’s eyes from the horizon every now and again, means you see the preciousness of those you encounter, and the presence of Jesus (like in Hugh’s Emmaus Road image) even more….
I will ponder that more on Wednesday, when I return to the Pilgrimage. Now for sleep!
May you all find rest and joy in your own journeys tomorrow.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (and a tired Pace) with 117 miles to go.
Day 11: Bonnybridge to Lennoxtown
Russell, Pace and I set out on the towpath of the Forth and Clyde Canal in Bonnybridge this morning where we had ended with Ruth and Alan yesterday - thankfully a little dryer, although we had a few real downpours over the course of the morning.
It was Sunday, and so there were a great many people using the towpath today for recreational purposes - enjoying the day with a walk, cycle or run along this wonderful stretch of water (it really does look more like a river than a canal). Another difference I noticed in this section of the pilgrimage is that Russell and I have less chats about the pilgrimage with people we meet while walking. This is partly because there are so many more than in the first week (and we would never finish the Pilgrimage in the time allocated if we stopped and talked with everyone), but more importantly the people we encounter this week are often out doing activities and other than a cursory 'Aye aye' aren't interested in stopping to chat let alone have a conversation about what we are doing and peace and reconciliation. In the first week, many of the those we encountered were either other Pilgrims or had some other purpose for being out there. Mutual sharing of what we were all doing came naturally and so many conversations about peace emerged as a consequence. Of course, we still have such conversations, but they are usually with people we encounter in cafes, shops etc. Pace is a great help actually with this - as he quite often provides a natural and safe entry point for people to engage in conversation with 2 strangers that they may otherwise not do.
With the rain, the morning seemed long as I peered out of my black 'Historic Scotland' Poncho keeping an eye out for cyclists and ensuring we kept up a good pace to not be late for some very kind people who had prepared afternoon tea for us in Kirkintilloch. Although the pace on tow paths is faster than unsealed ground, they continue to be hard going on already painful feet and lower legs and regular foot care across the day has now become a key activity of the pilgrimage in a way that it didn’t need to be in the first week. Ratings of pain so far extend from mere awareness of some part of the body, to we have to find a place to stop (now!).
After one such pit stop to ease tired feet at Auchenstarry, we made good time and arrived to a very warm welcome from Gordon, Fiona and Garry and a greatly appreciated afternoon tea at St Mary’s Church in Kirkintilloch. The time of rest, conversation, and afternoon tea really revived us and we were very grateful to them for their welcome and hospitality. Fiona and Garry were also kind enough to accompany us to the railway trail that would take us to our final destination today - Lennoxtown.
This final stretch along the railway trail is very beautiful with woods and a burn running alongside, which was a lovely way to end todays long walk for me and the chance for Pace to go and splash in the burn (which also put a spring back into his tired legs). Needless to say we (and our tired feet) were very grateful to be collected by Michael and taken over to the van back in Bonnybridge. The going forwards and backwards each to collect the van has been a strange aspect of this pilgrimage but it has also provided a particular rhythm to each day….and in some ways is more reflective of life in terms of it never being completely linear but can involve a lot of back and forward. It also means we don’t just travel through a town once, which somehow makes it a bigger part of the Pilgrimage.
Tonight we are being very generously being hosted again by Alison and Michael and again - their kindness, conversation and care have been such a blessing.
I have also been reflecting today on the level of planning for the Pilgrimage - which for reasons of busyness in the lead up to the start, meant it wasn’t planned in the fine detail that I would have liked. However, what that has meant is that the pilgrimage has unfolded much more organically - with so many people just stepping in and providing support just when needed. If I had had the chance to organise, it may well have precluded the need for anyone to help …and although it may have meant less discomfort from not knowing or relying on others, the pilgrimage (and I) would have been much poorer for it. A life lesson that I need to reminding of every now and again!
I pray that you may also have given space for someone to bless you with a kindness today.
Peace and Blessings,
Carolyn (& Pace) with 132 miles to go.
Day 10: Linlithgow to Bonnybridge
This day has been another day of many blessings.
What started as a bit of an uncomfortable night in the van in a car park in Linlithgow (but probably still more comfortable than Russell’s wild camping), has ended in a very comfortable bed courtesy of the generous hospitality of Alison and Michael.
We were also blessed to walk with Ruth and Alan today, who were great pilgrim companions (and very experienced pilgrim walkers) sparking many points of reflection for me from our conversations between Linlithgow and Bonnybridge. And I am not sure why - maybe it was the flat canal towpath, maybe the fresh pace of our fellow pilgrims, maybe the miraculous foot cream gifted to both Russell and I by Alan and Ruth, or maybe the conversations - but we completed the distance today in record time compared to previous days. It was also a cooler day than yesterday, which meant Pace thankfully found the going easier (not that he would let you know that) - although that came with considerable rain showers, although never for very long until we reached our final destination.
Although we kept to canal paths all the way, there were a number of notable points along the way. In particular where 2 very long tunnels carved through the rock for the Union Canal - lit in a variety of colours. These tunnels were unexpected and gave me a sense of being in very long, caves. Although manmade, they seemed natural and were amazingly beautiful. We also visited the Falkirk Wheel - another impressive feat of engineering and a good place for a ‘pit stop’.
From there we crossed over to the Forth and Clyde Canal, which had the appearance of a serene river more than a canal. It was a beautiful path to end today’s walk and I was able to reflect a little on the conversation we had all had over lunch regarding what pilgrimage meant to each of us. A lot of wisdom was shared - a lot of food for thought.
As we entered Bonnybridge where we had arranged to meet Katie who had kindly offered to ferry us back to our vehicles in Linlithgow, we really had a real downpour. Katie was indeed a welcome angel!
Hats off also to Katie for her skilled driving, given that she had the car packed to capacity with four very wet human beings and 1 even wetter large dog. It was one of those experiences you had to have been there for to understand the how ridiculous it was…a relief for all I think as we unfolded ourselves out of the vehicle in Linlithgow. Thanks Katie!
After an appreciative farewell to Ruth and Alan for all they had brought to the day, Russell, Pace and I have spent a lovely evening being hosted by Alison and Michael. I have felt quite spoiled by the delicious meal and range of conversation shared by this wonderful couple. As with the whole pilgrimage so far, it has been humbling when people (some of whom I had never met previously) have been so generous of their time, homes, prayers and care. We would never have made it so far without people like Alison and Michael going out of their way to support us.
Like yesterday, today’s pilgrimage through the more populated middle-belt’ of Scotland along canals is very different from the more isolated, rural and hilly landscapes that featured in the first week. There is much beauty still - sometimes even in those structures we come across created by people. It is not necessarily the beauty of an awesome 360 view from the top of a mountain as in previous terrains, but can be more specific things such as a delicious ripe blackberry along a towpath or the feel of water seeping through the walls of a psychedelic-lit tunnel. Without being intentional, one might miss seeing the beauty of the more specific dotting their way all along well worn paths.We talked today about intention making a critical difference between a simple walk/hike and a pilgrimage - peace is like that sometimes too. There are times/places when it is easy to be at peace. And other times/places, when we need to be quite intentional in seeking beauty and peace.
I pray you have found beauty and peace in some unexpected moment today.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (& Pace) with 146 Miles to go.
Day 9: Kirknewton to Linlithgow
After a much needed day off, Russell, Pace and I gathered once again in Linlithgow to meet Hugh Donald who had kindly offered to ferry us back to Kirknewton to start the day’s walk. Hugh also generously treated us to some hot bacon rolls - excellent fuel for the road! We were also blessed to have Hugh join us for part of the walk today - which was a gift in itself. In Hugh’s inimitable fashion, Russell and I not only shared stories from the road, but were drawn to reflect on the journey and its impact so far. Hugh left us with a beautiful image of Jesus and the 2 followers on the Emmaus Road. It has been interesting for me to reflect on that drawing and the encounters I have had with Jesus over the pilgrimage so far and ponder what I have learned.
One of the most common threads that has arisen in both conversations and seeing various manifestations of it since beginning this Pilgrimage is the concept of community. Even on my rest day yesterday - I met 2 wonderful women who in their own way were trying to strengthen community in the places they live - Joanne who goes the extra mile with people who access the laundrette services where she works…and Paula who has just established a Village Cafe where she has lived all her life with the intent of creating a space where all can feel they will be welcomed and valued. Already in the short time, the cafe has been open, many isolated people have made it a place to visit daily for the company they gain there. On the road we have also had many conversations of how local churches are already involved in initiatives to strengthen community or planning to do so. And passing through so many places on the pilgrimage we also have seen places where community seems to be strong and others struggling. Today we were diverted around a large new build site on the edge of a town and wondered what was being put into place to make this new neighbourhood a community rather than just a lot of new houses.
In an age were environmental concerns, cost of living, and lack of trust in national institutions, the idea of the 20 minute neighbourhood where most people’s daily needs can be met within a short walk or cycle is gaining interest around the world and being trialled in some cities in Australia and Europe.
Many involved in the work of Place for Hope are involved in community initiatives - either through their church or other avenues. As I walked beside rivers and canals today through a more populated section of this Pilgrimage route, the idea of community was clearly on my mind and heart. In both peacemaking and reconciliation, creating relational spaces for people to experience the qualities that contribute to peace is critical - love, faith, trust, respect, honesty, integrity, forgiveness, belonging, grace, compassion. It seems to me that all the efforts towards genuine community we have seen or voiced are all efforts to build relational spaces for peace where all can flourish. I wonder what Jesus would say about community on this Pilgrimage “Emmaus Road” journey, but maybe he already has….
After Hugh left us today to return home, Russell, Pace and I made good progress along the Union Canal - certainly an easier/flatter route than the previous week, although that hard surface on blistered feet makes one long for grassed surfaces at times! Being in more populated areas also meant we met a lot more people along the route - walking dogs, cycling, and a wonderful set of volunteers on canal boats who were giving a group of elderly people a lovely trip out.
Although it may seem strange - the lovely weather today meant we had to adapt our plans as the day wore on. Pace, with his double coat found the warmer weather a bit much and so Russell kindly agreed to stay with him in a lovely wood alongside the canal, while I completed the day’s walk. A win-win for all I think! Sadly this good weather looks set to change tomorrow - which I am sure Pace will appreciate, while the rest of us will dig out the wet weather again.
Tonight we are in Linlithgow, Pace and I in my van and Russell wild-camping again. It has been a good first day back for this second phase of the Pilgrimage. Tomorrow we reach the half way mark of the whole journey - in both days and miles. A good reminder of how far you can get, when making small daily efforts in the same direction.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (and Pace) with 160 miles to go.
Day 8 Halmyrie Mains to Kirknewton
Today’s pilgrimage started in the serene rural setting of Lynn’s home and nearly ended in an overgrown path and a padlocked gate near Kirknewton. In between, Russell, Pace and I walked through some wonderful landscapes along the Old Drovers Way to its end at Little Vantage.
After saying goodbye and a heartfelt thank you to Lynn and Mia for their gracious hospitality, we started the day walking some of the way towards West Linton that we had not completed yesterday. It is a lovely section of the Old Drovers Road that we enjoyed in a contemplative silence.
West Linton is a beautiful village and having replenished our supplies, we set out to complete the Old Drovers Way meeting a couple of local people on our way out that reaffirmed the value of walking for good mental health as well as physical.
This last section of the Old Drovers Way overlaps at times with a Roman Road and is in parts also called the Thieves Way which reflects its varied history. It winds over the Pentlands and the views from Cauldstane Slap gave a vantage point over the purple heather-coloured moors and hills.
Coming down from Cauldstane Slap involved very boggy land that had Pace looking like a two-toned dog and me just covered in mud! Due to some cows with calves that were unimpressed with our presence in their field, we chose to take a slightly different route to reach Little Vantage (alongside the reservoir and then walking along A70).
We were very happy to be able to once again turn off the main road and head off across pastureland. Although the intention is to extend the Old Drovers Way from Little Vantage to Kirknewton, there is still a little way to go (as we can attest).
After a long, but wonderful walk, the last hour of walking was the hardest of the whole day, After a number of paths petering out, and leaving us in less than favourable vegetation, we persevered and found ourselves in sight of the road with only a padlocked farm gate that stood between us and it. Pace has been amazing over the past week and mastered all manner of stiles with some help from his friends, but a padlocked gate and razor wire fencing on either side, seemed beyond him and us.
However, I am pleased to report though that somehow two tired humans and a 35 kg Golden Retriever made it over that gate (we are not quite sure how to be honest, but as Russell says, Pace trusted us - goodness knows why after all that has been asked of him over the Pilgrimage so far).
And so we limped past a new estate of grand houses towards Kirknewton when Russell’s wife Susan arrived to collect us all - the level of my joy and gratitude being proportional to the amount of pain I was feeling.
As we piled into the car - Pace mustering his last bit of energy to jump into the back first (no way he was going to walk further) - I was not only grateful to Susan for her kindness in picking us up and driving me back to my van, but also that tomorrow was a much-needed rest day!!
Bless them, but on the way back to my van, Susan and Russell treated me to a wonderful meal in a great atmospheric pub, whilst Pace also ate and rested beside us. It was a real blessing to close this day by sharing a meal with these two wonderful people.
Now for sleep and tomorrow for rest and recovery for the second week of the Pilgrimage. It has been an amazing first 8 days….I have been blessed by the company of many of who have walked, supported and prayed for the pilgrimage with me this week, particularly Russell. Thank you to each of you,
May tomorrow be a sacred day for all of us as we rest and prepare for week 2.
Peace and Blessings
Carolyn (and Pace) with 174 miles to go.
Day 7 - Innerleithen to Eddleston
What a delight to wake up in a real bed and look out over the wonderful hills surrounding Lynn’s home. Hospitality is such a gift on Pilgrimage and Lynn has been a generous example of that, providing Russell, Pace and myself with not one but two nights in her home. You can probably pick up the gratitude I feel already!
It was also wonderful to have Lynn and her beautiful chocolate Labrador, Mia join us on our pilgrim walk today. After a lovely blessing from Lynn, we set off into a stunner of a morning - sun shining but cool enough for the dogs. As we were walking nearly the whole way between Innerleithen to our first stop, Peebles, along the path next to the River Tweed, we were able to let the dogs off lead and watch them frolic in the river and roll with joy in the grass. Our dogs remind us of being fully in the moment and being free to express joy whenever they feel it!!
It wasn’t all plain sailing though as we encountered a path that led us to a gate that was strictly no admittance and another that would have required a machete to keep going. Reluctantly, we had to turn back at those points and eventually found ourselves walking into Peebles. The other challenge was that our Pilgrimage is occurring at the same time as the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships is being hosted near Peebles, so we encountered (including some close shaves - Mia particularly had a close call) of the cyclists from various countries training along the same path. They are certainly fast!! The town of Peebles was also buzzing with the excitement that accompanies hosting such a world class event.
Whilst restoring our depleted energy supplies with a Peebles lunch, we pored over our map to determine our route for the afternoon. We have learned the need for flexibility over the last week, ensuring that all the Pilgrim Walkers (whether 2 legged or 4) on any particular d