Muted celebrations and big ones. Three Musketeers go plant hunting and a big think.

Jill Lough’s sherry trifle

So as the title suggests, this week saw a return to the present after reconnecting my heart and my head on the subject of the walk from Le Puy en Velay to Cahors. The sediment has now settled just about enough to view it as just another few yards of life’s rich tapestry. I was pleased and rather surprised to discover that it was pretty good in parts, and I’d go so far as to say that working on the timeline through my journal and photographs as well as my memory was as cathartic and helpful as the counsellors often say.

On Sunday we laid on a family meal. With two of the boys missing it was smaller than usual. Our grandchildren arrived as high as kites – suspect sugar rushes – and our son was – as is often the case – rather withdrawn. We know pretty much why he’s in a bad place but because he’s never spoken to us about it, or invited any kind of help, it remains the elephant in the room and makes everyone a bit sad. Oh and caution stayed my hand with the sherry bottle (the children had their own alcohol free version) and it failed to reach the heavenly heights of Jill’s recipe which comprised (I may have increased the booze) one sponge and one bottle of sherry.

However on Monday and after ten years, our daughter in law was finally granted British citizenship and there were whoop whoops galore on the family WhatsApp group. No more tasteless jokes about Australian cricket, then, but we will expect her to learn Bristolian as soon as possible. Then of course we spent a couple of mornings catching up on the allotment. If you’ve read this blog/journal for any length of time you’ll know how depressing I find the autumn. It’s like visiting a loved one who’s rapidly fading away. But Madame administers the whip adroitly and once I get going I usually enjoy it – ish! I am not going “gently into that good night” and every arthritic creak makes me froth with rage at the dying of the light. I normally love wheelbarrowing muck and hoeing weeds in, but ever since I was formally diagnosed with AF and given a pile of drugs to limit my heart rate and blood pressure, I suffer from a nagging panic about making myself ill. I couldn’t fault the doctors, they’ve been wonderful, but all they’ll say is “just don’t overdo it” . Just WTF is the difference between doing it and overdoing it? and do you have to wait until you’re in the mortuary with a label tied to your toe to find out??

Tuesday was spent on the allotment, until we were driven off by the rain. This has been a record breaking autumn with low pressure driving rain off the Atlantic and dropping devastating amounts across the country. I don’t understand the wingnuts who still think this weather falls within the normal.

On Wednesday I went off with two friends, prospecting possible sites for Bath Natural History Society to organise field trips next year. We had three sites to look at. The first had to be abandoned after our driver was forced to reverse 100 yards down a lane with a locked gate at the end and no turning place. It was very narrow, half flooded on one side and a ditch on the other – both sides within easy reach of the wheels. After a great waving of arms and shouting we half extracted ourselves noisily enough to attract the attention of the farmer’s daughter who came and took over having obviously done it many times before. She told me she would have offered to reverse the car herself but had thought her offer might offend us. I thought there was an element of sweet revenge in it. The combined intelligence of three old blokes failing to drive a car backwards was far too good an opportunity to miss for a young woman in 2023. It was only later that I realized what a daft thing it was to tell her we were natural historians; who on earth would know what that meant? Anything else could get confused with naturists; and nature lovers sounds thoroughly creepy. “No dear we always keep our wellies on” comes to mind. So what? ….. botanists? bird watchers, fungus hunters? all three I suppose. In the end it sounded more comprehensible to say we were organising nature rambles for a club.

Site number two also lacked sufficient parking although we managed to squeeze in around the back among the builders’ wagons. Most of the site was pretty unimpressive from a wildlife point of view but once we got beyond the lake we could see that great efforts had been made to create a real wildlife area. My companions, who were both birders, got excited about a pair of Scoters and surprisingly they spotted six or seven species, but there wasn’t enough, we thought, to maintain interest for more than an hour or so.

Site number three was by far the largest and most interesting in spite of being surrounded by houses, roads, an industrial estate and a railway line. There was an abundance of hedge and scrub – enough to hold a big population of birds. There was a wooded area, a stream and a lake plus a couple of large and relatively unimproved fields where we soon started to find waxcap fungi. We were all trying out various apps on our phones and at one point all three of us were using Merlin – an excellent bird ID app- pointing our phones at a noisy flock of Starlings. The apps parted company over the fungi – none of them (the apps that is) – are perfect and fungi in particular mostly need double checking in the books – for many you even need to resort to a microscope and examine the spores. So an affable exchange of emails later in the day got us as close as we could. But we came home with at least one suggestion for a trip next year. I’ve been volunteered to co-lead another in the spring and give a talk as well so things are looking up.

Thursday and Friday were swallowed up by the allotment again, but at last it’s beginning to look a bit decent. We covered all except two of the beds that were cleared of crops, and we’ve sown seeds for overwintering in the polytunnel. On Saturday we finally had our first NHS dental appointment after 7 years and 63 phone calls. No-one would take us on as patients for all that time and so our teeth weren’t properly looked after and when Madame’s gold crown fell out I tried to mend it by glueing it back in. Unfortunately I glued it back to front. It cost well over £1000 to get it fixed. The only tiny cloud in the heavens was the fact that the dentist called us both “My dear” throughout.

Then yesterday we were off to Tetbury with our neighbour Charlie who is an ex Director of the Welsh National Botanical Gardens and is an all-round good guy. We were invited along to a joint talk he was doing with Louise, a dyer; all about the trees and plants that are used for dying fabrics which is a subject close to my heart, and also having lunch with Geoffrey, the owner of the 28 acre site, the gardener (Louise’s husband Liam) and Charlie.

A splendid Pestle puffball – Lycoperdon excipuliformis beneath a group of Oaks.

It was a wonderful but challenging and occasionally perplexing visit to the Makara Centre near Tetbury. The cost of running it is subsidised by hosting weddings as well as a memorial garden, but you get the feeling that its real purpose is as a place of meditation, teaching and personal growth. The whole place is suffused by a contemplative atmosphere and outside there were a dozen places where you might sit quietly and meditate. There were many little water features completely naturalized with moss and ferns. But inside the main buildings were some of the most lovely human spaces I’ve ever seen. Dotted with mandalas and statues, and furnished and decorated with enormous care; there was one room in which I’d gladly sit alone for a day. Even the door frames were beautiful.

The man who goes out for revenge should dig two graves


But finally the big think. I’ve been agonising about how to think about this appalling war in Israel/Palestine and it seems to me (after 2 weeks of violent thoughts, dreams – and frothing at the mouth on my part) that even using a term like evil presupposes that the user of the word accepts that it represents something real; not just a metaphor that gets wheeled out for press headlines. As a concept in everyday use in the West, evil has all but disappeared along with much of its supporting philosophy but we still think it’s significant enough to use on especially upsetting occasions. And, of course, all the major religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Buddhism – virtually all of them – separate good acts from evil acts. I’ve worked in many challenging situations and evil – when you encounter it – is utterly chilling; a trashing of every virtue; a deliberate choice for wickedness and against goodness. Surely this is a timely moment to examine our own acts; to accept our own capacity for evil and to recognise when we have fallen into it. If governments, militias, terrorists across the world chose to read their own scriptures on the subject of evil – prayerfully – and assess their own acts in the light of the scriptures they claim to follow then I’m hopeful that they would at least (grudgingly) recognise their error. There is no conceivable God worth a moment of anyone’s time – let alone obedience – who would sanction or encourage evil acts. So we can’t have it both ways. It’s hard to make a coherent argument concerning evil unless we allow that it’s a possibility for any of us, and therefore we have to accept our responsibility for the evil we do without excusing ourselves on the basis of some utterly wrong and self serving interpretation of scripture. Then; when, and only when we’ve acknowledged our own capacity for evil should we turn our attention to what the enemy is doing. I have never forgotten a sentence from my ordination sermon, preached by Francis Palmer: “Always remember that the Church can be the devil – and when it thinks it can’t be, it is!” A very old and dear friend who spent a part of the Second World War serving on the North Atlantic convoys, defending vital cargo ships against aerial and torpedo bombing, told me that on one occasion they were dive bombed whilst he was on duty as a machine gunner. He told me how, to his great shame he was so filled with hatred as he poured deadly shells at the plane, he felt he somehow changed into a monster. He was still deeply ashamed at this revelation of his deep nature fifty years later.

And here was the most unexpected outcome of our day at Makara – a sense of release and peace against all the anxieties and fears of the present moment. We talked for hours about it last night, and again this morning but couldn’t define what exactly was happening there, but this morning we went up to the allotment to clear another two beds and it started to rain; not a bit of drizzle but biblical rain roaring down on us and we laughed as we struggled to work on; digging our winter potatoes from the sodden ground. I could brag about how successful our efforts at improving the soil have been in improving drainage, but that wasn’t the point. We were just laughing about earth and rain and hard work and potatoes; the least glamorous or religious activity you could imagine. When Charlie was trying to explain what Makara meant to him he said “The place has got a soul”. He’s been deeply involved in the development of the place for years, and he and Geoffrey are old friends. Well, he wasn’t wrong.

Quite a busy week really. Retirement is not for the faint hearted !

Camino 18: Terminus


3rd June 2010

Another restless night on a football field with one ear cocked for gendarmerie/dogs/vandals.  Up early looking for somewhere to crap but could only find a place between a wall and an electricity substation so I decided to wait.  Breakfast back at Limogne – banana and 1 litre of milk from the shop ( now open) and coffee at the nice café – the lovely proprietor freshly perfumed and twice as aloof!  Alain and his wife were going to travel to Cahors with us.  He’s been wrapping his feet in cling film every night.   Bus took about an hour (6€ – which made me wonder if the campsite owner at Livinhac was taking the piss!)  Got dropped off at the SNCF station and found our way down to the river.  Campsite as always was about 3K away on the far side of the river outside town.  It was very hot (32°C)  and we walked the 3 sides of the town along the river bank and set up camp in a very good campsite.  Q What’s the difference between 2 star and 3 star campsites in France?  A toilet paper!  

Again spent ages looking at Miam Miam Dodo and the Cicerone Guide and came to the conclusion that the logistical difficulties of camping all the way were overwhelming.   Trying to find food and camping at 20-25K intervals is impossible.   Carrying food and extra water isn’t an option because of the weight. We can manage a lunchtime snack (cold) but we’ve sent back our cooking equipment so we’re completely dependent on finding food and water at regular intervals.   Although we can walk 35K it’s a horrendous strain – no fun at all. 

For the weight we’re carrying, a perfect day in hilly country would be 18-20K finishing up at a functioning campsite in a town or village where we can find food.  It’s that combination which has become increasingly difficult/impossible to find. We were, with Alain and his wife, the only people out of hundreds of pilgrims, who were trying to camp.  Many of the others were in organised parties carrying very small loads with all their heavy stuff being carried ahead by van.  These parties were swamping the gîtes so that solo pilgrims were finding it hard to book – some making many phone calls each day.  For me, the anxiety of never knowing where we were going to sleep + missing home and being constantly tired with painful feet became more of a burden than a joy.  I’m a hobbit.  Anyway we decided that Cahors – being a main line SNCF station was the best place to call a halt, having walked 350K.  So 3 days rest and home again feeling very sad and embarrassed about not completing the walk but knowing it was the only sensible decision short of sending back the tent and joining the hordes at 80-100€ each a day – far beyond our budget.  Camping never cost us more than 12€ for both of us per night and we had a few free nights squatting. Coffees and panachés cost us about 10€ and then food.  We had some nice and some awful meals but we got our (average) budget down to 30€ each a day.

7th June 2010

Walked on to Cahors railway station at 7.30 this morning just as they were playing “Losing my religion” on the tannoy.  Thanks.


Every adventure has to come to an end and this one did so more with a whimper than a bang, (please ignore the double entendre it was unintentional as far as my conscious mind is concerned). I think the photo that M took at the campsite in Cahors showed how much weight I’d lost on the walk. The decision to return home was largely mine – M would have carried on, or at least he’s always said so, and still wants to go back and complete it. Thirteen years on, with osteoarthritis in many of my joints, I don’t think there’s much hope for me, and Madame – who never understood why I was doing it anyway – would be implacably opposed. There were no visionary moments I’m sorry to say, and not many insights. I guess the biggest lesson was that pilgrimages – at least if you’re doing them the traditional way – make you very vulnerable ‘though not necessarily humble in the religious sense. You get obsessive about food and money and continually anxious about the next night’s sleep. In a moment of supreme irony, when we arrived at the campsite in Cahors we went into the shop and there was a display of precisely the gas canisters that we were told were unobtainable in France and which had led us to send all our cooking equipment home.

We spent three more days in the town, exploring and enjoying the abundance of fast food. We slept and sunbathed and drank chai tea in a tiny Indian cafe; bought ourselves some very French hats in a shop that offered a huge variety of mens’ caps which the fierce proprietress would only sell in the appropriate season. Heaven help you if you ask for a warm winter cap in June! – and at last we walked 3Km back to the railway station to catch the TGV back to Paris – an absurdly fast journey after walking slowly for so long.

After a long day we finally arrived back at Bristol Parkway and I’ve never in my life been so glad to arrive at that bleak railway station. There’s a postscript to all this, but I’ll leave this part of the story with a couple of intriguing photographs from Cahors. The car was just parked – a little out from the kerb – but alongside the passenger’s window was a truly enormous pile of walnut shells. How long would it take to eat so many walnuts? who was the passenger waiting for? But nearby was this spectacularly belipsticked dog-end. Did it belong to the passenger? and – if it did – what was the rest of her like? and what was she up to? Was it a flic stakeout? There’s a short story in it for sure.

Madame and I were pleased to be together again.


Two years later in July 2012 we packed the car, caught the ferry to Santander and then drove around Spain and France for three weeks – crossing the Pyrenees three times and visiting the GR65 wherever we could – Pamplona, St Jean Pied de Port, down to Collure and back across to Uzes; a culture vulture grand tour. I took Madame to several places we’d visited whilst walking the Camino, leaving out the grimmest details but including the seedy hotel in Monistrol d’Allier which was ….. still seedy. But one stop we made turned the ending of the walk from a depressing memory to a great event. We had a couple of days in Cahors, just across the road from the SNCF station in a Hotel which sounds a bit more glamorous spoken in French, but Station Hotel is what it really was, or still is. I’ve just Googled it, and it’s still there and possibly has the most beautiful Art Deco restaurant you’ll ever see. The rooms were higgledy piggledy and the lift was just about big enough for a suitcase; but we peeped around the restaurant door and booked dinner without taking a breath.

Can I mention the waiter who served us drinks on the patio? He was immaculately dressed in a waiter’s jacket but wearing jeans and trainers. I warmed to him instantly, and he to me. When I asked for a wine list he came back with a small volume – about 2″ thick. I couldn’t believe my eyes and asked if they really had all those wines and he laughed and invited me down to the cellar to see for myself. We ordered patė for starters and it was delivered to our table with a glass each of excellent Sauterne. I thought I’d better own up that I hadn’t ordered it and couldn’t afford it but he hushed me and urged me not to worry because it was unthinkable to have the one without the other. It never appeared on the bill. The meal, as it came along was never ostentatious but perfectly cooked and we handed over the choice of wine to the waiter who obviously understood our predicament and was determined to help us overcome it. A true romantic. Somewhere in the pile of receipts from the holiday is the one for that dinner; oddly bereft of several important details. The whole meal was served in the manner of the most traditional French restaurant you could possibly imagine. Each plate was approved and passed from waiter to waiter according to some mysterious hierarchy of responsibility. It was the best French lesson I ever had and I say a culinary prayer for that man every time I think of him.

And now we’ve had brexit and I’m heartbroken not to be considered truly European any more. Our EU passports have expired and we probably won’t renew them. What a complete crock of sh**! Here’s where the pilgrimage finished – the rest of the walk continues across the bridge and back up to the Causses – just 800 miles more.

The bridge at Cahors – temporary (?) end of the Camino for us.

Camino 17: No water no food shops and no campsies for 40 Km

Limogne en Quercy

2nd June 2010

Getting used to the routine now.  Campsites tend to be at the bottoms of valleys – next to the river – so the first task of the day is invariably a long climb uphill to the ridge – which we follow to the next destination (sometimes crossing several valleys on the way).  

Raining when we woke up but sky soon cleared for a lovely sunny day.  Up on to the Causse – mostly shaded with small trees.  Lovely walking and only 18K so we were very relaxed about reaching Limogne en Quercy. Once again stumbled on improvised refreshments and an improvised exhibition about the area hilariously translated into English using Google, we thought. Arrived at Limogne to find campsite not only closed but almost derelict.  Back to Tourist Office who suggested we might be able to pitch our tent at the Stade (town football pitch) where there was at least a water supply.  Sent us to the Mairie and hinted we might even get them to lend us a key to the toilets.  You must be joking. Much Gallic shrugging of shoulders so in the end we just stuck the tent up without permission, much to the agitation of a group of teenage boys whom we considered bribing to look after our stuff while we went to find food.  The only food shop in town was closed for an annual stocktake so we had no alternative but the local pizza takeaway – which deserved a chapter all to itself.  The owner had managed to integrate his social life (drinking) with his business.

Found a lovely local café with a clientele who all seemed to know each other.  Beautiful and very aloof young (30’s) woman dressed in black in charge.  Two east London wide-boy builders having a coded conversation about some deal or other.  We sat there for a couple of hours with Alain and his wife going through all the books and maps we had.  There seemed to be a complete absence of campsites/food/water on the next 40K stretch – bit of a pattern emerging – so we decided the only alternative was to catch a bus down to Cahors.


Des Causses du Quercy, in any other circumstances might have been the very best part of our walk; high limestone plateau – like the Mendip hills but ten times as large – and all the wildlife, all the caves and potholes; everything I love about limestone. Forget the lovely waiter, I called her Sophie but that was just a fantasy name and I wouldn’t have been worthy of a second glance in any case. After nearly 3 weeks on the path my blistered feet stank. There was a moment when I would have sold my soul for a single breath of her – infused (I assumed) with something other than M’s cigarettes and yesterday’s wine, mixed up with sweaty T shirts and socks. Our tent sometimes seemed oppressively small. But I also knew that the sole cause of my sudden horniness was that I was missing Madame.

But today as I pore over the map with a bright orange highlighter line following the GR65 I realize that this 40 Km stretch of impossible terrain for an overloaded pilgrim was the biggest experience I didn’t know I was missing. Two years later Madame and I drove back following most of the route in reverse, but we drove north of the GR65 towards Albi. I’d dearly love to go back there to the Causses with Madame and wander the paths and tracks in Spring. It would probably rival the Aubrac Plateau for wildlife.

It’s strange how sometimes you entirely miss or fail to notice something that under other circumstances might have changed your life. A couple of seasons ago we were down on the Lizard, walking towards Kynance cove and looking for plants. It was fun and we had some success, but in the back of my mind was the possibility that we might find something a bit rarer – Isoetes histrix, Land Quillwort – which, I’d read somewhere, was in the area and likely to be found in one of the pools which dot the landscape. It was prime yomping terrain and I found a pool that was strewn with what looked like the debris from a strimmer, floating on the surface. It occurred to me that it was the oddest place to use a strimmer – especially since I couldn’t see any part of the surrounding vegetation that had actually been strimmed. So without taking a single blade of floating whatever for reference, or even taking a photo for the album I struggled back to the track and we went on our way. Much later I discovered that the mysterious floating material could easily have been the fronds of Isoetes histrix, complete with their spore carrying bases, disturbed and detached by the recent stormy weather.

I’m sure there’s a lesson there about jumping to conclusions. Des Causses – the day we sat in the cafe in Limogne en Quercy – had become a frightening place of deprivation; hot; featureless and dangerous. We just didn’t know enough about it to make a better decision – maybe we could have just dipped a toe in the water with a circular walk. And equally I was expecting a rare plant to announce itself with at least a small fanfare and so because it didn’t assert itself I didn’t bother to take enough notice. I am a ram stamped idiot! It’s known as eisegesis: reading your ignorance and prejudices into a situation; rather than exegesis which is soberly examining the facts/maps/text or whatever and making your mind up only when the evidence comes together.

This revisiting of the Camino walk has frequently suggested that there are times when doggedly refusing to change the plan is plain stupid. For the sake of an extra day’s walking – out and back – we might have ended our Camino with a greater sense of achievement. Who knows? The next morning, with Alain and Daniele, we caught the bus down to Cahors. From memory it took about 40 minutes rather than 2 days. We arrived safely.

Camino 16: The call.

A hand cranked water pump – not working.

1st June 2010

Woke to yet more rain so we tried M’s idea of removing the inner tent and storing it separately to keep it dry.  By the time we had packed up the rain had stopped but it stayed grey and threatening all day. Made our way out through the town.  Met a German couple having a fierce argument because the balises had been re-routed to take us out along the town side of the river which was nicer and which had pavements.  The upwards and seemingly endlessly upwards and a lot of the walk (31-32K) on the roads.  It certainly seemed endless and grinding.  At the very top of the section we stopped for a rest and some chocolate on a forest track.  I fell asleep and M woke me and there was the most lovely hare staring at us from about 20 feet away.  When it spotted us it loped away, but minutes later it was back on the track quite unconcerned as we were sitting very still.

Made it to Cajarc completely exhausted.  GR65 took us right round the outside of town and the campsite was on the river on the way out.  As we’ve become familiar with, the site was open but building work was not finished and most of the facilities unusable.  Met Alain and his wife again.  His feet are so sore he’s wearing women’s plastic sandals – identical to his wife’s – and women’s knee length tights.  Very funny.   Put tent up and wandered off into town.  Absolute stunner – perfect SW France town.  Had a couple of beers, bought breakfast and ate burgers and chips at a local restaurant.  Brilliant.  Bed at 9.00 with a couple of ibuprofen for the feet and slept 10 hours.  I’m losing one toenail, and the blister plasters were stinking so I changed them. 


It was as we approached this large pond – designed I suspect for washing sheep – that Madame phoned and told me about the imminent arrival of the bailiffs. Someone very close to us; a student living away in Cornwall had adopted – let’s say – a relaxed attitude to grown up concerns like paying the rent and communicating with the bank, and so the grown up world was biting back. It wouldn’t have been so worrying except for the fact that we were his permanent address and guarantors and so the bailiffs seemed to be coming after us!

I’ve hesitated for ages before writing up this section of the journal but I’m writing it now because it needs to be said that life at home doesn’t stop just because you’re on a pilgrimage. Every step you take you’re accompanied by the normal everyday constellation of worries and all of your history. You can’t find yourself by becoming a pilgrim. At best you can find a bit of yourself you’d never discovered before, but unfortunately it might not be that much coveted halo of sanctity; it might be the fact that you’re a pretty dreary person who can’t manage without all the familiar things at home. What I did know at that point that I was being relentlessly ground down by living so uncertainly, but also by the knowledge that I’d walked out on Madame one spring day without really explaining what I was trying to achieve, and leaving her to cope with a full time job and a situation with legal consequences. In the hierarchy of concerns, my pilgrimage limped home well below the responsibility for a young person with a history of serious self-harm, hovering on the edge of disaster. We needed each other, me and Madame, as much as he needed us – however hard he pushed back.

I couldn’t really bring myself to talk to M about it but it seemed as if a dark cloud had begun stalking us. There was a decision to be made where either choice – to continue or to give up – involved a lot of hat eating; a crisis, even, without the tiniest opportunity for any heroism on my part.

A creaking gate lasts longest!

Male fern – Dryopteris filix-mas – I think; with Hart’s Tongue which at least I’m sure about!

I blame Helena, our VC6 (North Somerset) County Recorder, for getting me interested in ferns. Madame and I had joined a field trip to the Mendips, and in particular to a nature reserve elegantly named “GB Gruffy” The day is etched in my memory for two reasons; firstly because Helena spotted and named an unusual fern nestling six feet down a gated mineshaft. At the time my knowledge of ferns was confined to Bracken and Hart’s Tongue and I wasn’t even sure about bracken, so I was filled with admiration for her expertise. The other reason for remembering was that somehow I lost a rather expensive telescopic lens whilst yomping across the tussocky clumps in a deep bog.

Ferns have been around an awfully long time – around 300 million years – so they can certainly claim longevity in addition to a complicated sex life and the gift of occasionally doubling up on their chromosomes. They are – it’s true – very challenging to identify, or at least some of them are, and so they’re also fatally attractive to propeller heads like me. So after my brief excursion back to my old day job which really did stir up the silt of memories at the bottom of my pond, Madame made sure that our time was filled with anything that didn’t involve me wearing a frock. Distraction therapy, you might say. So we went up to Mendip to hunt for fungi – rather unsuccessfully; then we went to a fine lecture on bees – but not honey bees – and I found myself volunteering to lead a field trip in the spring, the thought of which is terrifying because I’ll be with a couple of co-leaders, a birder and an entomologist who really know what they’re up to. Imposter syndrome is a painful business! We drove back up to Priddy in the campervan for a couple of nights but the trip was overshadowed by heavy rain and thick fog, so we came home a day early. Since then we’ve been vaccinated for flu and Covid and I’ve had my new drug regime finalized. There’s nothing fatal wrong with me except worn out joints and an over excitable heart which requires that I take medicines with nasty side effects and which take weeks to bed down. My only concession to all this is to wear mittens a lot of the time because I now have Raynauds and my fingers get painful and stiff. I’m not quite 300 million years old but it occasionally feels like it, and so I’ve become a bit of a creaking gate.

Now prepare yourself for a true stinker of a link because a real creaking gate featured in yesterday’s walk. The sun was shining and Madame, continuing her campaign of loving distraction, took us off to Newton Park for a stroll around the lake so I could look for ferns and try out three new ID apps on my phone. This is going to be the subject of my talk next spring – phone apps and AI and their strengths and weaknesses.

Newton St Loe is a place that seems to be wholly owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and so it’s a picture perfect village where even the no parking signs are made from cast iron. We parked the car as far from the signs as we could and bumped into a party of about a dozen people led by a man wearing a Viyella shirt with well pressed trousers and gleaming brown shoes. I concluded that he was a land agent or some such because they were all laughing at his jokes. We joined them as we walked up the road towards the church and unwittingly divided them into two groups. As we left the churchyard I became fascinated by the creaking of the gate because it sounded three distinct notes and so they waited a bit impatiently as I swung it to and fro and even sang along with it. I love the sounds that gates make. There’s a broken gate made from tubular steel on one of our favourite walks where we camp at St Davids. It sings sweetly like a flute and depending on the wind strength will even fluctuate over several harmonics. S

]Natural sounds are so important. Later as we sat alongside the lake I was trying out a birding app called Merlin – which is amazingly accurate. There were few birds that could compete with the sound of the wind in the still fully leaved trees, but crows, jackdaws, coot and mallard were all calling. Aside from that our best sighting was a hornet which dashed for cover among some laurels, and I found lots of Male ferns, which isn’t surprising because they’re ubiquitous in the UK. On the other hand I do at least know now what they’re called and – being a bit of a creaking gate myself – I could just have 299 million years left to learn the rest of them. But I’m not holding my breath.


Having written this piece, I realized in the middle of the night that with a little bit of detective work I could probably find the name of the fern that Helena spotted – apart from asking her, that is. So there’s a very useful document from the British Geological Survey which I often refer to, called the Biodiversity of Western Mendip which covers most of my favourite places. Turning to the section called GB Gruffy Site I discovered that a moderately unusual fern called the Brittle Bladder fern, Cystopteris fragilis occurs on that site but just to double check I went to the BSBI Atlas 2020 website and searched for it. One of the key tools for finding plants is to know their habitat and so when I read that this fern is most often found growing in the semi darkness of cave entrances and mineshafts and then found a confirmatory 2 KM dark square with the site in the middle I was delighted. Even more delightful was the news that one of my long-term bucket list plants – the Spring Sandwort, Minuartia verna also grows nearby. All I need to do is wait ’till next spring!

Camino 15: Decazeville, by the rivers of Babylon

30th May 2010

Woke to pissing rain – so glad we’d ordered breakfast for 7.30.  Packed tent wet and put on all our waterproofs to leave at 9.00am.  We’d inadvertently exchanged trousers so I was wearing M’s extra large ones and his looked extremely slim and tight!  Flogged up awesome track out of Conques so we were wet with sweat by the time we reached the top. Miserable cold, windy and very wet.  Hard walking all the way.  Decazeville looked like Blaenavon on mogadon.  Dropped down 300m and the straight back up the other side. Arrived at Livinhac le Haut at about 3.00pm, knackered again.  Found campsite on river but couldn’t face wet tent so we rented a caravan for the night and paid 60€ for dinner bed and breakfast. So we could dry out all our stuff in the caravan.  My rucksack leaked badly at the bottom so my shoes were wet through.  Slept on a bed this afternoon – bliss! Own shower own toilet.  Bed 8.45

31st May 2010

Still cold, windy and pissing down at 6.30 so we discussed our options.  Me very pessimistic.  M (as so often) practical and positive. Shower out of gas too – so got cold and wet while I struggled with the controls and then gave up. We were the only customers at breakfast.  I think the campsite has fallen on hard times.  Only about 8 diners from the nearby gîte d’etape last night.  Onion soup (I was so hungry I ate it)  Salad of grated carrots (that’s all)  chips,  duck and the ubiquitous haricots verts – the French cook these with real hatred like my mum used to cook sprouts.  M noticed a burned out caravan and a similar tent just left there.  I expect if you looked in the orchard you’d probably find the previous owner’s body still hanging there.   Anyway I negotiated with the owner and he offered to drive us to Figeac for 50€ –  so 118€ for bed breakfast evening meal and transport for 2 – deal!

Figeac on a wet Monday made Haverfordwest look cosmopolitan. Everything shut except a couple of rainswept cafés.  Thought for a moment the whole town had a crack cocaine problem – certainly saw some edgy looking people around.  Just about lost the will to live when we noticed 2 bedraggled pilgrims carrying shopping bags so we went back into the centre of town and found a LeClerc open and several other signs of life (3.00pm) Bought food and a Guardian Weekly went back to the campsite, nicked a couple of chairs from an empty chalet and read.


Of course anyone with a grain of common sense will be asking me how I have the nerve, after all I’ve written about the church, to put on a frock and say things I’ve apparently long since stopped believing. My answer would be that I have always believed that Christianity can only be accepted as a practise rather than a rosary of written propositions about unfathomable mysteries. My biggest difficulty with the day was taking on the persona – Rev Dave – even for a few hours – after laying him to rest for eight years. I don’t believe for a moment that my blessings would twist the arm of any conceivable non material being; but I do believe in grace

13 years later

I swore I’d never do it, but when Harry’s daughter asked me I couldn’t say no; and so yesterday, for one day only, I came out of retirement and agreed to bless his grand daughter’s marriage. I owe him too much to do any other; however I named my price – that I would insist on wearing trainers – and the deal was done. It was – as I’d always known it would be, totally exhausting – but spending a few hours with Harry (96) and his family was pure joy. A haircut and beard trim were obligatory on my part- Harry is an ex soldier and retired surgeon and the man I’ve looked up to for more than thirty years; a true role model and inspiration. He was also my Churchwarden for much of that time and saved my skin more than once from a small contingent of members who wanted me out/dead/whatever …..

Of course I was absolutely running on empty by the time we drove home, and all I could think of was a glass of wine – but having poured it out I took a sip and flaked out in an armchair. I woke almost ten hours later dreaming about David Attenborough driving children off the beach at Severn Beach (where there isn’t one) – waving a radio handset and shouting dark threats against trespassers. I’ll leave you to work that one out because I haven’t a clue. I was, however feeling unsettled and flat because I knew I was about to write about Decazeville. But Madame had a cunning plan, and – as ever – it was a good one. “Do you fancy driving up to Mendip” she asked casually after a very late breakfast.

The sun was shining, it was unusually warm and we walked in T shirts around Stockhill Plantation where last year we found dozens of species of fungi but today almost none. All of the mycology websites have been lamenting the late start of the autumn flush of fungi and they are entirely correct. It was spookily fungus free – BUT – today I found one I’ve been looking for, for ages. It’s beautiful, delicate and unusual for a fungus with a cap it lives up trees – particularly beech trees. Here it is: Pleased welcome the Porcelain fungus – Oudemansiella mucida

But there’s an irony in this excursion on to the Mendip Plateau but although I grumble about the depressing ugliness of Decazeville it shares an origin with high Mendip because they are both former mining areas and still bear the scars. Mendip was mined for lead and copper, and Decazeville for coal – an industry concurrent with the industrial revolution. I can think of walks nearer home where you experience the same disjunction between two adjoining landscapes; empty hillscapes and semi derelict industrial areas. Walking south from the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) you might take the Beaufort road and, crossing the empty hills, walk downhill past an opencast coal mine and into the Welsh valleys which once powered the industrial revolution here. The same slightly depressed feeling hangs like a miasma over these post industrial towns. Our walk yesterday was through a plantation that has now pretty much covered about 24 acres (12 hectares) of what’s known locally as gruffy ground; covered in shallow exploratory pits where miners from Roman times onwards have prospected and mined surface deposits of lead ore.

The great advantage of writing up the Camino journal is that these parallels constantly crop up. Obviously being wet and miserable I failed to do justice to a little town that has fallen on hard times. I just checked the local statistics and discovered that the town has only existed for 150 years; the sole raison d’etre being the extraction of coal which ended in the 1960’s . Population about 1500, just 26 two star hotel rooms (and no others at all) and no campsite – so by inference, the Pelegrins don’t stop and spend their money here. The Transit vans and crew buses full of paying pilgrims pass quickly by to more attractive places. My strongest memory of Decazeville is the smell of dog poo wetted by the rain and the continuous procession of gigantic Renault lorries – oh and one of those very thin pilgrim ponchos abandoned in a hedge like a giant pink condom.

But why should pilgrimage be an endless sequence of more or less beautiful places and memorable stops. Life really isn’t like that and I guess I’ve waited 13 years to allow that thought to emerge into the light of day. I feel slightly ashamed of my negative reaction to Decazeville. On a sunny day and with time to explore more fully I’d probably be praising it as I regularly praise all sorts of heritage industrial remains. I don’t think Madame will be wanting to join me on that expedition, though!

Finally – to complete our afternoon on Mendip a few shots of a very beautiful Scaly Male Fern, Dryopteris affinis and a tiny lichen, British Soldiers Cladonia cristatella. Maybe the Rivers of Babylon aren’t so bad after all?

Camino 14: Conques

Conques 2010 – the path out is opposite.

29th May 2010

Well [the school party] didn’t quite stay up all night but the DJ had them singing all their favourite pop songs at the tops of their voices until quite late.  I’d gone to bed at about 8.00pm leaving M to finish off his (2nd) bottle of wine. I always feel very anxious when he starts drinking.  Slept all but 11 hours with a few interruptions.  M unzipped the tent several times and told me he’d spent £40 on a [phone] call …… in the night. That’ll teach him!

Woke in the morning to the sound of 50 suitcases and accompanying children being herded right past the tent.  Daren’t get up for a piss even, as they were overrunning all the facilities. When calm was restored 2 hours later I went to the toilets only to have myself photographed several times by children on the coach which I hadn’t noticed was overlooking me.  Left M sleeping and went for breakfast – better than last nights dreadful pizza and chips.  2 coffees, fruit juice, pain au chocolat bread and preserves.  Did all the washing in the morning  and left it to dry in the sun.  Dozed by the swimming pool.  After minimal lunch – picnic –  went to Conques.

All very picturesque but the abbey was cold and, for me, spiritually meaningless.  The town itself is overwhelming but ultimately a gift shop. If you came here looking for faith I’ve no idea how you would find it.  Resting again now. Meal booked at the auberge along the road for 7.30.  Owner looks just like the one of the *Two Fat Ladies who died. As the days go past we just walk, sleep, eat and search for toilets.  That’s about it really. What a strange way to spend a summer. Not very religious and not remotely what most people imagine we’re doing.

* well known TV chefs of the time


Thirteen years is a long time; long enough to change perspectives, long enough to be led out of Europe by a bunch of liars; long enough to see poisonous and cruel ideologies strip away our security and dignity; long enough to see our civil rights taken away; long enough to see the poisonous fruits of environmental degradation set fire to the atmosphere forcing the thought that my memories of a pristine landscape and historic culture may have already been erased; long enough to know that I’d never be able to undertake such a long walk again. In truth it’s likely me who’s disappearing and I’m finding it hard to adjust to the loss. The sense of morbidity grips like winter – grips my joints; grips my hearing and my eyes; grips my heart which is always liable to go off on a cadenza of its own devising.

This week, on the television we watched “Partygate” – the horrifying documentary that chronicles the carousing and lawbreaking in Downing Street, going on while thousands of people died of Covid. We watched Tory Party conference speeches that were psychotically detached from reality, and we watched the David Olusoga documentary “Union” which dealt with the bloodshed, greed and corruption that fuelled the union of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Any residual faith I once had in our human capacity for compassion, generosity and communal life is being slowly crushed. I was born in Bristol and raised on the horror stories told by my father and grandfathers of the Bristol riots; how the middle classes allowed the miners of Kingswood and South Bristol to fight for the reform acts knowing that their sacrifice would only benefit a couple of thousand wealthy property owners. I was fascinated by Rolinda Sharples’ painting of the trial of Colonel Brereton which still hangs in the Museum. Brereton was court martialed for losing control of the riots, but had been made a scapegoat and committed suicide before his trial ended. Nobody knows how many rioters were killed by the Dragoon Guards.

History and its relics makes fools of us all. I wonder if the only way to conduct a real pilgrimage today is to start with the pot of fools’ gold bought in the cathedral gift shop and then walk away with it into the reality of twenty first century suffering. Who knows? the alchemical work of walking might transmute it into real gold; spiritual gold.

In my twenties I went into a prolonged period of anxiety and depression and so I curse this mood as if it were an estranged acquaintance turning up out of the blue. The doctor diagnosed morbid anxiety and assured me that I would get better with a bit of human company. “Go down to the pub!” he advised. “Pills are no good”. I took him at his word, and months later I met him at a party. I was standing at the top of a rather ornate Georgian staircase. He climbed towards me clutching a large glass of wine. “Ah, I see you took my advice” – he said – and then toppled drunkenly backwards down the stairs in a well practiced cartwheel. Months later it suddenly dawned on me that – of course – I was going to die; but not yet!” Those few imagined words were what you might call a performative utterance and I got better. Ever since, but mercifully rarely, winter trees take on the appearance of blackened lungs and the feeling returns but I’m reasonably hopeful it won’t last

So possibly this wasn’t the best time of year to start remembering the Camino. On the allotment, autumn is my least favourite season because the crops are harvested and all our energy is directed towards clearing up weeds and dead plants. The Camino has always felt like a comprehensive personal failure – so much so that I can only manage writing about it for a couple of days at a time. And yet I go on writing because there’s a tiny part of me that knows the only way to move on is to turn and face the black dog. When faith becomes fetid and blocked with the debris of false belief, the clearing out has to begin. I have to drag the bindweed out of my heart.

My photographs of Conques were enough to set me off on this gloomy excursus. We came down from the Aubrac Plateau exhausted but buoyed up by the landscape we’d been walking through, and were then thrown into Disneyland; the relic of a town, dusted with cobblestones, and rolled into a preserved, boned, rolled and stuffed religious experience.

If you’ll allow me a small biblical moment, some may be familiar with the Gospel story of the Transfiguration – when Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter James and John they see him transfigured – glowing – and talking to Moses and Elijah ( a heap of theology there!). Peter, as always, gets over excited and offers to build three shelters so that (presumably) later pilgrims can return to the place. Jesus (and I’m translating roughly from the Aramaic) shouts at Peter and says don’t you effing well dare you moron – that would be an epochal piece of misdirection. Sadly, ever since then, generations of Peters have been throwing up more and more effigies, buildings and reliquaries in complete defiance of the instruction to remain silent. Now I realize that this is a very loose interpretation of some greatly loved and important verses and that some will think it’s heretical but the central idea is that God can’t be trapped in a location or a building or relic. The Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao.

So there’s a sense in which Conques was a kind of turning point for me. The coldness and emptiness of the Abbey exactly mirrored my feelings of coldness and emptiness. The rest was gift shops, bars and bakeries specializing in sweet treats baked with chestnut flour. We got our pilgrim passports stamped and wandered down to the bottom of the valley, knowing that we’d have to sweat it out up the other side in the morning – see the photograph at the top. The untouched beauty of the small town was rather undermined by its chocolate box alleyways and streets and oddly (to most people who don’t know me) I became fascinated by the leadwork gutters and downpipes and took any number of photographs – which I’ll spare you.

This was where the idea of walking away from the iconic place was born. Next time I’ll write about the phone call that changed everything.


My friend Rose reproaches me mildly by sending some photographs of Fontenay Abbey which she says is “scoured free of crap” – and I agree entirely. Getting rid of the clutter, the explanatory material and all the accumulated cultus at least allows the buildings to speak. But it still seems to me that occasionally the still small voice can speak through the carnival of distraction – however I think those occasions are determined by grace and not design. So here are a couple of pieces from the past that – I hope – paint a more nuanced picture.

St Thomas a Becket and St Francis of the boot rack

Camino 13 : Puy lentils and confit duck


28th May 2010

Woke up feeling cold, miserable and pessimistic.  My feet had been sore all night and I couldn’t seem to get comfortable.  Dragged myself out of the sleeping bag and went for a shower while M slept.  Then I had a proper look at my feet and peeled off the pile of three compeed plasters on the ball of my right foot.  To my surprise – though the plasters stank – the skin was intact so I replaced them with a new one which was much more comfortable.  M woke in a more positive frame of mind and we packed up and blagged a couple of free coffees at the campsite café.  Walk was much easier today. Arrived in Sénergues at 12.00 (didn’t leave camp ‘till 9.00 and found 2 pilgrims we recognized eating lunch at a café. It looked so good we stopped too.  Green salad, fresh tomato, hard boiled egg, confit duck and hot cooked Puy lentils.  We both had a panaché and then sorbet and espresso. Cost 30€ but it made up for yesterday’s privations.  Walked on new legs after lunch.  Finally got to Conques at about 4.00pm. Town is extraordinary – like a medieval film set – so we decided to take a day off tomorrow and explore then. 

Campsite by river – nice place – Pizzas tonight + sleep + rest and do some washing.  Only fly in ointment is 50 school kids on adventure camp.   Hope they don’t stay up all night.


Surprisingly, perhaps, I didn’t come back from France with a pocketful of recipes – mainly because our diet was so restricted by our budget and although we saw a lot of menus we didn’t really eat them. I wrote last time about the vegetable soup with aligot and local sausages. The vegetable soup has eluded any attempt to cook it myself and although we eat lots of veg soup at the Potwell Inn, I’ve never made anything as good. Maybe it should only be attempted when you’re half starved and completely exhausted. We were living off high energy tinned food that we could eat as we walked a lot of the time. Later on I’ll come to a cafe where I was so lonely I could have proposed to the owner on the spot except for her completely aloof manner (very French) and around a forty year age gap. I was missing Madame terribly.

But this little restaurant in Sénergues looked like the real deal and when we saw a couple we vaguely knew we didn’t hesitate. The main course was a kind of warm salad of confit duck and Puy lentils with a green salad. This one has become a mainstay for us. We buy the duck legs when they’re on offer and brine them overnight before preparing the confit from an enormous jar of duck fat at the back of the fridge and then pack them into our largest and deepest casserole with a few bay leaves and some thyme before we cook them very very slowly for several hours. Then we vacpack them in pairs and bung them into the freezer. We cook the lentil salad fresh each time – a mirepoix / soffritto of carrot and celery and a whole onion stuck with a few cloves, covered with stock (best you can get – preferably homemade) and dressed with a vinaigrette made from red wine vinegar, honey, chopped fresh shallot and chopped parsley. Green salad any way you like it. we defrost the confit duck and sauté until crisp and warmed right through. Then we usually pull the meat from the bones and mix it with the lentils – absolutely lovely to eat and easy to cook. Here begins and ends my Camino cookbook. As for tinned cassoulet it’s better heated up because the layer of cold goose fat cleaves to the top of your mouth in a most unpleasant way. I could retch just remembering it! However real cassoulet, whilst a terrible faff is a thing of beauty that doesn’t cost much more than a day of your life.

The changing of blister plasters became something of a ritual for us. Although I’d prepared and trained, as well as pickling my feet with surgical spirit for weeks, both of us suffered from really painful blisters, and we found that the best way of dealing with them was to dress, clean up and apply Compeed plasters to each others’ feet. An intimate and smelly job but much easier in the end for both of us. I don’t use this blog to promote anything – but I can honestly say that Compeed plasters are the absolute bees knees and can keep you walking with absurdly blistered feet. Perhaps I’d venture the advice that the time to deal with any soreness on a long walk, is immediately.

Next stop Conques.



Towan beach on the Roseland

Last night we watched the moon rise and set behind the hedge on the campsite. Today is a brief period of calm between two blown-out hurricanes, and tonight Nigel barrels in. Does anyone else think Nigel is a bit of let down for the name of a hurricane? Anyway, at the end of last week’s storm Lee gave us 85K gusts without causing us any problems, and Nigel is forecast as a bit of a damp squib down here in the extreme southwest.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to marking the seasons. I don’t buy the tidiness of the meteorological seasons and much prefer the solstice and equinox schema. These seasons relate to the inbreathing and outbreathing, the sleep and the oestrus of the earth. What’s the problem with that? So we sat on the beach today and soaked up the sun from which we’re slowly withdrawing for a while – because the earth needs rest as much as we do. It seems to me that part of the problem with our rolling ecological disaster is that our culture wants to press the override button on the seasons -in fact on all of the natural constraints that keep us and the environment sane and healthy.

Back on Monday with a pile of autumn work to do on the allotment – mulching, composting and prepping beds for the Spring.

Camino 12: which way? – the dance goes on

Celtic wayside cross – now outside the door of Gerrans church

This Celtic cross in Gerrans churchyard, (in Cornwall where we are at the moment) spent at least a part of its life on its side as a coping stone on the wall; which is a fairly ignominious fate for what must be the oldest Christian relic in the village. I have to remind myself that although we like to think that artistic, spiritual or historical value is intrinsic to the objects we treasure, it’s clear that what it’s worth is what we think it’s worth. So there were obviously times when this cross was valued more highly than it is today – and what’s more, by the 19th century it was no more than a handy lump of stone.

But hold on; what goes around comes around. What if objects, like words, accumulate meaning, and like words, also shed them. For instance while we were walking the Camino we found several enormous stone frames standing outside old farm buildings. One of them had an immensely strong looking set of straps, but I had to read some history to discover that these frames were used to restrain oxen while they were being shod by the local blacksmith. I’m perfectly content for the frames to be both redundant for practical use – because there’s not much call for oxen with shoes these days (perhaps there should be but that’s another argument); but now they are charged with meaning and resonate as object metaphors for a lost age.

Looked at in this way, the Celtic cross still resonates meanings from the past and still, if we choose to allow it, carries a kind of accumulated spiritual meaning for us. But it’s important to stress that whatever that meaning is, it will take the form of a dialogue. We take questions to these powerful objects; questions such as “what is your name?” “what was in the mind of your maker?” “what kind of world did they live in? and what were their beliefs? “What is your purpose?” Happily we know the answers to some of those questions; this stone began its life as a wayside cross, perhaps in the so-called Dark Ages after the Romans had left, taking their form of Christianity with them – whilst the Celtic church of an earlier – perhaps 3rd century – period which had been most powerful in the westernmost fringes, continued as before. The two spiritualities were very different and so too were the forms of organisation. The reason I think the wayside cross is significant is because the Celtic church was monastic and its monks were great travellers; setting up cells and monasteries wherever they could. In an age where people travelled on foot or by horse on more or less unmarked tracks and footpaths, waymarkers were vital, and continue to be so on pilgrimage routes.

So much then for their accumulated meanings, but could it be possible that the questioning I just mentioned is, in fact, a two way conversation? Would, or could the stone and other treasured artifacts speak back to us? I don’t think that’s a step too far towards some kind of wooly, ill defined spirituality. It would depend on the quality of the question of course, and the intensity of any meditation on the reply. This can sound a bit religious, but for me, the answers to good questions are almost never concrete but – let’s say – Delphic. The symbolism of the crossroads is crucial, because it involves choosing – the ultimate derivation of the word crisis is the Greek crino – to choose. So instead of answering the question where now? the function of the Celtic waymarking cross is to ask it – where now? All I know is that once I’d seen the 7′ high stone I felt compelled to go close to it and see. The stone called me.

Inside Gerrans church there are other speaking objects. A 14th century font carved from granite – Cornish stone; 15th century pew ends bearing the pineapple crest of Katherine of Aragon; the remains of candleholders from the early 20th century, Victorian floor tiles – and so it goes on. But the church is on its knees. The systematic withdrawal of support from these little parishes towards the centre exactly mirrors the social depredations of successive governments. Oblivious to the cultural and social significance of village churches they are being allowed to close.

As we went into the church I read the notices and after we left, I googled up their web page and it was enough to break your heart. These parishes with their 1500+ years of history are being abandoned. Here there are three voluntary churchwardens, but no licensed lay minister and no priest helping to keep them alive. You might think it seems as if the Romans are leaving all over again – which could, just could, lead to a rediscovery of Celtic spirituality. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our tired and bankrupt churches gave up trailing thirty years behind secular fashions and arguing about challenges long-since settled by the rest of us; gay marriage stops being a “problem” when marriage stops being a property relation; women as priests and bishops stop being a “problem” when women stop being a problem.

So there’s a huge opportunity to rediscover the hospitality, the creativity and the profound love of nature exemplified by a Celtic spirituality that’s open to all and most importantly refuses to define itself in a series of attempts to imprison God into a linguistic cage. There is no theology beyond poetry, song and music.

So where does this all lead me?

18th March 2017 – the Wye in flood at Hay on Wye
This is going to be a hard one to explain ..

I had to give up my futile search for some kind of overarching meaning on 18th March 2017. I know it was that moment because I’d taken this photograph and I just knew it was over. We turned our backs to the river and then I turned back for a moment and said goodbye to God. Then I waited for some kind of catastrophic reaction – the full Kübler Ross experience; anger, denial, bargaining and depression followed at a decent interval by acceptance. No such thing happened because I went straight to acceptance, feeling nothing but a sense of relief that at last I could stop trying to hold the tectonic plates together. What I didn’t realize until this week was that the flooding river wasn’t moving away from me; it was offering me an object metaphor which I could return to six years later with a second piece of the jigsaw – the Celtic wayside cross – with which I could continue the journey in the right direction. The river flows, which is the state of everything in nature. I could go on for ever embellishing and working up the idea but that won’t do because it’s the dreary job of theology to explain, when what the river demands is wonder, that’s all. I filled the ensuing years with the allotment and with learning the plants, and intellectually as well as physically it was absorbing and rewarding – but there was no music in my life; I wasn’t singing any more. My sense of wonder couldn’t tolerate being spread so thinly.

Which was certainly why, on walking into Gerrans church I felt the most extraordinary sense of peace. How strange and how unexpected?

The way inclines but never compels. (To steal a phrase from the astrologers)

Writing up my notes on the Camino we walked in 2010 has led to some provisional insights among which is the understanding that the full Damascus Road experience isn’t really what it’s about, and also that that once you’ve signed up and set foot on the path, you’ll always be on it whatever happens on the way and however far you ranged in search of an easier route.

The initial landscape on the Aubrac plateau before it morphed into woods.

For a long while I’ve had a set of photographs taken in Estaing that I couldn’t place anywhere in the walk, and so finally I’ve gone back to the map and figured out that it’s a fairly short walk beyond Espalion, and so we didn’t hang around apart from a coffee, I think, somewhere down near the bridge and the river. Then we pushed on. So having finally got this piece into the jigsaw I could see that – far from leaving the hill country behind we were still in the thick of it. Unlike the Aubrac Mountains, this landscape was heavily wooded and the footpath – marked all the way, I’ve never mentioned before, by white and red posts- balises was mostly easy to follow.

And there we are – I’ve probably tried to say everything and actually said nothing.

27th May 2010 ctd:

Bed at 9.00pm.  It rained at night and it was raining when we set off so M was pissed of with the extra weight [the tent weighs half as much again when it’s wet].  Turned out to be a monster day again. Following the River Lot but crossing 3 tributary valleys so climbing maybe 1000 metres.  27K in all. M a bit hypo and cross.  Found campsite in Golinhac (650m) very good.  Pitched tent and had a couple of coffees before walking down to the shop to buy picnic tea.  Sadly I’m too tired to eat so we’ll have to make up in Conques tomorrow.  Easier day I very much hope.