Quote – From one of St Augustine’s Sermons

picture of Augustine on Wikipedia
Antonio Rodríguez – Saint Augustine

So now my bretheren, let us sing, not to delight our leisure, but to ease our toil. In the way that travellers are in the habit of singing, sing but keep on walking. What does it mean “keep on walking”? Go onward always – but go onward in goodness, for there are, according to the Apostle, some people who go ever onward from bad to worse. If you are going onward, you are walking; but always go onward in goodness, onward in the right faith, onward in good habits and behaviour. Sing and walk onwards.

Holiday Nostalgia, Journeying and the Path Ahead

Sometimes something makes me reflect on the impact of past events. One such is that Facebook brought to my notice that Journeying is thirty years old next year. That struck a note with me because the first holiday I went on with what was then Pilgrim Adventure was on their tend anniversary. That means that next year is twenty years since I first holidayed with them. Not that I have holidayed with them ever since.I haven’t but we are not getting ahead with the story let me go back to the beginning.

I booked the first holiday less than a week before leaving. This is not my normal style, I do slow planning. However, that year I desperately needed a holiday and had not got one organised. I suppose I should say something of why but forgive me my brevity there are long stories and confidences involved. About three years earlier my boyfriend had turned out not to exist. If that does not make sense to you, that is fine; it does not really make sense to me after living with it for over twenty years. I also was supporting a friend who was being stalked and there was a break down in relationships around us. I was also working full time and doing church-related study. The church-related study might sound silly but it was also the main way I got support from outside of the tight-knit group around my friend.

At my friend’s suggestion, I got hold of the Retreats Association publication that listed many retreats.  I am a Reformed Christian. The Reformed tradition does not really get ‘retreats’ as a whole. It does, however, get walking particularly walking within the natural environment as there is a strong environmental streak within the Reformed psyche. On the back page, I saw a small advert for Pilgrim Adventure and it clicked with me. So I think I must have emailed them and then received an email back saying there was a space on a holiday less than a week later. The next week was frantic with negotiations going on as to where exactly to meet up with them and trying to locate the necessary accommodation. My boss made an emergency trip home to pick up a sleeping mat for me the day before I left. But a week late I was staying in the tent below in the Lake District

In those days camping was fairly normal, indeed they owned the tent. The holiday worked for me in a number of ways. I found I enjoyed camping though I was cold, my sleeping bag really was not up to camping in a typical English Summer i.e. cool and damp and the sleeping mat was minimal although if I recall correctly one camper did not even have that. The camping enjoyment was two-fold; I found being forced to be away from tech good, my day job means I am always using tech, and I had my own space in the tent.   I enjoyed the walks although my fitness level was relatively poor. The group was unusual; fortunately, nobody who wanted any more than light friendliness with me. I was not ready for close friendship, there were Pilgrim Adventure stalwarts and a number of maturer Anglican women who seemed new to the organisation. The reasons that I remember it is twenty years is that I can remember the conversations about this being ten years.  For a variety of reasons, we must have been an odd group but a lot of the time I was floating and not being drawn into subgroups. I was sorry to go home at the end. I can remember sitting on a style and just not wanting it to finish but knowing it would. I am not going to pretend it was perfect but if it had been perfect it would not have suited me as well.

Not surprising the next year I was back. Firstly there was a camp at the end of June and then I think a holiday in Ireland or was it the other way around?

The following a trip walking St Cuthbert’s  Way. I can only date that because it was the year  Mary Low published her guide with Wild Goose. There was something really special about walking that route.  I am struggling to explain the holiday. It is probably the most influential of the holidays I took with Pilgrim Adventure. The crossing over to Lindisfarne by the Pilgrim Path is something special, in part captured by the piece I wrote last year after walking St Cuthbert’s Way by myself. Yet at the same time, it was a difficult time for me and cracks started to show. I had not yet learnt that I need to regulate myself similar to Lindisfarne. There are times when I enjoy being with people but there are also times when I need to be by myself. Maybe just maybe, there was something more complex yet going on. Whatever it was I ended up ill and needing some time out.

I think the year that followed,  for the only time in Pilgrim’s Adventure/Journeying history there was a Northern Group, that complemented the core group around Bristol and did weekend walks and such. The North is a big place and getting together for a day walk can be difficult. The next summer ended up travelling to Shetland. The time was fantastic for wildlife including being called over by one of the leaders to stand inches from a sleeping otter. One thing these holidays taught me is that if you want to see wildlife you need to be out for long periods of time. The year after I went to Ireland again but things did not work well. I ended up struggling with lactose intolerance (I think the Irish put milk into a lot of their bread) and being peopled out. Pilgrim Adventure was now usually staying in hostels or B&B and that meant sharing a room.  It was not that I needed my own room, it is that I need alone time and travelling with people, sharing meals with people and sleeping without the freedom to head out in free time just exhausts me.

Did I go on one last camping trip or was that the end. My memory serves both stories. Whatever it was life, was moving along.  I was now doing a masters degree in Sociology at the OU and then start my PhD (finished two years ago). I would go through burn out with my involvement in my local congregation and then spend a summer volunteering on Iona (shared accommodation, shared meals but in time off I could disappear whether to St Columba’s bay or just to my bed to sleep).  Finally, my Goddaughters, who I would have been guardian too if anything happened to their parents, moved to Scotland and I need to use my holiday to keep in contact with them.

Time moves on again, the PhD is finished and my Goddaughters are growing into young women and no longer need me as a guardian. This could be just an exercise in nostalgia only it isn’t. The last three years I have been getting myself fit enough to solitary walk and last year I walked the Northumberland Coastal Path and St Cuthbert’s Way. This year I walked the Cleveland Way from Helmsley to Whitby. The experience of walking a route with my pack is something I relish. There is something very deep about moving at walking-pace from one place to another with all you need in your pack and meeting fellow travellers on the way. There is something special about receiving what the path brings you as gifts. As you have to be out regardless, I carry full waterproofs, you are out in the most spectacular of weathers.  Yes, I am already beginning to plan me walk for next year, the next challenge. I am not yet up to carrying camping gear as well.  I know there is something in me that really want to. I ask questions about how I would cope as just over fifty is different to just over thirty. So I book myself beds for the nights but I am happy as long as it is somewhere to sleep.  So even if I am not going on one of Journeying’s holidays next year, the holidays I am doing are still shaped by them

On straying and finding the trail

When I am walking a long distance path I do not aspire to get lost. I am happy to take my time over the journey but actually getting lost at best means it will take longer and at worst is dangerous. To this end I use multiple navigation techniques:

  • Waymarking – that is keeping a watch out for marks made by others that show the correct route of the trail
  • Route Map and Guidebook, used for imaging the trail in advance and for checking I am still going the right way when I have not seen a waymark for a while
  • GPS with the trail on it to check I am still on the route when I start panicking
  • OS maps of the area (1:25,000) and compass for when I know I am off the trail and I want to get back on.

What should be obvious  is that following a trail takes effort. However, for 90% of the time waymarking is sufficient. That is following the directions from one waymark I immediately start looking for the next. If the trail is difficult then the next waymark is visible from the present one, if the trail is easy to follow then it can be quite a while between waymarks. Normally when I get the route map out it is to check I have not missed a waymark because I have been following a well-defined trail. Usually, I am panicking.

Walking St Cuthbert’s Way between Wooler and Beal it crosses Weetwood Moor. About two-thirds of the way across it takes a 90-degree turn. However, a clear path runs straight ahead. When I was crossing Weetwood Moor another couple of people walking St Cuthbert’s Way called Chris and Peter were walking about fifty yards behind me. We had got to know each other over the previous days on the route. I missed the waymark for the turn! I started to get suspicious when I went through a gate which was not waymarked (gates normally are) and half way through the next field I checked my GPS and I was clearly off route. At this point, I shouted back to Chris and Peter who were still following me (I was about 150 metres off route).

We together traced our steps to the turn-off and started out again. This time, I let them lead (I was obviously not doing too well this day). The net result was we promptly got off route again by heading across a field instead of staying by the wall. The ground we travelled on was decided tricky and Peter and Chris did not fancy retracing for the second time in the day. Nor actually did I. For the one and only time in walking the route I got out the OS maps. I was able to place us and also able to point out that across the wall at the other side of the field to the gate we were at was a quarry. Peter did not believe me and went to check finding out that it was indeed the case. I was, however, also able to point out it might be possible to walk around the quarry by crossing the wall further on. This is what we did though we ended up hacking our way through bracken and a steep descent down to the road across a field. We came out back on the path and the view gave a clear indication of where we were to walk. When we were past this we were on territory where I had walked doing the Northumberland Costal Path.

Intriguingly others also walking the way got lost in much the same way at exactly the same point so we were not complete dunces. However, I find getting lost was instructive.

Firstly, being with people when lost is far better than being lost and alone. When making decisions on how to get back, groups tend to balance each other out. However, just because someone is in front of you on the same journey does not mean they are on the right track!

Secondly, both getting lost was because we were not careful enough. I should have been looking out for the turning in the first case and in the second we should have spotted that the path ran next to the wall once we were through the gate. In other words checking waymarks against maps and maps against waymarks is a good idea.

Thirdly there are two ways to get back on the route: retracing or detouring. Usually, preference is for retracing and the bias should always be for that. Detouring frequently takes you across tougher ground and can lead you into danger. However, there can be good reasons to detour such as when the ground already covered is difficult to cover. You are balancing possible future danger against known past danger. Again the ability to consider this with others is important.

I am careful of what I am drawing, but I am aware that I am in uncharted area spiritually. I need to find a way across and the route back is actuall to a dead end. I initially thought that I should look for those who may know something of the territory, maybe I still should but I am now aware they may be heading in the wrong direction and retracing is expensive. I do, however, know that I will value companions who may or may not equally be seeking routes across the terrain. The ability to seek a way forward together seems to me a great blessing.


DSCF0001As I write this I am about to go on holiday (yes it was written well in advance) and amongst my plans are to do a few walks, not particularly difficult walks, maybe one out to take photos of a lighthouse, a walk around a RSPB site I have not visited before, a couple of afternoons Geocaching with my Goddaughters, that sort of thing, dry weather would be nice.

This has got me back pondering the restless nature of the Reformed, but particularly our attraction to walking. St Andrew’s has its own walking group. In that it is not unusual for a URC, the majority of those I have been in do. Indeed up until fairly recently I just assumed that having a walking group was something churches tended to do. Then for some reason I checked it out. Other traditions just don’t do it in the same way.

However by the mid-nineteenth Century many Non-Conformist churches had walking groups. These were aimed a people in the towns to provide an alternative to more hedonistic attractions for their spare time. The idea was closely linked in with the work of Wordsworth and Ruskin and seeing in nature a more spiritual connectedness than there was pleasure attractions. One Sunday in 1891 T A Leonard at the time a Congregational Minister in Colne in Lancashire got up preach a sermon extolling the advantages of a walking holiday when compared with more commercial pleasures of Blackpool. It was a sermon that was to change a life and that life was his.

The church meeting took him at his word, and he ended up leading a holiday for young men. It got heard about by a prominent Congregationalist minister and Social Reformer, John Brown Paton, who was looking for a way to keep the Book Clubs he’d set up going over the summer. The result was he approached T A Leonard about running holidays connected with the book clubs and thus the Cooperative Holiday Association (1894). T A Leonard went on to form the Holiday Fellowship (1913) and Glasgow HF Outdoor Club (1917, while serving as a minister in Glasgow) among other things. He is also credited with being one of the founders of the Ramblers Association and influential on the Youth Hostelling Association. Walking was chosen not simply because it washealthy exercise, but because the pace of it allowed a person to connect more deeply with the countryside around. It was therefore not simply a physical exercise but a spiritual one as well, and I pretty sure that the fact that they were walking together meant an emphasis on the communal and the enjoyment of being with each other. Indeed now I can say why the chores on Iona are so reminiscent of Youth Hostelling holidays in my youth, the same Reformed piety of all sharing in the work and keeping down the cost was behind both.