Thursday, May 26, 2011

How it works

Righty-o... Clearly not going to manage to keep up the day by day updates... Not enough internet access, not to mention brain space. So i thought I´d tell you a bit about how a typical day on the Camino works...

Each night I stay in one of the Albergues (pron. Albergays) which are essentially Pilgrim hostels. The Albergues are manned by volunteers who have to have walked the Camino themselves. The level of empathy for fellow pilgrims varies from place to place and a warm welcome can make all the difference, even if the place itself is less than comfortbale.

Albergues vary wildly in size, quality and facilities. The most flash I´ve stayed in (in Santo Domingo) had a lounge full of leather sofas (total luxury people), internet access, a fully equipped kitchen, awesome showers, great clothes washing facilites and relatively comfortable bed. The Hospitaleros (as the hosts are called) were a touch grumpy, but frankly I can overlook that in a place with sofas. Although I was one of the last to go to bed, because I planned on resting the next day... I haven´t been chased to bed by a middle aged woman in my life EVER... and it is not something I hope to experience again until I am also middle aged and said woman is joining me in that bed. This was not that occassion.

There hasn´t been a low point, accommodation-wise yet. There are some very basic places where you´re essentially in a barn-sized room of twenty bunk beds and you wash your clothes in the shower with you, but noweher has yet been so atrocious that I have been compelled to leave. I´ve heard talk of them, but so far I´ve not been in one.

So, I stay the night in one of these places and endure whatever snoring/sleep apnoeia/coughing might be going on before the first people start to stir at about 5/5.30am. I´ve adopted my own timescales over the last couple of weeks and they´ve made all the difference to how I feel for the rest of the day. I don´t get up until about 7am, by which time most of the high-speed eager beavers have upped and left, so i have more space to fossick around with my belongings and get my proverbial shit together to go out the door. In some albergues they provide breakfast, sometimes I buy it the day before and eat before I leave. Like a good English girl I have a stash of tea bags so I always have a cuppa before I head off.

I won´t take you through my full preparation regime, because, as any runners amongst you will appreciate, it involves liberal applications of anti-chaffing matter... best left alone, I think.

By about 8am I´m on the road. I´ve stopped wearing my watch in the day, though because I was working to time scales instead of what my body needed. So i leave when I´m ready... and I walk... Up to 25kms over about 6-7hrs depending on the terrain. Sometimes the Camino passes through villages with little bars that serve tea and coffee and sandwiches, so i might stopp at those and chill for a bit. Or I´ll find a hill to sit on and watch the fields around me and the passing pilgrims. For most of the day I tend to walk alone, but I can often see people ahead of or behind me. Sometimes, though, I´ll fall into step with someone else and we might chat for a while before one of us needs to stop or move faster.

At the moment I´m passing through the most amazing patchwork quilts of agriculture and crops - fields of every shade of green and gold (hello Australia!) with corn, wheat, barley, canola/rape seed. And the path itself is lined with bright red poppies, deep blue cornflowers and sprays of yellow and white wild flowers. The Camino path has been a white gravel for a long time, but we´ve come into red earth today, which looks stunning, but sticks like glue when wet, so you can see Pilgrims balancing on the dry sides of the paths to avoid making their boots like dead weights.

I carry fruit and sandwich stuff for the day and I stop every now and then to rest my feet and fuel myself for the next stretch of walking.

By about 1-2pm I´ve reached my destination for the day and I find the Albergue Municipal (the official one for the town or village) or equivalent and book myself in. I dump my gear, have a hot shower, wash my clothes and stretch my body in the hopes it won´t hurt the next day and then I chill. Sometimes I sit and write, or catch up with other people to see how their day on the Camino has gone.

inevitably we talk blisters and foot/leg injuries - these are as standard and unflinching as conversations among travellers about stool consistency in third world countries. ´People litterally hobble about in the afternoons. Every sit down results in an inevitable seize-up and you can almost hear them creak as they stand. One man I met suggested that the Camino´s purpose is to teach us all what it will be like to old... And then an 80yr old will pass you at pace the next day and you realise that old age is what you make it!

In the evenings some people make food if there is a kitchen. Otherwise there are always a handful of restaurants that offer a Pilgrim´s Menu - three courses with bread and wine for about €10... Standard stuff of varying quality.

So those are my days... I think, plan, sing and talk to myself as I walk. I stop to take a million pictures of mind-blowing scenery. I wonder what the people I love are doing (feel free to write and tell me!) and I breathe in the experience around me. I had a thought the other day: I love myself for bringing me here. It´s such an incredible journey in every sense (and you know I love a journey).

After the last post I found myself walking with a group who´s core was made up of an English woman, an Italian man and an American man. We became really close as a little group and picked up extras here and there along the way. It´s interesting, though (look away if you don´t do deep shit), I believe that people come into your life for a reason. You learn from each other and they may stay or they may pass through. These people taught me a huge amount in a short time, both about myself and about the Camino and they provided a very safe space to move in. And when I didn´t need the safety anymore, I stepped out of the group. I stayed in Santo Domingo and they went on to Grañon. I may well catch them down the line, but for now, I´m back on my own.

Having said that, in the town just before Santo Domingo I met two Aussie girls and we hung out together in Santo Domingo for a day and a couple of nights... Just qietly it was SO good to be able to Aussie it up for 48hrs - lots of slang and local jokes and awesome fun. Those girls were soul food for me and were key in helping me shift the way I was walking my Camino. This isn´t a race. I set off each day with no destination in mind and I use my gut and listen to my body to decide when to rest and where to stop. It´s funny how something so simple can make all the difference!

One last thing... As a huge fan of symbolism I have two walking tops that are hugely symbolic and special to this trip. I walk in my Berry Street running top (that´s who i work for, in case people aren´t sure), because it has the tagline "we never give up", which seemed appropriate (and I like the splash of yellow across it!). And I also walk in the top I was given for my London Marathon training. It says "Fox in training for London 2011"... The fox is me, in case you weren´t sure. I am one, let´s be honest. Anyway, people ask me about it all the time so it´s nice to have a story to tell.

Actually here´s the last thing... Things I have come to LOVE as a long-distance walker:
1. My sticks. I carry two that were a gift. They actually rock in the biggest way and make a huge difference to my walking day.
2. My water bladder. There is nothing more nerd-cool than that blue tube hanging over my shoulder and the knowledge that I can take a sip of water without fossicking for a bottle!
3. My boots. Truly. No blisters yet. ´Nuff said.

I´m in San Juan de Ortega for anyone wanting to track my progress. Heading to Burgo tomorrow. I hope you´re all looking after yourselves ´cos I love youse.

Take care
Lozzy xxxxxxxx

ps. for your laughing pleasure, today i went for a woodland wee (I binned the shewee on day 3 after a nightmare incident on the first day) and I chose a slight slope, forgetting the added weight of my bag... I had a small incident with a pile of brambles. Dignity only saved by the absence of any passing pilgrims since for sometime I was trapped with my bum hanging out as i tried to regain my balance and prevent myself from rolling down a hill. I have bramble cuts. Ouch.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Camino, Days 1-3: from Pain to joy

Day 1: The Solidarity of Pain
St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

OK, so I think I explained the trip to St Jean pied de Port... This is where the actual walking kicks in. Did I mention that Day 1 involves a heinous ascent of 1300m? A full distance of 27kms? And an estimated journey time of 8hrs? I may also have mentioned there was the option of only going 10kms the first day... it turns out this wasn´t an option at all, unless you had booked ahead.

So, as advised I set off early. In the Albergues along the way that are specifically for Pilgrims the day tends to start early with the first alarm going off at about 5.30am. So it´s easy to be out the door by 7am. The Albergue I was in gave me the full experience - washing clothes in a bathroom basin, sleeping with olympic snorers, sleep talkers and coughers and dealing with the interesting whiffs that come with sharing rooms with people who have spent the day (and other days preceding) walking long distances.

So after a breakfast served by a very territorial old french lady who wouldn´t let anyone near her bench and therefore insisted on making all the hot drinks for people, I stepped out the door. It was a morning of low cloud, which I discovered was a blessing. I started on my own, but soon fell into step with a group of older Spanish men, Pedro, Jose Luis and a man they all referred to as El Coordinador for the fact he went way ahead of them.

Lesson one on the Camino... Just as in in life, do not follow blindly, assuming others know the way. And if you do and you discover you have gone the wrong way, accept that the fault is as much your own for having followed. Then turn round and walk the 1.5kms back to rejoin the Camino. And then you hit the hills...

Having been somewhat irritated by the number of pilgrims on the Camino, making my trip less unique than I had imagined it would be, this first day created the most amazing unspoken solidarity between everyone. Over 150 of us walked over that mountain that day. Many of us were completely unprepared for the distance, the exertion or the terrain. So this solidarity came through sheer pain and was expressed without actual words, more of a raising of the eyebrows and a massive exhalation (generally with your tongue out to emphasise) as if to say "fuck me, this is hard!"

The first climb to Orisson was entirely in cloud. I sweated like I was at Bikram yoga, I kid you not. It looked like my hair was sweating. The climb was constant and steep... Just quietly, walking the streets of Melbourne, no matter the distance, did not prepare me for this climb! But it was beyond worth it. We came up to the top, turned a corner and were above the clouds, looking at the peaks of the Pyrenees all around us. The sun was out and the mood changed... for a few minutes before the next climb!

Honestly, the walk on this first day was so completely spectacular, both physically and visually that it has been hard to compare days since. I know it may sound sick to some, but I loved the feeling of pushing myself up that mountain - it was completely me and my own legs doing the work. And the sense of achievement was unreal.

We had further to climb and it carried on being hard, but there was this slowly building elation thing happening. I stopped at the statue of the Virgen of Orisson for lunch. I set the camera up to take my picture and promptly sat myself so that my ankles rested in a pile of nettles... not cool. They left me with an angry rash for days! And the photo was crap.

From the Virgin we climbed up to Col de Lepoeder which was the pinaccle for the day, passing grazing sheep and horses all throughout the mountains. In fact the consistent sound of the Camino for the first three days was the sound of cow bells around the necks of the sheep and horses. After the pinnacle the track swept right and headed downhill at a rapid and precarious rate. You could see who feared for their knees as we did our best to traverse the slope, zig-zagging like pre-snow learner skiers.

After about 3kms of descent we emerged from the woods to the sound of thunder and the sight of the Albergue... The most enormous sense of relief!

Albergues are set up to house the maximum number of people. They vary totally in quality, but this one was nice. Comfortable, despite housing over 120 people each night. Clean (until we were let loose on it) and well equipped (which, to the average Camino Pilgrim means they had a space to wash clothes and a kitchen to sit in... we´re not a demanding lot!).

Pretty much without fail everyone crashed and slept before 9pm. The collective exhaustion was infectious.

Day one rocked. I felt really good and really strong. No major issues with my legs or feet and my pack hadn´t held me back, despite being about 5kgs heavier than recommended (and than most people are carrying).

I slept like a baby.

Day 2: The Grump of Exhaustion
Roncesvalles to Zubiri

If day one was characterised by stunning scenery and a sense of achievement, day two was characterised by the unapproachable grumpiness that comes from being physically exhausted. I was not a pleasant Pilgrim on day 2.

I felt good when I started and I fell into step with Paul from Carlisle. I hadn´t met Paul before, but I think we found each other mutually nice, but boring and so after we grabbed some breakfast in the next town he pretended to need to do something with his pack and I readied myself more quickly than I would normally and we separated, so that I could go and get lost again on my own, rather than dragging another pilgrim down with me...

Fortunately I only went a couple of hunderd metres out of my way this time before I realised there were no obvious indications that I was on the right track; bouncing backpacks in the distance, yellow shells on blue tiles, yellow arrows painted on walls or lamp posts... So i turned around and immediately met an Italian man also going in my direction. I ran my theory past him and he said something along the lines of suggesting that there is no wrong way... but I turned back anyway and soon found that not only is there a wrong way, but we were definitely on it since the right way turned right off the main road some way back. I briefly wondered whether to go back and tell him, but he´d be a good km away by now and frankly he seemed philosophical about the possibility, as if he might just assume it had been a message from the Camino if he found himslef elsewhere... who am I to get between and man and a message... Now I feel bad. Haven´t seen him since.

Anyway, I moved on... Look, the scenery was fine, but it was flatter than the day before and a lot of it was very similar to walks I´ve done in England many times over. The vegetation was similar and even the climate wasn´t too different. It started out very cloudy and cool before heating up after lunch. So the familarity allowed me to build the grump until I arrived in Zubiri like a little ball of angry and pissed off, with hurty bits all over...

Fortunately the first Albergue I came to had space and I had a room to myself for a while before others arrived, so I showered and then massaged my own legs and feet, stretched and then went to sit by the river.

I hung out by the river with Nikki from Canada who I had met the day before and we shared lessons learned from the day... My lesson for the day was one that should be obvious: it´s not a race to the end, enjoy the journey. For some reason I had been caught up in some sort of over zealous speed hunger. A lot of people have tight timelines or are following the 30 day guide that gets handed out at the start, so it´s very easy to get caught up in a race to the finish.

Anyway, so I had ploughed onwards after breakfast without stopping for a rest or for food for four hours. And it wasn´t an easy walk either. And in my race I passed a couple of beautiful moments that I thought "it´d be lovely to stop and look at that a while", but I was too busy aiming for my destination. Bad Pilgrim!

That night I went for the traditional and very cheap Pilgrim´s menu at a local bar and found myslef (not for the first time) on a table full of non-english speakers speaking a language I have little to no competence in. If I had been less tired and grumpy I might have been more able to engage (it was French, which I can speak in when I´m not otherwise exhausted and surrounded by spanish... I just couldn´t find my words at all!). Ah well, lesson learned.

Day Three: The Joy of Survival
Zubiri to Pamplona

I cannot express the joy that comes from setting out the day after the grump feeling awake, alive and totally able. I had such a spring in my step. I chatted to myself and Juniper (my bag... see previous post). I sang songs and I veritably skipped the light fandango. And the stay stayed awesome.

The clouds kept the temperature cool and I walked a sort of relay with my three Spanish friends from the first day. Sometimes walking with them and chatting, other times going ahead or falling back. Days like that are getting more frequent as i get to meet more people and as everyone gets more comfortable to take their own time and walk their own pace. Inevitably you´ll bump into several people at a village cafe or in a shady spot along the way, then you´ll leave each other and go your own way.

Today, learning from yesterday, I stopped regularly. I took the time to take photos and when i stopped, I rested properly. I felt like I had all the time in the world. I sat by a river in Trinidad de Arre and ate my lunch. Then only a few hundred metres further on I stopped at a bar for a coke and watched people in the square for a while.

From Arre, the entry to Pamplona is pretty spectacular. Arre doesn´t really end, it just sort of feeds into a suburb of Pamplona. From miles away you can see the Cathedral on the hilltop and you wind your way in through residential suburban areas until you cross the river and find yourself walking around the city walls like a proper pilgrim of old. It was the first time I´d really felt the history of the Camino... It may horrify some (not least my mother) to know I´m not all that interested in the history... unless I can feel it. And I could feel it here.

Pamplona was abuzz. It was siesta time on a saturday afternoon, which apparently does not include a siesta so much as a drinking session. So i walked through the narrow city streets following the silver markers on the floor, among the feet of the Saturday revellers until i found myself at Jesus & Maria Albergue up near the Cathedral.

In the Albergue, as is often the case I was reunited with some of the familiar faces of the journey so far: The Spanish trio, Nikki, A lovely Spanish woman who´s name I have never quite caught, A hoard of germans (there are so many here!) and some others whose faces I know but whose names I haven´t heard yet. It was so good to see these faces that have been part of my journey since I had decided to take a day off in Pamplona the following day, which in Camino terms means a shuffling of the deck - new people to walk with.

I said goodbye to everyone and Buen Camino after doing a black market-style exchange with Nikki - your two apples for my two yoghurts, if you keep it quiet I´ll chuck in these dried cherries too. And tucked myself into my top bunk for the night... New adventures in the morning.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Camino Day 0: Bonne Courage

OK, so I thought I´d start my story of the Camino by talking about my journey to the start line, as it were. I´d kick off with the moment I left Alan´s house (my lovely friend in London who put me up for a couple of nights), but apart from the epic hug we had before I left it was pretty unremarkable – London overground, London underground, Stanstead Express and an aeroplane… Having said that, the boarding queue at Stanstead was the first sign of trouble…

You see, I am disappointed to report that I am not a lone pilgrim, striding out over hills and mountains and musing at the heroism of my journey… I am instead part of a steady line of pilgrim ants, following the yellow arrows and scallop shell signs to various destinations. I am, on the other hand, pleased to tell you that the disappointment was short lived.

I could just tell you that I wrote the following in my diary: “I love myself for bringing me here”… but I´ve never been one for putting in 20 words what can be said in a thousand, so I´ll explain more.

I flew to Biarritz in the South of France, but I stayed overnight in Bayonne, which is basically the same distance from the airport as Biarritz itself. And the train I needed leaves from there.

Bayonne is stunning. Set on a river in three sections that meet each other across bridges, it´s an old French town, with old French charm. I wondered the cobbled streets and tested out my French (rusty, but workable) to get myself a lovely dinner on the riverside. I was booked into a shitty hotel, but I just used it to sleep in and spent the rest of my time wandering and trying not to buy anything gorgeous… there was a lot to buy!!

I´ll confess to a little self-congratulating on the fact that I seemed to be the only one of the heaps of pilgrims on my bus from the airport who wasn´t dashing straight to St jean Pied de Port… Smug? Yes thank you. Smugness wiped off my face on the train the following day? Yes indeedy.

The train was a little two-carriage affair and I think it´s fair to say that the stops at two stations along the way are entirely for show – no one gets on or off, because no locals use the train. It is a Pilgrim train, let´s be honest, people.
I saw a man get on in a kilt. His backpack said Pilgrim. His kilt said nutter. I have decided the two may be closely linked.

During the very leisurely and un-hurried train journey (more Train Grande Chillaxed than Train Grande Vitesse) a few things happened: I named my backpack since we will be so intimately engaged over the coming weeks. Her name is Juniper and she is a sturdy girl with a little too much weight, a little like me. I picked myself a theme song for the walk (not one of yours Megs – I didn´t get the CD in time) – Flaunt it, by Missing Supergirl (totally check them out) for the lyrics “You´ve got it, go flaunt it. Stop waiting for the moment. Let your feet start walking, don´t you know it´s only you that´s gonna get you somewhere”… appropriate no? And I made myself known to the other pilgrims on the train. Or rather, Juniper did when she threw herself at great volume from the luggage rack to the floor… They all noticed.

So once we arrived in St Jean Pied de Port we made a long and lovely line to the Pilgrims´ info office where they set each person up with a map of the first stage and break the devastating news that your first day of walking must be the full 27kms to Roncesvalles in Spain. This includes an ascent of 1300m over about 20kms and then about 1100m descent into Roncesvalles over the last 7kms. To be honest I think I went a little pale. I booked into the Albergue, which is a hostel for pilgrims run by the local Friends of the Camino. I was in a dorm with about 20 others… including three snorers, one sleep talker and a guy who thought it best to use the dorm to make phonecalls, loudly. It went well, I think. I´ll fill you in on the first day´s walking when I get to Pamplona tomorrow, but in the meantime, I´ll leave you with a lovely moment: On the way into town from the train station I nearly cried. A little old lady watched the wave of pilgrims coming up the street. She must see it every day. As we got close, most crossed the road, but in my ever-vain efforts to be a wild individual I stayed on her side of the road. As I passed her she smiled at me and said “Bonne Courage”, which is the French phrase used to wish pilgrims luck. I felt a little bit special.

I are an aufer…

So I put my mum´s GPS to the test and set it for the location of my writer´s retreat: Sheepwash, Devon. If you want country, this is where it´s at, my friends.
After wiggling and winding my way over Exmoor (really beautiful area… google it) I finally came to the little village of Sheepwash. Out the other side and along another winding track is Totleigh Barton, a part medieval farmhouse in the dip between several hills and alongside a river. This is where I and fifteen others were going to live for five nights in an effort to uncover the literary genius within.
This was a birthday gift from my mum and dad… Up there with hot air ballooning and my camera as one of THE best birthday presents ever.

Not only were the workshops delivered by two great UK authors, Tiffany Murray and Ross Raisin, but I was part of a truly lovely and slightly nutty mixture of individuals for those few days.

We spent each morning in workshops with Ross and Tiffany and then the afternoons were all about writing. The ominous prospect of having to read out some of our work in a Friday night celebration was enough to scare the living crap out of most (except those of us who are a little partial to the spotlight, even at the risk of making ourselves look foolish). But we were regularly reassured that it wouldn´t be nearly as frightening as it sounded, by the time we got there. And I think they were right. The standard of work read out on the Friday night was really amazing. It was honestly such a privilege to hang out with such a creative, supportive and lovely group of people.

It was also a ridiculously funny week. Inevitably there were lots of conversations about the stories from people´s lives… Oh my god I have lived a sheltered existence! There was also a night in which I learned about drinking shots with a dead man´s toe in (an initiation ceremony if you want to go search for gold somewhere in the US) and taught people about the lesbian finger theory… I´ll leave that one wide open to interpretation.

I think I found my writing mojo too… I hit on a story that I have always thought about, but never seen as a story, as such… turns out it might be… but I´ll let you know if I get anywhere with that.

In the meantime, I will move on to the walking trip… cos I´m two days in and lots to tell! Stay tuned…

Sunday, May 8, 2011

10kg Doesn’t Include a Laptop

And so the next step of the journey comes round… Tomorrow I begin my quest to write the next bestseller novel. Don’t worry, you’ll all feature… names changed, obviously. And yes, Tracey, I’ll thank you in the acknowledgements!

Thanks to my lovely mum and dad I’m heading into deepest darkest Devon to a Writer’s Retreat for a handful of optimists reckon they might have a bit of latent talent. Or at the very least want to spend some time seeing if they can drag a skerrick of something resembling talent from their mushy grey matter (that’s me testing out a bit of fancy descriptive work, right there… “mushy grey matter” is a creative high, don’t you think?).

So I’m off to try my hand at a bit of creative writing and then… on Tuesday 17th May I fly from London Stansted (only the most inconvenient airport in the UK, what with not actually being attached to an actual city… not even London, despite the name) to Biarritz in France. From Biarritz I catch a train to St Jean Pied de Port at the base of the Pyrenees and by Thursday I expect to be starting the Camino de Santiago by hauling myself and my over-sized baggage over the Pyrenees themselves, which brings me to my chosen title for today’s post…

It turns out that (as everyone on the forum agrees – 10kgs is the ideal maximum weight to carry on one’s back over the course of the Camino… So it is a touch concerning that, despite some serious stripping back of my pack contents I can’t get the load below 15kgs… As it is I risk alienating my fellow walkers with my lack of fresh clothing. If I take out anything else I will be walking naked by day and dining of an evening in nothing but a pair of undies. I’m sure a wise person has said at some stage that ‘a naked pilgrim does not a new friend find… at all… for the whole walk’. So I think I’m going to have to suck it up and strengthen my legs quickly. My heaviest single item is my camera, which I refuse to leave behind… I have already jettisoned the laptop (yes, Meaghan and Jurgen I did consider the ipad, but I considered too long and now I’m out of time… not to mention the impact on my budget).

So, my lovelies, prepare for some erratic communication (I’ll hold back on the erotic communication). The Writer’s Retreat has no internet (one doesn’t want one’s creative flow interrupted by Facebook) and I’ll be accessing internet from public internet cafes along the Camino as and when I can (and as and when I feel like it). If you’re interested and fancy a bit of a giggle I did find these Extracts from a Caminoist’s Diary very amusing and perhaps a little more informative than I needed.

I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about this next stage. I’ve been so fortunate in having the time and space to lie low and relax with my family, but my muddled head is starting to crave some meditative walking space and the chance to push and challenge myself to think, create and grow. I’ve done enough reading and researching now to know it’s pretty straightforward on the Camino in terms of following the right trail, finding food and shelter and other basics. I’ve also read enough of the personal accounts to know that everyone walks the Camino for different reasons. Some head out with a mission in mind, others just have the instinct to walk, some are on a spiritual journey, others are expressing their faith and in some cases people don’t know their motivation until they start walking. For me it’s a mixture, but I can sum it up with a brief story…

Many of you will know I used to run a fair bit. I got into running (despite being built for comfort, not speed) and I loved it. I built up over time until I was able to run a half marathon (21.1kms), which I did, four times over about a year. I found it addictive, meditative and I was surprised at my own ability, never having been a sporty child. And then, about a year ago I decided to run the big one – to take on a marathon (42.2kms). I chose London, partly because it’s one of the famous ones and partly because it would mean I could run my first marathon in a place my family could come and shout on sidelines for. So I started training, building up as usual, bit by bit. But instead of finding my meditative headspace I seemed to struggle with every step. I started to dread runs, or avoid them altogether. I was getting injured all the time. The prospect of a marathon had killed my running mojo… I didn’t do London this year (I may one day still – never say never), because it turns out running half marathons is my limit for running for now. But walking? I had tucked some memories away somewhere and forgot that thanks to the striding pace of my mum and years of being dragged along cliff-top walks, over fields and hills, through parks, along beaches, up and down valleys at a pace most Olympic walkers would envy, it turns out I have been training since a very early age to walk long distances. Walking is a space where I find logic, peace and inspiration. I can walk for long distances without tiring too much. And it makes me really happy. So this Camino, this is my marathon.

I’ll look forward to keeping you posted along the way.

Loads and load of love,

p.s. In case anyone is interested, the sign on the road to the village has changed… There’s a Skittle Festival on at the Appley pub this weekend. They know how to rock out round here ☺

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Too Golf for Folk Music

So, sometimes the little screw-ups can land you in the most rich and exciting spaces… Like, for example, if one should only remember at the very last minute (car packed, GPS set) that one should have changed the accommodation booking in Edinburgh to allow for one’s arrival a day early and so one therefore contacts the hostel only to find that there is nothing available to accommodate the earlier arrival… So, being the solution focused type, one gets the map out, selects a random town name on the map that looks near Edinburgh, but not actually in it, and makes a call to the first B&B one google-finds, which, by some lovely coincidence has a room free…

Despite one’s past record for such ‘lucky dips’ having a rather vanilla outcome at best, this one turns out to be in possibly the most glorious location on earth, ever, in the history of glorious places… ever. And the B&B is like a little paradise within paradise, with toast!

My friend Caroline and I were convinced we had stumbled across a secret beauty – a beachside gem, bathed in sunlight and clear, cool air. We walked for miles on wide open beaches, refreshed ourselves in cosy Scottish pubs, watched birds, took photographs (me), painted (Caroline), and soaked up the fine Scottish air. We swore to tell only a handful of people about this beautiful place, for fear it would become over-run if we publicized our find too eagerly…

Bless our naïve hearts! On our last morning there, Caroline was surfing the inter-webs and came across the evidence that our ‘Secret Haven’ was in fact rather well known… Gullane (pronounced Gullen, which we discovered only after we’d said it wrong to about 100 locals on separate occasions… I’m sure they weren’t laughing at us at all) claims to be home to one of Scotland’s most famous golf courses… Just down the road in Aberlady is a highly-prized bird-watching location and the home of the Scottish Ornithological Club, where you can see some rare bird species… It seems a few people have been here before us!

Once we got over the shock of realizing we had not stumbled upon an as-yet-undiscovered Scottish coastal tribe, we were able to settle into the humour of a trip that would see us start with glorious twin-bed, ensuite B&B accommodation and downgrade with each move until we found ourselves sharing with vocal and frustrated walkers and selfish snoring tourists in a hostel dormitory with shared bathroom. On balance, I think we can safely say the Edinburgh hostel sucked the most. Although we had a private room, it was not private enough to separate us from the bucks night crowd who decided to continue their party back at the hostel at 3am. And thank god the locks were good when the group of holidaying ‘older’ gentlemen mistook our room for theirs at a similar hour the following night and tried to get in a couple of times. Nothing beat the grandeur, however, of the youth hostel in Loch Lomond… in a castle. Utterly spectacular and like something out of a horror film, but full of uber-healthy walkers and climbers (possibly the stuff of other people’s nightmares, but undoubtedly good conditioning for me in the run up to the big walk).

So, accommodation issues and giggles aside, things have been really good, thanks for asking. I’ve enjoyed what might constitute a speed-therapy session with a friend I hadn’t seen properly for something like ten years (condensing ten years of life into highlights, lowlights, emotional traumas, achievements and significant events); I’ve climbed rocks to look out over the sea (and thanked the Universe for the ; I’ve walked over vast sands on the beach where my grandparents ashes were scattered and explored the rocky beaches of my mum’s childhood; I’ve driven the length and breadth of the UK (sort of); worked out how to order a half-decent soy chai in Starbucks (desperate times, etc.); I’ve slept on the floor of my brother’s living room (house of six guys… floor possibly not my most hygienic choice, but the sofa was covered in tobacco); screamed at the top of my lungs in my car just to feel free; got myself a tan… from Scotland; enjoyed a folk music jamming session in an Edinburgh pub (thanks to the advice of the barmaid in Gullane).

For me, most importantly, I think I’ve started to find my rhythm. I made a very wise decision a couple of weeks ago in deciding to spend this week back at my mum’s instead of braving the chaos of London. I’m just not ready for the fast pace yet… But I’ll be there soon.

It turns out that the places that fill me with joy and make me feel close to bursting with excitement and potential are the places where nature makes me feel humble and where I have challenged myself to get to the place where that is apparent. I learned this while climbing over barnacle-covered rocks in my bare feet to get to an enormous rock pool and then going the precarious few rocks further (despite the sharp imprints of barnacles that were slowly slicing my feet) to stand at the edge of the Firth of Forth. And I learned it when I decided not to be afraid (long story, probably wouldn’t normally be afraid of a beach… read on) and I walked across the mud-sands at Silverdale (note the stuff about guided walks across the sands for safety) instead of taking the road back to the village. I let the mud-sands squidge through my toes and up my legs, before climbing more rocks and making my way across crumbling cliff paths when I couldn’t get any further on the beach. I don’t know if that stuff made any sense, but it feels exciting to me!

And finally, just a quick update on The Big Walk… I’ve decided to start in St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees – it adds about 20-25kms to the journey, not to mention a HUGE incline on day 1, but I felt like I was cutting it out for no real reason and I think I’ll feel like I haven’t properly done it if I don’t start it properly. I’ve booked my flight to Biarritz for Tuesday 17th… I’m excited now!!!

Next week is my Writer’s Retreat… No inter-webs available there, so feel free to abuse me at will, without consequences until a later date. And expect a classic novel by the end of the week… I feel it coming on.

Love youse… and miss my Aussies!!!!
Lozzy xxxxxx

Ps. The title of this post comes from a conversation about whether we could find any good music in Gullane… The statement was my conclusion.