Arriving (Sort of…)

St Ninian Stained Glass from WhithornAt the church in the ruins of Whithorn Abbey, no one was there to greet us. But the doors were open. Inside was Ninian, the fifth century saint, in stained glass, and a desk of pilgrim stuff. “Welcome to all pilgrims” said a little sign. “Please accept our certificate.” I wasn’t going to take one. We walked nine miles today, and overall already quite a distance. However I didn’t come as a pilgrim, but as a researcher and walker. Ken and Christine walking in sunChristine and Ken, despite being not as officially religious as me, picked up a copy,  filled it out, and got me to sign on with them. That made it feel somehow like a group recognition. certificate of pilgrimageWas the certificate the sign of our “arrival” at the end of the pilgrimage? Not really: tomorrow we go to St Ninian’s Cave, where stone fragments of fifth and sixth century altar pieces have been found. Maybe it’s there. From the cave we walk our final 11 miles around the coast to the Isle of Whithorn. The destination there is really the Steam Packet Inn, a pub overlooking the harbour. Not especially religious, but tasty.

We did find someone at the Whithorn Centre, on main street in Whithorn, where pedestrians have to watch not only for cars, but also for tractors pulling hay-wagons to the huge feedlots bordering town. There we had tea and coffee-cake and met Julia Muir Watt, author of “Walk the Whithorn Way,” a guidebook complete with maps we probably could have used en route here. They had a display about Ninian and also of the history – Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Scottish – of this area. But was the gift shop our destination? No. We trekked back to the small museum, where we met a warm and informative guide who walked me around the space, showing me the many early stones that have been recovered from Ninian’s Cave, chapel and the Abbey. stone cross knotsThe endless looping stonework knots are reminiscent of Ireland and of Lindisfarne, brought to Whithorn in part by Norse Christians out of Ireland. From the back of the museum I walked into the crypt where a line of Bishops were buried, and finally into the grotto that once held St Ninian’s bones. I admit: this felt like more of a destination than anywhere else. It felt like a holy place. The fact that whatever bones were there were lost during the Reformation doesn’t bother me much. 21st century western pilgrims aren’t fixated on a saint’s body, but more on their own. And mine, especially my ankles, have felt the distance. Matthew at St Ninian's Tomb

We stumbled across other holy stones on our way here. The OS map indicated “standing stones” just off the path and we found the Drumtroddan Standing Stones, only one of which is still standing, which may date back anywhere from 2-5,000 years, long before even St Ninian.  Drumtrodden Standing StonesOn the subject of Ninian: I’ve long had a semi-teasing argument going with Sara Terreault, who teaches pilgrimage and Insular (Celtic) Christianity, that St Ninian never even existed, but was a made-up figure. Not that I held that firmly, but I knew it was a good way to tease her. I will have to come up with something else. The presence of the Latinus Stone, fifth century stonewith a name in both Latin and the local Celtic language indicates Christianity at Whithorn by about 450 CE. Although there may be little hard evidence of Ninian, there is so much circumstantial reference, in addition to Bede’s account, that one has to accept that a late Roman-age Briton helped introduce official Christianity to what is now Scotland. Even the cab driver who brought us home tonight knew the whole story and could provide the arguments, in addition to other interesting tidbits. As his BMW sped by within inches of stone walls he pointed to them and told us that French Prisoners of War from Napoleon were forced to build them for the Scots. flowers on way to WhithornWhen we first arrived, this dog, who lives at our B&B,  couldn’t wait to find out who the visitors were. dog looking through cat door

Our B&B is the gracious Mansfield House, the former parsonage of this Whithorn Church, out of service since 1925, which has been repurposed in a way that will definitely NOT make it a shrine, except perhaps for kitsch: Whithorn Church Gas Station

I’m thankful I have one last day of walking with Christine and Ken. We’ve covered a lot of miles together, both here and in Saskatchewan. For more on today, and completely different comments and pictures, see Ken’s blog at https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/2019/07/20/whithorn-way-day-five-arrival/

Ken and Matthew at harbour

The Land of Speaking Stones

Mossy Stone Fence

“During the time of the Enclosures,” Peter Ross told us, “they just ripped up the prehistoric hill tombs to use the stones. So when you see these stone fences you may be looking at ancient history – pieces of a paleolithic grave.” Today started out lovely, but by early afternoon turned into another cold, wet, miserable afternoon. The barometer in Glenluce announced storms, Glenluce barometerand we ended our 15 miles with sodden boots, frozen and shivering from a cold and steady Scottish wind. Ken on the MoorsWe crossed the Galloway Moors in a solid drizzle interrupted only by cattle, horses, sheep, goats and rams. Some of whom were in a hurry to get past us on the narrow tracks.rams in flightIf there was a theme to the day, it was the incredible human history of Galloway, this sparsely-inhabited piece of Scotland responsible for 40% of its cattle, most of its lumber exports, and – according to Peter, who joined us – most of Robert the Bruce’s army. Peter met us at the remains of Glenluce Abbey. He told us he would do his best to speak “standard English,” but couldn’t help flipping into an “Och, aye” when he got excited – as he often did – about the subject of paths and people in this part of the country. Peter Ross at Glenluce AbbeyAt times I’d only figure out what he was saying a few sentences after he’d finished. But it was the most fascinating compendium of history and politics, things like the fact that path rights on the seacoast had to take into account Robert the Bruce’s unusual title to his troops, that they owned the sea “as far as you can throw a spear out into the surf.” The Whithorn Way took us by the Abbey, whose stones were ripped down by locals during the Reformation to build the neighbouring farmhouses and the Lord’s manor. We walked by two different Lochs (lakes) where Peter pointed out islands that were, in the late bronze age, Crannogs. Loch with CrannogA Crannog is an artificial island built by a stone or bronze-age family which pushed alder trees down into the mud, then filled them in with rocks and stones so they had a home relatively safe from attack in the middle of the lake. Archaeologists can radio-carbon date and ring-date the trees used in building these islands to determine when the ancient Picts built these island homes. Nadav's Hut with Ken and Christine

Our safe and secure home last night was Nadav’s Shed, where we had a comfortable sleep, interrupted in the early morning only by neighbourhood roosters, and visited by little rabbits. There was no accommodation on the trail itself, so tonight we were picked up off the moors by the owners of the Craighlaw Arms Hotel. They kindly dried our clothes for us and served some of the best food I’ve had in a long while. Haven’t had veggies for days, so the ginger chicken stir fry with Thai yellow curry was extraordinary. Tomorrow is supposed to be a short day. I’m hoping it’s as sunny again as these photos I took when we started out this morning south from New Luce. Green Scots forest

Christine in lit forest

for more on this day’s walk, and a different perspective, see Ken’s blog at https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/2019/07/19/whithorn-way-day-four

 

 

Why Do the Scots Do It?

Ken walking toward windfarm

We experienced several pilgrims’ miracles today. Firstly, after starting out in Barrhill the rain held off until just after our mid-day snack (after a full Scottish breakfast a snack was all we needed). That was fantastic. stone distance marker on the waySecondly, we arrived at our “hikers’ shed” only to find that the lovely & picturesque village of New Luce has no pub, no restaurant, and no store – although all are planned – and that the owners of our accommodation hadn’t been warned we were wanting supper. They very kindly found a can of soup. We were planning to make do with that and some crackers until local walker and walking activist Peter Ross showed up at our door, asking if we needed anything and offering a ride for groceries. Finally, owing to the fact that a local rented cottage won’t receive its guest for a couple days, we got a place to shower! New Luce has got to be the most lovely little village we’ve come across – it’s vying for the flower award for the UK this year.

New Luce village street

We met some of the local residents on a main street festooned with flowers. They told us that New Luce has received substantial funds from the local windfarms we walked through all day (see the first photo above) and that they are using the money to purchase the pub, cafe etc and to redevelop.

Faith Cottage New Luce

We were soaked, again, and Ken was especially suffering from the wet boots and socks of yesterday’s rain-soaked walk. So it was a pleasure to get an offer from Peter for a ride to groceries. Peter talked the whole way about EU politics (where he has represented Scotland) and Scottish Right to Access. Ken and Christine walking into New Luce

Peter is the president of the regional Right to Access group. I grilled him about why the Scots are interested in the Right of Responsible Access. He surprised me by saying that for him, it has to do with a/paths, and b/local development. I thought about our walks in Saskatchewan and how they also have to do with recovering important paths and may someday lead to development. Barrhill Martyrs' TombBy the way, Peter told us that all the garbage we’d seen on the coast was NOT Scottish: “a lot of that’s drifted in from Dublin and Liverpool and Belfast with the prevailing currents,” he told us, “But we Scots have to clean it up.” On the walk today we came across a poignant reminder, in rural Scotland, of Canada’s international garbage. We could hardly believe what we were seeing!

Tim Hortons garbage in rural Scotland

A lot of sheep today. And some of the signs were funny as well. We never saw any children at the fence lines, but lots of sheep and goats watched us pass.Free Range Children and Animals

The monks, royals, and common folk who walked this path would have stopped at Glenluce Abbey, whose ruins we will walk to tomorrow morning. I also plan to ask Peter, who will walk with us, more questions about walking and local development.

Christine Ken Matthew at New Luce sign

If you’re interested in more photos and another angle on the day, see Ken’s blog at: https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/2019/07/18/whithorn-way-day-three/

 

Getting On Like Swans

selfie in forest

Today was a wet, wet, cold and rainy day. We walked from Maybole on a highway in the rain, which never really stopped. We’ve found everyone here very, very, friendly:

Haste Ye Back

After some country trails we came to Kirkoswald, a village named for the Oswald Church that sits on the overlooking hill. The church, like so many other places we’ve seen in Ayrshire, boasts a connection to Robbie Burns, who spent one year of schooling here (why only one? The sign doesn’t say). Robert the Bruce was also baptized here. The building was designed by Robert Adam, who was building a nearby castle at the time. He put two swans on the corners for the founding family, the Kennedys (you can see them below).Oswald Church with Swans

 

Swans are a good theme for the day. We walked toward the coast, into increasingly foul weather. Due to some overly vague directions, we got lost, swam through a field of wet barley and then were covered with nettle and bramble stings trying to get back to some kind of walking path.

fighting through thistles

On arriving at the Ayrshire Coastal Path I saw swans sitting placidly in the tossing sea, head into the gale winds. So that’s what we did too. By the time we’d reached Girvan we were soaked right through to the skin. Then some. I was shaking with cold.

to Girvan sign in rain

But life will always win out, as this little patch of green pushing up the asphalt proves. And we did too, persevering until we reached Girvan. We were dripping pools of rainwater on arrival.life above all grass patch in road

Tomorrow is supposed to be another Scottish-soaked day. Here’s hoping our clothes dry enough overnight to be bearable after breakfast. I’m VERY thankful, now, for this warm room, some tea, and some time to relax out of the wind and rain. In the window of a house we passed were two small swans to greet those on the sidewalk. From my window right now I can see the fog-lights winking on the mountain in the sea, Craig Ailsa, which  accompanied this portion of our journey (when the rain lifted enough for us to see it).

Craig Ailsa

 

Rock-hopping the Whithorn Way

seascape near Denure

castle ruins near Dunure photo M. Anderson

“From Canada, are ye?” said the nice woman at the coffee shop. “Canada’s beautiful. I’ve been to Ottawa. We’re from here.” She shrugged, smiled: “It’s nice enough.” Seemed like a typically-Scottish understatement to me – this is the view they enjoy just outside the coffee shop. We were exhausted after a day of walking along the Whithorn Way along the ocean, rock-hopping just above the receding tide-line and scrambling over sea-algae. I’m here on a Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association grant to see about the Scottish “Right of Responsible Access.” The key, said our Scottish host John Henderson, is that word: responsible.

near Robbie Burns underpass

viaduct walking near Robbie Burns museum Ayr  photo M. Anderson

It didn’t take long to see that the Scots, like Canadians, have some trouble with the  “responsible” part of their relationship with the natural world. The legislation establishing The Right of Access in Scotland is recent –  nine years old and part of the devolution of power to Scotland. As would be the case if we were fortunate enough in Canada to adopt similar legislation, the educational curve is still ahead. We saw lots of garbage on our shoreline scramble, even though the views were magnificent otherwise.

glove and sea

beach garbage south of Ayr photo M. Anderson

Maybe Scots, like Canadians, haven’t yet learned how beautiful, fragile, and important the natural world around them is. Finns, for instance, are taught to respect nature from kindergarten. Learning to enjoy berries, mushrooms, and views, and not disturb others, especially landowners, seems to be in Finnish DNA. In Scotland we passed what appeared to be an “Open Access” camp on the beach (see below, in the distance) and while the folks were practicing their rights, their garbage seemed to be a problem.

rock walking with campsite in background

pilgrims and Open Access camp in background photo M. Anderson

Still, one can hope. Local organizations had both cleaned up the last part of today’s walk, and had also set up trail markers. We hadn’t seen any markers on the first leg and had had to backtrack several times as a result. This is probably how Responsible Access is best lived-out: by community groups that operate locally to remind citizens to both get out on the land, and to leave no trace except their paths.

for more on the journey, see Ken Wilson’s blog Reading and Walking at https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/

bluebells and ocean

Scottish bluebells near the sea photo M. Anderson

Anticipating Walking

Matt and Rick by NWMP trail post Pinto Butte July 23

Richard Kotowich and I walking near Pinto Horse Butte, 2015

For years I dreamt of walking Treaty Four territories, what is now south-west Saskatchewan. Only in 2013-2014 did I find a trail (the Traders’ Road, or North-West Mounted Police Patrol Trail), a guide and fellow walker (Hugh Henry, of the SK History and Folklore Society), and feel in my bones a reason (un-settling Settler narratives) to make it finally happen. Ken Wilson is also interested in Settler preparation for reconciliation; he and I walked together from Swift Current to Battleford in 2017 and from Mortlach to Gravelbourg in 2018. Ken recently set his scholarly lens on an article I wrote for a volume in pilgrimage back in 2013, just before that first 350-km journey across the prairies. A serious academic, Ken has highlighted the article’s best parts. In case you’re interested, I’m posting his post, here:

https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/2019/05/17/46-ian-s-mcintosh-e-moore-quinn-and-vivienne-keely-eds-pilgrimage-in-practice-narration-reclamation-and-healing/?fbclid=IwAR32NXXowAOTwQbyvGVJ448lhAfaYuy8vqlsgZKVlkGnYLS1dDI9QcjmbLE

Today’s Kinder Trespass

Kinder Trespass 1932

This morning I’m nursing an incision from my recent hernia surgery. But as I drink tea in Nottingham, walkers in England’s Peaks District, just a short distance away – including our friend Meredith Warren – are right now adjusting backpacks, filling water bottles, and scanning the Kinder Scout headlands. They’ll stop at the quarry where, on Sunday April 24, 1932, Benny Rothman (who arrived by bicycle to avoid police at the train) gave a rousing speech and led about 500 young people in the “Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.” That original protest might have been forgotten, except for the arrest of five of the Ramblers; Rothman got four months in prison just for his speech. The resulting public outcry led, eventually, and after much more protest, to the beautiful, wide-open British Parks that so many now enjoy, and the “Right to Roam” allowing limited public access to private land.

I climbed the 2000-foot Kinder Scout rise on a hot day last year. Oddly, the two people with me were both Canadians I had just met (we had that awkward moment in the bakery when we just had to ask, since our accents sounded so much “like home”). Between breaths we talked about whether a “Right of Responsible Access” would work in Canada. I’m convinced it would, and should: not only was much of North America an Indigenous “commons” before European contact, Settlement, and expulsion of First Nations, but for those of us who are European-background, our own histories and cultures often have clear antecedents for “everyperson’s right”. It’s ironic that the very descendants of the Irish, Scots and English who had been violently “cleared” from their commons lands by landowners so often went on to do exactly the same thing to Indigenous peoples.

We Canadians can do better. The examples are before us. National Trust’s website for Kinder Scout states “walk in the steps of the trespassers and enjoy what others fought so hard for.” We have important, historic trails on private lands on Turtle Island, too. They need limited, responsible, public access –  in my upcoming book with University of Regina Press I describe our experiences walking some of these incredibly important paths. Teaching ourselves and our children that land is a common good, requiring care, will make us all healthier and happier. Reconnecting with land – our own form of Kinder Trespass – helps those of us who are Settler be better prepared as Treaty partners with those whom our ancestors also “cleared” from the lands we call home.

See my article on “Why Canadians Need the Right to Roam” at: https://theconversation.com/why-canadians-need-the-right-to-roam-100497

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