Atlantic School of Theologyis pleased to announce the appointment of Rev. Dr. Matthew Anderson as the new Director of Camino Nova Scotia!
Matthew is a professor, podcaster, filmmaker, the author of three books, a Lutheran minister, and a pilgrim with thousands of miles on his boots. In 2015, he helped inaugurate annual treks across Treaty territories on the prairies with Indigenous guidance, and from 2014 the first Old Montreal to Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory pilgrimage for students. His podcast “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase” is on all your podcast platforms.
This summer, Wood Lake Publishing releases Matthew’s newest book, Our Home and Treaty Land: Walking Our Creation Story (co-written with Dr Ray Aldred). Matthew’s pilgrimage blog is at https://somethinggrand.ca. There you can also find his documentary on the Camino de Santiago.
Matthew is excited to be moving with his wife Dr Sara Parksto the North Shore of Nova Scotia, and can’t wait to explore the land and meet other pilgrims with Camino Nova Scotia! His appointment begins on June 27, 2022.
Atlantic School of Theology and Camino Nova Scotia are grateful to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage for funding that has made possible Matthew Anderson’s appointment and the expansion of Camino Nova Scotia, for the benefit of all Nova Scotians and visitors to Nova Scotia. We are also grateful to the Office of Gaelic Affairs for its ongoing support of Camino Nova Scotia: Slighe nan Gàidheal | Gaels’ Trail.
The St Kevin’s bus from downtown Dublin to Glendalough is one of the last great travel deals. 20 euro for a round trip, cash only. I settled into my seat, adjusted my FFP2 mask, and watched the city turn gradually into country. The Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin remind me a lot of the Appalachians, the kind of mountains you get in Quebec or Vermont. Within a half-hour we were in sheep and stone fence country. I’d sat on the wrong side for the low winter sun, which winked across my face through the window as the bus twisted and turned on the narrow roads. I felt slightly sick.
A few more turns and we were at the Glendalough Visitor Centre. The other passengers got off and quickly spread out over the trails. I wanted to get my bearings. But I didn’t have a clear idea of where I was in relation to everything else, especially the trail. I chatted through the barrier with the masked information person. She asked if I wanted to pay admission and see the display. “Sure,” I replied. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” she went on, seeming embarrassed. “But are you over 60? A senior ticket is a mite cheaper.” I was the only person in the entire place. I watched a short film about the monastic city and the lakes, and wandered a while looking at old stone crosses. Eventually, I started out on the paths toward the monastic site and the lakes.
Glendalough is gorgeous. It’s pastoral and pretty. In mid-February the river was running fast and deep, and the trees had no foliage. But there was still lots of green, in the vibrant moss that covered everything, and the grass and bush everywhere around. I walked past the round tower, perhaps inspired by medieval minarets, and past the lower lake until I stood on the shore of the upper lake. There was a stiff and cold February breeze from the west (which I was happy to find out later would be at my back). The lake was choppy. I peered at the far end. Was that where I was going to walk? The man at the national park office, again at the barred entrance with a pandemic mask, sold me an Ordnance Survey map of the route from Valleymount. “You’ll need this,” he said.
I was booked to stay at the Glendalough Hermitage Centre. They were giving me a cottage part-way up the mountain, nestled just beneath St Kevin’s Catholic church. St Kevin’s is a beautiful mid-nineteenth century granite famine church overlooking a complex including the Hermitage, and several schools. It’s a twenty minute walk back to St Kevin’s from the monastic site, a trudge along the highway that I got used to over my short stay. Sister Peggy met me at the door. “You must be Matthew, then” she said. She showed me my cottage. I dropped my bag and went out again for supper, which meant another ten minute walk down and up hill. It gets dark early in the mountains in February. I eventually settled back in, with a fire in the wood stove. Inky cold blackness all around, and the stars so bright you felt you could touch them.
The next morning I was up early and sitting outside the petrol station, eating half of my bacon butty (a sandwich) and having morning tea. The taxi showed up to take me to Valleymount, where I began my walk. “Oh, by the way,” the driver said as we entered the village on the Pollaphuca reservoir, “the path you’re taking turns left there.” He pointed. The best bit of advice – in fact, the ONLY advice – I got on the walk. But absolutely essential.
Valleymount is a collection of houses on a spit of land between two bodies of water. The taxi driver told me they’d flooded the valleys on either side. If it’s really dry and the water drops, he said, you can sometimes see the tops of the chimneys come up from under the surface.
The older route for the walk begins in the village of Hollywood, not Valleymount. However, the guidebook “Pilgrim Paths in Ireland” by John G. O’Dwyer recommended the Valleymount start for being on less trafficked ways. It certainly was less traffic. I only saw one other pilgrim on this lovely pastoral lane. A German, coming the other direction, whistling and making it look easy.
Things got a bit more interesting after I stopped for a quick bite at Ballinagee Bridge. The trail began to follow forest paths near the King’s River, and once or twice I got that anxious feeling peering ahead for a marker to confirm I’d gone the right way
After coming across “St Kevin’s Pool” (not on my Ordnance Survey map), it was a fairly short ascent to Wicklow Gap, where you can look back for miles over the valley. There was a VERY strong west wind. I was happy for my new trekking gear. It was cold. “May the wind be always at your back” took on a new meaning.
The terrain became more rugged and less treed. The wind really never let up from that point until near the end of the Trail.
On the Glendalough side of the Gap, the Trail intersected increasing numbers of old broken-down stone homes, or perhaps mine buildings. There were some fenced black pools that I believe were flooded mineshafts. I came across a sign that said that a Canadian mining company called St Kevin’s reopened the local lead mines in the late 1950s.
Here the St Kevin’s Trail overlapped the Miner’s Way, a route that retraced the daily walking commute of lead-miners over the centuries
Finally the Trail dropped down into the valley. Unfortunately, for about a kilometre I had to hop over or around mud pits, some deep enough to suck off boots or sink a walker to mid-calf, which slowed the walk.
In the valley I came across a stone ruin called, I believe, the “Fiddlers’ Loft.” Inside were trees that had grown up over the years. One was a “rag tree,” an unofficial pilgrimage site where people had hung pandemic masks, bits of cloth, and even a dress, as a sort of prayer or offering.
Finally (about 20 km from the start) the monastic site came into view. The ancient gates are still there, and still welcoming
On arrival I drank a whole pot of tea. I must have been dehydrated, because at the local petrol station/deli/corner store I also ordered a lemonade and immediately also finished that.
Knowing my bus would be leaving before sunrise the next morning I took some time to look at St Kevin’s Church uphill from my hermitage cottage
I bumped into Sister Peggy and paid for my stay. There was a notice on the board that said retreatants were invited to participate in evening prayers in the chapel. “Maybe I’ll come to the prayers tonight,” I said. “It’s centring prayer on Thursdays,” Sister Peggy responded. I thought she was issuing an invitation, but it may have been a warning.
“Oh yeah,” I answered. “Sounds good.” I may not have been listening fully. So at 7:30 I sat down in the little chapel, keeping a social distance with the two others. There were candles, and silence, and darkness. After five and a half hours of walking up and over the Wicklow pass, a soft chair and darkness. And quiet. For 40 minutes the only sound was breathing and the radiators clicking. I managed to stay awake, but barely. Not sure if that counts as centring, but there were some prayers said!
There is a wonderful piece by the famous Irish poet Seamus Heaney about the legend that St Kevin was praying in his very narrow monastic cell, arms outstretched through the cell window, when a blackbird landed on his palm. He was so still, she laid her eggs there. Rather than disturb the bird, Kevin stayed still for two weeks until the baby birds had flown. Throughout the hermitage there are art pieces about this legend. You can hear the author read his poem by clicking here.
St Kevin is always pictured with his blackbird, so it was only fitting that the next morning, as I waited in the darkness by the visitor centre, all around me were unseen blackbirds singing in the dawn. There was just enough light so that when the bus finally showed up, I saw a blackbird flit away from close by my feet. I was the only person waiting, and the first on the bus. Then, as so often happens in new situations, we drove back the kilometre and a half I had just walked. There was a bus stop just beside where I had set out that morning 40 minutes earlier. I could have saved myself a long walk in the dark. But then I wouldn’t have had my time with St Kevin’s blackbirds.
A friend asked if I had any recommendations for books or articles on the benefits of walking. Do I? Of course–too many, as I discovered when trying to make a list! So here, for others who may be interested, is a very partial catalogue (under construction) of books and articles in English or translated to English. Some are about specific paths or trails, some are thematic, some meditative, some memoir, some scientific, and many have more than one of these ingredients. My favourite books in this genre combine memoir, humour, historical reminiscence, and observations about walking. So that’s what I’ve also tried to write.
Horatio Clare, Something of His Art: Walking to Lübeck with J.S. Bach (Dorset: Little Toller, 2018). Nice BBC-style writing (there are podcasts of this as well) about following Bach’s footsteps through paths.
Linda Cracknell, Doubling Back: Ten Paths Trodden in Memory (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Good memoir of esp Scottish trails, combined with travelogue and literary commentary. Available (through a new publisher) on Amazon.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1974). In some ways, this book helped start the “new nature writing” and its emphasis on walking. Or it picked up on Thoreau, since it’s really about walking and observing in a small area. A classic.
Dwayne Donald, “We Need a New Story: Walking and the wâhkôtowin Imagination,” Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies (JCACS) La Revue de l’association canadienne pour l’étude du curriculum (RACÉC) Vol. 18, No. 2, (2021): 53-63. Focusses from nêhiyaw (Cree) perspective on the uses of walking as a way of changing things, including attitudes and history of settlement.
Nancy Louise Frey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). This entertaining, well-written book is specifically about the Camino de Santiago as “therapeutic walking”
Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking (New York: Verso, 2014). Gros focusses on the history of walking and philosophical thinking.
Trevor Herriot, The Road is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul. HarperCollins, 2014. I know Trevor and have walked with him. He’s a good writer and a keen observer of humanity and nature, and passionate about the environment and justice for Indigenous peoples.
Werner Herzog, Of Walking in Ice. Translated by Martje Herzog and Alan Greenberg (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Short and interesting, this account details Herzog’s journey north on foot to visit a supposedly dying friend.
Erling Kagge, Silence in the Age of Noise (New York: Pantheon, 2017). (translated from the Norwegian). Lovely reflection, on the meditative aspects of walking.
Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful (New York: Penguin/Riverhead, 2012). Details three different pilgrimages including Hasidic pilgrimages, in extremely well-written, urban “New Yorker” style. Emphasis on the “restless” part of the title.
Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (London: Penguin, 2013). The prototypical English countryside walking book. A classic must-read of the genre, about the English countryside, full of interesting and educational asides.
Lisbeth Mikaelsson, “Pilgrimage as Post-secular Therapy.” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 24 (2014): 259–273. Pretty much what it says, as academic treatment.
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016). An entertaining and well-written general exploration, tending toward the environmental and natural place of walking, rather than the historical.
O’Mara, Shane In Praise of Walking (Bodley Head, 2019). Haven’t read this yet but absolutely will, since it’s by a fellow Dubliner. From a neuroscientist!
Thelma Poirier, Rock Creek (Regina SK: Coteau Books). Poetic explorations of land and history from Poirier’s three day walk to the source of the creek in Wood Mountain. In the tradition of Nan Shepherd and Annie Dillard.
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen Press, 1977). A classic meditation on place and our longing for connection to the natural world, set in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland. Walking-and noticing-locally.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); See chapter 9 “Land as Pedagogy.” From Anishinaabe perspective, on land as teacher (walking has a place but secondary, in this treatment)
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York: Penguin, 2000). I still think this is the greatest book of this genre, by a fantastic, insightful, author concerned not only with walking but also with justice.
Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York: Penguin, 2005). Great, but not as good as Wanderlust (or maybe I just compare everything to that).
Thoreau (need I say more?)
Edmund White, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris (New York: Bloomsbury, 2001). Interesting for being a perspective about the history and philosophy of urban walking.
Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. (London: Penguin, 2019). More on a specific set of English historic paths, with general observations about walking.
There are LOTS of popular articles about the benefits of walking. A smattering, in no particular order:
And last but not least, Matthew Anderson (that’s me!!) The Good Walk. A memoir of how we launched the long-distance pilgrimages that Canadians and Indigenous folks have been taking almost yearly since on traditional trails across the prairies. I’m looking for a publisher!
On the recommendation of Ken Wilson, I’m reading Something of his Art, a 100-page book by English-Welsh author and broadcaster Horatio Clare about a walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck, Germany. In October 1705, at the age of 20, a rebellious young Johann Sebastian Bach headed north on foot to pay a surprise visit to the elder organist and Baroque composer Dieterich Buxtehude. Clare and two others from the BBC recreated that walk, also setting out in the fall. The record of their trip – you can listen to a BBC podcast series about it – contains Clare’s reflections on everything from Bach’s temperament (students of the day carried rapiers to defend themselves) to ways that the autumn countryside – and our world – have changed because of climate degradation.
Ken loved the book; he told me I would too. He was right.
Clare walked 230 miles, roughly the distance we’ve covered in our treks on Treaty Four and Treaty Six territories. I’ve had the pleasure of singing works by both Bach and Buxtehude in various choirs over the years. And I’m a Lutheran, affected by years of hearing Bach, and by some of the same theological worldviews that inspired the composer.
But you don’t have to be musical or a Lutheran (or even a walker) to love this book: Horatio Clare is a rare treasure of an author. His rich descriptions will have you hearing the sound of their feet “through thick cushions of beech leaves, gold and bronze and red,” and seeing Lower Saxony “intricate and melancholy in the rain.” You’ll learn about Bach. More than that, you’ll find yourself walking along Thuringian trails greeting local farmers, or entering old-town Erfurt in the golden twilight. Anyone who has ventured on long treks will feel a thrill of recognition in Clare’s words: “Coming into town as night falls is a wonderful feeling after a day’s walk. You move through the streets, your eyes sharpened by the length of the day’s views, your feet tired and your muscles worked, alert and fatigued at once.”
Have you ever had nagging doubts about whether you behaved properly at some event? Or thought back on an experience, only to realize you now think about it in an entirely different way than you once did? It can happen in pilgrimages too. It was enlightening to check back with Ásta Camilla Gylfadóttir about our 2016 trek with her and a group of other Icelanders from Bær to Skálholt. I’ve been worried that with our English-language needs and our massive tourist luggage we eight Canadians “spoiled it” for the Icelanders that year. But for Milla, our walk is only a bright memory. For her, the fact that there were Canadians along on the Pílagrimar only made it better. I can’t tell you how liberating our recent Zoom chat turned out to be.
Which makes me realize once again that there are many parts to a walking pilgrimage: the journey is only one of them. A big part of any pilgrimage is narrative: the stories that gave rise to the pilgrimage (at Lourdes, for instance, the Marian appearance to Bernadette), but also the stories that come out of the experience of the pilgrims. Like the dozens of crutches left in Brother André’s chapel at St Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal, or the hundreds of pilgrim blogs, videos, books, and poems arising from the Camino de Santiago in Spain, these later stories “layer on” to the original narratives, making the original journeys richer, more complex, and more about the present. A pilgrimage stays ever-present – and ever meaningful – in its re-telling and sharing. For that I’m thankful.
I just posted the second episode in my podcast series “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase”! In these 20 minutes you come along for the first part of the walk along the St. Cuthbert Way from Melrose Scotland to Holy Island, England. You’ll meet Chris and Clare, and find out why she’s Saint Clare, to me. I hope you enjoy the show, which you can find on Podbean here, and on Apple podcasts, here!
How do you walk a pilgrimage during these months of restricted travel? I’ve been walking up and down my staircase in Nottingham England, and dreaming of pilgrimages past! To share those stories I’m releasing my first-ever podcast, “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase.” Each episode features a different trail, or a different character I’ve met. I’ll introduce you to enthralling paths in Norway, Scotland, England, Iceland, Canada and Indigenous territories, and provide some of the resources you’ll need to walk them. All the while I’ll be telling the stories of the fascinating individuals I’ve walked with and met along the way, and sharing snatches of our conversations, songs, and experiences.
Thursday, July 30, 2020, at 5 pm Montreal time, I’m releasing the first episode: “Walking the St Olav Way.” In the 17-minute episode you’ll hear snatches of our struggle up and down mountains and jumping late-spring run-off streams and boggy marshes. You’ll meet a friendly Norwegian border agent and a marathon German pilgrim struggling to understand his life. You’ll sit with us in rustic Budsjord Gård and hear fellow pilgrim Kathryn singing as we walked. I hope you’ll listen in to this first episode, and to the others as they come out every Thursday! The series “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase” will be available wherever you find your podcasts.
To find out more about St Olav before listening to the episode, why not check out some of these resources?
The official St Olav website, which you can find here, is a wealth of beautiful images and practical info (look for the English-language option)
In 2011, Alison Raju wrote The Pilgrim Guide to Trondheim, available at this website.
For my article about the history of the Trail and its modern-day recovery as well as some photos of our 2013 trek, see the International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, here.
For an article about the health benefits of walking the St Olav Way, written by a Norwegian scholar of pilgrimage in the same journal, see this link.
I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you on the “Pilgrimage Stories From Up and Down the Staircase” podcast!
Last Saturday, October 26, a group of eleven, mostly Settler Canadians, walked the Seaway between 25-30 km from Kahnawà:ke’s Cultural Centre to Montreal. I’m a Settler scholar from Treaty Four territory, and I planned this walk as a “bodily territorial acknowledgement,” in preparation for our Theology in the City Conference at Concordia this week. We pilgrims were a mixed group – a Buddhist monk, two professors, two undergraduate students, a doctoral student, and a writer! With the knowledge and approval of the Traditional Longhouse of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawà:ke, we began with a smudge led by Dr Christine Jamieson (Interior Salish – Boothroyd Nation) – Christine teaches Indigenous spirituality in our Dept of Theological Studies. Then we were off! We were blessed by the nicest day of the week: sunny, dry, and warm. We were enthusiastic walkers who made good time, and were back in Montreal by supper. I’m thankful for the good conversations and quiet moments of beauty and contemplation along the way. Thanks also to the enthusiastic reporters from the Concordian, led by Jad Abukasm, who walked the first leg with us and enjoyed breakfast at our table at the Sunnyside Diner (formerly Friendly’s) in Kahnawà:ke!
Tomorrow, September 16, is the feast day of Saint Ninian. In July, together with Christine Ramsay, Ken Wilson, and Sara Parks, I walked the Whithorn Way in Scotland, the medieval Royal pilgrimage route to St Ninian. To honour Saint Ninian Day here’s a short video of that pilgrimage!
See this stuffed prairie dog? Apparently, it has a name: “Matthew”. I just received photos of this mascot all along the route of the Humboldt-Fort Carleton Trail Walk in 2019. Each of them with cute little captions. In 2015, Hugh Henry and I began this tradition by trekking the 350-km Traders’ Road, or North-West Mounted Police Patrol Trail (NWMPT) in Treaty 4 Territory, SW Sask. It was likely the first time the trail had been walked in over a century.
In 2017 we walked the Swift Current to Battleford Trail, another 350 km; near Battleford there were lots of issues with access and trespassing (see above). In 2018 we walked the Frenchman’s Trail, from Mortlach to Gravelbourg. I was surprised that there was a Welsh couple serving Fish’n’Chips in Mortlach (see photo below).
This year, Hugh and the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society (SHFS) planned a journey from Humboldt to Fort Carleton. I’m still in England; this was the first year I just couldn’t make it. No country bars and pool-tables for me this August. But apparently I was there in spirit.
The photo I found the funniest is just above. I had quite a bit of foot trouble on the way to Battleford in 2017, culminating in a full-on leg infection. I was using duct-tape for my blisters, in the vain hope it can fix EVERY problem! Live and learn! Mostly, I’m thankful for good friends and for being remembered on a pilgrimage I couldn’t walk. They knew I was thinking about them. And how wonderful, to be thought of in return.