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.
If you’d like to read more about the walk they took – without me – you can read a great day-by-day description (I did) on Ken Wilson’s blog at https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/.
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.
Today was a vertiginous day. It’s the perfect word, although I had to look it up. Vertiginous has two meanings, both true today: extremely high and steep, and suffering from vertigo. I don’t know how the Scots do it. We had just passed through a short section – the worst – where the path was within two metres of the edge and a stumble could easily topple you down 200-feet onto the rocks. A couple ambled toward us with a dog tied to the woman’s waist. When we said hi, she cheerily told us “he has to be tied up. He’s a naughty dog and we had to call the coast guard to fetch him a couple weeks ago.” Hmm.
I’m now thoroughly convinced Ninian existed; after all, on finishing the walk all the way from Ninian’s Cave to Ninian’s Chapel on the Isle of Whithorn, about seven miles away, we had tea in his café. More seriously, the ancient stones, including altar stones, found in the cave (which is now partially caved-in) testify to its age. At our end point, the medieval chapel of St Ninian (below) was the place where pilgrims arriving by sea were welcomed and gave thanks for safe arrivals. Unlike us, they weren’t crazy enough for the cliffs; most ancient and medieval pilgrims arrived by sea and only walked a short distance to the shrine.
Having walked some ancient pilgrim routes that don’t seem that tied to religion anymore, I was struck today by the signs that people still take Ninian’s cave and Ninian’s chapel seriously. Some leave stones with names at the chapel, or insert rocks or prayers in the ancient surf-side cave.
Chris and Clare joined our walk today. I met them six years ago on the St Cuthbert’s walk. Clare brought wonderful home-made cake. I’m thankful to see them again after so long.
We’ve run out of Ninian destinations in this part of the peninsula, so I guess that means this pilgrimage is over. We’ll go out for a celebratory pint and dinner this evening, then tomorrow start making our respective ways home. The pilgrimage has been short, but has had many pleasures and a few trials. And will provide me material for a long time to come! I’ve enjoyed walking with Christine and Ken. Next time in Saskatchewan, which is perhaps not quite as vertiginous!
(for more photos and another perspective on today, see Ken’s blog at https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/whithorn-way-day-six/)
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. Secondly, 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.
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.
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.
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. By 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!
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.
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.
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/
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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