I have committed. Stretching out ahead of me this summer is the prospect of a 25 day trek over 600km of hills, tracks, mountains, woodland and national parks, through Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia and Italy. I’m going to lace up my boots, fill my water bottle and walk through ancient towns, visit fairy-tale castles, loiter in Slovenia’s wine region then wander downhill to the blueness of the Mediterranean Sea and the marvel that is Venice. The European Peace Walk is calling. And with twelve weeks still to go I’m beyond excited. Already, in my mind, my pack is ready to go. I have everything I need: my boots and camino socks; shorts and lightest T-shirts; my faded Tilley hat and sunglasses; that half-used travel pack of laundry powder and a few clothes pegs. Compeed. Sun cream. Camera. I just want to lay everything out now, pack my rucksack, strap it on …. and find my way to the airport. I long to waken every morning with the knowledge that I’ll be stepping out onto fresh paths with vistas of new mountains, unfamiliar contours and hopefully a few arrows to point the way. I’ll listen to random companions tell their stories in different accents, share wine and experiences. And I’ll also walk alone, with time to breathe, to pause, to reflect. I’ll sleep in bunk beds, my ears plugged to drown out the snoring and a mask over my eyes to dull the beams from early morning torches. I’ll get sweaty, tired and sore, but hopefully I’ll also laugh a lot. There are doubts too. Can it come close to the adventure that was the Camino Frances? Will I be able to cope with the European heat in August? And am I crazy to commit to such a long break now that I’m back working. It’ll be a month without income and the risk of losing good commissions. But the countdown has started and I’m not listening to my doubts. I need to be constructive: it’s time to begin the training.
It was Easyjet’s fault: the flight from Edinburgh had been delayed by four hours so we’d missed the speeches, the unveiling of the work and an “auld alliance”get together that had spilled outside to enjoy a warm, convivial French evening.
The venue – a cave-room in an ancient French fort – echoed and magnified the hissing, haunting, sound-light-movement installation. My photos don’t do it justice. It’s a powerful work and it made me reflect on the all-out turbinisation of our irreplaceable Scottish wilderness. There will soon be no view from any hilltop that isn’t sullied by windmills, pylons, dams or roads. I hope Robbie’s work can help influence a wider audience when it is on show in Glasgow in October.
There was more to explore in Lyon too. Flights of aerobic steps led forever upwards to the white basilica on the hill, while sculptures, graffiti and the new metallic monster museum graced the banks of the Rhōne and the Saōne. All of it art.
“We’ll meet up wi’ oor kinfolk
From a’ the country roon’
When the ganaboot folk tak’ the road
And the yellow’s on the broom”
I didn’t walk past any broom today, but for mile after dazzling mile the yellow was thick and heavily scented on the gorse; weak lemony pale on the daffodils; and the dandelions shone brightly, luring in the bees and butterflies from miles around. It was one long Mellow Yellow Scottish spring day.
I should have been working, of course. Or packing for The Big Move later in the week. Or cleaning. Or researching. But the sun was forcing its brightness around the black-out blinds when I opened my eyes this morning, and I couldn’t resist. I’ve been following Trepidatious Traveller Maggie’s adventures (http://magwood.me ) on her latest Spanish Camino these last few days and have been itching to get on the road myself, so on a whim I abandoned the world of work and set off on the first 12 miles of the long-distance West Highland Way.
And it all came rushing back: the satisfying crunch of boots on gravel; a pack strapped to my back; the adventure of the open road; sun shadows, random encounters and conversations with strangers. I hummed the Yellow on the Broom tune as I walked towards the hills and reflected on my own nomadic experiences these past three years.
The rootless chapter of my recent life will close this week when I get the keys for my little fisherman’s house by the sea. The wandering years opened my eyes but I need a home again. Even when the countryside is yellow.
I wasn’t prepared for the disruption it would bring. Any yet I should have known there would be repercussions, after the way Hale-Bopp streaked across the sky and wreaked wonder and havoc in my life back in the Nineties. I remember first catching sight of the Great Comet ploughing through the stars above my hill and knowing at once that it signalled something momentous.
This time the disruption began just as the eclipse cast its shadow then returned the world to daylight. Impulsively I decided to view a property that’s for sale in the village, just as a distraction from work – or so I thought.
And while it may be back to business as usual in the Heavens, my world is still in disarray. Will I? Won’t I? Should I make my (tiny) home by the edge of the sea in a holiday village that’s a ghost town in winter and a heaving mass of tourism in summer? I need a handhold on stability after three nomadic years so the promise of sea views and a fire for the winter has a strong appeal.
I took a long walk along the coast as the high tide flooded the path and white froth crashed over fences and gates, blurring the line between grass and the green deep. The world sparkled around me and the path meandered through the streets, right past the door of the cottage. Eclipse Karma.
My mission this week involved driving 150 miles through some of Scotland’s most glorious scenery to interview salmon farmers on the far west coast. I’ve been deprived of snow all winter in my frost-free, east-coast cottage, removed from mountains and the spectacular raw wildness of the west. I jumped at the chance.
I saw snow alright, on the tortured hills of Glencoe, the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor guarding the entrance to the notorious narrow pass. Late afternoon sun broke through the snow clouds to create lighting effects that accentuated the drama – if that’s possible in such a place. I followed labouring lorries loaded with straw bales bound for livestock farmers on the islands. And I stopped to get close to ducks looking longingly for food.
And the work? A ride on a boat; questions about how salmon farmers handle protected predators like seals (scare them, deter them or shoot them). And finally a sea loch-side hotel and a sleep within hearing distance of the tide.
Chain links zig-zagged up, across and over the top of the rough cliff face, pristine steel glinting and signing the way. I tugged hard: the bolts didn’t budge. So no excuse.
“Suitable for children aged 9 and over,” the internet had reassured. But the sign low down on the path was less gung-ho: “Beware of being trapped by the incoming tide; of being struck by falling rocks and stones; and of falling from steep rock on hazardous coastal terrain.”
And this was just the short recce ahead of the full-scale birthday adventure planned for later in the month. So many thrills still in store. Eeeek.