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Walking to the end of the world

Two years ago this week I heaved on my pack, left St Jean Pied de Port in France and set off on a track over the Pyrenees. I walked for 500 miles,  all the way across Spain.

Or almost. Five hundred miles took me no further than Santiago de Compostella. In my mind it had always been the final destination, the culmination of my month-long pilgrimage along the paths and roads of rural Spain and its villages, meseta, woods, towns and cities .

Some of my friends rested a day in Santiago then carried on walking and many others took a bus trip to the coast.  I did neither. I just needed to absorb the atmosphere of the ancient place after the weeks of sweat, pain, heat, friendship and laughter involved in reaching it. I felt that rushing on and doing something else would diminish the pilgrimage experience that had been a month – or indeed years – in the making.

I knew I wanted to go to Finisterre  one day, to experience the “end of the world” like so many pilgrims had done and the only way I wanted to do it was on foot. I knew it would happen, when the time was right.

And in exactly four weeks I’ll be meeting up in Santiago with a few of the people who became my Camino family in Spain in the autumn of 2012.

Irish John, and Doug and Pam from Perth, Australia will be waiting in Cathedral Square (having done parts of the Camino again) when Helen from Sweden and I arrive. And after a vino tinto or two we’ll pull on our boots and set off walking next day, for Finisterre, Muxia and the sea.

Other old friends will be sadly missing but we’ll toast them. Suzanne, Ramon, Donald, Elaine and Bill, Anna and Nikolai, Tasmanian Scott, Lisette, Andreas, Bibi,  Ada (although she might turn up too) Carmen and Nathan and so many others.

Many of these people have influenced these past two years of travel, fun and adventure. I’ve seen Western Australian beaches with Doug and Pam; skated, skied and explored Ontario with Donald, celebrated Canada Day thenBurns Day with him in Scotland; I’ve hunted kilted Jacobites, walked the West Highland Way, drunk tea and whisky with Helen all over the Highlands; shared beers and stories in a Copenhagen park with Bibi and Lisette; seen Denmark by bike and at speed from Anna and Nikolai’s perspective and had lunch with Ada in Glasgow.

My Camino didn’t end in late September 2012; it just keeps on developing. And I’m impatient now to walk again, to renew these  friendships and maybe to forge new ones; to discover where the Way will lead me next.

 

Approaching the Peak of the Hound Keepers

 

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Its gaelic name is Sgurr nan Conbhairean and it’s a high, elegant hill that’s hidden amidst the ravaged peaks of Kintail, a wild land that I thought would be far beyond  my caution (i.e. terror) of exposure to huge drops.

The summit, behind the rounded top in the foreground, peaks at 1011m at the top of a steep slope and this picture’s taken from another high top, Carn Ghluasaid, the Hill of Movement. And yes, fortified by my patient pal, I endured a (scary by my standards) ridge walk and climbed them both. It was exhilarating to be so high, absorbing wave after dusky wave of the mountain ranges that stretch across Scotland, from the jagged Cuillin of Skye and Rum, south to the imposing lump of Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart and far beyond.

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We saw red deer and ptarmigan, or snow grouse,  at around 1000m. These chubby little birds don’t venture much below this height and a funny family of seven allowed us to watch them potter around on their rocks before they flew away in a covey of crisp white underbellies.

And now I’m back down at sea level and hungry again for the crunch of my beloved new boots on stony tracks, the scent of rocky streams in spate and the wind whirling my hair on the high tops.

I could do without this morning’s unbendable legs, but even that discomfort brings a certain gratification; I’ve earned it.

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Too sweet to eat?

“I simply must touch it’s curly wool and give it a cuddle,” the woman cooed, pushing past me. “They’re sooooo beautiful.” Her wide-eyed husband appeared equally besotted. “Like teddy bears,” he murmured, as he joined the stampede. “Adorable.”

And that appeared to be the universal reaction to the sheep breed dubbed the “cutest in the world” when I went to record radio interviews at an agricultural show  yesterday. Even the dyed-in-the-wood (no pun IMG_2205intended) Scottish farmer who’d imported them from Switzerland admitted that he’d fallen in love with them. And if the attention at the show  was an example of the public’s reaction to his new enterprise, he’s on to a real winner. But for sale as pets, not pies.

They’re called Valais Blacknoses, they look like giant cuddly toys, they wear giant tinkling bells round their curly necks  and the spectators who hung around desperate for a cuddle (with the lambs, not me) were so carried away they made fabulous interviewees.

Never work with children or animals, they say, but the latter sure works for me. And yeah, I can’t deny it, they are pretty cute.

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Hitting the road with a mic

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The cattle corpse was still warm, but skinless, when it whacked the back of my head. I quickly moved before the next swinging carcase emerged from the horror around the corner.

Ten minutes later the door of a chill room clunked shut and I shivered in the company of 120 rapidly cooling animals and a man in a white coat.

They’re not the opening sentences of my new novel; just a recent day in the life of a rural broadcaster.

I’ll spare you pictorial evidence of my outing to the abattoir. It wasn’t my first one, and certainly not the goriest. That was in Brazil where our cameraman got lost in the “slaughter room” and reappeared a few minutes later dripping blood from head to foot. At least it wasn’t his own.

But the last few weeks haven’t all been about meat plants. There have been gentler commissions which saw me strolling through colourful wildflower meadows, interviewing a farmer about harvesting the seeds of 200 different flowers and grasses. I learned that the random wildflowers we see on roadside verges and roundabouts aren’t there by chance after all; they’re grown commercially then packed and sown in specific variety mixes. On another day I crawled around a harvest field getting sounds of a combine, and on Monday I’m meeting the animals dubbed the “cutest sheep in the world”.

We “media people” lead such terribly glamorous lives.