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Posts from the ‘Churches / cathedrals’ Category

The long shadows of Skye’s stones

The mossy carpets of ruined homes, turf-topped walls and ragged church gables tell the story of Tusdale, the Skye village that died with the Clearances two hundred years ago. It’s far off the tourist trail, quiet and alone with its memories, and I sense a poignant, unfinished business in the lands of the evicted.

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Lichen stones with no names

P1030182Uist’s burial grounds stretch over ancient sites, raised up on green mounds with long horizons out to sea.

The kirks at Kilmuir and Clachan Sands that once shared the space are in ruins now, or gone completely, and it’s been a long time since a new grave was dug.

There are no names or inscriptions on many of the stones; no maudlin sentiment. They’re just rough field  rocks entwined in shrubby grey lichen.

Their simplicity is their charm; that, and the mystery of the long gone lives they mark.

 

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A swirl of moss

A swirl of moss

Near my grandfather’s grave a swirl of moss on stone outlines a neighbour’s life.

A solitary voice and tears at the Pilgrim Mass

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Without breaking our stride we walked straight up the steps, out of the sunshine and into the Cathedral.

It was noisy and busy which made it difficult to concentrate on the enormity of the moment. I had been 31 days on the road, walking towards this place.

I unhooked my pack, sank into a pew, undid my boots and waited…

For what, I wasn’t sure. I was grateful to be here of course; for the strength and fitness that made it possible to walk 500 miles; for the friends made along the way; for the story and tradition of the road we had walked and for the special gift of Robbie’s company over the last week.

We wanted to share the experience with his brother so we called him in New Zealand.  Robbie went to find water and still I sat there, gazing at the extravagant gold altarpiece built to glorify St James. Waiting.

It was only 10.45am but already people were filling the 1000 or so seats. Friends and familiar faces from along the way arrived, wandering dazed down the aisles, and we greeted one another and hugged. It was emotional. Visitors, pilgrims, nuns and locals packed into every space and still more arrived and crammed in around the walls. The chatter and sense of expectation grew louder. Then we were hushed.

And the nun sang.

IMG_0766The pure sound of a solitary voice echoed round the ancient walls. We listened, captivated,  then tried to copy her as she taught us to sing alleluia to the beautiful cadences.  The magnificent organ heralded the arrival of the priests. And the mass began.

At the end the huge incense burner, the Botafumeiro was lowered to the fanfare of the organ then the tiraboleiros – the red coated attendants – took up their positions on the ropes and began to pull downwards. The choir sang. I hadn’t dared hope we would arrive on a day when the Botafumeiro was swung. Scores of people rushed up the aisle to watch and photograph it as it picked up speed and rocketed over our heads, drifting streams of smoke as it flew.

P1000638And then it was over. We laced up our boots and loaded on our packs.

We still had to find beds for the night.

Sharing the last steps

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With just 20km to go I was finding it hard to distill how I was feeling about the whole experience of walking the Camino.

The physical challenge had been relatively easy and the camaraderie and communication with people from varied backgrounds all over the globe had been the best fun I’d had in years. I’d made firm friends and laughed with them in the evenings, improved my fitness, compared feet and blisters, become more tolerant and had time to reflect on what to do, where to go, next.

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And yet … old habits and attitudes die hard. I’d given myself a deadline to reach Santiago in time for the Pilgrim Mass at noon the next day so that I could share the experience with Robbie. And that meant getting up at 5am and finding our way in the darkness through the eucalyptus woods.

We got lost and I got anxious. Maybe I hadn’t learned anything after all!

Finally, after so many days on the road, we caught a glimpse of the spires of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.

I felt nervous rather than exhilarated: unsure and unprepared. Our feet were sore and for the first time my back was aching. Walking through the suburbs was P1000621relentless and we were pushed along by a growing stream of day pilgrims, tourists, schoolchildren all focused on the 12 o’clock mass. Everyone seemed to be walking urgently.

The scallop shells led the way, the narrow streets were drawing us through, the excitement was palpable. We kept turning to one another and smiling. And then a square opened before us and magnificently, gloriously the cathedral steps beckoned.

We had arrived.

Where the wind meets the stars

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Day five started with a long steady climb to the summit of Alto del Perdón at 790m where it became obvious why the top was covered in turbines. We had to hold on to our hats as we posed for photos alongside the battered wrought iron statue representing medieval pilgrims struggling against the wind.

But what a view: behind us were the Pyrenees and new friendships already forged and ahead, stretching out across Spain, the rest of the long journey to Santiago.

P1000221We shared an orange before the steep descent then figured we deserved another café con leche at Uterga and as I opened the bar door I heard the familiar strains of “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen”. The language barrier meant I failed to understand why anyone in a bar in the blazing heat of a remote Spanish hill village was missing the attractions of the Granite City. I certainly wasn’t.

More haunting Scottish melodies sent us on our way via a detour to the 12th century Knights Templar church at Eunate. It was a quiet, pilgrim-free 3km, the path lined on either side with sunflowers, corn, blueberries and a feathery herb I didn’t recognize then as we walked through the P1000245village of Óbanos, the weekend’s fiesta was in full swing, people were drinking and eating at stalls in the square and impatient black calves were being lined up for the “bull ring”.

My hips were aching by the time we stopped that night on the far side of the bridge over the río Arga at Puenta la Reina. A young lad had handed us a leaflet for Santiago Apostol, an albergue forever thereafter referred to as “The Resort” so impressive were its facilities! Warm showers, clothes-washing sinks, spacious bunks and a long washing line with PEGS: my definition of luxury accommodation was changing forever.