Life in the Highlands

Hello and thank you for looking at my Blog...i hope you enjoy my site. I'm pretty new to this but hope to keep it all updated with the progress of my garden. I've really enjoyed being able to start everything from scratch and the hard work has been worthwhile. I hope you enjoy seeing my progress too! Feel free to leave comments it's always nice to get feedback.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Be smart. Be nice. Do what you love...but above all have fun and see you on the other side!

I haven't posted on here for a while, so thought I had better update!

Well immediately after climate camp (yes back in 2008!), I met my future husband. So you can see why I have been busy what running up and down the country. organising a wedding and settling down to married life.

After a two year courtship we were eventually married on 14th August 2010, so we have just celebrated our first anniversary together. The time has literally flown by!

Married life has, of course, brought changes, not least having to consider someone else. As with any married couple we are looking forward...and we are all set to move from the Highlands shortly to start a new life together. My husband shares my love of travelling and adventure so we are going to spend sometime in Africa in my hubby's ancestral home of Nigeria.

I am very excited as I am finally going to realise my dream of travelling Africa overland to Nigeria...a journey which will take us through many countries on the West Coast of Africa.

My passion for growing and cooking has now expanded immensely to include African foods and ingredients. Even if I say so myself I make a few dishes that I am rather proud of. My favourite is Jollof Rice, Suya, Egusi Soup, Puff Puff (a type of African Doughnut)...I have even managed to make African pies a sort of small pastie which is very tasty. I hope to be able to try my hand at growing Tropical Yams, Plantain (Banana) and Okra. I am sure that the challenges will be many but I am so looking forward to them, good, bad or indifferent.

For those who would like to follow Ann and Shane's Amazing Adventures I have started a separate blog which I hope to be able to update on our travels and sharing our experiences.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Climate Camp 2008

It was so off the wall i had to do it! Travel to Hoo Peninsula in Kent and join the Climate Camp in an attempt to make a difference! For the uninitiated it may seem like a bunch of hippies just setting up a camp, but i'm no hippy and there where plenty just like me, normal people who held down responsible jobs.

Like minded people gathered together and for one week, formed a self sustained community to look at how to tackle the root causes of climate change. The idea was to be able to live sustainably for a week, to explore problems and propose solutions; educate and pass on skills to prepare for a future in order to burn less energy. These ordinary people working together to look at how to turn things around and look at the longer term solutions needed around climate change. Now i wouldn't want you to get the idea this was just a British thing, there are climate camps taking place around the World in Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, US and Iceland. The Australian camp had over 1000 people who got involved and blocked the railway lines to the Newcastle Coal Port.

On arrival at Strood, I was picked up with others from the Station. Legal Advisors advised us on our rights as the Police were stopping and searching under Section 60 as you were entering and leaving the site. The camp was legal but the police had a strong presence around the site, at first this was a tad intimidating but once you got used to this procedure then it was actually fun and the Police on the whole where light hearteded but thorough in their searches. Once through this procedure it was full ahead to the camp.
My first impression of the camp was the sheer size and number of people there. Camping around the central workshop tents in 'neighbourhoods' based on geographical area; i was in the Scotland and Newcastle Barrio. In this neighbourhood you lived, slept and eat and made decisions for daily living. Everyone contributed to the running of the neighbourhood, chopping vegetables, cooking, washing up, tidying, making fire, recycling, cleaning, clearing rubbish and welcoming people. Each person did their bit to keep the site running which meant it was a functioning collectively run site. The second tier was the Campwide work which needed teams to ensure things happened. You signed up for these at the jobshop, you could volunteer for as much or as little as you felt you wanted to do. There was a daily timetable of workshops that you could attend based in different tents from Christian Aid Climate looking at climate change and poverty to Vegan cake baking sessions where you learnt to cook and provide food to the camp, with something for everyone. One of my favourite was One World Many Voices; How to engage with people from different cultural backgrounds. The programme was varied and informative.

The week culminated with a mass protest on the Saturday. A contingent of campaigners went on the ‘Orange’ march on the day of mass action. The march was a family friendly affair, with people dressed in bright colours, carrying beautifully made banners with slogans like ‘coal kills’, ‘burning our future: no new coal’; and ‘yes to Kingsnorth workers, no to E.ON bosses’.

We marched from climate camp to Kingsnorth power station, picking up local residents as we went along. As we walked, residents came out to talk to us and cars slowed down to cheer or talk. We gave out a leaflet looking at the impact of climate change in Kent. It highlighted the impact of new coal power in the UK and the devastating effect that it will have in the local area, as well as on the poorest people in the world.

It took us about two hours to reach Kingsnorth, and we were greeted initially by only a small number of police. With music and speeches, it was time to break out the sandwiches. The speakers shouted above the noise of a police helicopter overhead, and gave impassioned speeches covering workers’ rights, impact of climate change and poverty on women, the contribution of capitalism to climate change and a speaker from Kingsnorth Climate Action Medway, who are local campaigners, who spoke out about the effects of Kingsnorth, not only in their backyard, but also on the rest of the world.
The march headed back towards the camp, to the sound of steel drums, the time passed quickly. With a detour through the village of Hoo to talk to more people about what we were doing and why, and to pop into a shop to get some supplies for the evening’s celebrations.

There was a round up of all the day's activity, and people headed to their various neighbourhoods to eat, drink and dance to the sound of the peddle powered sound system.

So what is it all about? Energy company E.ON are proposing to replace the existing coal power station with a new one. Coal is the most polluting way of generating electricity and is a step backward in the UK's commitment to fight climate change. E.ON the German utility giant is Britain's single biggest greenhouse gas polluter. The company is aiming to have Kingsnorth 2 built by 2012. Despite claims that the new plant will be more efficient, it is estimated that it will emit 8.4 million tonnes of climate changing pollutants every year, compared to the 8.7 million tonnes the existing plant releases annually, and nowhere near the 80% reductions needed to combat global warming.
So what did i get out of it? I met loads of amazing people, challenged myself and had fun but more importantly i learnt a huge amount about renewable energy and the impact of our energy choices on global climate!

"Kingsnorth is a terrible idea. One power plant with a lifetime of several decades will destroy the efforts of millions of citizens to reduce their emissions" James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies

"The new power station planned for Kingsnorth will output more CO2 each year than the whole of Ghana" World Development Movement

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Courgette Soup

A few peeps have asked me recently for my Courgette Soup recipe so here goes for anyone who wants to have a bash! It's low fat for those of you who are watching their waistlines! I've also added a recipe for a pastry dish to try and use up all those delicious courgettes. For anyone interested there is a very nice recipe book 'What will i do with all those Courgettes' which will perhaps help with the glut.

Courgette Soup


3 tablespoon butter
Courgettes (Zucchini)(can be peeled or not peeled according to your preference - peeled gives a lighter green colour when finished) - the more courgettes that are added the better the taste
1 medium Onion diced
2 pints Chicken Stock (stock cube is acceptable but use two)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Cornflour to thicken (optional)


Melt butter in a large saucepan.
Add onions and fry gently for 5 minutes.
Add courgettes (Zuchinni) and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-10 minutes.
Add stock and bring to the boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and blitz with a hand blender and whizz until smooth
Return to the saucepan, thicken with cornflour to desired consistancy and simmer for 10 minutes.


Tomato, Courgette and Mozarella Pastry:

1 pack ready rolled Puff pastry sheets – thawed
Courgettes - sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 ripe tomatoes sliced
1x125g pack Mozzarella cheese – drained
beaten egg to glaze


Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas mark 7.
Have ready a lined baking sheet.
Unroll pastry sheets and cut each in half across length, place pastry on baking sheets.
Mark a square border of about 1.5cm with a knife.
Lightly fry the courgettes in the olive oil until soft.
In the middle of the pastry make a row of overlapping tomato slices, a row of sliced cheese and a row of courgette. Add any remaining cheese on top as available.
Brush borders with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 12-15 min until borders have risen up around filling and pastry is golden. Drizzle with a little olive oil, if desired, over the tomatoes before serving hot.

Serve with a side salad.

Serves 2-4.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Had a fun weekend in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Loads to see and do and despite the short timescales we gave it our best shot. We had checked the weather forecast beforehand and it said 'rain' for the whole weekend! It was wrong - we only had a few small showers on the Saturday the rest of the time it was glorious and the sun even managed to raise the temperature on the Monday and almost make it Summer - well as in a Scottish Summer!

The first tour we took was the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour where at the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket area where we met our guides for the tour, Clart (as in muck!) and the clean-hankied intellectual McBrain who took us on a dramatic romp through the wynds, courtyards and pubs of Edinburgh's Old and New Town. There were hilarious duel of wits across three hundred years of great writing and colourful characters. Performed in and out of Edinburgh’s famous - and infamous - taverns and ‘howffs’. The tour took the form of an impassioned debate. In a lively duel of wits, they question the importance which the unique pub atmosphere offered creative and intellectual thought. Of course, a drink in each establishment was essential to get the full effect!

We dashed back across town to Grassmarket for our the 10.30pm Terror Tour and with guide Luke, who took us through the historic wynds and closes of the city. Here we were told tales of witch trials once held here in the old town and then into the infamous dark underground vaults where we were shown genuine torture instruments, where one of the girls in the group fainted. I have to admit i thought at this point it was part of the tour as i watched the lassie fall to the ground, erm it wasn't! The legendary haunted vaults are home of the notorious, violent and misogynistic South Bridge Poltergeist (they actually split up males and females in one of the rooms!). The Tour ended in the vaults bar in the haunted 'Nicol Edwards' pub. We had planned to have a drink here and move on... but not before we were introduced to the delights of 'Acoustic David' who turned out to be great entertainment! He moved effortlessly from Oasis through David Bowie and into 'Ten Puppies' (can't stop humming it now!) all in the space of 3 minutes! He didn't take a break at all it was just non-stop good fun, obviously 'Dave' was a regular here as he had quite a following!

We had pre-booked the Vaults Tour where with guide John we visited the 18th century vaults beneath the South Bridge - a great bridge built which spanned the deep valley to the south of the Royal Mile. Under its 19 enormous arches, is a catacomb of underground chambers where people lived and worked. The tour was very good and interactive....the only problem being that we were still recovering from the previous evening! So being rather worse for wear after our previous nights jaunts around the city we decided that we would take things a tad easier and take...yes a bus tour of the city courtesy of Mactours!

The Edinburgh Dungeons tour was a bit disappointing. It started having your photo taken on the stocks with a variety of props and a scream...not easy. The set up was very sophisticated but it lacked the sponataneity of the other tours. As we were herded like 'coos' from room to room with the actors, the boat ride was a welcome break to the monotony of the tour but far too brief. I was rather relieved to get to the end as boredom set in. Alas there was no quick and easy escape as in their usual style you are herded through first to view your photographs and then into a lift which took forever and just as you thought freedom was nigh....erm the gift shop! A protracted route through the gift shop before you are finally released. I wouldn't recommend this tour for youngsters under twelve as it is a bit graphic in parts i felt.

A more pleasant and worthwhile visit was to Edinburgh's Camera Obscura and World of Illusion. The Camera Obscura show was a fascinating and an amusing way to see the city. From inside Victorian rooftop chamber, you can view the moving images of Edinburgh City projected onto a viewing table through a giant periscope. You get to pick people up on your hands, squash them to a pulp and even make the traffic climb over paper bridges. The guide was entertaining, engaging and informative. Also from the rooftop were breathtaking views of the city and its surrounding areas looking over Edinburgh's Old and New Towns as well as Edinburgh Castle. Free telescopes allowed you to see the city close up or see far into the distance. Viewing panels help you identify the many sights and inform you about Edinburgh's history. The World of illusions on the lower floors was very interesting and interactive too and it was somewhat different from the ghostie theme.

Oh and guess who forgot to set the date correctly on her camera! D'oh!!

Friday, June 27, 2008


Prior to walking the Camino de Santiago, i spent some time in France. This was my first trip and i wasn't sure what to expect. As i flew into CDG airport, we circled the Eiffel Tower and Paris.
In the space of an hours flight, i was catapulted into having to rely on getting by with my very rusty french. First hurdle was to get myself, using public transport, to the centre of Paris.

For the unitiated to France, things are as automated as far as possible. In Paris they do tend to have a good level of English but they always appreciate you making the effort to speak in french, even as was the case with me, if you are murdering the language. I found the trick was to really throw yourself into it. The French are very expressive and a lot of communicating is done with body language. It's really quite liberating once you get over that British reserve.

I managed to get my bus ticket and whilst waiting for the bus i had a brief conversation with the driver as there was a driver change so had a ten minute wait. Eventually i was transported to Opera where i still had quite a walk to Le Louvre. Donning my backpack i set about finding the BVJ hostel i had booked into. This was to be my first hostel experience.

Now if you haven't been hostelling, you may think it's for the young. If you are travelling alone it's a good way to meet people of different nationalities. You don't have to be young, and some hostels do offer double or single rooms. There are basic facilities, they are clean and well run. I was in a four-bedded room with three other girls from Czech Republic, Korea and Argentina. I was amazed at how well we got on and how much you help each other. I stayed three days with the same girls before we all went our seperate ways. What amazed me was the give and take that goes on, the willingness to help each other with the language, sharing our experiences and knowledge or to go sight seeing. It was a nice start to my break and forthcoming pilgrimage.

My plan was to travel the old Pilgrimage route from Paris to Bayonne stopping off at Orleans and Bordeaux. This way i would get to see a bit of France and wind down, and practice my french. Nothing was prebooked except for my Paris stay so it was totally spontaneous and flexible.

Paris is a wonderful city. The first thing that struck me was how neat and tidy everything and everyone was, it was indeed, tres chic. The bus drivers and police are immaculately turned out and black was definitely in. Not an unpressed shirt in sight. They really took a pride in their work. It was a very warm day compared to Scotland but everyone was still donning their winter coats. The architecture was fantastic, i could have explored all the side streets endlessly. It definitely gave me a sense of excitement.

Louvre is amazing and surrounded by so many historic buildings. I was intrigued to see how the glass pyramids fitted in with the older buildings, but somehow it worked. The large glass pyramid looked like it was floating on water from certain angles.
At night Paris becomes illuminated. La Tour Eiffel becomes an amazing shimmering light display every hour on the hour for ten minutes. The display dominates the Paris night sky. The Eiffel Tower lights up every evening from sunset to 1am, the lighthouse on the tower top sends out its light beams during the same hours. There are 20,000 bulbs that light up the Tower illuminations.

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the Universal Exposition celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution and is called after Monsieur Eiffel who designed the tower. It is built on the Champs De Mars.

Apparently the story goes that when Hitler visited the elevators broke down just before he arrived so he would have had to climb the 1665 steps to the top. He chose to admire the tower from the ground.
Franz Reichelt designed and tested the first parachute by jumping 60 meters from the Eiffel Tower. The parachute failed and Reichelt fell to his death. However, the autopsy showed that it was fright that had killed him not the injuries sustained by the fall. The jump was filmed by the British Media at the time.

I spent a wonderful day touring the Gardens at Versailles. When i walked towards the Chateau i was amazed at the size of the building. It positively dwarfed Buckingham Palace and was far more ostentatious. Versailles was designed as a palatial centre of government for Louis XIV.
I couldn't believe the queues to get in at 10am, but they are very quickly and efficiently dealt with.

The Garden's where amazing, if you could call it garden it was more like a large park, not surprisingly i spent most of my visit touring the gardens. Avenues project from Louis XIV's palace towards distant horizons, enfolding town, palace, garden and forest. There are immaculate parterres, great basins, an orangery, a vast collection of outdoor sculpture and some of the grandest fountains which have ever been made. I made good use of the petite train to get around. You need a day for the gardens. I spent hours wandering around and exploring the gardens of Marie Antoinette. The Petite Trianon and Grand Trianon were again very ostentatious.

Only a small part of the chateau is open to the public; the State Apartments of the King and Queen, and the Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors was the most impressive part i felt and photographs don't do it justice as part of the appeal is the way the light reflects and dances on the mirrors.
This is where the treaty of Versailles was signed.

Notre Dame sits on Île de la Cité an island formed by two meanders of the Seine. An impressive Gothic style building. Notre-Dame has had an eventful history over the centuries. Crusaders prayed here before leaving on their holy wars and it was here that Joan D'arc was canonised.
The cathedral, is first and foremost a church and several masses are celebrated each day, which visitors can participate in.
Notre Dame has some wonderful stained glass windows. The South Rose window is beautiful and was a gift from King Saint Louis. The rosette is dedicated to the New Testament and depicts the twelve apostles, as well as Saints and Martyrs.

The Cathedral has a long history of music, and still plays a major role in the influence of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. They continue to have weekly and monthly organ recitals and concerts given by the choir. I went along one evening to listen to the Gregorian chants and it was amazing!
Still lots to see in Paris, so planning another trip at some point!

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Skye Walking

On the back of my trek through Spain i was keen to keep up the momentum. After being inspired by Andrew Dempsters book Sky 360 I decided to circumnavigate Skye. Unlike, Andrew Dempster who took a month to work his way around the coastline, i wanted to walk around the island in a series of small walks.

The Romans called Skye ‘The Winged Isle’, a reference to the peninsulas that reach like crooked fingers into the waters of the sea. A more common name is the ‘Misty Isle’.

My first part of the trek started after catching the afternoon Mallaig Ferry to Armadale around mid afternoon. The trip took about an hour and was very bracing to say the least but beautiful views of Skye ahead. Armadale is at the end of the A851 on the Sleat peninsula of Skye, known as "The garden of Skye". Armadale is one of the gateways to Skye, as it has a car ferry that travels regularly from here to Mallaig on the Scottish mainland. From Armadale Pier look across to the mainland peninsula east of Glenshiel, to Glenelg, to Knoydart and south towards the busy Mallaig harbour. The far headland seen beyond the right hand edge of Armadale pier is Morar, with famous white sandy beaches.

Once ashore again i donned my backpack and walked to the tiny village of Ardvasar where i found the Morar B&B run by Chris and Maggie. A well appointed B&B on the shore with very comfortable rooms and a pleasant surprise with indoor swimming pool. It was an ideal stop off for my first night to rest up for the following days trek to Broadford. As this bit would entail a fair bit of tarmac bashing i decided that a Sunday would be the best time to complete this 16mile bit as the road would be quieter.

After a good cooked breakfast on the Sunday morning i set off about 9am. It was perfect walking weather and not a rain cloud in sight. Very sunny and warm and no midges. I followed the main A851 road from Broadford to Armadale which was being upgraded.
A little further along the A851 i past the Armadale Castle Gardens & Museum. The neo-Gothic Castle was built by the MacDonalds in 1815. Part of the castle has been restored to create a museum.
I approached Kilmore (pronounced kil-more), A' Chill-Mhor in Gaelic which means the big church. The first church was established in the 13th century. The modern Parish Church of Scotland was built in 1876. Sleat (pronounced Slate) Church of Scotland where i joined the service made me very welcome. After the service i joined the congregation for a cup of tea and biscuit before setting off again.

It was a while down the road when I saw her walking towards me. Looking like she was out for a Sunday jaunt, she smiled as she approached me and without any preamble asked me 'Are you in a hurry? Where are you headed to?'. I smiled and explained that i was walking to Broadford. She informed me that i was about 10 miles from Broadford. Again she turned to me without any preamble 'would you like tea and toast in the garden?'. I was pleasantly surprised and not being able to think of a good enough reason to say no I agreed. Una was a very interesting lady who was a native to Skye. We found that we had a common interest in Africa and she showed me her African artefacts and pictures of her father who worked in Somali in the 50's. It transpired that she was a wheeler dealer in that she bought and sold oddities. She seemed to have an uncanny intuition for knowing what folk are interested in, she showed me a leopard skin rug that she had sold to a gentlemen who happened to be a collector. I sat and listened to her charming tales and of her adventures in the US travelling on a Greyhound bus and discussed US politics as we sat and drank tea and eat cheese and biscuits in the garden. Three hours later and having exchanged addresses i bade her farewell. I left with a smile on my face and with the thoughts 'only on Skye'. It was late and i still had 10 miles to Broadford to cover, it would be a late arrival but so far my day had been different to what i had anticipated.

As i approached Isleornsay (Eilean Iarmain) which means dry island, a secluded little village of whitewashed cottages with a very pretty harbour that was once Skye's main fishing port. A very beautiful place in a small rocky bay with the mountains of the mainland on the horizon, the views out across the bay are wonderful, overlooking the tidal Isle of Ornsay, which sports a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson's father. Gavin Maxwell, of otter fame, lived for a while at the lighthouse. The view to Isle Ornsay lighthouse and the distant mountains around Loch Hourn and Knoydart with the beautiful Sound of Sleat as a backdrop.

It is also largely Gaelic-speaking, thanks mainly to the efforts of its landlord, Sir Iain Noble, who owns the hotel and his own local Gaelic whisky company.

The road now opens to heather-moorland. I pass the Black lochs so called because of the peaty water. The road goes over Drochaid Airidh na Suiridhe. It was getting late and i was getting tired, i had to make Broadford before dark, the going was starting to get hard as tiredness set. The road seemed endless and now without the different views of earlier in the day, the heather-moorlands in contrast to the greenery and sea views of earlier. After what seemed like an eternity i eventually arrived at 8.30pm in Broadford, tired, hungry and weary. This was the penalty for my socialising earlier in the day.

Three days after my return home i received a letter from Una updating me on her adventures and an invite to write to her neice who had a health centre in Kenya who 'could make good use of a good brain'! As i said 'only on Skye'!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


It had been buzzing about in the back of my head for a couple of years now and finally i had the call to go. There is a saying that you don't choose the Camino but the Camino chooses you. Folk walk this ancient Pilgrim route for very different reasons; some religious, spiritual or as a nice walk, whatever your reason it is a fantastic experience, which will be unique to you and one that will help set you free in so many ways. There are many Camino's that finish in Santiago de Compostela the one i chose was the Camino Frances, The Way of St James, starting in St Jean Pied de Port in France. Of course, you don't have to walk the 800km, you can cycle or travel on horseback.

St Jean Pied de Port - Aptly translates as Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass, it is a very picturesque town, indeed, at the foot of the Pyrenees. When i arrived on the train from Bayonne i had that tumbleweed feeling as i descended to the platform. If Clint Eastwood was standing at the end of the platform, and i found i was an extra in a very bad spaghetti western i wouldn't have been surprised. The stillness and quietness was eerie. It was a bright warm spring day in February and the fruit trees where just bursting into blossom a good two months earlier than at home. I followed the signs for Pelerins (Pilgrims) to the old quarter and made the very steep climb up the hill. It was as though time had stood still here, the old quarter had a mediaeval feel to it. Eventually i climbed another very steep hill to the municipal hostel with my heavy backpack to find the Accueil St Jacques closed and a polite note on the door directing pilgrims a few doors up to 55 Rue de la Citadelle and Madame Jeanine. Mdme made me feel very welcome. I quickly learnt that the French are very expressive and my french is passable so i was able to converse relatively easily with the odd reference to my dictionary....much to Madame's amusement. I found from a newspaper article that Madame Jeanine was known as the Maman de Pelerins, or Mum to Pilgrims having set many on their first tentative steps on the 'chemin' over many years, indeed, Pilgrims were her life. She fussed and fed us all, her children.
Setting off - I learnt that the pass had only just been opened following the snow so the following morning there were nine multi national pilgrims setting off that morning and a sense of excitement filled the air, eight where walking and one, Claude was cycling the national route on his recumbent bike. With the exception of Claude we set off in two's to the pass to Roncesvalles in Spain a 30km hike. Most would cover this in a day but with my fitness levels, and suffering from bronchitis i found that this was an unrealistic target for me. With my new walking buddy, Peter, we walked at a very slow pace, uphill. I don't think i have seen two adults more excited at the prospect of setting off. Peter and I had met in St Jean and found we had common interests in nature, conservation and sailing and had agreed to walk together to Roncesvalles. Six weeks later we were still walking together, it was just the way it turned out. For whatever reason we agreed much later, that it was decreed we met in St Jean. Neither of us had any preplanned notions of what the walk or experience would be. We both had different reasons for doing the walk, and agreed it would be one hell of an experience.
Base Camp - In the event we only managed to walk 15km on the first day, our fitness levels weren't what we had hoped, mine probably more of an issue, but then again we didn't feel the need to rush either. After the days walk we eventually camped near the emergency shelter at an altitude of 1400m. I'm not sure who was the most excited at the prospect, me or Peter...both of us were playing down our excitement at wild camping, but secretly pleased we had made the decision to do so. It was to remain our most favourite part of the trip. Daylight hours were only short for the time of the year so it was dark at 6pm, a full moon lit mountains making it a very beautiful night to camp out. We were well prepared, and kept warm and had enough food and water to last, oh and a drop of Port to warm the innards.
The next day we set of for Roncesvalles. Having packed up base camp we headed off, fresh with anticipation. We didn't have to go far before we hit the snow, we were pleased that we had decided to camp. After the snow there was deep dry leaves and i mean deep...waist high. Neither was particularly troublesome, in daylight at least and being fresh to the new day. It was tricky but not impassable...unlike some weeks later when freak snow storms hit the area and left people isolated and the pass impossible to traverse.

The ruins of the old border post was covered in snow and it was impossible to believe we had actually crossed the Spain. The border post was a quiet place, full of corrals and very picturesque. It felt like a milestone but we still had a few hours walking to our destination, the Monastery at Roncesvalles.

Roncesvalles - We arrived at Roncesvalles after a beautiful days hiking uphill for most part and then a rather steep descent through a forest to the Monastery. It was here that we met Denis and his dog, Caresse, who had walked the Camino the previous October to Finisterre. Denis informed me that this time he was walking to Israel and had been walking a while from Vezelay in France. What was amazing was the he was walking the the trail mendicant, relying on the goodwill of others for food and shelter. Perhaps how the original pilgrims would have done it, no money and very little possessions. I was touched by his belief that 'God provides' and i felt somehow lacking with my cards and us he was a true pilgrim.

Pilgrims at last! - After obtaining our necessary 'credencial' at the Monestary and completing the necessary formalities for registering for the walk, we were shown to the dormitories. We were a small group staying at the monastery from various countries; Denis with his collie Caresse (France), Peter (USA), Daniel (Germany) , Olaf (Germany) , Anna (Germany) and myself (Scotland). After Pilgrims mass, a strange affair delivered by five monks and in Latin. I kept giggling because one of the aging monks kept falling asleep and had to be nudged by his colleague when his bit was to be read afterwhich he promptly fell asleep again. The monks, however, realising that there may be a language problem had seen fit to provide a local who sat at the front so we knew when to sit and stand. After being blessed for our Pilgrimage, we ate our pilgrims dinner in the local bar full of anticipation for the next days trek. Eating with us were fellow Brits staying at the inn on their way back to blighty, a couple from Lancashire and a chap who had relocated to Alicante. They were bemused by the Pilgrims seated with them. The meal was a happy, jovial affair despite the different nationalities as we all had a good laugh.

The following day we set off again. It was funny but neither, Peter nor I, had planned or discussed walking together, we just seemed to fall in with each other, like two old friends who had known each other for years. It was bizarre, i was to find out that it was the Camino effect.

Unfortunately, Anna whilst walking with Daniel and Olaf over the pass the day before had become badly sunburnt on her face, her feet were in a mess with blisters. I looked at her dressing them and winced, i had managed, so far, as had Peter, with no blisters. I realised this was because we walked at our own pace, this was a lesson - walk your own Camino. It was a few days before we reached Santiago that we saw Anna again and couldn't believe the difference in her. The change was amazing.
Almond Walk - Over the following weeks, it was amazing how we could walk in companiable silence and look at the flora and fauna, simple things seemed to amaze us. Our delight was evident when we spotted trees up ahead and the pink colour of Almond trees, as we approached the flowers became more detailed and we could hear the distinct buzzing of bees going about their work of pollination. It was a tunnel of blossom, with petals from the flowers drifting down like a rain of confetti and the scent was heady. I have never seen anything like it. Later the 'almond walk' became a symbol of new beginnings. It struck me that a few weeks later or earlier and we would have missed this beautiful site. Whilst we rested under the clear blue sunny skies it was a place of tranquility, somewhere to revisit in our minds at a later date. I recall sitting under the trees feeling significant and insignificant all at once, it really put things in perspective. This was what it was all about. Simple things!

Spain - I was always amazed at how poor Northern Spain was, yet, the people were very giving and always willing to welcome you and help you along your route. Whilst we were walking campaigning for the General election was ongoing and the whole country understandably where caught up in it...not surprising given their previous history and Franco's reign. The days the Spaniards refer to as The National Tragedy. In true Spanish style they went to the polls on a Sunday and the night before was one big fiesta. Although this was tempered somewhat by several terrorist bombings in Madrid which upset the predictions as the people turned against the reigning government and ousting them at the polls.

In Spring, Spain is lush and verdant, a very pretty place not unlike Scotland with mountains, forestry and wind farms. Oh yes those wind farms. I had no idea of what Spain would be like, but it wasn't what i found. I think it's an undiscovered gem, they have canals and mountains. It's a place where Health and Safety hasn't gone daft allowing people to think for themselves and test the boundaries. They are stuck in a time warp but it's a nice time warp. It's a place where no-one has any expectations, no-one rushes and you can just 'be'. It's like a permanent retreat. Literally men can be men, women can be women and children are polite and respectful. It's quite refreshing when you contrast it to the pressures of our materialistic lives, of course, they have pressure but it's a different kind of pressure and not an easy life it's just at a slower pace.

The Three Amigos - At various stages of the trail, Peter and I felt guilty because we seemed to be having too much fun; walking, eating and laughing. We seemed to have developed a knack for sniffing out where the locals dined. Three hour lunches became the norm, nothing is rushed in Spain. The strange thing is that you adapt, become more laid back about it, leave the monetary world behind and find out what it SHOULD be like if only we took more time to stop, wonder and just 'be'. Walking is a form of doesn't have to be a long walk to slow you down mentally and reflect on what's important to you.

We met Jose, a rather well built Spaniard from Seville who was huffing and puffing his way on the trail, he was walking the 100km to Santiago which would still entitle him to a Compostela, the minimum distance on foot to qualify for a Compostela. He fell in for a while and later we leap frogged with him along the trail. Despite his obvious lack of fitness, i admired his determination to do the walk, and like most people on the trail they were looking to effect change in their life in someway. The next day we came across Jose with two new friends Esther and Marie from Madrid with Jose being stuck in an open concrete ditch in hysterics. These 'three amigos' were having fun too. We spent several days leap frogging each other on the trail as they walked about a similiar pace to us. During lunch in a bar with them, we were told that Jose had started out with two friends, whom he managed to lose, not apparent quite how, but he had telephoned them and arranged to meet them along the trail but obviously he preferred his new friends on the trail, so this didn't seem to happen. He had forgotten his walking shoes and donned some canvas shoes. Apparently everyday these two girls had to organise him, but he managed to leave something behind, we reasoned that he would have nothing left to carry by the time he got to Santiago...good plan, maybe we should give it a shot. I have never laughed so much, he was a natural comedian and the girls were very caring fussing over him. Unfortunately, we never saw them again, however, we know they reached Santiago, as we saw Jose's shoes at a waymarker, complete with holes, but it was evident that they too were having too much fun to be Pilgrims!

Now a Pilgrimage is all about suffering is it not? Well yes, you have to sacrifice something in order to find something else. This is a slow process on the's a slow but gradual change. You never see it in yourself but in your fellow Pilgrims you meet at various places along the trail. It's wonderful to see the people you meet at the beginning, when you see them again weeks later, happy, healthy, relaxed and fit. When i walked into Santiago, i was fit and had lost two dress sizes but i gained far more mentally, emotionally and spritually than i ever could have done laying on a beach.

Buen Camino!

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