Home from a long walk with our eldest that took us from Porto in Portugal, to Finisterre in Galicia, Spain, and I’m overwhelmed by the changes in the field…

While we’ve been gone for most of June, much of England has been basking without sun protection and as we flew in, her usually green and pleasant curves appeared parched in parts, utterly scorched and lifeless in others. On arriving home the first thing I did was slip on my boots and take a walk through the field.

June is a busy time in our field. The mice run riot among the weave and weft of long grasses, while the grown-up hoppers spend most of each sunlit day seemingly either up in the air, or resetting their back-leg boing to do it all again. Fledgling birds make tentative steps out from the protective shadows of hedge, nest and parent, while Juvenile magpies bide their time along the edges of the mown paths to the veg plot, having been taught well to wait for those mice and young birds. Grass snakes occasionally languish at the edges of these paths too, though now we’ve another dog that’s taken to racing madly through the grasses to burst onto these stubbled walkways, it’s likely they’ll choose safer sunning spots. The butterflies become more playful and apparent with Small Coppers and Meadow Browns featuring regularly, the occasional dance of two Large Whites.  Less often I’ve been delighted to spot the small, pale wings of a Chalkhill Blue. The families of Fallow deer have grown noticeably each year and along the wooded edge of the field they leave perfect imprints of a night’s gathering and rest. And then of course there’s the every present light-footed platoon of horseflies.

Our walk (one of nine recognised pilgrim paths to Santiago de Compostela) laced through hundreds of miles of sprawling farmland and countryside, through tight knots of compact villages, clusters of granite built hamlets and sprawling tangles of towns alike. But always with the common thread that this path (that was often hard to track) had been walked for more than half a millennia.

Within three days of beginning we’d already settled into the comforting rhythm of walking, eating and sleeping, then walking again, always with a view to where we’d hope to reach and rest by the day’s end. It was quite an extraordinary thing to find that a pared down and somewhat repetitive structure to each day allows your mind such breadth and width to focus on whatever it happens upon, regardless of whether you want it to, or not. And with little to hinder its reach, my mind gradually wandered to far away places, some as glorious, verdant and lush as the lovingly tended vegetable plots we meandered through en route to Ponte de Lima… some less than beautiful, more attune with the industrial wastelands we had to march through to escape the inevitable spread of some major towns.



My eldest, at 20, has walked two caminos before and so this came as no surprise to her, and it was both a comfort and a relief to be able to walk and talk, or not have to talk at all, with my child who is not a child any more.

At this point in writing I could wade into that sharp-edged wilderness and write reams. But I strongly suspect this would turn into a different kind of story, and one that would have you turning off the light, tired, probably bored, and very ready to head to bed, while I’d still be here, in a frenetic blurr of typing!

This story is more about taking a step out of my field and into another that left me quite exposed, but deeply relieved to have had the opportunity to strip back the comfortable routine I think a lot of us build for ourselves. Of course we all ‘know’ that it’s actually a comfort blanket, a ‘noo noo’, whatever you care to call it. And I think we all quietly suspect that in the long run that little talisman can actually prevent us looking beyond the worn hem, and at stuff that isn’t quite as comforting. But it also perhaps stops us looking at fabulous, marvellous and extraordinary possibilities… things that are equally scary, but ‘might’ be quite amazing if we just took a peak.

I’m always late to the party, and I’m pretty sure you’re all nodding, hands ready with the slow clap. But it’s taken a while for me. 352 km to be precise. And yes, if you look it up you’ll see that it should be about 345km, but we took a few wrong turns.

Stuff I found out about myself:

I can walk, and quite a long way.

I didn’t need to pee every hour, even though I drunk enough water to drown a camel.

I’ve got the patience of a labrador.

I’m pretty crap company and tell terrible jokes when I haven’t slept for 48 hours.

I still don’t rate octopus to eat. (Boing!)

I can be vile when pushed beyond my patience (I shocked myself, and apologised sincerely).

I’m completely rubbish at retaining new words in an unknown language.

I could live off a diet of pasteis de nata alone.

I snore.

I’m good at remembering the words to Bohemian Rhapsody.

My fear of getting lost has faded, because we got lost a lot.

And now I’m standing in the field, having missed most of the subtle but rapid scene changes that it flits through like a magician with his pack of cards; so quick, a slight of hand, a momentary blink and you’re into a new season. But I’m here, very much here.

The ocean of grasses are swaying, golden heads caressed by the gentle warm breath of westerlies. Some of them stand as high as my shoulder. There are more islands of mallow than I’ve ever known, and the cranesbill this year has spread beyond its usual curtilage near the veg plot. There’s a female blackbird 4 steps ahead of me, just along the edge of the newly mown path to the veg plot. She’s concentrating intently on something in the large sprawl of birdsfoot trefoil.. a jab, then a double jab with her beak and she’s off, flying low into the line of silver birch that bank the lake.

Grateful. Such an overused, half-arsed effort of a word that barely scrapes the sense of indebtedness that I feel towards my daughter, for walking with me, to my family who shuffled their diaries and lives around to allow us to disappear for 3 weeks…. most definitely a tugging sense of deep admiration and thanks to all those who through the centuries have maintained these ancient pathways to allow folk to find their way on so many levels.

If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of walking a camino, then do.