Category Archives: Walking

El Camino de Santiago

Have you ever seen The Way? It’s a small movie, but with a large heart, telling the fictional story of a father who unexpectedly walks the renowned Camino de Santiago – The Way of Saint James – to honour his dead son.

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And I’ve also just watched the fascinating Walking the CaminoSix Ways to Santiago, a more recent documentary film focusing on 6 very different people and their own motivation for walking the Camino.

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From the film’s website:

Officially, the Camino is any route that starts in Europe and ends in Santiago de Compostela, the cathedral city of Galicia in north-western Spain. It is named after Santo Iago – Saint James – one of the 12 apostles. According to legend, his body was found in a boat that washed up on the northern coast of Spain thousands of years ago.

His remains were transported inland and buried under what is now the cathedral in Santiago. His bones were rediscovered in the 9th century, when a hermit saw a field of stars that led him to the ancient, forgotten tomb.

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Since then, hundreds of thousands of people walk the Camino every year, most as a personal pilgrimage. The classic route is 500 miles/800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France, across the Pyrenees into Navarra, through La Rioja and then heading west across the flatlands of Castilla y Leon before the final approach through verdant, gently undulating Galicia.

Both films and reality tell of the personal journeys each pilgrim makes, and the people you meet along the way. It is said to be a life-changing experience. You stay in albergues, special pilgrim hostels run by volunteers – hospitaleros – pilgrim themselves, whose love for the Camino has inspired them to come back and help others along the way.

At recent travel shows in London I chatted to the lovely people promoting Camino Ways, a commercial business promoting the many different ways to experience the Camino now.

I have been drawn to attempt it myself since seeing The Way. But I have shied away from the classic route…..too far, too hard and too many people! But there are some appealing alternatives, all ending in Santiago, that might be a good way to share some of the Camino emotions, if not the full self-examining 500 mile route.

Perhaps this is the year to walk the Caminho da Costa, the Portuguese Coastal Way. Starting in Porto, you cover 265 km of northern Portugal before crossing by ferry to A Guarda, in Galicia, and leaving the coast at Vigo to head towards Santiago.

I wonder how pale this imitation might be, or whether it will still be powerful enough to stir the soul. I am not religious, but perhaps it will nevertheless be a small spiritual awakening, as well as a physically demanding and fulfilling walk.

And who knows what else it might inspire me to do after arriving at the cathedral square, with all those other pilgrims……

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A Testing Walk

Test walkers

River Test

Conceptualised by Simon Ware and executed by Gill Morris of justpoppingout.com, courtesy for one day only of fancyfreewalks, we enjoyed a fun cross-border walk by the gentle River Test in Hampshire last week.

 Setting sail from Godalming in leafy Surrey at the workmanlike hour of 9 o’clock, adventurers Simon, Gill, Alex Overington and I started out at peaceful Wherwell, fortified by caffeine & sugar supplies at the excellent Caracoli in picture-perfect Alresford.

Simon had been seduced by the meandering Test when recently passing through and wanted to explore more closely. The rest of us, newly retired, fancied a day out and didn’t mind humouring him in his worthy quest.

The walk was 9 1/2 miles of gentle strolling  by or near the river, with the following highlights:

  • Longstock Park, with water gardens acquired in 1946 by a certain John Lewis. The Waitrose theme continues as they manage the gardens and the nearby nursery, as is the nearby Leckford Farm shop
  • Longstock village, with thatched cottages aplenty and the fine – if somewhat upmarket – Peat Spade Inn
  • the wide, open Hampshire skies….a distinct contrast to the more wooded Surrey Hills vistas
  • the gloriously named Spratt and Winkle railway line, now disused but running alongside the river and its swaying, bankside reeds
  • lunch at the riverside Mayfly pub in Fullerton. The vast clouds of mayflies that hatch in May and June sustain the fish that make the Test the most perfect fly fishing chalk stream in the world. We saw plenty of trout as evidence, but there are also grayling and salmon
  • Wherwell village, another thatched & timeless beauty – church, houses, pub and river joining forces to enhance its attraction to residents and to interlopers from across the borderMayfly

We enjoyed a brief embrace with our neighbouring county but headed home to Surrey, our enduring love, where we will soon be justpoppingout again.

Just Popping Out

The Short Walk to Freedom

Wednesday morning. 8:30 am. 20th August, 2014. The sun is shining.

But instead of my usual long commute to work in London I’m standing outside our house in Godalming, meeting old and new friends, to experience my first official justpoppingout (“JPO”) walk since justretiring.

My wife Gill has nurtured her love of the Surrey Hills, maps and walking over the last 15 years. To such an extent that she has now set up a walking enterprise to share these passions with a wider audience.

If it’s fresh air and exercise you’re after, Gill will do all the hard work for you. She will plot a route to meet all your requirements….time, distance, degree of difficulty, pub and tea shop quotas, just name it. Leaving you to enjoy the sociability and scenery, without fear of getting lost for days in the Surrey wilderness or being late back for Jemima & Joseph’s school run.

There are 6 of us chomping at the JPO bit on this beautiful, late summer morning – Gill and me, regulars Simon, Barry & Alex, and fresh meat Kate.

Today’s collective brief is:

  • 8-9 miles
  • a medium level challenge, preferably with a decent hill to get the blood pumping round ageing arteries
  • a coffee stop
  • back by 12:30

Gill has designed a route from Godalming to Enton, then on to Hambledon, up to Hydons Ball, and back to home via Clock Barn Farm.

The natural rhythm of a walk allows social interaction with everyone in a group this size, and Kate is soon fully integrated into the JPO family.

The coffee break is at the delightful, community-owned Hambledon Post Office & village stores. The sausage rolls and cakes, eaten at a picnic table by the pond and overlooking the quintessentially English cricket green, taste all the sweeter in the knowledge that it’s mid-morning on a work day. Does that sound just a tad too smug?

We take a second, briefer break at the top of Hydon’s Ball, sitting on the well-worn stone bench commemorating Octavia Hill, one of the co-founders of the National Trust. We revel in the expansive views back to Hambledon and beyond to the Devil’s Punchbowl in Hindhead, before heading back to Godalming via Clock Barn Lane .

Gill gets us home within a couple of minutes of the requested deadline. We’re all warmly satisfied from the exercise, sociability and natural beauty of the morning’s walk. I think I’m going to enjoy this retirement lark, and I’m looking forward to plenty more JPO walks.

Sunshine & good coffee guaranteed of course, Gill?

Hadrian’s Wall walk

Well….I hadn’t quite finished work as it turned out, but the first Just Retiring adventure was walking Hadrian’s Wall in July 2014.

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Damned clever, those Romans. An amazing piece of engineering and logistics to build a fortified wall the breadth of northern England – approximately 84 miles – to protect the northern extremity of the vast Empire from marauding barbarians. I make no comment about any parallels 2,000 years later, with the Scottish independence vote looming as large as Russell Crowe in the Colosseum.

Starting from Segedunum at the imaginatively named Wallsend, just east of Newcastle,  we took a leisurely 7 days to walk the Wall’s path as far as Carlisle. I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t complete the final few miles from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway, the western extremity on the Cumbrian coast…well, not on foot, anyway.

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By that stage we were all a bit Roman forted out, and the weather forecast was grim. And the final few miles were flat, compared to the wild and undulating central parts in remote Northumberland. But I’m still ashamed.

The Wall is remarkably intact at various points along the path, and invisible at others, either submerged or destroyed in the intervening millennia. But the history is thrillingly brought to life along the way, so well that you can almost hear the clanking of a centurion’s armour or the wailing of a wounded barbarian, drifting on the gusting Northumbrian breeze.

Insight into the Wall, the Roman Empire and details of daily life on and near the Wall can be gleaned at lovingly restored fort sites -Chesters, Housesteads, Vindolanda, Birdoswald.

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Vindolanda, home of Roman curry-making, is still very much an active dig site, with artefacts being exposed every day by a modern army of professionals and volunteers from within and beyond the Empire. The collection of original leather shoes is remarkable and worth the admission price alone, and there is a palpable sense of history and real life at this site, a short distance south of the Wall itself.

 

vindolanda

The more contemporary highlight for me was a short, but memorable, stay at Sandysike House, a farmhouse B&B (with a separate bunkhouse for hardier souls than us). Hosts Richard & Margaret welcomed us in the garden with 4 pints of life-replenishing lager, chilled to perfection for a warm evening and after a long day’s Hadrianing.

SandySikelagers

What could be better than the company of my fellow Hadrianers (wife Gill, good friends Simon & Fiona), a pint of cold lager, hearing the history of the house, farm and its charming owners,  and soaking up the beautiful and timeless views across the valley to Brampton?

Well, now you come to mention it…..the Bermuda cavalry. Old friends Phil & Christine Barnes hunted us down, bearing supplies of the legendary rum cocktail dark ‘n’ stormy. And enough ice to freeze a passionate Emperor. Bizarre, but true. A memorable evening, of which even Caligula would have been proud.

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A  fun, rewarding and insightful walk alongside history, with camaraderie, modern comforts, and rum. I can think of no better way to have kicked off my Just Retiring adventures.