St Peter’s member Cathy Chapman was on Camino to COP26 in Glasgow.

Take time to be mindful of the encounters of your senses, take a moment to give thanks to God for them. Keep an appreciative journal.

September-October 2021

I am walking the Camino to COP.

I am walking from my home in Manchester to the site of the UN climate conference in Glasgow.

I am walking with other pilgrims, caministas, those of all faiths and none. I make new friends: one is Sufi, one is pagan, one is Jewish, many are spiritual but not religious, one is a Buddhist nun, one is a Church of England vicar.

The sounds of the Camino songs echo in my ears:

We are pilgrims
We are walking
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
We are walking
For climate justice
We want climate justice now.

That is the song that keeps us going across the exposed moorland with the horizontal rain that batters us, our boots full of water and our fingers shaking with cold, spilling coffee when we try to open flasks. It keeps us going at the end of the fifteen mile days, heavy packs and blistered feet. It is the song for the mood of resilience, of grim determination, of wondering how we will make it to Glasgow when the next mile seems impossible.

The voices of my friends over the rain that batters and the wind that knocks us and the warmth of hands that help me over every stile and widening stream and awkward climb.

In each day, there is a silent period for walking. We still our chattering voices and listen to the land we love so deeply, the land we walk across. We often start with a song:

We are walking, remember
We are walking, remember.
We are walking, we are walking on sacred ground.

I hear the rustling of the trees, the leaves in the wind. Whispering hope, shelter, breath – the lungs of our planet and the wisdom of the Spirit, rooted in the earth and blowing in the breeze.

I hear the birdsong. Wood pigeons, sparrows and starlings. Sometimes we startle them and there is a commotion for a moment in the trees.

Horses canter and cows crowd round in the fields. I see black pigs in one farm, and we all baaaaa in response to the sheep.

That is the sound of the Camino. Our footsteps on the fallen autumn leaves; the birds singing, the trees whispering their ancient wisdom in the wind.

I try to be mindful, and take photos of my favourite sights. Sometimes I capture them; often I fail. A momentary connection with a deer. His eyes meet mine, and then he is gone.

We see swans flying in a V shape. A kite, high above us on the day we climb 1800 feet between the Forest of Bowland and High Bentham. A treat of a day, sunshine on my face after the windswept moors of the day before. I see the Yorkshire three peaks, Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent.

We stop at the Big Stone, near the county border of Lancashire and North Yorkshire. I lie down and wave my smelly-socked feet in the breeze. I taste the chai some kind human has brought for us. We practise a Buddhist ritual, walking in a circle around the rock. I pull off my socks and choose to do this barefoot. The earth is sodden and I don’t care. My feet are wet and grassy, and their contact with the land grounds me in the present moment. I think of all the things I am grateful for, the breath in my lungs, the health in my body, and the beauty that surrounds us. I hear the singing again, my friends’ voices in chorus.

The BBC have come to film us for Sunday Morning Live and we walk slowly, intentionally, across the earth.

We walk out of the camera shot and onto the road.

We realise we are concentrating so hard on following the director’s instructions that we have walked the wrong way and there is a burst of laughter at this.

An alternative song is sung including the line we are serious all the time.

The days melt together, and I wish I could walk for longer. I see sights that I treasure: a deer stares at me through the woods, then bolts away. A hare hides in the long grass, as we traverse farmers’ fields. Cattle follow us, mooing. I see a rabbit jumping across the grass to escape the human visitors. I remember the otter I saw entering the water on my first day out of Manchester last year, in the Cheshire countryside, six months after Covid, and I picture this gift. On the day out of Lockerbie, we photograph mushrooms and toadstools in the woods. One pilgrim makes a mandala each morning out of the ferns and flowers collected. I photograph the leaves on the trees turning golden brown and red. I am delighted to see a tawny owl spread its wings and fly deeper into the wood.

I watch my friends still when they see a heron on the water, or a caterpillar crawling.

The mood is one of reverence, wonder, delight at the beauty.

My hardest day is the one into Clitheroe. Day 4 for me, 15 miles, a lot of ups and downs, hard rain and terrain and mud. Much as I love the smell of rain I am shaking and exhausted and I fall, but the arms of the other pilgrims and the mossy earth hold me up.

I see my teacher who has turned up to surprise me, on this my hardest day.

At the end of the day, the sky shows us a double rainbow.

Nature always keeps her promises.

We are totally spoiled by many of our hosts, and sometimes it feels like we walk from cake to cake, apple to blackberry crumble, beans and fresh vegetables and warm mugs of tea and coffee. Outside we smell the rain in the forests and the animals on the farms.

I change as I walk across the landscape, carrying my pack. I am sun-kissed and strong and smelly-socked. My face is weather beaten. I feel the rain and sun on my face and the joy in my heart.

Every day I think how grateful I am to be able to do this. After 18 months of Covid, then long Covid and severe asthma, each day is a gift, and my body and soul strengthen and stretch out.

As the leaves on the trees fall, I too let the dead things go and stand tall.

I pray as I walk. I pray in my mind and in my heart and in my spirit. I pray when I sing, I pray when I take photos of the beauty around me.

We pray together, walking across the countryside, and it’s like a love song to our homeland.

We pray for the protection of the earth, and all who live and breathe on our pale blue dot, the only home we’ve got.

We pray for change.

Every day, in our morning briefing, we light a candle, and read our vision statement:

‘We are united by our faith; a faith that we can advocate and influence and be the change that we want for our world. We choose to walk to COP26 as a practice of that faith, an act of connection with the earth on which we walk and the people with whom we walk and the communities through which we pass and we make our way in kinship with the peoples and the creatures of the earth who are suffering and displaced by climate and ecological breakdown. We do so peacefully and lawfully, ready to engage and learn, because we care and we have hope.’

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