A year and seven million footsteps have taken me on a wonderful pilgrimage through parts of France, Spain, California, Scotland and England, covering the equivalent of a seventh of the circumference of the Earth.
It has been an inner as much as an outer journey that has delivered valuable insights and led to memorable encounters with astonishingly kind, generous and caring people, among them the comfortably well-heeled, the homeless, and everything in between.
Ticks on my personal Bucket List include walking from Carmageddon and the car-crazy madness of Los Angeles to Redwood Heaven, my North American meanderings introducing me to the Earth’s tallest, biggest and oldest trees.
In recent days I’ve strolled down memory lane, visiting the quaint 800-year-old church in the village of Sutton Courtenay, near Oxford, where I was married to wee Scot Carol Lochhead in 1976 – the year that South Africa erupted into widespread civil unrest that would ultimately help pave the way for the release of Nelson Mandela and the creation of a new democracy.
In the churchyard I pondered the twists and turns in my own path as well as trying to imagine the life of author George Orwell and his friend the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, a former prime minister, who are buried near each other. Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, famously penned Animal Farm and 1984.
Over a quiet beer in the George and the Dragon, where I celebrated my wedding with friends and local villagers all those years ago, I decide I have as much to celebrate today.
Walking a section of the coast of Cornwall and braving the elements at Land’s End is part of a celebration of a healthy body and a commitment to treading more lightly and lovingly upon this beautiful Earth.
Land’s End is a place of gale-force winds, dense fogs, half-submerged reefs and treacherous currents that has caused the demise of no fewer than 37 ships, stirring the imagination of many an artist, poet and writer. I loved the wild setting and grudgingly accepted the inevitable commercialisation of this iconic landmark. You pay to be photographed beneath the sign that marks the beginning or end of many a great adventure and I guess everyone needs to make a living, as well as a life.
Some months earlier, at the opposite end of the country, I stood at John O’Groats, appreciating the magnetic attraction of land extremities, even if many a nearby and lesser-known promontory is
often more unspoiled and scenically spectacular. Obvious examples include Dunnett Head and Ardnamurchan, the most northerly and westerly points in mainland Britain.
A visit to the Eden Project, described by its marketers as the eighth wonder of the world, is a happy reminder that we can reverse the destruction of our environment. It was once a clay quarry and an ugly scar upon the Cornish landscape and is now a horticultural extravaganza and a playground in which to explore our relationship with Nature. It is nothing less than a living, breathing example of regeneration and sustainable living and includes a steamy, tropical jungle billed as the largest rainforest in captivity.
In the few years of its existence it has served as a wonderful educational tool, showing how we can live in harmony with Nature, and emerging as one of Britain’s tourism successes that has generated a staggering billion pounds in earnings.
I was especially intrigued by the giant electronic sculpture made of around 12 tons of electrical items, from TVs to toasters and washing machines, that the average Briton throws away in his or her lifetime. It invites the question: ‘Where is away?’ Do we imagine that our so-called waste simply disappears?
Looking back just one year I feel I’ve learned a lot, experienced so much and had the satisfaction of writing my soon-to-be-released book Lost and Found.
Waved off by my daughters Bonnie and Tammy, I started walking from the Isle of Iona to Findhorn a year ago and am now preparing to complete another side of that triangle by walking from Glastonbury to Iona and the neighbouring island of Erraid. Again I’ll start on July 7, the anniversary of the passing of a remarkable woman called Peace Pilgrim who has been a major source of inspiration.
Glastonbury, Iona and Findhorn have been referred to as a ‘Triangle of Light’ and are recognised as power points upon the Earth where spiritual energies are potent and obvious. They could be described as spiritually magnetised locations that connect with countless other places around the planet to form part of a ‘Network of Light.’
On a purely physical level I hope to focus attention on the need to love and respect our environment and each other, while on a more esoteric level it could be argued that pilgrims help to activate and spread positive energies, becoming both senders and receivers of God’s love and light from the Earth below and heavens above.
While there have been doomsday prophecies for 2012, I’d like to believe we’re seeing the death of old ways that weren’t working and the exciting birth of the new.