Arrival

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We have completed the journey that began in Dover.  In two and a half months we have walked more than 650 miles through 14 counties of England and 7 shires of Scotland.

In the latter stages we used ferries to reach the islands of Bute, Islay, Jura and Mull, arriving at last on Iona, an island off an island off an island.

Each day we met new people, saw new sights and slept in a new bed. We have listened and looked and learned all the way, and have documented just a fraction of what we’ve experienced through photography and audio recording.

So far we have shared a portion of that in the blogs below, but it’s been impossible to put into words all that we’ve seen and heard, and our journal is lagging a little.

In the days and weeks to come we will take time to reflect and organise our findings and will be sharing those reflections here. For now we just want to express our gratitude for reaching this point safely, for all the wonders we have been witness to, and for all the kindness and support that people have given us every step of the way.

First and foremost thank-you to Katrin Macmillan of Projects For All for her confidence in this Listening Pilgrimage and for the unflagging enthusiasm and support she has given us from day one. She has been inspirational and caring in equal measure.

Thanks also to Monika Hubbard from the same organisation for helping us to create our blog and for being our London rock and our chief advocate.

Thanks to Scarlett Maguire for editing and posting our audio recordings and to Iain Rawlinson of Crowdcaster for giving us a platform to share the voices and sounds we have recorded. Both have been enormously encouraging and Scarlett has spent many hours listening without all the benefits that we walkers have had.

Thanks to those who walked with us some of the way. Your company was precious.

Thank-you to the kind people who have spoken to us, giving their time and their stories with openness and generosity. We couldn’t record and share them all, but we listened to every one. Many have endured some very bad times, but none have been diminished or defined by their suffering, instead they live and speak with dazzling strength and optimism.

Thank-you to the many family members, friends and strangers-turned-friends who gave us accommodation, food or drink. We will write a full list in due course, in the meantime you have our undying gratitude. We hope we lived up to John Adair’s phrase ‘every guest brings a blessing’. You will all be welcome to stay with us any time you are near Horsham. Thanks to those who have listened to us when we needed a break from listening.

Thank-you to those who made financial donations to Projects For All: Alex Humes, Pat Wilson, Lowdy Brabyn, Bim Riggall and Stewart MacNeil.

Their contributions will be invested in future projects designed to help refugees and asylum seekers as they continue their journeys towards better lives.

If you would like to donate, you can still make a contribution here

Lastly thanks to all who have read our blog and our posts on social media, especially those who have sent us encouraging messages. Please keep reading and sharing, we’d love to spread these stories far and wide. They are stories of hope and resilience and generosity; stories of ordinary people rolling up their sleeves and doing something small to make a big difference in other people’s lives; stories of extraordinary people transcending their trials to keep hope alive.

When we set out on this listening pilgrimage we didn’t know what we’d find. What we found could take a lifetime to articulate, or it could be expressed quite simply. If you walk out of your door and go somewhere you have never been before, if you speak to strangers and listen to what they have to say, if you open your heart to new experiences and ways of seeing the world, you will be inspired.

Happy walking, and happy listening!

Christy and Isabel
Iona
June 17th, 2017

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21st-25th May: The Scottish Border and memorials

The first person we met over the border in Scotland was a retired man called Norman from Portsmouth. He was working in his garden and was curious to know where we were walking. When we told him he kindly invited us to sit down and offered us a cup of tea and a Kit-Kat. In all the long miles we have walked Norman was the first stranger to invite us in and offer us a cuppa.

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With Norman

Further on near Newcastleton we were treated to a delicious dinner and a comfortable bed by Isabel’s family friends Emma and Toby; a treat to be in a welcoming home, having been on the road for nearly two weeks. Toby told us about farming in the borders and the terrible days of the foot-and-mouth disease. Emma taught us about the Reivers and something of the history of the Scottish Isles with their remote communities of diminished populations. We wished we had longer to learn more from them both, delve into thier library of fascinating books and wander around the garden.

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Flowers from Emma’s greenhouse

In Langholm we drank from the White Well and saw a huge monument built by Freemasons in honour of a Sir John Malcom, a Victorian Scot who spent his working life in colonial India. Later we were button-holed by a man called George, a proud Scottish Tory who had been a professional gambler and a ‘face’ around the racecourses of Newmarket in South East England. Like so many other strangers we have met he was quick to share tales of loss and illness. Is it because we are passing through that folk feel able to confide in us?

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With George in Langholm

As the news of the atrocity in Manchester reached us we were on our way to the small town of Lockerbie, famous for its own appalling terrorist attack. In Lockerbie we found a cheerful bustling community with little sign of the deep wounds inflicted thirty years ago. It was quite by accident that we stumbled upon a memorial to the families killed in their homes when parts of the stricken airliner fell from the sky. The stone was in a peaceful garden in a rebuilt cul-de-sac.

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Lockerbie Disaster Memorial

A local lady walking her dog told us that the town had healed itself in the intervening years, but she remembered her own fear of flying in the aftermath of the bombing. We learned how local residents took care to gather up and wash the clothes and possessions that had rained from the sky, sending them to the families of the 250 victims on the plane. If this tiny community could recover from such shock and devastation, there is hope that Manchester too will find its way out of the dark days of grief, despair and anger.

As we walked the Annandale Way to Dumfries the green land was bathed in warm summer sun. We discovered the ruine church of St Mungo’s near Milk Castle and recognised the names on the family tombs- my paternal grandmother Beatrice had once lived and worked here as a servant and travelling companion to the local noblewoman. Together they had travelled the Mediterranean between the wars. I never met Beatrice and it was strange to think I was perhaps walking in her footsteps quite by chance.

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14th-21st May: Hawes to Bewcastle

Soon we would cross the ultimate wall, built by the orders of Emperor Hadrian to mark the Northernmost limit of the Roman Empire, but first we had to traverse some tough terrain on the first long distance walk in Britain, The Pennine Way.

On Great Shunner’s Fell we ate our lunchtime sandwiches in company with brothers David and Kevin. David was retired, Kevin was unable to work because of mental health issues. They kept each other company on long walks, using their free bus passes to bring them out of Bradford to the majestic hills and huge skies of the Pennines. I suggested it must be rewarding to live in the official ‘curry capital of Great Britain’, but they both made faces of distaste. Bradford is what David calls ‘a conquered city’, referring to the numbers of Asian migrants who have arrived in his lifetime. It seemed an uncharitable sentiment, but he was clearly a charitable man, acting as guardian for his brother when the rest of their family had move away. We watched them stride off in single file over the empty moors, struck by their mutual dependence and their deep immersion in a wild but nourishing landscape.

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Shunner Fell
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Sandwiches with David and Kevin

That evening we stayed in the Highest Pub in Britain, the Tan Hill Inn, a converted mining building.  The walls bore legends of a gun-wielding landlady who use to keep the tinkers in line, and visits from the ubiquitous Dick Turpin. A snow plough and caterpillar tractor were parked outside ready for the inevitable winter snow-ins and the clientele consisted of caravan nomads and the odd intrepid walker. It was here we heard our first Geordie accents, mingled with those of Yorkshire. The Tan Hill guards the boundary with Cumbria and Northumbria and in the pre-Norman years would have been part of Scotland.

When we left the next day it was the first full day of downpour since we departed London five weeks earlier. The wind howled and kept our umbrellas furled and Issy’s ‘splash-proof’ anorak gave the icy waters free passage to her skin. We trudged over tussocks which in other years would be deep bogs but were mercifully firm after the droughts of April. The birds were our only company, keening plovers guarding their chicks and infant grouse by the dozen dodging our feet to grow into twelve-bore fodder.

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We finally found sanctuary in a farmhouse bed and breakfast where we interviewed Fiona and Simon who had made their careers in the coal industry in Leicestershire. We had passed through their homelands a few weeks earlier and they were able to shed some light on the questions of changing energy use and the impact of industrial upheavals over the last few decades. They were keen walkers and were traversing the entire Pennine Way. We were to bump into them a few days later on Hadrian’s Wall, but whereas they had tackled more lofty peaks in nasty weather we had descended from the high moors for a pleasant short-cut up the valleys of the Tees and Allen.

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Simon and Fiona

Crossing into Northumberland, our 14th county, we noticed immediately a change in the landscape. Aromatic conifers with fresh green tips gave the valleys a darker Northern tint and we were on the look-out for red squirrels, but Britain’s most endangered mammals kept well hidden.

In the old lead-mining village of Allenheads we met David from Castle Rock, Northern Ireland and his huge Labrador companion Jake. The two of them keep each other company on long walking tours, booking ahead to dog-friendly b’n’bs and sending Jake’s hefty bags of food, his bed and his favourite toy ahead each day by van. David told us that in his travels around the UK he found Northumbrians and Cumbrians to be the friendliest folk. He had no time for the South of England which he saw as overrun with hordes of distracted people living life at a frantic pace.

Just up the valley we discovered Allendale, a self-contained community which used to boast five pubs and rejoice in the nickname ‘alchy-dale’. They still have three great pubs which host an annual fair with a local strong-man competition. It was a tight-knit town though not obviously diverse an one lady confided that there were still members of the older generation who used the term ‘darkie’ in an innocence unthinkable elsewhere.

At the top of the Allen Valley we came out into open country where Hadrian’s Wall crossed a high ridge from East to West. Our thoughts turned to borders once more and it was here we met and interviewed two young women from Minnesota who were on their own walking tour along the wall. Laura was a beef farmer and Sonia was a budding politician, they were both Democrats and ashamed of the current White House occupant. We spoke about walls as symbols of power and hostility and also about Sonia’s work as a volunteer on Lesbos last year, one of the epicentres of the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

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Laura and Sonia

A few more miles of England along the Roman Road the Via Puellarum- ‘the Maiden’s Way’ brought us to Bewcastle at sunset. This ancient hamlet once guarded the main route in and out of England. We slept that night in a tiny visitor centre, watched over by a Victorian church and an ornate Anglo-Saxon cross. Nearby there stood a medieval castle built out of a ruined Roman fort on the site of a ancient British stronghold devoted to a pagan god.

The next day we crossed into Scotland…

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