Monday, May 17, 2021

Day Fifteen

15th May 2009 SCOTLAND

Standing on two feet

I had a good sleep last night… yesterday I woke up in the long grass on the edge of a field… (with strangers walking past when getting dressed… that’s not good). Today I wake up in a Premier Hotel… a proper bed… clean sheets and soft pillows, your own room, a kettle on the side table, your very own shower and knowing there is a cooked breakfast waiting for you downstairs… that is no small thing… it really isn’t… I lived on a farm in southern Brazil for a few years in the early nineties… driving into the local town in an old pickup truck for supplies I would see people living in shacks made of corrugated iron and plastic sheeting… We have all seen images on the TV of young kids in India searching through rubbish dumps for plastic bottles and the like... The times I have spent in Africa, you soon learn you don’t have to drive to far away from the airports and tourist areas to find people living on the edge. I don’t share this stuff to make people feel guilty for what it is they have… I think it is wrong to do that… just as it is wrong to look at those that are far richer than we are and to wish that we too could have what they have... It is not about stuff… it’s about having a heart of gratitude for what it is we do have and a desire not to take from those who have more, but to give to those that have need.

I climb out of bed and on the way to the shower I click the kettle on… yeah, I know I don’t really need a shower… for near on an hour yesterday I was sat in a bathtub full of bubbles… but to have a shower at the start of a new day is always good. I get dressed in the clothes that I had washed in the bathtub the night before and hung over the radiators through the night, then repack my bag while drinking a mug of tea and after, I head down for breakfast. I am clean from head to toe, plus a full set of clean clothes, a full British breakfast in front of me… and full of appreciation for Arthur and the gang that made this hotel happen. I forgot to mention at the end of the meal yesterday evening while sat around the table talking and drinking teas and coffees, they had asked how I planned to get to Ireland… I tell them “The plan is to just turn up… and then see what happens… it’s not the best plan in the world I know, but in my head, I do see myself on a boat… I guess that’s half the battle done… I’m pretty sure something will happen”. Before I have the chance to protest a collection is made and the money put on the table in front of me… I was moved but I also felt a little awkward… the plan was to do this walk without a penny in my pocket… to take the money felt like maybe I was cheating… but to push the money back, I was sure would cause offence… That was last night…

…and now I’m sat at the breakfast table, plate empty and drinking the last of the tea from the teapot… a story comes to mind (a made-up story, that I remembered from years ago). There's this little village and flood waters are coming. The police tell the people to take what they can and leave… and most do… but some don’t, including the priest, he tells the police God will keep him safe. The waters come… the police and a handful of farmers come with Land Rovers to evacuate those that have stayed… most go but again a few stay, including the priest, and again he tells them God will save him. The water gets too high for the Land Rovers… little boats are brought in, the remaining people that had stayed climb out of bedroom windows and into the boats… the priest is on the church roof refusing to get into a dingy “God will save me”. Well, the water keeps rising… the priest scrambles up the steeple… a helicopter is sent in to rescue him… yeah you guessed, the priest waves the helicopter away and over the noise of the rota blades they hear him shouting God will save me…. The water goes over the top of the steeple and the priest is drowned… and later the priest is in heaven and he’s a little bit angry… he finds God and raises his voice “I am a man of God, why did you not save me?” … and God rubs his chin, looks down at the priest and says “I sent the police to warn you flood waters were coming, and then a farmer in a Land Rover… and after that a rubber dingy and then a helicopter… What more did you want me to do?"

Why do I share that story… last night when asked how I would get to Ireland, I had said “something would happen to make the crossing possible” … maybe, the guys making a collection and giving me the money… was that ‘something will happen’ I spoke of over tea and coffee yesterday evening. I think (…no I know) that God does work through people… but still I wonder did I tell the story of the priest refusing help to justify the keeping of the money? I know last night back in my hotel room I didn’t feel great… this morning I feel OK about the money (I say money but, in my head, I see a ferry ticket… not money). Maybe… just maybe, God did step in, and say something like "Don’t worry about getting to Ireland I’ll sort that out, you just do what you're doing and that is, keep putting one foot in front of the other."

Milngavie (pronounced ‘Mull guy’) is an attractive little town, dates back to the 1600s, started life as a small village with a mill… in the second half of the 1700s the place is associated with the textile industry, there are chlorine bleaching works in the now small town… and in the 1800s the wee town is again growing, with the arrival of paper mills and more bleach works all standing alongside the river Allander… Mid 1900s much of the big industries have now gone… today (2000s) Milngavie is a commuter town for those working in Glasgow. For many, the place is known for where the West Highland Way path starts (or in my case finishes) … and in the 2100s the town becomes… hmm I wonder… Yesterday walking along country lanes, I thought about the stories of those that had gone before… What about the places we live… the streets we walk down every day… the old buildings that we pass… a clock tower…an old church… industries that have come and gone… like people, places also have stories… stories worth the telling. The walk into Glasgow takes me through several places, Bearsden, Gilshochill and Wyndford, all with their own ongoing stories and histories created by the lives of people long gone and of those still living… each generation adding a new chapter.

Coming into Glasgow I pass the West of Scotland Science Park, the park is named after a Belfast-born Glasgow University engineer and physicist, William Thomson who became the 1st Baron Kelvin. The place is a joint adventure between the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and also Scottish Enterprise. The idea behind the park is to bring together businesses and companies that focus on new technologies… from satellites to better understanding cancers.

Technology has changed all our lives…less than a hundred and fifty years ago there were no cars (it was in 1886 that Carl Benz first took an auto-mobile powered by an engine, out for a spin… it was only in the 1920s cars became popular)… look at what it is we have now… smart phones, aeroplanes, unimaginable medicines and medical procedures also guys sat in a space rocket with a bag full of moon rocks (longing to be back home). The industrial revolution (that had started around the middle of the eighteenth century) closed one book and opened another… cranking up the story of mankind. It was the science behind these new and developing technologies that pushed religion to one side.

Day three of this walk when I ended the day looking across the plains of Africa, I talked of mankind standing with one foot in the invisible world of faith and the other foot in the physical world of grit (…internal and external… mind and body… religion and science). Prior to the scientific revolution (that took place between the 16th and 17th century) … certainly here in Britain and Europe (and probably in the rest of the world) religion is what ruled the lives of the people. To suggest the Earth moved around the Sun and not the other way around was seen as heresy (you could be thrown in jail or even burnt at the stake). It was as if we were kinda standing on the one leg that stood in the invisible world of faith… arms outstretched trying our best not to fall over. When the scientific revolution came to an end (with the passing of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727) … we changed from one leg to the other… now standing on the leg that stood in the physical world of grit (we had changed our thinking from abstract ideas to scientific ideas). The result… still standing on one leg with arms outstretched trying our best not to fall over. I think in many ways much of the world is still standing on just one leg (for some in the world of faith and others in the world of science) … and the result the same… arms waving around doing their level best to stay upright. I think people know we are more than just physical beings… even those who don’t hold to any religion recognise there is an internal aspect to who it is we are… virtues, morals, the things we hold to be of value, our understanding of what is right and wrong… it is these things that make us who we are, not what we see in the mirror… that is not to dismiss the physical… we need our physical bodies (…and we need to look after them)… what good is it having the thought of wanting to make somebody a cup of tea but not having the physical body to act upon those thoughts (a world without the ability to make tea… is not good at all). If we learn to stand on two feet, we can stop waving our arms around and use them to reach out and to help others.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Glasgow… I think we could walk through any major city from around the world and see what it is I see here. An old man kicking up papers with his worn-out shoes… an up-town boy with a down-town girl… an old lady carrying all she has in two shopping bags… common people in common cars… young men standing on the corner, looking as if they want to put the whole world down… businessmen and bankers in sharp suits… young girls already pushing prams…

… I guess you can tell, I’m not really a city boy… I walk through Glasgow a little lost in both thought and direction… I wonder at the stories this one-time ship building city could tell… the wealth and the poverty… the tears and the laughter… Here in Scotland, I am told the city of Edinburgh has the brains and the city of Glasgow has the heart… I know nothing is ever quite that black and white… and yet it seems every corner I walk around, there is a smile or a “How’s it going big man” … I think I need to embrace cities a little more. There are many good people in this city.

Once out of Glasgow I am back on the long winding road. The plan is to finish the days walking in a town called Stewarton. On the way I walk through a small village called Thornliebank and a café called ‘The Village… Tea for Two’… I step inside … explain myself and again shown a table. It is good to sit down, I am given a pot of tea and a couple of scones… thank you so much… I sit for an hour and as the pot runs empty a fresh pot is brought out.

A good few hours later and after a long day I stumble into the town of Stewarton… a pub gives me an evening meal… thank you… and a guy in the pub gives me the use of a sofa for the night… thank you Jim.

In my sleeping bag, on the sofa and hands behind my head, I again think about my time in Brazil… the lives of kids living under corrugated iron, kids searching through rubbish dumps, the many people living on the edge be it in Africa or in the many cities like Glasgow around the world… for many, life is not always easy… for some close to impossible… and some sadly impossible. Kids on rubbish dumps, , kids that don’t see a future, walking lost in the city streets, a little one in a broken buggy… every life unimaginably precious… Today, maybe more than ever we need to overcome our ignorance of both the invisible and the visible…of science and faith… to stand on two feet and reach out to those that are in need. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Day Fourteen

14th May 2009     SCOTLAND

How many roads must a man walk down….

I went to sleep last night with an image in my head of God walking around the garden of Eden kicking stones waiting for the arrival of Adam and Eve… This morning I wake up in amongst the long grass and bird song… I say wake up… half of me is still in the land of nod, the sound of a blackbird and his pals get caught up in the image of the garden that still lingers in my half-asleep thoughts…. I look at the time… bang on four o’clock… makes me wonder what time blackbirds go to bed. For the next two, three hours I try and get a little more sleep… I drift (and the blackbird follows me) between the long grass that I lay in and the garden in Genesis and then back again. I think it’s curious how the story of Adam and Eve starts in a garden (… and I do think it is a story… but like any good fictional literature, be it Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or any of the other great authors from around the world… there can be a profound truth found in fiction). So why start the story of humanity in a garden? I think for most of us when imagining a garden we see it as a safe place… a place to relax, to be with family and friend its what’s on the other side of the fence, as it were (the unknown) that can be a little intimidating… similar to what I talked of yesterday, making ready a bedroom for a little one… lift them up and show them the world outside the window… the many people walking up and down the street, cars whizzing by, dogs barking, trees swaying in the wind, the wheels of a bus going round and round…there’s a big wide world out there… exciting but at the same time a little bit scary. We kinda need a safe space (a garden) … but we also have an unstoppable desire to climb over the fence… out of the window… its by continuously pushing boundaries (stepping in to the unknown) that allows us as individuals and as a people to grow. A man strapped into a rocket and then stepping onto the Moon for the first time, I think is pretty much the same as a little one being strapped into a buggy and stepping into a nursery school for the first time… we are hardwired for adventures… once the mission is completed (be it collecting rock samples from the surface of the moon or the making of handprints on a sheet of paper at a nursery) both astronaut and toddler long to return home… I guess God knew we needed a place that we could call home… sorry I again rattle on… I’m not even out of my sleeping bag yet.

I check the time again; it is nearly seven… I should get up but it’s kinda cosy in the sleeping bag … maybe another ten minutes. I don’t have such a long day today, just short of a thumb print (… I’m guessing a little over 15 miles) to reach the town of Milngavie. Another ten minutes go by before I climb out of my sleeping bag… I am standing on the edge of a field in amongst the long grass in underpants pulling a T-shirt over my head, as my head comes out of the T- shirt a couple on the other side of the wall walk past… I look at them, then look down at what I’m wearing and then look at them again… the chap calls out a “Good Morning” … I say “Good Morning” back… and then the lady calls out “Nice pants” … I look down and again look up… not really sure what to say to that… I give an awkward grin a nod of the head and say “Thanks” … a moment later they are gone. I get dressed real quick, pack my bag and climb over the wall… glad to be out of my overnight garden and into the world of the unknown.

I decide not to follow the West Highland Way, instead I will stick to the country roads, in the hope of passing a small shop or even a café… and maybe some breakfast… if not breakfast a cup of tea. The sun again is out… the roads are quiet, twisting their way through the countryside, alongside fields and over a number of rivers and streams… giving me the chance to have a quick wash, refill my water bottle and brush my teeth. I enjoy the walking on these back roads, the different flowers and grasses on the verges, the hedge rows and trees, occasionally stumbling cross a mature tree (a tree that I think was probably here long before this track ever saw tarmac… the days of horse and cart… I wonder at how many people have travelled this way before… where were they going and what of their stories. A couple of days ago my brother’s daughter text me ‘Hey Unc, so tell me how many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man’… how many indeed… I think once I reach the south coast of Britain, I would need to cross the English Channel and carry-on walking south through Europe, find a way across the Med and just keep going and till I reach the Cape of Good Hope… and still I wonder if that would be enough…

A good few hours into the walk I come across the Glengoyne Distillery… I step into the grounds, in the hope of a cup of tea. The place does guided tours, the lady behind the reception tells me to wait for a moment, she is just in the middle of making herself a cuppa… two minutes later she comes back from a back room with a mug of tea for me… “Thank you”. I learn this whiskey distillery dates back legally to 1833… prior to that date, like over a dozen others distillery in the area (now long gone) were hidden in amongst the hills and forests, producing whisky illegally, due to the heavy taxes on spirit production back in the early 19th century… I guess it would take a whole lot more than just high taxes to stop Scotland from producing whisky. After the tea I take the mug back to reception, say thank you and then back on the road… how many roads indeed.

The question of ‘how many roads must a man walk down’ stays with me… and in my head I am again back in the garden of Eden… a man, a woman, the garden and God… a God that tells us He created mankind in His own image, both male and female… and that idea is reinforced later on in the Gospels… we are told, we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. I know some people reading this maybe of a different faith or don’t hold to any particular religion, for some faith in the people around them and a belief in the natural world is enough (… if I’m honest I think I tick all those boxes). I don’t want to get caught up in a theological discussion… I want to touch on what is universal (the pencil falling to the ground kinda stuff) ... only I have this garden stuck in my head… for the moment run with me… sorry… walk with me. I want to unpack this garden story a little and see if I can find a falling pencil.

…so what of this garden… pretty high up on God’s CV is the ability to create… and yet when we head into the hills or a wilderness we don’t find manicured lawns or flower beds in straight lines… it is people that create gardens… not God… what God will do is create everything you could possibly need for a garden …but not the garden (… gardeners know if you give God an empty square inch of earth, He will soon squeeze in a dandelion or a couple of nettles to fill the space)… The creation of a garden needs both God and mankind… it is a joint adventure… we are in partnership… created in the image of God… we stand in the position as co-creators.

… created in the image of God… hmm… it is as if, at the beginning of the human story we are given a role model… we must grow to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect… (not the kind of perfection to kick a ball like Beckham… not that kind of perfection… more a perfection of character). I think the story is telling us we should strive to be the very best we can be… and then figure out how we can be better still…

… and what of this falling pencil… for a pencil to fall, you first need a pencil… and like the garden it is only people that know how to put together a pencil… but to make that pencil you need a tree… it is only the natural world (Mother nature) that knows how to grow a tree… and to grow a tree you need a seed…the miracle of a seed I give to God… yeah we know the mechanics of how a mature seed comes about, through pollination, be it the wind or a bumbling bee… but the spark of life within the seed is still a mystery (within a single acorn there is all the information needed to create not just an oak tree but generations of oak trees) … a tiny wee miracle wrapped up in a hard case… maybe not everybody reading this has a faith in God… but the mysteries within a seed that is something to believe in… and who knows what will grow from that simple believe… faith maybe … I don’t know… Anyway, back to our pencil… step into the garden and throw the pencil up into the sky… and watch the laws of the universe step into action (physics I think they call it) … the pencil falls back down to earth... Mankind, the creation, the laws of the universe and God we are all in this adventure together.

I have just re-read the last handful of chapters… I’m a little concerned… inside my head my thoughts made perfectly good sense, written down on paper I’m not so sure… if they fall flat on the ground… it’s not my fault… I blame the physics.

Another hour and a little more of walking on tarmac goes by, the small country lanes turn into slightly bigger roads… I walk into the small village of Blanefield and come across a small café called the Pestle and Mortar. I step inside to the sound of a little bell above the door, a young lady looks up from behind the counter with a good morning and a smile… I am glad of the smile… I say a “Good morning” and feeling a little bit awkward as I step into my explanation of what it is I’m doing, I finish with “…. a cup of tea would be great” … I am told to go sit next to the window and ten minutes later I have a mug of tea and a huge breakfast roll in front of me… wow. Sat in front of the window… trying not to make to bigger mess with the breakfast roll, I already have egg yolk on my sleeve and ketchup running down the side of one hand, halfway through the roll a second mug of tea is brought over… "Thank you... really thank you” … we chat a little and that’s nice. Half an hour goes by before I step back under the door with the little bell… “Thank you again Jill”.

It kinda feels like I’m coming to the end of the Scottish part of this walk… mountain and woodland tracks have turned into tarmac… tomorrow I will be walking in amongst tower blocks and city streets instead of the hills and glens… I wonder if Ireland, Wales and England will be as kind to me as Scotland has been… there is just one last favour I would appreciate from Scotland and that is to get me onto a boat to Ireland.

It will not take me to long before I’m in Milngavie, meeting up with Arthur and the gang. The road climbs steadily out of both Blanefield and the next village of Strathblane… I don’t know how many roads a man must walk down before you can call him a man (…or come to that, how many roads a woman must walk down before you can call her a woman) … maybe it’s not about how many roads we walk on… but how long we walk for and who with… a good starting point (and again I say maybe) is to walk and live as if God did exist… just for two or three weeks or maybe (like this walk) for forty days. Start the day with a ‘Good morning God’… finish the day with a ‘Good night God’ and in between throw in a few thank you’s. It is with this kind of mind set that has got me from the top of Scotland to the outskirts of Glasgow… to hold the idea in my head that I have God walking alongside me, makes me try harder… to do what is right… to be incredibly grateful for what I am given… be it a cup of tea, a bite to eat, a bed for the night or a genuine smile and when the day is done I close my eyes and quietly whisper a “Thank you”.

I walk into Milngavie at three, its not long before I find the Premier Hotel, I give Arthur a text, he is nearby with Irina having a cup of tea, the rest of the gang are not yet here. We meet up at the hotel… it is good to see the both of them, the room is sorted out. Arthur tells me a meal is booked next door at the restaurant ‘the Beefeater’ at 4:30 pm. That gives me a little over an hour. I step into the room and turn on the hot water for a bath, find some bubbles and tip that into the tub… ten minutes later I sink into the bath and spend most of the hour that I have soaking. Just before 4:30 Arthur comes and gets me… we walk over to the restaurant (… Arthur walks, I hobble). I am met by eight people and five faiths… how good is that it is great to sit down and share a meal with people I know… I say thank you to each and every one, they didn’t have to come but they did. Earlier I said perfection was not to kick a ball like Beckham… hmm I wonder… the word ‘sin’ means ‘to miss the mark’… maybe back in that garden in Genesis if we had had someone that could kick a ball like Beckham, we would have hit the mark (the goal) … how different history would have been… there would not have been the need for different faiths… just the one family.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Day Thirteen

13th May 2009 SCOTLAND

Falling plates, bumbling bees and sticky fingers on painted walls …all very good

I wake up to another day of lochside and woodland walking, but first breakfast. Heading down the stairs, I hold on to the banister, the legs are stiff… at the start and at the end of each day I hobble… that’s what I do now… it has become a part of who I am.

Pushing the kitchen door open, I walk into what looks to be chaos… a thousand people doing a thousand different things… pots and pans banging, all the cookers fired up, somebody’s toast is burning in the corner, another person calling out for the salt, a moment later a plastic salt container is moving through the sky… caught beautifully… the salt container is tipped upside down and shaken into a pan of something or other… the lid is clipped shut and again back in the air heading in the direction it had just come from. I find a mug, a teabag and wind my way through the crowd to the hot water earn… scrounge a drop of milk and a teaspoon of sugar… as I head for the door out of the kitchen, I bump into a guy who is about to throw away some burnt toast, “I’m happy to take the toast… shame to throw it” … I am given the toast… the worktop next to the bin is another guy buttering some bread, I ask if I could pinch a little bit of butter... “Sure” I am handed the knife “Thank you”. A moment later I am out of the kitchen, in the dining room, sat next to a window with a mug of tea and a couple of slices of well-done toast… I cannot help but smile, not just at the beauty of the world I see on the other side of the window, but also at the noise and chaos of the kitchen… I hear a smash… the kitchen goes quiet for the smallest of moments (as it does in any kitchen when china hits a hard floor… the plate is no more) … the moment has gone, the laughter and noise is back... and again I smile at the world around me.

Half an hour later I’m sat on a bench outside putting my boots on… again an easy day ahead of me. I have today and all day tomorrow before I meet Arthur and the gang in Milngavie… time is on my side. I push myself up off the bench, swing my bag on to my back, check my collar is up, push my hands into my pockets, kid myself that I’m looking good and start walking. It’s a beautiful day… I’m not sure but I think the loch is a little bluer today, the woodland a little greener and the sun a squidge warmer. The path like yesterday pretty much follows the shoreline of the loch… one moment under a woodland canopy, the next under a wide-open sky… both the loch and the mountains rarely out of sight.

I have read that this island I am walking through (the United Kingdom) has nearly half of all the Bluebells there are in the world… I’m thinking most of those must be here, in these woodlands on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond. The slower we move I think the more we see…sat behind glass driving a truck, I see the seasons change, woodlands turning green and then to the golden colours of red browns and yellows and then no leaves at all… on my pushbike cycling to work it is not the woodland I see, but individual trees, the blossom, the shape of the leaf, the fruit be it catkins, berries or acorn, sometimes a blackbird sat in amongst the branches…slow down again to walking pace, brushing my fingers through the long grass… it is not the tree but the individual branches that comes into focus, the texture and pattern of branch and trunk, the shape of the tree. Bring the walking to a stop and we move from branch to twig… the miracle of an unfolding bud, the delicate structure of each petal on every flower, the picking and the tasting of a bramble, eye to eye with a bee moving from flower to flower… and I wonder if I could see even more if I knew how to go slower than standing still… maybe if I walk backwards… I try… no it doesn’t work.

A few hours of walking behind me I stop at the side of the loch and just sit for a while, enjoying the day for what it was… from my bag I dig out the last of the sandwiches given to me yesterday, by John from the Inversnaid Hotel. I sit for half an hour…probably more… I guess I should make a move… instead I lay back… I think a week ago not having any food in my bag and not knowing when I would next eat would have played on my mind a little… not any more… I enjoy the things that I do have, the Earth below me, open space above and the thought of my two little girls waiting for their dad... and at this moment that is all I need.

Still lying on the ground… I think about Bluebells, Blackbirds and bees, the trees, rivers and streams, the mountains, glens, and this Loch I lay next to, the very sky above and the earth that I’m lying on, none of this should be taken for granted… our planet is pretty special. The solar system that we are a part of sits in a quiet part of the Milky Way… nothing much to bump into. The star (our Sun) we travel around is both stable and long-lasting, this planet we stand on (or lay on) is at a good distance from the sun… any closer, Earth would be burnt toast, further away it would be like bread from the freezer, needing a chisel to separate the slices… our planet is at a distance where butter melts but doesn’t evaporate nor turns into a knife bending solid block. The Earth is tilted to give us the seasons and has a big enough moon to stop that tilt turning into a wobble. Above our heads there is a layer high up called the ozone, protecting us from high and lethal levels of radiation. The two gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn that sit on the outer edges of our solar system help stabilize the orbits of the inner planets and like two big brothers help protect us from being hit by massive asteroids… The list of what makes this planet that little bit special… that allows a flower to bloom, a bee to bumble, a guy to walk, is greater than what I understand… but what little I do know, tells me we should slow down more often… maybe even stop once in a while… and take a closer look at this incredible and unique world that we are living on… this little blue planet has served us well… should we not take a little more care... give something back.

I really need to be making a move, I push myself up from the ground… I wonder at how it is politicians… (that’s a little unfair… it’s not just the politicians… its we) squabble over things that don’t really matter much at all.

It has become a routine, each time I stop… it takes the legs a little time to figure out how to walk again. I continue down the side of the loch, the path heading off occasionally into the woods and Bluebells… and the next moment I’m back on the shores of the loch, looking across at the hills on the far side of the water… the sky is clear, would be a good day to be high up on the mountains… I don’t grumble, it is also a good day to be walking on the quiet side of Loch Lomond.

Pretty much at mid-day I walk into Balmaha, a village close to the foot of the loch… the name Balmaha comes from the Gaelic meaning ‘St Maha’s Place’… it is thought that people a number of centuries ago would come here to see a hermit living near a spring that could cure illnesses … crumbs how far it is we have come over the centuries.

In Balmaha I find a small hotel called The Oak Tree, I walk in and again explain what it is I’m doing… and again I am shown a table and given tea, soup and a bread roll… you would think that maybe by now I would be getting use to this kind of treatment…not at all, each time something like this happens, I am blown away by the generosity and kindness of the people that I am meeting... I am filled with gratitude… wanting to say so much more than just thank you… (the writing of this story I’m hoping is another way to say thank you to all the people that made this walk what it was). Sat at the table with the map open in front of me… a mug of tea on one side of the map, a bowl of soup on the other side and a bread roll in hand… Where do I end the day…? I decide to head for a place called Drymen… and maybe find a bed. I have a choice of how to get to Drymen, by road or over the hills… I finish my soup, fold up the map, say thank you… Back outside, I decide to head for the hills. It is good to be gaining height… the summit of Conic Hill is over a thousand feet… not a huge hill, but the views of Loch Lomond and the many islands in the loch, not forgetting Ben Lomond to the north are breath taking … Conic Hill is part of a fault line that runs from the Isle of Arran on the west coast to Stonehaven on the east coast, separating the Highlands to the north and the Lowlands to the south… I again sit for a while… I feel that I’m on top of the world… looking down on creation.

Different cultures have different stories of how it is the creation (this world) came about… I grew up with the stories from the Abrahamic faiths… the book of Genesis… the six days of creation. A story believed to have be written down over two and a half thousand years ago by a guy called Moses… how do such stories last the test of time… Did Moses believe this world was made in six days… he was an educated man… he grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace. With the scientific understanding we have today, even primary kid knows the world was not made in six days… but turn those days into time periods (one day is a thousand years and a thousand years is one day… use that kind of thinking… maybe use millions instead of thousands) and then look at the story again… The order in how the world was put together according to Genesis fits pretty well with the scientific understanding we have today (a scientific understanding that did not exist in the days when Moses was putting quill to parchment). Day one… God created light (I’m guessing there was a lot of light created at the big bang). Day two… the sky was created (we know the planets started life as giant balls of gas and dust). Day three… dry land, seas, plants and trees were created (gravity is pulling the gases and dust together to create rocky planets, with land and bubbling seas, early life is formed algae, plants and primitive trees). Day four… the Sun, Moon and stars were created (from the viewpoint of the Earth you could argue this to be true, as the algae and early plants took in carbon dioxide and pushed out oxygen, the skies begin to clear and from the Earth the Sun, Moon and stars become visible). Day five… creatures that live in the sea and creatures that fly were created (again we now know that it was in the oceans and shore lines that more complicated life started to take shape) … and Day six… God created the animals that live on land (our understanding is all creatures on land can trace their ancestry back to the swamps and oceans)… and at the end of day six God created mankind… I think the story told in Genesis and what we know today fits pretty well… maybe just maybe Moses was not writing down a story but a revelation. …Yeah yeah… I know I’m a truck driver, not a theologian… best I pick up my bag and start heading down hill to the small town of Drymen.

A couple of good hours on the hills and I’m back on a small country road walking into Drymen… I find a church and make contact with the minister… I can tell he is not really wanting to help… and that is ok, I cannot walk into a small town and expect people to go out of their way every time… people are busy, also I don’t know what kind of day or week that they are having… I’m thinking tonight I will walk out of town and find a quiet place out of the way someplace, and besides tomorrow I will be in the town of Milngavie and sleeping in a hotel. On the way through Drymen I come across a pub called the Pottery Inn… and yes of course I walk in, with the hope of a cup of tea. I share my story with the guy behind the bar, his name is Taylor… I don’t ask for nothing other than a cup of tea… instead of tea he gives me a plate of chips, a burger and a glass of coke. How good is that. Thank you so much.

A little under an hour later, I again say thank you to Taylor and head out of town. In a field a mile or so down the road I come across a Highland cow, I stop to say hello… I thought about telling him that he was on the wrong side of the fault line, this side of the line are the Lowlands… I didn’t... it looked like he was having a bad hair day, I didn’t want to give the highlander any more stress. Another mile down the road I climb over a wall into a field, out of sight of the road and set up base camp (… a sleeping bag and mat)… the sky is a little less light, but still not close to being dark… I climb into the sleeping bag,, glad to take the weight of my legs, arms again behind my head… listening and looking at the world around me.

I like how in the story of creation, at the end of each day God says, “It is good” and at the end of the sixth day after creating mankind, God says, “it is very good”. It reminds me (and I guess many parents) of making ready a room for a new baby… re-painting the walls, new carpet, lights and curtains, furniture, colourful ABC pictures on the wall, soft cushions, teddy bears and toys… and at the end of each day you look around at the work you have done and decide that it is good… and when the room is done, you spend the next few weeks in the evening after work stepping in and out of the room, making small changes here and there… waiting for the day chaos arrives… and when it does… chunky Lego bricks fly across the room, bashing against wooden furniture… baby food squidged into carpets…sticky fingers on painted walls… it is good… it is very good.