Quick update for friends not on Facebook. All is good. Andi is out of surgery and it went well. She has one pin on loan from the NHS and one metal plate plus screws that will live in her wrist as a permanent souvenir of our holiday. I guess going through airport security will never be the same. One or two more nights in hospital and a return visit in 10 days for a checkup before flying. Now, let’s see if we can get a flight upgrade when we head home… Thanks so much for all your messages of love and support – she looked through them today waiting for surgery and was very chuffed. As was I. Jesse xxx
Ah well, so much for plans. Today has turned everything on its head. We set off in high spirits from our hotel in Melrose and 100m down the road Andi tripped on the gutter, fell over and broke her wrist. Luckily Melrose is home to the big regional hospital, and luckily if an accident was going to happen, it happened minutes from medical help instead of out on the remote moorlands where we may have needed a helicopter rescue.
But still. Shit shit shit. Not so much for the rest of the walk but for the pain and rehab and healing and potential for ongoing problems.
We waited all day in hospital and found out at about 5pm that she wasn’t getting into surgery today, but should be in tomorrow afternoon. Fingers crossed it goes well.
And now I’m sitting alone in a little b&b feeling rather weird, and hating leaving her alone at the hospital.
Please keep her in your thoughts tomorrow night (your time) and send whatever love and light you can.
A grey, chilly day in beautiful Melrose, perfect for a rest afternoon tucked up in bed with a cuppa prior to an evening at the Borders Book Festival, which happens to have coincided with our rest day stop in this stunning Borders village. Andi has just laid aside her book and snuggled down for a snooze and it’s very tempting to join her, especially as we scampered up the nearby Eildon Hill this morning just for the hell of it. That being said, my body is tired from the long walks. Andi, damn her, is like a young
colt with endless energy. She said this morning that her legs felt like springs, full of energy to get going. It was tempting to hold a pillow over her face.
We’re well into the eastern half of the walk now, having crossed out of Dumfries & Galloway (the shire spanning the western section) and into the Scottish Borders. The weather is milder, the bogs are drier, the paths are more clearly marked and at last we are encountering other walkers on the trails, having seen almost no one in the first half. We bumped into the Galashiels Boys Brigade yesterday and a group of dykes who hike this morning.
We had a heat wave! Two long hot sunny days, temperatures well into the twenties, walking in shorts and t-shirts, slathering on sunscreen, breaking out the sun hats and glasses. Today it’s reverted to clouds and about 13 degrees, but for a moment there! Wow. And the opportunity for lovely photos, particularly as we walked out of St Mary’s Loch, having spent a night at
the historic Tibbie Shiels Inn, which has been running in one form or another since 1825 and has entertained the likes of authors Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stephenson, and (it is rumoured) Wordsworth.
What has remained the same are the huge horizons. Walking over the rounded tops of the Southern Uplands feels like being on top of the world. They are like Australian hills – old and eroded, meaning you can just walk along ridge lines and saddles from one gentle summit to the next, seeing for miles in every direction. It’s impossible not to soar with the experience. As long as it’s in the first half of the day before the soreness sets in.
We’re into lands steeped in history and literature, with place names familiar to me from researching The Raven’s Heart. Melrose is on the Tweed River, one of the top salmon rivers in the world. It’s a beautiful town nestled below the three Eildon Hills, which are covered in gold blooming gorse at this time of the year. Stopping here is a great chance for me to check out the locations for my week long writing course next year – Castles Cloisters and Quests running in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders May 2016. Check out Bookshop Travel if you want more information.
Tomorrow we walk into the Lammermuir Hills and I will try to find the spot where the Blackadder River (a tributary of the Tweed) rises. We have three more days of walking north east through the Borders before we meet the coast, and a final two days of coastal walking before finishing up on Friday in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
I thought I’d be superwoman by now – but it’s still hard and I’m still pretty exhausted at the end of the big days (anything 25km+). But some miracle of recovery happens overnight and I wake up ready to go again. The landscapes are so beautiful in all weathers and the experience of walking with Andi so lovely – it’s an adventure I’ll never forget.
It’s possible I won’t have a chance to write again until we finish walking, though I’ll post a few pix on Facebook. Wish us luck and see you at the other end.
Once again I’m kicking back in a superb b&b, feet up, sunshine streaming in the window, cup of tea on the go. Across the road a gentle game of lawn bowls is underway and behind that the hills are so green they almost hurt the eyes. It’s brilliantly sunny and apparently 25 degrees, something of a heat wave, coinciding with our midpoint rest day in the sweet town of Moffat. This is the luxurious side of the very hard walk – the lovely accommodation that awaits us each night, the great Scottish hospitality, and superb food and drink.
We’ve crossed the highest point of the Southern Upland Way – Lowther Hill at some 720 metres – and are just about at our halfway point, which I guess means we have around 200km under our feet of the wild western half of the way – apparently much wetter, boggier, more remote and more demanding than the eastern half. It’s good to know that in some ways the hardest is behind us – though tomorrow’s walk of 34km will be a big push. We managed 34km in a training walk at home, striding along at a good clip and averaging 4km an hour with breaks thrown in. But that wasn’t clambering across Scottish hills, skipping around the bogs, sloshing through them, tramping with wet boots, and changing layers about every 20 minutes as the weather changed. This walk is harder than our training.
It’s a very particular feeling to have walked over a landscape. My feet have known it, I have paced it out, I sense its height and length in a visceral way. There’s the chance to breathe in its air, listen to its sounds, see its light and shade and moods. Alongside that is the way your own body calls out for attention while walking. There is generally some body part that hurts. There are also moments where I have felt strong and invincible and like I could walk forever. I wish there were more of them.
I’m loving how much everything changes during the day. One moment it’s hot and sunny, the next drizzling, the next windy and sombre. The land changes from the bottom of a hill to the top. Green winding paths through enclosed forests open out to vast hilltop vistas where you can see forever. Huge skies. Huge windfarms. And my mood changes all the time too. A dummy spit about trying to get into recalcitrant rain gear in the midst of a sudden shower becomes laughter five minutes later. I can skip along singing snatches of The Sound of Music (yes it’s true), or trudge, head down, thinking only of making it to the next break. Everything moves and shifts – weather, land, and me.
Southern Upland Way has its own treasure hunt to distract you from the pain of the walk. Selected waymarks carry little metal badges bearing the word ‘Ultreia’ (on with your quest!), a hint that a kist is nearby. A short search reveals the treasure containers, filled with hand-minted coins, created by artists and local primary schools. Thirteen in all, these treasures are a brilliant distraction from clambering up a steep hill. We have taken to yelling “Ultreia” at moments of triumph (leaping over a bog without getting wet) or when a little extra encouragement is needed.
I love walking with Andi. I can’t imagine anyone not loving walking with her, as she’s strong, even-tempered, happy and funny. She sets a good pace when it’s needed; slows down when I’m struggling, and looks pretty damned hot in her hiking gear. Lucky me.
Tomorrow we enter the eastern half of the walk, the shire of the Scottish Borders, the landscapes of The Raven’s Heart, which are more familiar to me from research. We skirt the old lands of the Blackadders and head to the coast. The days are still long and challenging, but I’m feeling much more confident. We’re better at navigating now, more comfortable with our gear, and getting stronger. Onward and upward. Or downward, as it were.
Please remember our fundraising campaign – we are supporting the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the international literacy organisation Room to Read with our hike. There is almost $1000 in donations so far – we’d love to get to $2000 so please head to my fundraising page to make a donation.
Birthday greetings from Scotland. It’s a wild windy drizzly day today and thank goodness it’s one of the few days on the hike where we had the choice to opt out early. Which we have. Kicking back in our gorgeous b&b with our feet up and some hot packs after a half day walk – positively luxurious. Getting ready for an afternoon whisky and dinner at the Clackann Inn, adding something new to the list of fantastic food we’ve been served so far. 2015 has been pronounced the year of food and drink in Scotland and they have both been superb.
We got through the last two big days – each was 28km of walking – though there’s no way I can say it was easy. The first day in particular we were up on the wild moors, with nothing in sight but grass, hills, rocks, a few sheep, and windfarms. Very dramatic and you’d think it would be easy to see where you’re going – but the waymarks are small brown posts, widely spaced, occasionally knocked over by cows and at times very very hard to spot. Navigation is ordered by some system that I haven’t quite got the hang of yet, so there is a bit of wandering around trying to find the way. All good so far, but fingers crossed we never find ourselves in a mist.
However – just when you think it’s all too hard or too cold or too wet and muddy, the sun breaks out and everything changes and the next thing you’re strolling through a glade of oak trees and bluebells and it’s like being in some fabulous English fairy tale, or in Hobbitown. Or you come out next to a loch, or by a beautiful stream, or a stone-walled field full of sheep, or a breathtaking outlook where you can see for miles in every direction. And it’s all fantastic.
I thought the last two days were challenging, but in fact the most challenging days are coming up. Hopefully a half day rest will restore us to full energy and send away those niggling aches and sore bits.
I looked over at Andi as we were walking this morning – she was rugged up against the cold, wearing all her waterproofs, gloves, scarf, beanie, the lot – water dripping off her nose and running down her face. Not a word of complaint. I’m sure she’d rather be somewhere else, but she is her loving, adventurous self, throwing her whole being into whatever she’s doing. No matter how hard the going gets we are good with each other and I’m so appreciative of that. What a gal. What an adventure.
Love Jesse xxx
Tucked up in bed in the tiny, charming village of New Luce, population about 80, after polishing off beef and Yorkshire pudding, Indian chicken curry, and a couple of pints. At 8.45pm it’s still broad daylight outside, but my eyelids are drooping and it’s a BIG day tomorrow – and the next day.
Two days in to the hike and I am in love with bluebells. And black-faced sheep, stone walls, flowering gorse, friendly Scots, those birds I can hear twittering in the forest, and the special treasures hidden along the Southern Upland Way for walkers to find. The weather has been kind – apart from a couple of showers on the first day, it’s been pretty fine so far, and hot at times today.
Day one we headed along the coastline for a few hours enjoying a windy, sunny day and clambering up and down to the little beaches and bays of the area, before heading inland. I was so excited to be walking at last that I wandered along having a quiet cry for the first half hour. So beautiful. Ireland lay just across the sea, the waves thundered in, it was divine.
The clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped, and we picked up the pace. Discovered the 3pm missing waymark syndrome of the Southern Upland Way, whereupon the critical post letting you know you should take a turnoff somehow becomes invisible. As a result, 4pm found us trudging along endless lanes in the rain, trying to locate ourselves with my iPhone as its battery headed south. A good lesson for day one – read the maps and the guidebook carefully and don’t always rely on the marked posts. By the time we arrived at Castle Kennedy, tired and hungry, it was too late for the tearooms. Lesson two – don’t skip lunch. Our guest house host collected us – a little tired and grumpy – and we fell into bed with a hot whisky toddy after some restorative fish and chips.
This morning, spent a while in the gardens of Castle Kennedy. Having watched an entire season of Downton Abbey on the plane trip, I was well placed to appreciate this gorgeous country estate with its walled gardens, woodland paths and brilliant flower displays. Then it was walking in earnest, wondering why the packs seemed so much heavier than yesterday. Through woodlands, farmlands, up on to the open moors. Another 3pm missing waymark led us through a field and a muddy farmyard. Today’s lesson – whisky,tea and fruitcake at 4pm will fix most ills. Wound down through stone-walled green fields full of sheep into the whitewashed village of New Luce. Which I would love to explore if I wasn’t falling asleep.
The next two days are huge – 28 and 34km – feeling a bit nervous. We’ve divested ourselves of all sorts of (hopefully) unnecessary bits and pieces that were weighing down the daypacks and getting psyched up for some hard walking – these are probably the two toughest days coming up.
I’ll write again on the other side of that!
After four days in London and many hours on the train today (feeling a little weary), we pulled into Port Patrick this afternoon (South West corner of Scotland), all primed to begin our hike tomorrow morning.
And were greeted by gale force winds, temps below 10 degrees, driving rain and sleet. A storm was howling across the Irish Sea. Our guest house was shut, so we headed to the pub next door. This is the kind of little village where the publican asks if you are OK, and then rings the owner of the guest house to get her to open up.
Two women greeted us from the next table and made a big effort to welcome us to the village, especially after hearing we’d come from Australia. Told us to come back at 5 for dinner. We went for a scary stroll around the harbour in the kind of wind that shoves you around and knocks you over, and staggered back to our room, wet and buffeted.
The only solution – after repacking our bags in preparation for starting – was to repair to the pub. Order two glasses of Chilean Cab Sav and two Loins of Cod in butter sauce (I am still trying to picture the loin of a cod), as the wind dashed rain against the harbour-facing windows and puffed coal smoke from the fire back into the room.
And then, in what felt like a delightful omen for the rest of our trip, we joined the two friendly women – Kath and Julie – and over the course of the next three hours, accompanied by a glass or two of wine and two damp dogs, became new best friends.
It was one of those beautiful moments that come when you travel – the meetings that can change your day or your life, where you connect deeply and quickly.
And while we were getting to know each other, the driving rain stopped, the clouds blew away, the sky turned blue and the sun came out. The wind is still throwing up waves against the harbour wall and two seals are poking whiskered heads out of the foam. We’re pulling the curtains shut against the long long evening and falling into bed.
And tomorrow we walk! I might kidnap Molly the Spoodle and take her with us.
News of London will have to wait…
Love to all
Thirty six hours until Andi and I head off to the United Kingdom for our long-awaited hike across Scotland (postponed from last year after Andi injured herself). Items are being crossed off lists, clothes chosen, whisky drunk (can’t be too prepared). Andi shivers every time she sees the weather forecast, but I’m encouraged that the temperatures are now at least in double figures, albeit at the lower end.
We are taking the chance to support two wonderful literacy charities during our hike, Room to Read (the international organisation for literacy and gender equality – for which I’m an author ambassador) and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation in Australia. Our fundraising page is here.
What does our walk have to do with literacy? Nothing really, but I like to think our training and tramping efforts will have positive outcomes beyond our own enjoyment, and might inspire you to join us in supporting the cause of literacy for young people whose lives will be literally transformed by the efforts of these organisations. Also, those organised charity walks such as Coastrek and Oxfam Trailwalker – bravely tackled by other friends – are just too damned hard.
Kids’ literacy and creativity have become my burning passions of late. I’d love to share this contemplation of literacy from Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations. He said:
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”
Sums it up pretty well. Reading and writing aren’t just entertainment. They are game changers, particularly for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
World change starts with educated children, according to Room to Read, a non-profit organisation focusing on literacy and gender equality through education in the developing world.
Since delivering its first load of books to a school in Nepal in 2000, Room to Read has built more than 1800 schools, established 17,000 libraries and published 1000 kids books in 28 languages. I’m a writer ambassador for Room to Read and our team of Australian authors is working to raise $40,000 in 2015. Donating to the Australian chapter of Room to Read will support the recovery of literacy programs in Nepal after the earthquakes.
Closer to home – National Reconciliation Week runs 27 May to 3 June – coinciding with the start of our hike. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation works to raise literacy for Indigenous kids living in remote regions, through supplying books, literacy resources, publishing and visits. ILF is the Australian Book Industry’s organisation for supporting Indigenous literacy and its patron is the Honorable Quentin Bryce. Last year the ILF supplied 120,000 books to kids in remote communities. Donating to ILF will support its important efforts in remote Australia, and be a practical step towards reconciliation.
I’m kicking off the program with a donation to both charities and hope you’ll support one or both of them too.
Click here to go to our fundraising page on Everyday Hero and choose your charity. Stay tuned for updates as we tramp nearly 400km from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland between 1-19 June. I’ll let you know how much money we raise.
Many thanks for your support
Every now and then, a book is born from long labour, considered crafting, and the requisite time for it to ripen into something superb.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness not one, but two such books in short succession.
Friday 1 May is the official birth day of Emma Ashmere‘s debut novel The Floating Garden, a gorgeous piece of writing that I’ve seen evolve and coalesce over the last few years since Emma joined my writing group. The Floating Garden is published by Spinifex Press, a small, passionate publishing house in Melbourne that has been producing innovative, controversial and optimistic books for more than two decades.
The story unrolls in the 1920s as the Sydney Harbour Bridge is being built. I’d never thought about living in a suburb that was being slowly and noisily torn down to make way for the bridge, but that’s the scenario in which we meet the main character, Ellis Gilbey, struggling landlady of Milsons Point and secret gardening writer. Her gardening column isn’t her only secret – her past is full of them and through her we meet the charismatic theosophist Miss Minerva Stranks, and the delicate Kitty Tate – not to mention Rennie Howarth, highly strung artist and dissatisfied wife. Unforgettable characters in a fascinating era.
It’s an exquisite read. Emma is a master of superb prose and she’s been honing this book for some time. It shows. Early reviews have compared it to Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. Oh, and the gorgeous cover features the painting ‘The Bridge’ (1930), by South Australian artist Dorrit Black.
His Other House by Sarah Armstrong is the other book I’ve watched grow and evolve over a long period into a beautifully crafted work of fiction. Sarah is also in my writing group and her first novel Salt Rain was shortlisted for awards including the Miles Franklin when it came out in 2005. His Other House, set in northern NSW, takes us on a journey of truth and lies, as the main character Quinn embarks on an affair and then must make a choice that reverberates shockingly though the lives of his wife Marianna and mistress Rachel.
I love this process of following a character through a moral conundrum. It’s a gripping read as we see disaster coming for Quinn. Even though I’d read the book in early drafts, when I sat down with the final product, I again found myself trying to work out what I’d do in Quinn’s position, racing through the story to find out what he chooses. Marianna and Rachel are also gripping characters and none of them acts predictably.
I’m reminded with both books of the great value in not rushing. They are complete, polished, superbly crafted and fully realised. I’m in awe of Sarah and Emma – and feel very privileged to share a writing group with these two fine authors.
But first… thanks those of you who joined in my adventures in Alaska, San Francisco and Dubai through this blog. I’m now settled back at home on the rim of the extinct Mount Warning volcano, loving the powerful, immense landscape of northern New South Wales Bundjalung country and mindful of my good fortune in living here.
It’s not long until my next adventure and this is one you may like to share in person. From 28 June – 6 July 2015 I’m running a one-week intensive fiction writing retreat in another beloved part of the world – Edinburgh and the Borders District of Scotland. Billed as a journey through history, the course is suited to all fiction writers, no matter what period interests you.
I’ve done plenty of teaching before, but this immersion in creative writing for a whole week is new. It’s exciting – giving the chance to go really deeply into the creative journey. With a small group of writers, I’ll lead the way into the craft of writing dramatic, powerful fiction.
The course is for writers interested in taking their work to the next level, and wanting to deepen and extend their skills. Through tutorials and discussions we’ll explore the structures that underpin successful novels, and how to apply their principles to your own writing. I always use plenty of hands-on exercises to put ideas into practice, and these will help you find the best structure for your work, create memorable characters and vivid worlds, and polish your words and sentences until they glow.
We’ll share our writing, give each other constructive feedback, and set up ways of continuing creative practices back at home.
It’s a delicious mix of work and play. We will meet each morning from 9am till midday for instruction, discussion and hands on writing exercises. The rest of the day we will adventure – with optional guided walks, excursions, and some memorable dinners. I promise there’ll be plenty of fun.
I’ve worked with Carol Crennan from boutique travel company Bookshop Travel, and Dougie Stewart from Scotland’s Make Tracks, to create an itinerary that offers a week of intensive writing, plus plenty of chances to walk and explore the magical villages and rich history of the Borders district – including an exclusive visit to the ruins of Blackadder Castle (on private lands), the inspiration for my novel The Raven’s Heart.
I’d love you to join me – and also consider sharing this with friends who might be interested.