Pathport: A secular pilgrimage into the meaning of home
Huntly – Unterpfaffenhofen, Summer 2017
Like many folks, my love affair with Europe began with an Interrail ticket. Leaving Munich via Paris to the Tipperary town of Cashel with its infamous rock, and then back again via Wales, England, Belgium to my parents’ home in Unterpfaffenhofen. The year after saw me trailing to Crete through the many then Yugoslavian countries in the Balkans. A continent totalling 50 countries with about 225 languages, countless dishes, songs and sites, – I have always felt blessed with my European passport and all the privileges it brings.
In June 2016, a narrow majority of the British public decided collectively to leave Europe, or better the European Union. I won’t go into the stages of grief, anger and unsettlement this has left me and my family with since, but it is the puzzlement of what my home now is, was and will be that I want to come to grips with. Questions of nationality, belonging and roots, which seemed to have obliqued over the last two generations, have suddenly become apparent and also very personal again.
At a time when my beloved mother is reaching the end of her life, I find myself at a stage where I am looking for meaning of what ‘home’ means in these transient times for Europe.
The quest for home
Walking has been an important part of my life and that of my family. I discovered my passion and life saver at age 18 when I walked over the Alps crossing three countries on the way to Venice. Since then I have walked to my wedding, roamed the Ruwenzori and Atlas mountains, walked Austrian alps from east to west, bagged all the munros in Scotland and trampled every inch of my home turf in the Strathbogie and Strathdeveron valleys. Walking gives me sanity, ideas and inspiration. Through walking I met Nick my husband of 25 years, who walked with me ever since. More recently I came across the relevance of walking in and around art. Walking is a kind of home for me.
To address this search for home, I am proposing to walk from my current home (Huntly) to my ancestral home (my mother’s house in Unterpfaffenhofen near Munich) through my spiritual home (Europe). Nick, the person I’ve made my home with, will accompany me on this 1500k+ journey; on the way, we hope to meet old and make new friends. Passing through Scotland, England, Holland and Germany, I will be setting out as a tramp and wandering scholar looking for what home means in a troubled Europe.
My secular pilgrimage focuses more on the social, cultural and political side of events. Unlike so many, I am allowed to walk freely and privileged with enough money and a European passport in my pocket. My aim is to slow down and linger with as little stuff as possible, in a world where we pass so much, so fast. The contemplative nature of prolonged walking and slow speed of the lands passing will allow me to discover what remains of freedom, hospitality, wildness, the unknown, friends, the deeper currents of myth and story that still flow beneath Europe as a home for all of us.
Pathport will also give me an opportunity to reflect, but also simply some time out of the office, away from the PC, to which I am now glued in my daily routine. Therefore the digital detox is the main ambition. The walking is the second. If we don’t like the walking, we turn to other forms of slow travel.
With my mother coming to the end of her life, the act of walking to her will take on a spiritual significance, like a labour of love or pilgrimage; it will act as a manifestation of my relationship with her and therefore with my home.
What will I bring and what will I bring back?
Most importantly I will bring back some physical and mental fitness making me ready for the next stage in my life and the life of Deveron Projects. Some time out of the office will help both me and the organisation to think about the year ahead, new strategies and ideas. I hope to be fitter, slimmer and wiser in the end, having built up enough muscle and brain power to tackle the next steps.
Being away from my home and my desk will give me the space to think, walking will free up my mind to contemplate these new ideas. Home has also been identified as a centre for activity and research for Deveron Projects. Likewise, walking is a tool for us to make things happen, to engage and deliver. Thinking of home through a prolonged long walk will help me to shape this concept.
To this end, my relics will be of an intangible nature. I have picked and pressed some oak leaves from the White Wood in Huntly. I will give one to each host on my journey.
In return, I will gather oak leaves and ideas (aim: one a day) to bring back with me to Huntly. These 100-or-so ideas will range from the big – new concepts for projects, ways to improve my hometown, the running Deveron Projects, ideas for the future of Europe – to the everyday – practical solutions for the office such as a new filing system. Those will find a home in passport size jotters together with an evolving herbarium of oak leaves from the route.
Nick and I will start in Huntly on the 3rd of July and hope to arrive in Unterpfaffenhofen on the 30th September. People can join us on the route if they like.