A peregrine adventure in Finland

After midsummer I’m going to be walking the first part of the soon-to-be opened St Olav Waterway, joining Finland to the St Olav Pilgrimage to Trondheim via Sweden.

Yesterday, I had the brilliant idea to test out the first half of stage one of the route with a friend (as we were invited to visit friends over that way) so I downloaded the step by step instructions gave a cursory look at the map and off we set. We live here, and know the area pretty well, what’s more both of us have completed the Camino Francés, so my thinking was that this particular stage can’t be that difficult!

Getting out of Turku was easy. These were familiar roads, cycle paths and we soon spotted the St Olav Waterway signs.

So far so good.

The terrain was easy, the route was very well sign posted, and we made excellent progress.

Then we arrived at a part of town that I’d never visited before – a nature reserve near the sea, with fabulous boardwalks over the wet marshy land. This is probably the point I should mention that my friend and I weren’t on foot, but on bicycle. We were, after all, en route to a party, and as seasoned pilgrims we knew that it was possible to cycle the Camino rather than walk and assumed that the St Olav Waterway would be the same.

The boards were quite narrow and the land very wet, but that wasn’t the problem… it was the fences.

Somehow we managed to get our bikes over (or round) the obstacles (there were three of them) and push our bikes along through the nature reserve. The sun was shining, the scenery was lovely and we were laughing (a lot) at the assumption I’d made that the route would be easy on a bike!

We made it through the nature reserve and happily got back on our bikes for the next stage of the journey! It wasn’t long before we encountered a tougher obstacle than the odd fence … a very, very steep flight of stairs!

I stopped and reread the instructions. Somehow I’d missed the bit that said the view was

a reward for the steep climb up the stairs

steep stairs? .., with a bicycle? Mmm no, no, no.

We couldn’t even see the top of them! There was no way I was going to push my bike up …especially as I was fairly sure going down the other side would be just as hard (possibly even more so!) So, this was the point we abandoned the pilgrim trail, navigated a tiny path through the edge of the forest, pushing our bikes over aged tree roots for what seemed like an eternity!. It was definitely an adventure, a great work out of our upper body muscles and our nerve .- and trust me, we were still laughing – but it was exhausting!

My friend was quite familiar with the small countryside roads on the outskirts of Kaarina, but although we crossed and cycled down many of those mentioned in the step by step instructions we didn’t actually manage ever to see the st Olav Waterway sign again.

We did arrive at our destination (eventually) , about two hours later than expected, a bit hot and quite tired (thankfully we had water with us!) but we were still laughing at our naivety and filled to overflowing with wonderful stories to tell!

It took us less than 30 minutes to cycle home … Later this month I’ll head over to climb those stairs and see the actual the St Olav Waterway takes down from the viewpoint. With luck I can stop off at my friend’s cottage for coffee again!

Posted in activities, Camino St Olav Way, cycling, Finland, rural, st olav waterway (Finland), this & that, urban

Running

Today was my 25th parkrun … a milestone (though not an official one as the organisation recognises 25th volunteering status and 50 (and multiples thereof) runs)

Nonetheless it is a huge achievement for me! it marks having run 125km in parkrun settings – which, given that 18 months ago running 1 minute intervals on a treadmill at the pool was close to ‘impossible’ … is close to miraculous IMHO!

I’m still neither fast nor elegant when I run, but every time I am determined to run the whole course (the hill in Helsinki still defeats me but I will master that too!) and more importantly I’m loving it.

Posted in Finland, running

Another pilgrimage ❤️

I’d love to be planning to walk the Way of St James again. Another camino … Oh Yes I really would! Those two days on Jakobsweg in southern Germany over Easter just whetted my appetite for more … but deep down I suspect (or actually I know) that this year is not the right time to skip off to northern Spain or Portugal and start stepping back towards Santiago Compostela – no matter how much I’d like to …

A pilgrimage is not a walking holiday (though elements do overlap of course). I really like this definition

A pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination of significance. It is an inherently transient experience, removing the participant from his or her home environment and identity. The means or motivations in undertaking a pilgrimage might vary, but the act, however performed, blends the physical and the spiritual into a unified experience.

A journey towards a specific destination of significance. And the right timing is essential.

Mmm … No Camino for me this year then …

So then what?

Well … there is a pilgrim route in the Nordic countries.

It’s not as famous -or nearly as popular – as the Camino Francés … but the St Olav Ways, the pilgrim paths leading to Nidaros, the cathedral in Trondheim, are there for the taking … and these historic trails have been used by pilgrims and other travellers since the year 1032.

This year -after several years of hard work (and some funding from the EU) a pilgrim route is being reopened from my home city of Turku to join up with the St Olav Way in Stockholm. What is unique about this new leg of the journey is best described by looking at a map …

As you can see There’s an awful lot of water en route!

Since it’s unlikely pilgrims will be prepared – or even able – to swim long distances with backpacks … that means finding ways to get from island to island. There are some bridges of course but where there aren’t there’s an extensive network of municipal ferries, which run rather infrequently (even at the height of summer) presumably because locals and many visitors use their own boats. Several of the Ferries (even some of the free ones) need to be booked in advance because they only run if there is demand! Another challenge is there isn’t a network of pilgrim refuges – yet! – and existing accommodation and cafes are extremely scarce! Even small shops for supplies are few and far between.

All this to say … in many ways it’s the exact opposite of the Camino Francés where it turned out that in reality not that much planning was needed most of the the time! Planning for the St Olav Way is really, really essential! And carrying supplies (including water) is needed! There aren’t wells en route either!

A park run friend contacted me a couple of months ago to say that she’d like to walk a part of the newly opened St Olav Waterway with me this summer. Was I up for it? Yes! Though my heart sank -several times – as I wrestled with the complexity of it all!

Tonight we sat down together and battled with maps, and complicated ferry schedules (in Finnish and Swedish as the archipelago is mostly a Swedish speaking area) and we think we’ve now got a plan for a 3.5 day pilgrimage after midsummer!

I’m excited!

Posted in Camino St Olav Way, out and about, rural, st olav waterway (Finland), water | 2 Comments

Camino jakobsweg Germany Day 2

What a wonderful second day of pilgrimage here in southern Germany

We picked up Jakobsweg -The Way of St James – where we left off on Holy Thursday and continued towards Santiago de Compostela or at least in that direction!

It’s only 2500 km away – or thereabouts. This sign actually is a play on the date of the feast of st James July 25th so I’m not entirely sure how much further we would have had to walk (or how many months it would take us!)

The photo was taken in the wonderful pilgrim refuge Haus St. Jakobus which is in Oberdischingen (about 2/3 of the way today). It looked a lovely place to stay … and can accommodate 30 pilgrims a night!

Outside the refuge was a well where we rested and drank the remains of our coffee. That’s one big difference to how it was on the Camino Francés … my friend equipped us with a big flask of coffee and sandwiches for the day. Resting spots are few and far between and of course we’ve set out from “home” both mornings so have slept in our own beds not on the way itself

Today we walked almost all day (9-5pm) and covered around 25km. (my muscles will be complaining in the morning) The terrain was quite easy … and relatively well signposted (though we did make a slight detour -off piste- at the start) and I was very happy to have gathered a few more stamps for my credential (pilgrims’ passport)

We walked through woods, forests and through agricultural countryside and smallish towns/villages and I was struck by how rural southern Germany is (even if people from across Germany and from elsewhere migrate here to work)

We were blessed with glorious weather again. Today was slightly overcast (which reduced the risk of sunburn) but it was hot. Temperatures reached at least 25C midafternoon and at that point it really felt we were back in northern Spain! my friend and I gorged ourselves on fresh strawberries en route. (Well I did, she ate only four of the huge punnet I bought) and this evening we ate in a lovely Greek restaurant. A perfect end to a truly wonderful day!

It was lovely to visit different churches (both Protestant and Catholic) en route and to notice the different architecture and the theology and symbolism behind the displays.

There were also several tiny chapels and a few shrines on the Way.

This was my favourite.

25 km is quite a long way to walk (even when in the midst of the Camino) and so we took a few breaks and pit stops on the way!

I’m hoping it won’t be too long until I have another day of pilgrimage … but tomorrow I head home with a thankful heart yet again.

Buen Camino!

Posted in Germany, out and about

Feeling alive

I’ve never felt so alive!

That was what the Camino last autumn did for me! I first vocalised it in that way in Grañon, but it was a feeling that I experienced time and time again as I made my way across northern Spain on foot.

It’s still there – and there was joy as I pulled on my boots again last Thursday for my first day on the Jakobswag in Germany.

Another thing that has made me feel good over the past year has been participating in parkruns … mostly in Tampere Finland, but this weekend here in Germany!

I have fallen in love with running, and it’s given me a new lease of life!

Posted in out and about, park run, running | 2 Comments

Feeling Free

First bike ride of 2019. What a feeling of freedom!

I borrowed my friend’s daughter’s bike today (with the saddle lowered) and we cycled to Neu-Ulm for the Good Friday service.

We were able to pop into one church (that had been closed yesterday) to get the pilgrim’s stamp but the service was in a free church off the Camino.

On the way back home we took the slightly longer route along the river … first by the Danube and then the Iller. Amazing weather – the birds were singing and every plant (it seems) has sprung into life.

Wonderful feeling of freedom!

Posted in Germany, out and about

St Jakobsweg : Ulm

Lorna the Pilgrim

(With thanks to my friend Reija for the photo)

Today my friend Reija and I walked a tiny stretch of the Way of St James (Camino) from her home into Ulm – where we stopped at Ulm Minster

and then walked onto Jakobus Kirche in Grimmmelfingen (which sounds more like a Harry Potter village to me!)

Here in this part of Germany there are about as many Catholics as Protestants so there are many churches on the way – though sadly only these two were open today!

We walked about 15 1/2 km in glorious spring sunshine (which felt more like summer to me – and was definitely shorts and sunglasses weather). Bliss after the long dark season in Finland.

We crossed the Daube (at least twice) though here it’s known as the Donnau … walked past a concentration work camp (now a museum) and up past a fort area … with splendid views over the lush countryside though it was too hazy to see the Alps today.

My friend had made coffee and sandwiches for us so we enjoyed those – with some local pastries – on the hill side. It felt so good to be on pilgrimage with my friend – and feel both the gentle breeze and the sun on my face!

It’s definitely late spring here, and all the blossom is out, the magnolias are in different stages of blooming, and everything is teeming with life. We saw butterflies and ants, waterbirds and some larger birds circling above enjoying the thermals on the hillside! There weren’t many other people about – a runner or two, a couple of dog walkers (in more urban areas) and dozens of cyclists but no other pilgrims

I loved the wide open skies on the high point … and I felt alive in ways that only the Camino brings!

The route was signposted – though not terribly well in the urban areas … and many of the churches weren’t open today though we were blessed at st Jacobs was, and as an extra blessing the organist was practising so it was lovely to rest in the cool church and listen to the Eastertide music. (That’s where my friend took the picture of me)

A wonderful holy day – can’t think of a better way to have spent Maundy Thursday!

Posted in Germany, out and about, signs, travel, water, waymarks and stamps