It’s Friday?!

Starting where I left off, on Monday I made it to Liskeard and found a rather nice field to camp in that apparently is owned by the council.

A great sunset, the sound of sheep and cows in nearby fields, an opportunity to relax…apart from the boys playing football who wanted to know, “Why is there a teepee in our field?” and were very curious to investigate. Oh, and the dog being walked who also took a disliking to me being there. On the whole though, it was great and they were only minor interruptions.

Evening service, “Vagabond style”.

On Tuesday I continued walking (I don’t think I really need to write this, but just in case there were any doubts about my daily routine) and stopped in at Callington because I was running low on precious zinc oxide tape and wanted to get some from the Chemist there.

I was stopped by the police for the second time of the trip, this time because there were reports of a guy with a Samurai sword (at least it was culturally relevant this time).

As I got into Callington I was greeted by a Native American war-cry from some workers in a yard nearby, and a car drove past with two guys in hi-vis jackets who said, “Hello, how are you?” In the voice of Apu from the Simpsons. I’m not telling you this to write Callington off. Straight after that a lady came running up to me to bring me an oat flapjack. Her friend had met me the other day further down the road. She had seen a programme about the Tendai “Marathon Monks” who do the Sennichi Kaihogyo (a practise of walking across Mt Hiei to pray at various different shrines for 1000 days), and asked how come I was allowed to wear trainers… (they wear traditional Japanese straw sandals called waraji and get through a few pairs a day – slightly impractical in the UK).

Further down the road a mother with her son and daughter asked what it was all about, and the boy gave me his tangerine, the girl gave me her apple.

I stopped in at the chemist, but they didn’t have any zinc oxide tape – I’d have to get some more at my next stop.

I had money to buy an all-day vegetarian breakfast which was so good! It felt like my body had been re-charged. I saved the toast for a snack later on.

Having got fuel in the system, I headed on towards Gunnislake. My feet seem to be in better condition the last few days, having acclimatised and toughened up.

Around 6:30pm, as I was walking through St. Ann’s Chapel I got chatting to a mother with her two kids, who loved having a go on my drum. She called her neighbour (Wendy) who she knew would like to talk to me.

Having chatted, the first lady’s husband came out, and when he heard I was planning to camp in the nearby park he offered me the fold-out bed in his VW transporter van – thanks Nick! Very comfy, and much warmer than camping without a sleeping bag. I went to sleep as soon as I had finished sorting out my feet, even though it was probably only about 7:30pm. Their neighbour Wendy came later on in the evening with some dinner for me!

The next day (we’re on Wednesday now) I made my way to Tavistock, taking the backroads through little farm lanes. I’ve discovered sheep, pigs, cows and horses all like the sound of the drum…dogs, and especially sheep dogs guarding their farm on the other hand, are not so keen!

I arrived early in the day in Tavistock, and sat in the church gardens to get out of the sun. At 3pm I was able to check in to an Airbnb and wash all of my clothes (apart from my outer grey robe) for the first time! I had hesitated to ask to wash my clothes when being generously put up by people (usually late in the day) who weren’t expecting me.

Thursday morning I met up with someone for tea (Hi Vanessa!) before setting off into Dartmoor. It was very hot, but so beautiful and I really wish I had taken pictures of the sheep, and ponies roaming about.

Last night (Thursday) I stayed in Postbridge, right in the centre of Dartmoor, and today I head north towards M’hamstead and Dunsford to come out near Exeter. The weather is cooler today but it’s the first day there has been rain.

Thank you very much for your support and donations.


Monday update

Well today is Monday (yes, I had to look that up)…

Since I last checked in, it’s difficult to describe everything that has happened.

From Calenick I made it only to Truro where I stayed on Friday to rest my feet. I ended up staying with a Buddhist and his partner, who has written essays on the Dhammapada (what are the chances in Truro!) and is a wellbeing coach. He gave me a little bottle of what I’ve come to call “magic ointment” which I think is based on aryuvedic medicine. It seems to help the blisters, so I’ve been strapping them up with zinc oxide tape in the day, and putting the onitment on at night and letting them air.

From Truro I went to a little campsite just outside Sticker and stayed there on Saturday night. Pretty campsite where everyone was very friendly. What I’ve realised though is that whole campsites might be good for people arriving by car and staying for a few days, if you’re travelling longer than that and need clothes washing, very few will be geared up for that. It’s also quite difficult to tend to my feet etc and keep everything clean when camping.

From there I headed through St Austell on Sunday, stopping in at Asda to get medical provisions (rash cream) and mozzarella and tomato wrap, some fruit both of which were amazing, and some museli bars to take for the journey. I also threw away my my old socks which I had tried to handwash to not much effect which had never had time to dry, and got new ones.

Back on the road again –

I was stopped by the police in the morning…I saw the police car drive past and then come back past me and pull up in a layby ahead of me. I thought, “here we go…” Turns out they’d had a call about some bloke walking down the road waving a machete about, but when they saw it was just me (some nutter walking down the road beating a drum and chanting) they said good luck and let me on my way.

This unusual hot weather is quite draining, so important to stay hydrated. Lots of drivers waving or tooting. Maybe this post should be called, “the goodness of people part 2). One guy gave me a magnum ice cream outside Asda. One lady came out from her house to give me a bottle of water on the way past (thanks Joanne), one couple invited me into their home in St Blazey and gave me a drink of water (thanks Danny’s mum). I’d met her son Danny the night before at the campsite near sticker. Small world. A couple of people have given me money along the way to buy food.

Last night (Sunday night) I arrived in Lostwithiel around 7pm, quite tired, feet very sore. Bob and Toops very kindly put me up for the night, cooked me dinner and made me breakfast in the morning. Toops even washed some of my clothes (I’m sure I must smell fairly medieval by now!) And made me a packed lunch.

Today I’m heading to Liskeard. I’d wanted to go a bit further, but the heat is sapping my energy, and that combined with my feet and other ailments, and drumming all the way probably means I’m only doing about 2 miles an hour.

Thank you everyone who’s tooted, said hi, given me money, water, ice cream or anything else on the way. It really has kept me going.

Gassho to all (palms together in respect)

Thursday 19th July – People’s goodness

Last night was very cold! I had left the sleeping bag behind thinking I’d be ok without it, but even with all my clothes on and wrapped in a groundsheet inside the tent it was still not easy to sleep.

My wonderful looking home-made tent poles had had too much flex in them so the tent had sunk, and the fly was touching the inner and had become wet. So, having waited for that to dry out, and had a cup of tea, I packed up and headed inland, from Penrose to Truro. From Penrose I headed to Helston, and went through the town centre.

Coming out of Helston I wanted to avoid walking on the A394, so headed towards Wendron then Tranear, then east through Porkellis and Carnkie on the smaller roads and footpaths. I passed through some beautiful countryside, but it was difficult to get the momentum going because you can’t drum and read a map at the same time of course, so I had to keep stopping to check which path to take. (It’s also difficult to take pictures and do those two things as well, so sorry for the lack of photos in this post!)

My feet were beginning to irritate me because it felt like I was walking on bubble wrap, and all the stopping and starting made the blisters harder to deal with. I stopped in Carnkie, which is a small little village not even big enough to warrant a shop. One lady, having heard the drumming came out with her camera phone and waved to me as I sat down to rest on a bench. She came to talk, and offered me encouragement which I was really grateful for. She also filled up my water bottle for me, as I was empty. A few minutes later another woman came out of her house and asked if I needed a lift anywhere – I thanked her but explained I had to walk! She then asked if I wanted some sandwiches, because she had made a packed lunch to take into work but the office was shut that day, so it was going spare. I was able to refuel on jam sandwiches and crisps. Today it really hit home how kind people can be.

With more energy in the tank, I took to the main road – the A394/A39. This was much more direct so saved on mileage, plus it was all an even road surface which made walking easier. Because I didn’t have to keep checking the map ( I just had to follow the road to Truro), I was really able to get some momentum going.

Even though it was a busy A-road without any pavements for most parts, I actually felt safer than on the B-roads. The road was wider, and there was a grass verge most of the way, which was a reassuring safety net.

As I walked and chanted I really gave it everything I had, chanting as loudly as possible. I prayed that “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” would wake people’s sleeping Buddha-nature up, the potential for enlightenment that everyone, without exception, has, and that they could find happiness and contentment.

With that wish in mind I chanted louder.

People’s reactions to the strange sight and sound coming from the side of the road were varied, but mostly positive. Lots of people beeped in a friendly way and smiled, a few people honked aggressively…either way, the response was the same: a slight bow of respect as I walked on.

Some people gave me a thumbs up, some waved, one truck driver did gassho at his forehead towards me.

I became teary a few times.

One person said, “wow!” sarcastically as their van went past. One person said, “You’re a bit far from home”, one driver even called out “tsing tao” (the name of a beer)…presumably because that was the only Chinese he knew.

I came off the A39 at Devoran because it was starting to get dicey, knocked on the door of a nearby house to fill up my bottle of water again, and got directions to get to Truro off the main road from a man out walking his dog. He called a friend of his who lived on the way to ask if I could pitch my tent in his garden. The reply was negative, but I headed in that direction anyway.

By this point I didn’t have the energy to drum anymore, so I had to just walk…I told myself it was because it was after 7pm and I was just thinking of noise restrictions.

I got as far as Calenick, about 18 miles according to Google maps, not including all the meandering I did on the paths and small roads at the beginning of the day. I tried to look on my phone for somewhere to stay in Truro but everything was fully booked, and way too expensive anyway. I saw a guy working on a VW camper van, and asked if he had a spare room I could stay in for the night. Again, the goodness of people hit me. Thank you to Jonathan and Jenny who put me up in a king-size airbed for the night, and let me get in on the Nepalese they were ordering in!

(Sorry the only picture I took today was of my feet!)

I was able to tend to my feet more easily than when I was in my tent (which is so small you can’t really sit up in it) last night. A friend of Jonathan’s had walked from Land’s End to John o’Groats in 28 days which is incredible, and apparently zinc oxide tape is the answer. I’m not a seasoned walker, just a soft idiot who is learning on the job, so good to get tips from people in the know.

Jonathan made me two bamboo tent poles which I’ve attached to the back of my rucksack, so now I really look the part! I’ll try and do better with pictures tomorrow!

Wednesday 18th July

Well, it’s Friday now. I have had phone battery the last couple of days, but have been too tired to post updates, so this is what happened on Wednesday:

Tuesday night I stayed in Penzance at a great priced Airbnb to rest up before setting off on foot. My host had an amazing collection of occult books, and we shared interesting conversation about 9/11, the novichok poisonings, and where money comes from.

I went to see Captain James’s old house, which was a B&B until recently.

After sleeping in a bed, I set off on an “easy day” to break my feet in, taking the coast path for around 14 miles to Porthleven, and then into Penrose to camp for the night. Let me tell you, the coastal path is challenging, especially when you’re trying to chant and drum as you go! I left at 08:30 and arrived at 3:30pm, and didn’t really stop. At the time I just wanted to get there, looking back I should have rested more along the way, and not done it on just bowl of museli for breakfast and a couple of snack bars along the way.

On the way out of Penzance several people enquired what I was doing, and a couple of people took photos with me and wished me good luck. I even spotted someone in the passenger seat of a builders van videoing me with his phone as I passed by drumming and they were in slow-moving traffic.

On the coast path itself as I passed by one house there was a lady standing in her garden, hands in gassho, and as I approached she called out, “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo”! I was amazed, and stopped to talk – she said she’d just had her breakfast interrupted by some Jehovah’s Witnesses, so she was so pleased to see (hear) me.

Further up the path I bumped into them, but didn’t realise it was them because they weren’t dressed in suits due to the hot weather. We chatted a bit, and one guy tried to give me a flyer and said that only God could end our suffering and bring peace, after I’d explained what I was doing. I politely said I wasn’t going to take it, which he accepted.

I thought to myself, wow this guy is extremely optimistic! Here I am, in robes, on a pilgrimage, I have explained I’m a Buddhist priest, and he’s still trying to convert me. But also, was it rude? Yes, I think it was, and thought about telling him that, but decided to leave it.

The overall theme of the day: sweat! I tried to dry my robes overnight on Wednesday evening, but they weren’t completely dry in the morning. I also had a rather irritating problem with chafing! How I wished i had packed the talcom powder!

I found a campsite in Penrose for just £6, which meant I could have a shower. I am carrying a very compact tent with me that weighs less than 2Kg, but it has no poles, so is designed to be held up with two walking poles…which I don’t have. I asked around the campsite to see if anyone had any I could borrow, but no one did. So in the end, I went all “Ray Mears” and fashioned some from some wood I found in a nearby wooded area.

Dinner was a cuppa-soup style cup of pasta, and a Werther’s Original for desert – which apart from being quintessentially British, are a perfect accompaniment to a long walk, so I’m rationing them out as treats.

By the end of Tuesday I’d realised that while the scenery on the coast path is beautiful, it was too indirect, and I didn’t get to meet as many people as I would on the roads.

Thank you to those who are following this blog, and showing your support. Thank you also to all those who chatted on the way, smiled or said good luck.

And so it begins…

Well, here I am, on the train!

I had hoped to be able to put some posts up before I left, but things were just so busy that I didn’t manage it.

It’s been scramble to get what needed to be done done before left, so my preparation has been a bit stressful. It’s amazing how many unexpected things come up that you don’t think about (at least, I didn’t).

For example, I tried on the rucksack I’ve borrowed from my brother on Friday, only to discover that even when lowered as far as it goes, it gets in the way of my newly acquired Tendai-gasa (or as one member of our temple calls them, mushroom hat)! No amount of fiddling about with strap lengths, even taking out the metal frame that was there for back support solved it, but I did manage to find a fairly cheap 45L pack that does the job. 45L isn’t all that much though, when you’re packing a tent, roll mat, etc. and going walking for 3 weeks.

But, members of the temple have very kindly given me food provisions, a mini torch, white tennis shorts to wear with a juban (white under-robe top) under my robe if the heat really takes its toll, and other items as well.

I’ve also received lots of good advice and tips about travelling and rambling. For example, did you know that the water at petrol stations that you fill your car radiator up with is drinkable? One member of our temple who is a plumber, assured me its all mains supplied, so it’s perfectly fine to drink as long as you let it run for 30 seconds first, so you’re not drinking what is in the pipes.

That might prove very useful! I remember when I had just become a Shami my master, Tsukamoto Shonin, instructed me to buy a one-month round-Europe train ticket and go and see as many different countries as I could. I slept on the trains, and woke p somewhere different almost every morning. During that trip I realised how important water is, and also, how expensive it is to buy on the move!

Mind you, there has also been some advice which I’m less inclined to follow. While soldiers in the army may urinate on their feet before a long hike to stop their feet getting blisters, I admit I haven’t followed their lead. I’m not ruling it out, but I think I’ll see how I go before I resort to such measures!

Anyway, I made it with my reduced size backpack onto the train this morning. I decided to leave the sleeping bag and other non-essentials behind – it’ll be warm enough in the tent.

The journey through london was the start of the trip, the start of a pilgrimage, and a time to spread the Odaimoku . Whilst I wear a Samue (Priests working clothes) most of the time, and also go through London in my black robe when doing Monk-y business (sorry!) I haven’t been on the London tube system before in my grey robes. They certainly do attract some attention, although most people are very subtle with their curiosity. I did catch one guy on the central line covertly taking a picture to send to a friend on WhatsApp…he just wasn’t as subtle as he thought.

It’s a very interesting feeling – when you take the ceremony to “leave home and attain the way” you are removing yourself from society. We’re taught to kill the old self who has such and such qualifications, such and such status, position, style, etc. Thats why we shave our heads and are given new name.

If you believe samsara can give you fulfillment, that is almost impossible to do, or at the very least extremely painful, because there will be a conflict between your old life as a lay person and your situation – you might become miserable as a priest. But, it can also be freeing in a profound way. Traditionally the monk engages with society, and especially the bodhisattva monk tries to guide and help people whenever they can, but neither has a personal stake in it.

Maybe the robes themselves symbolise this, no matter who’s wearing them. They represent someone who is very visible on a commuter-packed train. Definitely a part of their journey, but also in a way, not part of it.

I’ll leave it at that for now. We’re whizzing along past green fields now. I will stay in Penzance tonight so that I can have a look around and see Captain James’s house of course…I’m hoping local people might be able to help me plan the first leg of my route as well.