2015 Trip

foolonpilgrimageTo mark the end of a working life I’m going on a little bit of a cycle.

In spring 2015 I plan to cycle from home in Athlone to Santiago de Compostello in Spain and home again. Accommodation will be in Auberges and with warmshowers and couchsurfing hosts, with the occasional hotel or guesthouse when things get desperate!

As a nonbeliever why do I want to do a catholic pilgrimage?
I want to do a tour of of what I call “an atheist’s sacred spaces”. These are the holy wells and cillins, the industrial schools, the Magdelene laundries and the refugee direct provision sites, the odd little memorials that are carefully written out of official history. Spain has more than it’s share of these places too, Gurnica, Burgos prison and statues of Santiago Matamoros everywhere. I’ll see if I can write a few reports about the trip. (Maybe not, the world is polluted with poor quality “My adventures on the Camino” books!)

Just now the plans are:
From home in Athlone cycle up the midlands to Derry. Then down the west coast, through Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare and Limerick to Cork. Take the ferry to Roscoff, then down the west coast of France to the Spanish border. Across the Pyrenees and across north Spain on Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostella. Continue to the end of the world at Finnestere, back on the Camino del Norte to Santander. Take the ferry to Plymouth and come home via Bristol, Cardiff and Fishguard.

This is a nice gentle spin, it should take me about two months! Anyone like to join me for a day or a week?


Ya Hajii!


“Ya Hajii!” yelled Abdullah from the other side of the electricity substation. “Fe andek mifta komstasher?”.

35-years ago, Abdullah and I were installing a new electricity distribution system in Sanaa the capital of the Yemen. Abdullah wanted to learn English, I wanted to learn Arabic so we had a deal. On one day we spoke Arabic, on the next, English.

I tossed him the 15 millimeter spanner as requested and returned to my control panel and circuit diagram.

After a brief period I got distracted and started to think about the wonderful nicknames I had acquired in the six-months since arriving in Yemen.

First I’d been “Al Russiah” the Russian. This was reasonably logical, all non-arab foreigners in the 60’s were Russian. Then I’d briefly been “Nasrani”, the Christian. This was not exactly a compliment and everyone seemed a bit uncomfortable using it. Finally Abdullah had come up with the name “Hajii”. This was unanimously approved and whenever I was introduced by this name I was always greeted with smiles and laughter.

“Hajii” was a bit of a mystery though. I knew what the Haj, the great pilgrimage to Mecca, was of course. I’d seen the pilgrims leave Yemeni villages on the 1000km trek to Mecca. They traveled in Toyota Landcruiser pickup trucks that were jammed with people both inside and out. Every pickup had at least one mattress with an old sick man lying on it. It was extremely touching to see these people ignore their age and illness to make the pilgrimage for the first and last time of their lives.

Roman solved the mystery for me. He was a Swiss/Moroccan White Father, a social worker in Sanaa prison. After many years in the Islamic world he was our expert on everything to do with the culture.

Roman explained that when a man returned from the Haj he acquired the honorific title “Hajii”. Now he was supposed to be a new and reformed character. This meant no more alcohol and being a regular attender at the mosque. To mark this change he grew his beard and dyed it red.

That explained things! At that time my beard was a lot bushier and a lot redder than it is now. Hajii was a good name for me!

Now I’ve reached the stage of my life when I’ve to do my own Haj. In my culture this is the great Camino to Santiago de Compostello. The plans are to do this in 2015, this should be interesting!