They would walk 500 miles: meet the Cop26 pilgrims who arrived in Glasgow on foot | Environment

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WWhile most delegates deliberate on whether to drive, fly or take the train to the top of Cop26 in Glasgow, a dozen pilgrims have just spent the last 55 days getting there on foot from London. Members of the faith group led by women Chemin de la Cop26 have traveled a 500 mile route since early September.

Their is just one of many pilgrimages reaching Glasgow this weekend, with around 250 people expected, some from as far away as Poland and Germany – one group marched more than 1,000 miles from Sweden. Extinction Rebellion Scotland said their arrival would mark the “opening ceremony” of non-violent protests planned in the Scottish city and around the world during UN climate talks.

From 18-year-old college students to 74-year-old grandmothers, members of Camino to Cop26 – part of Extinction Rebellion – have raised awareness of the climate and ecological crisis along the way. Some days 70 people walked with them. The group spent nights sleeping on the floors of churches, town halls and community centers, £ 17,000 to cover their costs, with any additional money intended to support the work of climate activists in developing countries.

An electric van transported the pilgrims’ supplies for the 500 mile journey. Photograph: Helena Smith / Camino to Cop26

Walking like a monk from place to place and surviving the hospitality of the locals is an old activity – in this case with a modern twist. The group’s support vehicle was an electric van filled with lentils and rice, and along the way they joined samba players under Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction, waved flags over the M6 ​​and found places to swim in nature. They also ate a lot of vegan dinners.

There were the same old pains – blisters, shady knees, Achilles heel injuries – plus the challenge of spending eight weeks with a group of people they had never met before. In the 14th century Canterbury Tales, Chaucer wrote about pilgrims telling each other stories for entertainment along the way, and little has changed on that front. Songs and poetry were encouraged, and there was even an impromptu barn dance thanks to a pilgrim who was kind enough to carry a violin and bagpipe.

They could only wash once a week. “I think I’m pretty smelly at this point,” says Steph Alderton, 26, who is days outside of Glasgow when I speak to the group. She has everything in a 10kg backpack: a change of clothes, a few extra pairs of socks, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, a book and a packet of peanuts – standard packaging. “You have to give up your daily shower. Older people in the group say it was normal when they were young.

Participants have a range of beliefs, from devout Jews, Christians and Buddhists to committed atheists, like Alderton, who quit her job as a guidance counselor at a Birmingham school in June to devote more energy to climate activism. . The notion of ‘intention’ is what makes a walk a pilgrimage, and for Steph, it wasn’t about reflecting on God, but learning about the people and wildlife of the UK.

“It makes me so sad to know that so many animals are going extinct. This is what got me into the climate crisis, and walking the country seemed like a good way to reflect on that connection with wildlife, ”says Alderton, who liked the outreach side and found that talking to people in their own community made it easier to connect.“ Everyone needs a problem that’s their front door. towards activism and for many people it will be a local issue that will get them thinking about things more generally. ”

The Reverend Helen Burnett, vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Chaldon, Surrey, helped organize the pilgrimage. As a Christian, she says she believes she must act now to fulfill her call to “love your neighbor” and care for the vulnerable. Inadvertently channeling Forrest Gump, Burnett led a Sunday service in his ward and then continued to walk. She was able to join the pilgrims for about half the time, yo-yoing up and down so she could spend the other half doing chores in her ward.

Rev Helen Burnett and another walker
Reverend Helen Burnett (right) completed a Sunday service in her parish in Surrey and then began to walk. Photograph: Yaz Ashmawi / Camino to Cop26

She was made to walk because she believes more and more people are discovering that God is in nature, not a building: I am in a garden ”, and I think that is really powerful. It was part of the Celtic tradition and the history of the church is that we kind of domesticated God and put him in a pretty, sanitized box, but people find God in the outside world. Some of her parishioners joined her for the walk.

The communities the group passed through were surprised and delighted to see them, and some people applauded them as they passed, she said. “I was thanked by the construction workers, the people at the gates of the school. They just thank us. Ordinary people walking have a kind of resonance.

For this 62-year-old man, walking also means praying. “We now have doctors and scientists, but we still find that we solve problems by walking and praying,” she said, “it always seems to resonate, for people of faith and without faith, because you take away the accretions of normal life… and carry only what you need with you.

She recently made a mini pilgrimage from Vauxhall Station to Southwark Cathedral in South London. She says wandering around without focusing solely on getting to her destination meant she saw more, like the Thames, marine mammal rescue teams, the Covid Memorial Wall. She believes that by walking to a sacred place you are creating change in yourself – and it is important not to be busy when you do.

Cop26 walking camino
Walkers have continued the tradition of storytelling seen in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, entertaining themselves along the way. Photograph: Helena Smith / Camino to Cop26

For her, the climate and ecological emergency will mean getting rid of a lot of “stuff”, and the changes will be more important than any other changes her parishioners have undergone. “They know deep in their hearts that something is going on, but it’s so huge that they don’t know what to do. And they have to get on with their lives, and life is busy anyway.

Burnett feels as a religious leader that she needs to speak out: “Politicians want to take back power, but to speak out as religious leaders, we have less to lose. She had previously been arrested for not leaving Lambeth Bridge during a protest against the climate crisis in the capital.

Melanie Nazareth, lawyer, organized the course with Burnett. When she started mapping it in January of this year, she plotted the fastest walking route, which was 450 miles, but then pulled out a directory of churches, emailed them, and said. traced those who said yes to welcoming them, which made the route a bit more hectic, totaling 500 miles. Christian Climate Action supported the idea and helped with the contacts. Nazareth found the last places to stay of its pilgrims just before their departure.

Melanie Nazareth
Melanie Nazareth says she was inspired by the people she met on the road. Photograph: Helena Smith / Camino to Cop26

Organizing it has become a full-time job in itself, she says, adding, “This is the biggest crisis of my life. I gave up a lot of work to facilitate the climate protest. “

For Nazareth, who is also a Christian, speaking to people along the way was an inspiration on how to live a more sustainable life. “One of the revelations was to go through rural communities and learn how we have a model that we can build on: they eat more locally, grow a lot of their produce, [are] proud to know where everything they eat comes from and to produce it themselves.

Many people she met were good at recycling and reusing things, but when it came to talking about the need for political action to reduce carbon emissions, they said politicians didn’t not listened to, she said, adding, “That feeling of helplessness was there. from the start [the walk]. “

Nazareth is 60 this year and says the walk was a “complete transformation” on a personal level. Before this pilgrimage, its main form of walking was a gentle stroll after Sunday lunch or a descent to the station to catch the train. “Suddenly getting up and doing this has shown me that if I can do it, then people can take their power and do things that they cannot imagine. They just need to take that first step – and when you take that first step, then you can take the second and third.

Melanie Nazareth
The walk was a “complete transformation” on a personal level, says Melanie Nazareth. Photograph: Yaz Ashmawi / Camino to Cop26

Despite the decline in the number of faithful, an increasing number of people are rediscovering the joy of pilgrimage throughout the world. Other pilgrimages arriving in Glasgow this weekend include Walk in Glasgow, coming from Bilbao via Portsmouth; an ecumenical pilgrimage from Poland, Sweden and Germany; the Pilgrimage for the Cop26, coming from Dunbar in Scotland; and the Young Christian Climate Network from the South West of England.

Walking means different things for the pilgrims of the Camino to Cop26, but it is fundamentally about trying to establish a deeper connection with God, the countryside, its fauna and its people. Burnett says she believes that if more political delegates had come to Cop26, they would have built a community that could begin to meet the enormous challenges required. “They should have worked out differently in their hearts and their relationships. Going on a pilgrimage forces you to do things differently.

Find more coverage on the Age of Extinction here and follow the biodiversity journalists Phoebe weston and Patrick greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features



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