What Are The People In The Next Town Like?

A stranger walking into a new town stopped a farmer working in the fields on the outskirts and asked: “Tell me, what are the people of the next town like?”

I have been asked a question this week, it’s one I get asked often:

“I have heard quite a lot of bad things about the walk! That a lot of it is along main roads, and it’s very crowded etc? So I just wanted to get a first hand view, is that true?”

I have thought of many answers to your question, ranging from practical advice to detailed descriptions, but really there is only one answer.

It’s a simple one; I am reminded of a parable I heard a while ago, of a stranger walking into a new town who stopped a local farmer working in the fields on the outskirts and asked: “Tell me, what are the people of the next town like?”

The farmer asked in return, “What are the people like in your home town?” The stranger replied they were lovely, as good and kind a people as any man could wish for. The farmer told the stranger he would find the people of his town were like that too.

A few hours later another stranger passed on the road into the town for the first time and stopped the farmer in his toil to ask the same question, “What are the people of the next town like?”

Again, the farmer asked him how he found the people in his home town, and the second stranger said, “Oh they are mean spirited and unfriendly, as big a bunch of crooks and moaners as you can imagine.”

The farmer replied: “You will find the people of this town to be much the same.”

What I am trying to say is that you take yourself on the walk, it’s about you and how you handle any challenges. The Camino does go along main roads, and train tracks and under pylons, and past cement factories and industrial outskirts; a lot of it isn’t pretty, or even inspiring.

One day we were on a particularly stony and endless path on the way to Nájera, it runs along a busy road for much of the day and that can wear you down. We decided to reach out to the passing cars and trucks, and began the game of waving at them. The amount of bright smiles, and surprised and enthusiastic waves, we got back made the road lighter on our feet, and the hooting horns made us giddy with a silly joy. 

A lot of the way is short on comfort and it can get very crowded. Isn’t life like that? Life asks us to walk tough roads at times, it’s very crowded, it is not comfortable all the time. It isn’t how the road is that matters, it’s how we respond that counts.

It is precisely the ability to keep going when its tough and uncomfortable that makes the difference.

A pilgrimage is not about rest and recuperation it is about throwing a challenge down to your life and yourself; it will show you what kind of person are, or give you the space to be the person you want to be.

Maybe this encourages you to make an opportunity like this for yourself.

Why I Want To Publish A Photobook, And Need Your Help

Watch the video on the crowdfunding site read the story, PLEASE PRESS THE PLEDGE BUTTON and join me – let’s publish a photobook together. Imagine who we could inspire.

From the first day we walked, people said: “I wish my children would walk with us.” It took me a couple of days to realise that mine weren’t walking with me, I was walking with them.


Yes, of course, I wanted to do the walk, and I thought it would be a great space to give my sons to decide what kind of men they wanted to be; it was my gift to them. But, they are the ones who watched a film and stood up as the credits rolled and said they wanted to do this.

That is all it took; an ordinary Tuesday night, a plate of sausage mash and gravy, and a DVD of ‘The Way’, and we set out on a walk that gently changed our lives.

A film or a book can be a life-changing inspiration, I have been asked for a book countless times, I have to publish a photobook but in order to do that I need you to trade with me; and here’s the story of why …

Within three weeks of coming back the story became an exhibition in the cafe at the back of our Town Hall, a space created by Art on The Street for artists to exhibit for free. An artist friend of mine, Gail Dorrington, insisted I tell the story on a opening view night, and so we turned it into support for a locally run food bank, Open Kitchen. Two dozen friends brought cans to donate and listened to, and looked at, our story and said: “You are going to do a book aren’t you?”

Walking with Angels Exhibition and talk, by Melanie Gow, Maidenhead Town Hall, October 2013

I was at the Windsor Contemporary Art Fair when the Gallery at Ice saw the story and wanted to showcase it, and it became a solo exhibition. The Talk became a formal event, and the place was filled. At the end everyone wanted a book, more specifically a photobook with what they had seen and heard.

You find a new understanding and trust in your body, it recalibrates what is most important in your life. It expands your vocabulary and at the same time you come to accept that there are words that there are no others for. It can not help but redefine your sense of spirituality. Thank you to all who came, your interest and support is my reason to be here. Thank you.

It all grew so much when it was invited to Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, who came up with wonderful ideas for the exhibition experience and, again, I gave a talk; and we had to add chairs as it was full to capacity. Again, I was asked for a book, a photobook, something people could take away that held the inspiration.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, full house

Then the exhibition was accepted into St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and it became mobile; and 42,000 visited the cathedral while it was there, and people asked for something they could take away with them – a photobook.

Walking With Angels, St Giles Cathedral

I finally understand; I see it in the faces in the audience as I talk, and when people stop and look at the exhibition and are drawn in by the stories and pictures. I bought a book once, ‘The Pilgrimage’, by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho back in 1987, and said I would do this one day.

It took 30 years, but a simple book was still the spark of a dream. My sons watched a film.

I finally understand; as I have been inspired by something as simple as a book, my sons by a film, it is no longer about me. I need to publish a photobook, its just the way that inspiration gets out.

But I am the one who has to figure out how to make it happen.

As a published author I know the publishing process, and the market forces in play, a coffee-table book is not on any publisher’s wish list, the cost to benefit ratio isn’t there for them. But I live in a time when it is possible to publish independently; the same, if not higher quality, product.

However, I need to find a way to raise the publishing costs, I am the starving artist you might imagine, and a lone parent, and we have a pilgrim’s means. We are fine, we have all we need, but I don’t have the extra resources to bankroll a book.

Yet, I know a book is what I have to find a way to publish. So I am turning to you. For help.

It is a beautiful book, I have run up a prototype, I have an editor to help me make sure the text sparkles and tells the story, and comes without typos. I have a designer who will make sure it is laid out beautifully, and I have a print house that will make sure the book is the highest quality. It is registered and has an ISBN, a unique numeric international book identifier, and the costs are only £5,000, not a lot if you will join me.

I didn’t want to just ask for donations;

I could have done a sponsored run or some fund-raiser, but I wanted to do something where everyone who helped got something fair in exchange and became a part of it. It is more honest.

  • The simplest trade is a pre-order of the book for £25.
  • You could pre-order 2 and give one to a friend who you know will love it, or donate it to a school or library for £50 and I will sign them.
  • But if you just want to support and just throw £10 into the pot, I am very happy and it really makes a difference. In exchange you will get The Talk but not just any talk, a TEDx Talk; a friend, Laura Lucardini, suggested it and I will stand on the legendary red circle and tell the story, with pictures. You can contribute just £10 and get the TEDx Talk in a PDF, speech and pictures.
  • If you would like one of the photographs of lessons we learned while out walking (see the collection here), and a book, that would normally cost £115, and I’ve wrapped it up as a bundle for £100
  • If you would like the mobile exhibition and a talk to come to a venue near you I can travel anywhere in the UK with it, and £500 will make that happen, including travel costs. This can also be donated and I will arrange it for you and dedicate the talk to you.
  • I have also been given a camera exactly like the one I used, a Samsung Nx1000, a brilliant 3rd-generation mirror-less DSLR. A smart camera that has literally become an extension of my eyes and hands. It is responsive, light and frees me up from worrying about its settings and technology to concentrate on the moment I am drawn to. I will teach you how to use it over Skype, and you will get a photograph and a book and a TEDx Talk PDF, all this and the Samsung NX100 for £1000.

There are places that want the exhibition and the talk, like schools, and to keep telling the story I have to create the book, in order to do that I need you to trade with me.

If I had a plan to do this all along I would have all this organised, but I’m genuinely just trying to keep up with a story that wants to be heard; and I get it, my sons responded to a story. A this is a true story; at 12 and 16 my sons were inspired to walk for 33 days and 800km across a country. And it was the best thing they could have ever done.

The surprise was the throughly transformative overhaul I went through. For the first time I feel emotionally and physically in the same place, this is something we all want isn’t it?

Help me out here, please. I can’t do this without you.

Every single pound counts.

Watch the video on the crowdfunding site, HERE, read the story and the aims, PLEASE PRESS THE PLEDGE BUTTON – on the righthand side it’s the green button that says Screenshot 2014-06-12 09.49.47

Join me – let’s publish a photobook together.

Imagine who we could inspire.

WWA Crowdfund SLIDER

Emotional Batesian Mimicry

We often take on an emotional Batesian mimicry to survive in a “hostile” environment, taking on a behaviour we believe helps us survive, or even progress.

Thoughts While Walking In My Back Garden

I’ve been locked to my computer screen, writing and putting together the Walking With Angels Photobook so I’ve been venturing out only into my back garden for fresh air. Which has become a fascinating journey in itself, as I take pictures I can’t help thinking about their meaning, it’s a daily exercise almost; lessons learnt while in my neglected garden, so to speak.

I found this stunning hoverfly yesterday, with the most extraordinary bronze coloured head, absolutely mesmerising. The hoverfly looks like a wasp but is in fact a less villainess fly, however its Batesian mimicry of a more dangerous insect offers it protection. English naturalist Henry Walter Bates, after his work in the rain forests of Brazil, noticed harmless species mimicked a dangerous one to avoid predation.

Which got me thinking that we often take on an emotional Batesian mimicry to survive in a “hostile” environment, taking on a behaviour we believe helps us survive, or even progress.

The metaphor can’t be taken too far, but we do become like the company we keep. However we have more choice than a garden fly…


Aureate Beauty of a Peony

The peony does not know how beautiful it is, and most of us do not know how beautiful we are either, and yet I can see the sensual, tumescent, vivid beauty of the peony easily.

Thoughts While Walking in My Garden

The peony outside my window is so beautiful sometimes when I look at it I am forced to stop and wonder at the power it has to be so beautiful.

It does not know how beautiful it is, and most of us do not know how beautiful we are either, and yet I can see the sensual, tumescent, vivid, excessively elaborate and florid beauty of the peony easily.


The Aureate Beauty of a Peony

Magical Ageing of a Dandelion

When dandelions pass into old age when they become almost magical, an explosion of a hundred futures catching a wind, a playful way to tell the time, or even a wish.

Thoughts While Walking in My Back Garden

The dandelions in my neglected back garden are so intriguing and beautiful at every stage. When they are first unfurling in the warmth of the sun they do it as though every petal is feeling a ray of sunshine all of its own. Then they live in an intense full-circle of bright, yellow worship of every day.

Until they pass into old age when they become almost magical, an explosion of a hundred futures catching a wind, a playful way to tell the time, or even make a wish.

It’s such a beautiful transition, even in the rain – if you look closely – the dandelion heads are wearing a sparkling tiara of water drops. I don’t know if it’s just ageing with beauty and elegance or also an encouragement to be everything you are through the all stages of anything … we could see our ageing and the stages of our smaller challenges this way.

Wishing on a humble dandelion – in the rain.