Walking With Angels Photobook

A beautiful 94 page, full-colour coffee table book, illustrated throughout with photographs woven together by the story. It is a return to the luxury experience of opening a book and immersing yourself.

Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow, Cover

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A beautiful 94 page, full-colour coffee table book, illustrated throughout with photographs woven together by the story. The book is bound in a high-quality cotton-based hardcover, around reams of silk paper printed with real pigment ink and sewn together. With elegantly coloured end papers and wrapped in a perfect-fitting dust jacket, it is a beautiful return to the luxury experience of opening a book and immersing yourself.

“Through her eyes, we learn to appreciate the sublime in the undistinguished, the divine in the benign.  In short, we learn to see the world differently…

Walking With Angels is more than just a photobook, however. In this gorgeous volume, words are deployed to equal, if not greater, effect than pictures. Her distinctive, fluid prose frames every shot, harmoniously elevating the whole to an altogether different level.” Book Batter Review

Read the full review here… 

 
“Wow. Your book is amazing! Well done to you Harry and Ben! I was awoken by the postman dropping it loudly through the door making the dog bark, and so brought it back up to bed. I had intended to flick through it quickly before I got showered. 1hr and 45min later and I’ve turned the last page. Feel like I have laughed, smiled and wiped a tear along with you. What a beautiful, inspirational book! Thank you!” Harriet Burgham
 
“I thought I would just read the first page, save a proper look for a cup of tea and the sofa this afternoon, however a chapter in and I had to force myself to close the cover as I was already both engrossed and awed by the reality of your undertaking.”
Cheryl Martin
 
A book is all it takes to spark a dream – and this one has been created with the greatest love and care to stir the embers of yours.

148 very wonderful people backed a crowd-funding campaign 172% to make this possible.

 

Imagine What Could Change If We Give Our Children The Space To Decide What Kind Of Adults They Want To Be

This was the last time I saw my boys.
The next time I saw them, they were men.

This scene of two boys walking off down an ordinary backstreet in the middle of nowhere in particular seems unremarkable, but it holds the story of a life-changing moment.

Six kilometres out from Carrión de los Condes, down a side street in Villalcázar de Sigra, we stopped in a little bar for a much-needed drink. I felt like I had been walking since the 13th century; we had been getting up at 4.30am every day for me to sew the blisters on my feet, leaving the thread in to drain the fluid during the day, and setting off before the dawn to cover 30km before the midday heat.

I was grateful for a break. When I stood up to get back on the road again, there was a searing pain in my knee so sharp I sat right back down again.

Next to our table was an advertising board with a taxi number on it. Harry looked at me sideways and said, “Maybe it’s a sign.”

Amused that he used this to his advantage, I gave in and agreed we’d take a taxi. Both my sons turned to me and said: “No, you’re taking a taxi, we’re walking.”

This was the last time I saw my boys.

The next time I saw them, they were men.

Eighteen months ago, on that ordinary Tuesday night when we sat down with a plate of sausage and mash with gravy in front of a DVD and 123 minutes later the boys stood up and said they wanted to walk 800km to Santiago de Compostela, this is what I wanted to make happen for them.

That night we had put on The Way, a film by Martin Sheen that is essentially about a handful of middle-aged people walking and talking.

It is a fictionalized account of a man who walks this 9th century pilgrimage, known as The Camino, after his son dies in the attempt; and the stories of those he meets on the journey. As the end credits rolled both boys just knew they wanted to walk it, and we had to do it together. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that before, where you’ve just had to do something. No reasons why and no rational explanation, you just want to do it.

Watching them walk away, I realised that this was why I had walked all this way.

Nothing quite prepares you for watching your sons grow up in front of your eyes; knowing you will never quite be the same person again.

I could never have imagined I would watch them do it. When I woke up that morning there was no indication that this would be the day. As I bought three bottles of soft drink from the bar, it never crossed my mind that it was going to happen right then.

It’s extraordinary how some significant moments are so quiet you would hardly know they were there.

As a parent, we want to conjure a wind underneath our children’s wings, not so they can fly but for them to soar high with passion and joy. I have no end of failings as a mother but in walking away they showed me I had done all right, and I understood that this was the reason I had come on this walk. I was truly at my happiest.

When they left me in that bar to set off for a town, they had no more information than the name of a refuge I would try and get us into. The town wasn’t an easy one, it was moderately large and our accommodation was off the main street, tucked down a side road. I resisted the temptation to tell everyone to keep a look out for them and decided to let them figure it out…
And they did.

singing nuns of Carrion de los Condas, Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

That evening we met up again in the simple reception of the convent refuge, with the singing Augustinian nuns, the gorgeous singing nuns from Columbia. Strangely moving and yet absurd. When they sang Amazing Grace, even the strongest cynic would have folded.

After this the guys went to sit outside a bar in the sun and called my sons over to join them. They had their first boys’ night out with the best men, from a dozen different backgrounds, men with values and a sense of wonder and fun, who treated my sons as equals.

You don’t get your first boys’ night out again, so I left them to enjoy the banter and the sangria they were being bought and wandered off to the church, as I had heard it was worth visiting.

It turned out there was a service for the feast day of The Assumption, a significant day in the Catholic calendar celebrating the belief that Mary was taken into heaven without having to live out her natural life, because she was the mother of Christ.

The priest gave a sermon that I could understand every word of for some reason, about the importance of mothers and the grace of the relationship between mother and child.

This sermon on this day was a powerful coincidence.

By the time the softly-spoken, Columbian nun accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar, singing, “Everything Changes Except Love”, I was in tears.

When that sweetly-smiling nun went on to give a speech about Hope and started handing out little paper stars the sisters had cut out and coloured in while praying for us, I gave in and cried – for the next three days. With pride for my sons, gratitude, joy, relief, a feeling of coming home to myself.

Imagine what could change if we give our children the space to decide what kind of adults they want to be; because nothing will ever be the same again.

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The Confession

The Confession: any time I spend with this picture reminds me of the man who dared to be vulnerable.

The Confession, I asked the man from Barcelona if he'd had his moment? He said no. "I am dry", he said.

I met a man; a young and handsome man from Barcelona. It was the day after the singing nuns, and my public display of weeping, and he was amused by me.

He was cool and sophisticated, shaped by the cynicism of the world. Hardened by real life, doubtful of possibility, distrustful of sincerity.

He asked me to explain why I had cried.

Endearingly, when I finished telling him he simply replied that he hoped to have such a moment.

I met him again at the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross), one of The Camino’s most emblematic points. It is where you place your stone traditionally and leave all it represents behind. Many leave something meaningful at its base with their deepest wishes. People watch the sun rise, go through the rituals, and turn and hug those they know, hoping their wishes come true for them.

He was supposed to leave at León after five days, but he stayed on the road and I met him again here in the church at the top of the highest peak before the descent into Santiago.

We happened to be standing by the confessional box under a small window set in the deep, protective walls, when I asked him if he’d had his moment?

He said, “No. I am dry.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. I didn’t know how to respond and simply said, “Interesting”.

He said, “I don’t think it’s interesting, I think it’s sad.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. We caught sight of each other along the road occasionally, and I saw his face grow softer and his eyes sparkle more each day.

He arrived in Santiago the same morning we did. I came down the stairs of the pilgrim’s office and saw him below me in the line for his certificate of completion, the Compostela. I stepped up to him.

It was all there between us in that moment, unsaid.

He burst into tears.

We hugged for the longest time!

For me this very small story describes the big picture… perhaps.

You Are Here. Now.

When I look at this picture I feel a sense of being here, now. The past is behind, you can not see the future, you are simply right here, now.

You Are Here, Now. 1/14 in the Walking With Angels Collection, by Melanie Gow.

There is no way to tell what it took to get here, and from here you could not see what was around the corner. I was simply here, now. The misshapen memories of injuries of a thousand yesterdays and the lure of any tomorrows were made powerless in the deep breath of the present.

No four kilometres is like any other four kilometres, and you don’t always know where you are going. You have to make decisions in the moment all day, every day, and keep moving even though your muscles ache and your back bows in submission to the endurance. Imagine what weft of extremes a day can weave through.

An Urban Dome Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

One morning we got up at 5am to leave Burgos, a grand, robust city that gave birth to the conquering military prowess of a man like El Cid, and The Burgos Laws, which first governed the Spanish treatment of Native Americans in 1512.

For five perfect minutes we sat on a cold, dewy bench under a street lamp, eating the best ham and cheese pasty we have ever tasted, piping hot, straight from the baker’s tray. Then we spent nearly three hours walking to get beyond the grip of the city, around the banks of overpasses, through tunnels of graffiti, under power lines, and along train tracks.

There is no way to understand how hard it is to walk out of a city until you have to do it. The energies of the infrastructure that fuels a city generates a foul gloom. We were in very bad moods, bickering, and struggling in a fetid air that surrounded us like a ground mist. We had to put cloth across our faces to breathe through the smell; because you cannot escape anything quickly when you are walking. I had a headache.

Then suddenly we moved past the adversity of tall towers carrying electricity overhead and the electrified tracks and cables encircling the city boundary, and crossed a low bridge over a shallow stream. A small patch of sunflowers greeted us, the track turned a soft white and our mood lifted. It was as though we had passed beyond an invisible urban dome.

This is where the magic really started to happen.

We were facing six days on the Meseta Central – a plateau in the heart of peninsular Spain. It’s a 240 kilometre walk across flat, dry, wheat fields interrupted by the occasional town. No shade, no breeze, just hot, arid and relentless horizons.

People talked about this stage for days before, many skip this part, most of the people we met so far were taking the train round it.

Its tough reputation is legendary, so hard I thought maybe I was being careless taking the boys into it. The night before, I was still debating whether we should do it, particularly when we found out there was no public transport out of the area for the next three days.

The boys said they were prepared for it, so we decided we would go…

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The air is thick with heat and wheat dust, kicked up by the reaping, threshing, winnowing combine harvester rotors.

There was an endlessness about the horizon and an immediacy about the details at your feet; the walk seemed both relentless and ever-changing at once.

It is a remarkable feeling to face nothing.

The silence is a pressure at first.

But slowly the land and the heat won out against the noise, and we fell into a companionable silence. In that expanse of nothing every pulse of internal driving force was uninterrupted, a place of profound peace that allows you to narrow your life down to that heartbeat.

You begin to recognise habitual patterns of thinking, and this allows you to respond in new ways; in this relaxed state the mind is clear and you connect with a deeper sense of purpose and appreciation of all the small things which give life real meaning.

You walk in the heat for a long time, your mind is taken down the empty road ahead, your thoughts have the silence in which to be heard in, and they crowd your head. You can talk to distract yourself, but ultimately you walk alone with only your thoughts.

For hours … and then slowly you can even let your thoughts go silent … and a lasting peace is found inside.

 White Stone Climbing, Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

You can feel your core growing stronger, and that makes you feel like you are carrying less emotional weight. After all the silly games are played and you walk into the end of the day, the dogs stop barking and chasing their tails and lie down, and the evening stretches and reaches down deep inside you to open a space in which you can hear the Earth whisper.

 

Whenever I remember that day I immediately feel that sense of being in the now; of the past being behind, you can not see the future, at this moment you are simply right here, now.


My Prawns Are Broken

The city seemed exhausted by the job of keeping up the performance of serving endless expectations and the anticipations of countless dreams.

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To Cizur Menor

We set off in the dark. And the cool.

Someone at dinner last night had told us to be careful of getting lost in the dark, and we did have to back track, double check and at one point we went for a while without seeing a sign but then there was a large one right ahead.

It wasn’t till we hit the road and only saw signs for Pamplona that our first doubt crept in. But Pamplona was where we were heading, so we trusted we had to end up where we needed to be. A little later we saw some reassuring pilgrims. However, they were stepping onto our path from the actual pilgrim’s path. We learnt, It took us a couple of days to realise the large signs are cycling signs.

Harry remarked that this time we’d been lucky, Ben pointed out we used our heads too though.

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We were back on The Way and it was a gorgeous narrow track that rose up from the fields high into the hills above.

Suddenly an anxious woman appeared on the path ahead who asked us if we had passed anybody in the last hour or so. To be honest, I was slowing so most people were passing us and we hadn’t.

A little while later we met a man on his knees on the ground, in tears, with that same woman impatient hovering around him. We managed to gather that he had lost his companion, and didn’t know if they were ahead or behind, or indeed safe.

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About an hour later Ben asked if Harry was alright? He seemed sad. He was ahead of us again, and then he stopped. By the time we got there he was crying. His arms hurt from the backpack on his sunburn he said, so I took it off him and Ben covered his arms in lotion. Endearingly our little stubborn, hard-head, who had been impatient, and sometimes judgemental of Ben softened under the care, responded to both of us being there for him.

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He stayed close to us for the rest of the walk into Arras. He asked me if I was OK carrying his pack and, seeing how well he was doing, I told him my legs were a little broken but my mind was Kung Fu Panda strong. But, in truth I was glad to see the end of the trail turn into a bridge to Arras as I was beginning to lag behind.

On our way into the town we saw a very old man bent over shuffling up the street, and staggering into the wall he was walking along. A young man leapt up from his coffee to help.

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Watching him I realised I had slowed to a shuffle and I was in pain. It really took me a moment or two to realise, I really wasn’t going anywhere. It was one of the hardest things to do to turn to my son, the one I’m supposed to be there for and ask him to take back his pack. I needed help, I could no longer carry both.

The next moment the old man had collapsed, a cafe chair was brought, the local police were on the scene and we had to step out of the way for a land rover with a Red Cross on its side.

Harry had to stay till he was sure the man was OK, meanwhile I was had to find a way to the next stop. We were still in the mind set of achieving the stage set for the day. But I couldn’t walk anymore. We thought to take a taxi to Pamplona and a local lady said it was quite far away and offered to accompany us.

Then a bus passed by and we figured one would surely go to Pamplona, and our companion told us they did from right at the end of the street we were on and ran every 15 mins.

The city had a certain smell, of groomed people and dry cleaned clothes busily worn to the soundtrack of heeled shoes.

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It was also big, the marble pillars holding up the ornate gold ceilings seemed such a contrast to the trees reaching up into the open skies. We heard music for the first time in a week, it drew us like moths, but the musicians were passed like so much detritus in a day.

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The streets also seemed worn from having to hold up the lifestyle of a city, patched over with grandiose gestures.
The boys noticed the city also seemed full of old people, it is also true that it was a working day and the old are visible sitting out enjoying the sights and the life. Ben said the city seemed exhausted by the job of keeping up the performance of serving endless expectations and the anticipations of countless dreams.

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The boys didn’t like the old, like so much life living without being noticed. We talked about seeing everyone as a story, every life has been lived and has seen so much, and to see the courage old age takes.

I know I am trying to bank memories with them to keep me warm on that stoop, I just hope they are there and remember we once had a story.

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We decided to leave Pamplona, I got up from a coffee break and walked to the toilet like an old woman bent over and staggering.

We took the bus to the end of the day.

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We ended up at Mirabelle’s in Cizur Menor. An utterly unremarkable place run by an extraordinary woman who peers out from under the brim of a baseball cap to assess you as you walk in with uncanny accuracy.

She has her routine as she sing- songs her way through the “hot drinkings and cold drinkings and Wi-Fee [sic]…” Then she told me to bring my boots at 6pm and she would fix my feet.

She also mentioned that we could get our backpacks transported to the next stop for free on condition we stayed at the sister Albergue at the next stop. In fact the service was available for the next two days.

Which is exactly what I had been secretly wishing the whole bus ride here.

And we didn’t have a preference of where we stayed as we had come with no plans, willing to let each day lead us.

Maribelle tended the blisters on my feet, she had clean syringes and assured me she’d send me on with mine, doused the blisters in iodine and plastered them.

It is an incredibly humbling experience to have your feet attended to.

She then taught me how to tie my boots to keep my feet from slipping forward and causing the blisters on the balls of my feet as her father had taught her. She told us how she understood so much of what he taught her now, his wisdom earned with experience of a long life lived she was now appreciating.

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She also put sanitary pads on my insoles to absorb the sweat, its important to use night strength apparently. You can not predict what you’ll learn on any given day.

Her hostel is an absolute haven, the town is a new satellite feed to the city with very little heart, but hers is big enough for all.

We found out later she sees each day as a puzzle that she tries to solve by placing people carefully together in her dormitories.

It was a tough call, especially as it would cause us to have to make up a day somewhere, but I had to have a rest day.

Those Little Voices were still yakking away in the background with their schedules and benchmarks and bars, and Harry was upset with me. He had grown fond of the people we’d travelled with and didn’t want to lose them. It was then that we asked him what the real reason was that he was crying that day.

It turns out he’d made a small connection with the Italian who lost his friend and really felt horrible for him. It made him realise what it would have been like if he’d lost us over the Pyrenees, and he was the one who had hoped this experience would bind us further yet was the one who had been impatient.

We saw the Italian in the restaurant we went to for dinner that night and were able to ask him if he had been reunited – happy to report a happy ending.

Having made the decision to stay we were up late, past 9pm and Maribelle told us about her time in London and how she loved the church because she could hear beautiful music for free. And she loves ballet.

She also said she has learnt not to judge people and what she sees most on The Camino is loneliness, “many lonely people walk the Comino because there is a sense of connection or even connections that are real, and it is safe. Many old people walk it for these reasons.”

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PS Harry was still agitated with the pull between those we had been travelling with and my need to take a day out. We could only get him give in to it by suggesting perhaps we were to going to meet those we were meant to meet for the next stage.

That turned out to be possibly true.

It’s been a day of contrasts and clashing needs.

PPS I’ve been telling everyone all day “my legs are broken” in Spanish, ie “me gambas es roto” .. Until I remembered; gambas means prawns!

Yup! Everyone was confused.

I am a broken woman..

But First It Grounds You.

We made it to the 4km point despite travel fatigue, 31 degree heat and pounding hearts. We were surprised at how we’d underestimated this. This grounds you.

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I thought it was ninja parent thinking to break up the first leg into two: an aperitif and a main.

After 16 hours of travel, changing trains, tubes and busses, across two days to get there, I figured we’d take on only 8km for our first climb.

The view featured in the photograph is what I had been aiming for. I imagined our first drink together on the balcony over hanging the mountainside. A quiet celebration of the start of the merry road to Santiago.

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As we stamped in at the pilgrims post in St Jean Pied de Port, Catherine, our pilgrim registrar, said, “some of it you climb with your hands up the rocks!” So we were wise to get to the Orisson Albergue and take two days, she said.

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We just took note of the directions out of the village, filled a water bottle, smiled at the shell shapes everywhere and set off with new walking sticks.

The first 4km took us fifty minutes. The first 4km brought out our idea of our roles, we walked different speeds and battled our expectations of how it should be.

We made it to that point despite sheer travel fatigue, 31 degree heat and pounding hearts. We were surprised at how much we’d underestimated things. But, we looked at each other and told ourselves we had this.

We just had to take it easy, right? We stopped to admire the view, we heard the cow bells, we did appreciate what we were walking in. But, the physical challenge became all consuming.

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The next 4km took us 2 hours and 10 minutes and began a roller coaster of emotions and experiences we could not have ever predicted.

Our different strengths came out, but so did our weaknesses.

Our 12yo managed it with ease, but also with impatience. Our Teen struggled physically, but defaulted to martyrdom to his own detriment. I was just between keeping us together.

Then came the point when we had to use our strengths, but take a leap. Harry had to go ahead to the Albergue, into the hills of France looking for something with no “map” (it is clearly sign posted and there are no other tracks). While I had to “drop pack” and go back for our Teen.

A sore on his toe was opening up and by the time we got back up to my pack it was obvious he was going to struggle, so I had to double-pack it.

At this point the path decided to climb a little more sharply. It rises from 300 above sea level to 700 in 5km.

I had to stop looking ahead as the sight of yet steeper twists played on my mind. I loved the view, every single time I had to stop for breath. I also had to focus on taking one step in front of the other, with Ben.
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Suddenly we came out on a road for a moment, and a car was coming round the corner. With no idea how far there was left, there was a nano second to make a decision. I stuck out my thumb.

The driver took Ben. Which left me alone, double-packing, in a fading light. Sometimes there is nothing for it but to get on with it.

I looked up and all I could see was hills rising ahead of me with a single track winding like a drunk’s road home. It’s shockingly dispiriting.

The next thing I saw was Harry running back for me.

I knew he’d made it. He was safe. It couldn’t be far as he was running, and that Ben had arrived.

The albergue is tucked around a corner on the east side of a ridge. With a view down over the Huntto area. Even as we walked to it I asked Harry if he meant where I thought he said, and he said his heart had sunk too when all he could see was the hillside rise above him.

The terrain is deceptive, you can be just around the corner from where you want to be and not know it. Right about now Harry said he was going to get fed up with metaphors.

For the next hour our elation slammed into the apathy of the Albergue staff.

They’ve seen every story. Everybody passes through, once, Pilgrims are inflated day trippers. And we were late. An extension to the day, another coin for the shower to dispense, another bunk to point to. Another soup to serve before the kitchen could close.

We sat on the bench outside to eat unceremoniously, in clothes you literally could wring sweat out of. Our astonishment tumbled out over the relief, in between noticing how good the bean soup tasted.

We had nothing but admiration for our 12yo, whilst being properly trounced by him, we’re deeply proud of him all at once.

Harry was the one we thought we’d have to carry, and he took on the mountains like a Capra.

We bathed him in his rightful acknowledgement. Then Ben’s body went into a mild shock and he threw up.

And then threw up again. And so the night was shaped.

He had to bunk down in communal digs, quietly exhausted and shaking. Harry had to accept there was no light to sit and chat by.

And I had to go to bed knowing that our plan to only do 10 or 12kms the next day, to “pace” ourselves, was not possible. There is nothing but more of the Pyrenees for the 20km between where we were and where we were going.

Compulsory check out was 7am

Our next day turned out to be the most extraordinarily testing day we’ve ever put ourselves through, but I don’t have enough wifi to tell you about it ..

So I’ll leave you with a beautiful panoramic of our first view as we left in the morning.

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PS. Tina, this is for you. In between the violent vomiting, sweat and fatigue we didn’t raise much of a glass of anything – but the thought was there in my mind. Thank you.