A Tedx Talk About An Extraordinary Journey

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An extraordinary journey undertaken by a mother and her two sons which transformed each of them. Pilgrimage in action.

I tuned into Twitter at about 1 o’clock in the morning to find a Tweet from a professor at the University of Nevada who said he was showing my TEDx Talk to his students studying leadership that day, and that’s how I found out it was online.

I thought it was the most wonderful way to discover it was out there, and now I can tell you more about the event; I was utterly privileged to take part on a TEDx run by a school, that was only the second one to gain a TED license worldwide.

Sir William Perkins School run the event with the full inclusion of their students; the girls work on the event, presentation and technical side, recording all the video and audio and then editing every talk. I am so proud school children put my TEDx Talk video together, I hope you agree they are amazing.

For me to give my first TED Talk about the walk I led as a parent, with my sons, to an audience of parents and children was just fitting. To know the students were gaining so much experience directly involved in the production was so pertinent.

I am also incredibly proud it was first seen in a classroom all the way across the world from me, in Reno, Nevada. A class led by Bret Simmons, Nevada Management Professor, to his MBA class as an example of the book they’re working on, “Building the Bridge As You Walk On It: A Guide for Leading Change”, by Robert E. Quinn, the Margaret Elliot Tracey Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan.

This talk was given at a TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An extraordinary journey undertaken by a mother and her two sons which transformed each of them. Pilgrimage in action.

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.


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.

Crowdfunding, Why Should You and I Be Patrons Of The Arts?

At no time in history have we had so much direct and individual influence over what gets published and created. My deepest hope is to inspire someone to create an opportunity like this in their lives.

Bumble Bee bottom up in apple blossom, by Melanie Gow, http://www.myofficetoday.co.uk

Imagine Who We Could Inspire Together

Imagine a world where you choose the music that takes you away from it all, the art that you live with, the films and TV programs that lift the end of the day. The drama you join others in the Theatres to share emotions with, and the books you give your precious hours alone to. Imagine a world where you are the creator of the world you want to live in.

Every time you or I buy a CD or book, rent a movie, turn on the TV or go to the Theatre we are donig exactly that. As a consumer. As final users of products and or services generated within our social system.

Is this the limit of our participation in our innovative potential, our social lives, our humanity?

Art shows us who we are; it is our less than rational side, it is the reflection of our humanity. It is where we live. And artists show us our world in new ways that awaken our interest, they articulate our experiences so that we understand them better, they are the soundtrack to our lives, and the dance.

It is what we use to revive us from the routine, it is the common ground that brings us together with others, it is all our secrets. Unbound by borders, or cultures, or differences, it can travel between us all, we are unified in our creative sides. By expressing our deepest feelings in poetry or watching a film, art never fails to comfort or elevate us. Art moulds our world, and expresses our greatest strengths.

We can be consumers and buy the products that enrich our lives in this way at the end of the production process, or we can be there at the beginning and bring an idea into being. We can participate in shaping the culture we consume.

We can take part in creating a world we want to live in.

Crowdfunding is the collection of finance from backers—the “crowd”—to fund an initiative, in exchange for goods or rewards of an equal value. It’s a little like pre-sales.

At the very least, for the price of a couple of bottles of supermarket wine we can step into the innovative process and make something happen. You and I don’t have to be a Rockefeller or a Branson, or have our name on a building, to be able to fund things that lead to a direct experience or product.

What is in it for us really?

It’s not “stuff” we want, it’s the experience we desire.

At the very least, at the lowest level of reward, we will have a CD, or a book, or a film, or whatever we have helped make happen, in our hands. But it’s not just stuff, it’s the resetting of the mind, the mood, through simple notes strung together, the magic of an imagination unleashed by black letters on a white page, the heart opening up as you see a work of art or film that moves you. It’s the inspiration that we really want.

When you hold a CD it is just a 1.2 millimetres thick, polycarbonate plastic disc, it’s just a storage house. It’s what it holds that we are really interested in, the music, or moving images, or story, it unlocks; the two or three hours of elevated experience it gives us, that is what we are buying.

A book is just paper and ink, but from the cover to The End it is a magic carpet that can transform neurones and lock in new synapses.

At no time in history have we had so much direct and individual influence over what gets published and created.


Like bees gathering nectar we can make honey together. Through us joining together, crowdfunding, never have we had the power to create the world we want to live in like we do now. There is plenty of room for mainstream books, music, films, art, but there is also the chance to be involved, really involved, in making what we like happen.

With crowdfunding we have the power to get projects made, we should absolutely get in here and do it, after all it costs the same for a far greater experience; and it is the experience that feeds our less than rational sides, our human experience.

My own book raised £8,600 in pre-sales and was 172% funded.


My deepest hope is this story inspires others to create an experience like this in their lives. Because, when that happens nothing is ever quite the same again.

Flowers and Friends: Walking With Angels Talk at Norden Farm

The Walking With Angels talk at Norden Farm took on its own life. It was very gratifying to find it was “Sold Out” and 10 extra chairs had to be added, the tickets were free so we mean sold out in that every available seat was taken.

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

The Walking With Angels talk at Norden Farm took on its own life. It was very gratifying to find it was “Sold Out” and 10 extra chairs had to be added; the tickets were free so we mean that every available seat was taken.

Even lovelier, the Box Office staff really appreciated those few of you who couldn’t make it in the end calling to let them know. They told me this is very unusual with free events, and your consideration allowed those who came hoping for a space to be accommodated flawlessly.

Before the event.

I was doing last-minute Tech checks when I glanced up at the balcony above and saw a smile I couldn’t be sure was really there, as the only person I know with that smile wasn’t meant to be here. Sue is like Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, she spreads smiles like rose petals down a bridal aisle, and there she was smiling down on me.

We met on the walk in the heart of the Masetas, and stayed together to the Iron Cross when she had to leave. Sue is a florist – not surprisingly, bringing love, and joy, and flowers into the important occasions in our lives – and it was so enriching to have her to share this night with. Here we both are, next to the picture of a rose cradled by an ordinary wall because I saw that rose through her eyes when Sue took a photo of it.

Her celebration of flowers is infectious; the myth of Aphrodite tells of flowers springing up under her feet as she walked and, in essence, it is the same with Sue. She brought that one bloom alive in my heart in the instant that she noticed it with her love for it.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, Sue Stephenson and Melanie Gow

The title of the picture is Round Every Corner because there is extraordinary beauty around every corner if you look for it. No matter how hard the walk was there was always something beautiful and inspiring if you just chose to see it, even if it was only a rose blushing in the early morning light in the shelter of an ordinary wall.

The elegant simplicity of that rose and Sue’s beautiful spirit became the perfect encapsulation for that thought.

Did you know that when Aphrodite was told that her beloved Adonis was fatally wounded by a boar, she hastened to the spot and sprinkled nectar into his blood, from which immediately flowers sprang up – it may be a myth, but knowing Sue I can see why someone would be inspired to tell a story like that.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, Ben introduces the evening

The Event Opened

My admirable Teen 1 introduced the evening so competently, and against the interruptions of the general announcements over the speaker. It is remarkable that he can stand up and speak to a room full of people so inspiringly. I asked him a couple of weeks ago if he thought the walk had really had any lasting effects, he replied; “yes, I used to have a cut-and-paste patter and a mask I wore, but now I actually feel confident.”

In the audience was a friend, and fellow artist, Caroline Crawford, who is the most thoughtful and supportive woman, and an inspirational mother. Having her there was very special, it means a great deal that people want to hear this story and she brought a bunch of the most gorgeous flame coloured Ruffled tulips to remember the night by.

It was the night for flowers as my Happiness, Hope and Gratitude picture of sunflowers, which were like cheerleaders lining our way waving their pom-pom heads, was just the message someone wanted to hear. Sunflowers are said to represent enlightenment but they remind me of the Maori saying, “Face the sun and let your shadows fall behind you”.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, face the sun and let your shadows fall behind you

Two others in the audience, photographer David Wright and his stunning wife Lyd, came to the very first talk, I am really touched that they were willing to hear the story again. I can’t wait to hear theirs when they walk the camino. There were friends, family, colleagues, surprises, and supporters there, and brand new friends made through the evening. Right at the end, Teen 1 spontaneously turned and gave me a huge hug. Captured here by my generous friend, colleague, photographer and artist, Becky Young, along with all these other pictures from the night.

This is one of my favourite moments from the night.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, surprise hug from Benjamin Gow for his mother

It is wonderful to stand and tell the story to a room full of people, and the more I do it the more I really want to publish a photographic book of the walk so I can get the story to as many people around the world as possible. But, I will have to publish it independently and raise the budget – and that takes confidence.

I thought hard about an ethical way I could raise the budget in line with the values of the experience, and I believe it would be to ask for donations. This will allow people the freedom to give and at a level they are comfortable with, in exchange I am offering to send a digital version of the talk. I put the proposal on a print out, and planned to ask the audience at the end of the talk what they thought.

But, I didn’t have the confidence to ask people to help me.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, table at the back

When I was clearing away at the end I found anonymous donations in my box anyway. How extraordinary is that? It brought me up short and is as clear a message as can be.

If others are prepared to back this I am just going to have to lean into the fear and do it, as I said in my New Year’s Resolutions: “The thrill of soaring has to begin with the fear of falling”.

Thank you, I truly appreciate the confidence.

Walking With Angels at Norden Farm, by Melanie Gow, photographs by Becky Young, anonymous donations

With thanks to Norden Farm for hosting the talk, and all their support throughout the exhibition – this runs in the Gallery until the 5th of April 2014

With thanks to Becky Young for all the photographs here, and her immeasurable support.

Walking With Angels Exhibition at Norden Farm

The Walking With Angels Exhibition and Talk has opened at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, and their vision space and technician team have allowed it to expand in beautiful, and hopefully inspiring ways.

Walking with Angels Installation piece at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

This is a beautiful space to be given to create something to inspire, and it’s wonderful to see the Walking With Angels Exhibition in Norden Farm Centre for the Arts’ huge Gallery.

In the front window, as large as a billboard, is an installation piece. Because I walked with blisters for 33 days and had to sew them at 4 in the morning, leaving the thread in to drain during the day, I sewed a map of Spain with our route.

The stitches cover virtually the whole of the country and brings it home how far 800km really is.

Suspended on each side is a selection of snapshots that give a mosaic impression of the experience, hoping you will pause and take something from it that inspires you.

The Washing, Walking With Angels installation art at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

The clothes I wore every day are on the washing line in Norden Farm Centre for the Arts … it’s been called Tracy Emin meets the Von Trapp family!

It does echo the reality of having to wash your clothes every day, and show how at the end of every day when you walk into the town you hope to spend the night in you need to find a bed and wash your clothes in time for them to dry to wear them again the next day. There are also the other essentials, for me, a hat, my camera and the pilgrim shell.

These shoe are made for walking, Walking With Angels Exhibition at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

These boots were made for walking
So that’s just what they did
And one of these days they gonna
Walk all over the world telling their story …

On the way down into The Gallery space I have put the boots we walked in, including the pair of sandals that Harry walked the last 4 days in. I hope these will travel the world telling this story as it gives so much to all who connect with it, not least me.

The two backpacks, Walking With Angles Exhibition at Norden Farm for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

High above the last photographs of the collection of lessons I learned while out walking are the two backpacks I carried … the one I started with and the one I downsized to with everything in I needed for the rest of the 33 days.

The A1 piece of card, Walking With Angels Exhibition at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

Additional to the Limited Edition collection of moments depicting lessons I learned while walking is the A1 piece of card I could fit all my possessions on, with a photograph of them.

The Snapshots, Walking With Angels Exhibition, Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

Between the main Photographic Collection of lessons I learned while out walking are washing lines with snapshot stories of small fragments of the walk..

We had to wash our clothes, often by hand and once with large rounded rocks and hand soap, every day, so looking after your few possessions became a ritual that has influenced the way the stories are hung. It seems to fit with a journey too, all the moments can hang on the line of a day.

Walking With Angels Exhibition March 18th to April 5th 2014, Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, by Melanie Gow

Walking With Angels Exhibition runs from March 18th to April 5th 2014, Norden Farm Centre for the Arts

With a talk on the 27th of March at 7.30pm in The Gallery