Wander Woman: A Travel Podcast

I, Pilgrim

December 05, 2023 Phoebe Smith Season 2 Episode 3
Wander Woman: A Travel Podcast
I, Pilgrim
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Want to escape the chaos of the festive season? Join Phoebe Smith as she undertakes a micro-pilgrimage in Sussex, England, on the recently discovered Old Way. But here's the twist - although she's joined by 15 others they walk in complete and total silence... As a non-religious soul, Phoebe wonders what brings people to complete a pilgrimage and learns the value of time spent outside without speaking a single word. The event was run by the British Pilgrimage Trust whose motto is BYOB (Bring Your Own Beliefs) and people definitely did...

Also coming up:
Learn how to Beat the Blisters with our expert Travel Hack of the Month; Discover the 10 best pilgrim paths around the world; meet the BBC Correspondent and Barrister, turned nuns - turned tour guides who mapped out a series of 'Caminos' in their native Northern Ireland; Discover the joys of walking poles in our regular gear section; Gen up on Canada's Ojibwe Spirit Horses, a rare and endangered breed - and the woman working to save them; and be left in awe by our Wander Woman of the Month - Egeria  aka the world's first pilgrim.

www.Phoebe-Smith.com; @PhoebeRSmith

Speaker 1:

On this month's Wonder Woman podcast. I escape the chaos of the festive season to undertake a micro pilgrimage in Sussex, England, in complete and total silence. I also chat to Trina Simard, founder of the Indigenous Solstice Festival in Canada's capital, Ottawa, and saviour of the rare Ojibwe spirit horse.

Speaker 2:

We met the ponies and I just kind of came home and said to my team I might have bought us four Ojibwe spirit horses.

Speaker 1:

And I catch up with a former barrister and a former BBC journalist, turned nuns, turned tour guides in Northern Ireland, who discovered an ancient Camino that follows in the footsteps of St Patrick.

Speaker 3:

Instead of interviewing politicians, I was inclined to think God, this person needs a lot of prayer.

Speaker 1:

Also coming up. My regular travel hack reveals how you can beat the blisters when doing a long walk. Bring your own beliefs or none at all on ten of the best pilgrim paths around the world and find the perfect pair of walking poles in my regular gear slot. Finally, I'll be revealing this episode's Wander Woman of the Month, the traveller whose name is lost in the history books. You're listening to the Wander Woman podcast, an audio travel magazine with me, adventurer Phoebe Smith, exploring off the beaten track destinations, wild spaces, wildlife encounters and the unsung heroes behind conservation efforts. Come wonder with me. What you're listening to is me undertaking a silent walk? Walking without talking may not seem like a big deal certainly not if you're on your own, but I wasn't alone. I was walking with 15 other people, yet no words passed between us. This wasn't because there'd been a big fallout. This was a purposeful hushed hike, a day-long silent stroll led by the British Pilgrimage Trust. Now, before the non-religious of you switch off, you should know that this charity's motto is 'bring your own beliefs' and, as a secular person myself, I went along a couple of weeks before Christmas, amid the consumerist throes of the festive season, out of curiosity. Before we fell silent. I met Abigail Rowe, one of the charity's trustees, who came up with the idea of a guided silent pilgrimage, and I asked her why.

Speaker 4:

And I thought for me, what would I really like? So it's a very selfish thing. What would I really like out of a walk that has a meaning, because that's really. You know, pilgrimage is a meaningful walk and actually I thought the silence, because you're at one with yourself, you're at one with nature, the lovely bird songs. You're much more aware of what's going on around you. When we get to West Stoke Church, for example, we'll sit and have a picnic in silence and it makes you look around the church and absorb what's going on. And there's a memorial there to World War I, young men who died from the village, and you think it's not even a village, it's a hamlet. You think that must have. The whole hamlet must have been eradicated of young men. And so it's really, it's very powerful having being able to take everything in with no distractions.

Speaker 1:

The route would follow a 13 kilometre or eight mile section of the Old Way, an ancient pilgrim trail rediscovered by the British Pilgrim Trust nearly 10 years ago, when founders Will Parsons and Guy Hayward noticed a red line on the Gough map one of the oldest maps of Britain, circa 1360, which seemed to connect churches and holy places. Since then the BPT has worked to re-establish the walking route, and this section we would tread was a day's walk from a small church called St Mary's at Stoughton in rural West Sussex to the historic cathedral in the centre of Chichester. But before we hiked I went to meet the pilgrims to ask their name and why they'd come on this cold December morning.

Speaker 5:

My name's Catherine Madden and I've come to refocus really about what Christmas is all about. I think really time out from home to focus on those things that don't really matter about Christmas, you know, and focus on those things that do. I think.

Speaker 6:

My name's Lincoln. I'm from the Isle of Wight. It's just a chance to detach myself from the day-to-day grind and just take some time out just before Christmas, Maybe recharge my spiritual batteries, I think.

Speaker 7:

Jose, I come from London. I'm originally from Mexico. You want the honest answer. My wife would like to be here walking, but she couldn't come, so she sent me.

Speaker 4:

So you're going to report back to her.

Speaker 7:

Oh, yes, she really likes to be outside, but unfortunately we look after children so she couldn't come. So she said oh, come on, you go for me and tell me how it is like.

Speaker 4:

And are you looking forward to the silence?

Speaker 7:

I do yes.

Speaker 1:

Have you done a pilgrimage before? Yes, and are you Catholic, are you religious or spiritual?

Speaker 7:

Well, I'm Catholic, I'm religious. Yes, yeah, pilgrimage is something that is in our tradition, as well as in the family.

Speaker 1:

So some did define themselves as religious or spiritual, others, perhaps more like me, just wanted a nice walk.

Speaker 8:

Alex de Winton and I live in Fithleworth in West Sussex.

Speaker 1:

And what attracted you to this pilgrimage today?

Speaker 8:

Walking, being outside, obviously, and silence during a very busy time. And are you worried about the silence or are you really looking forward to it? I'm looking forward to it, but it will be interesting because I am actually quite a chatty person and I'm also surrounded by people, so it will be different, but I'm looking forward to having a bit of head space actually.

Speaker 1:

There was a woman called Nancy who wanted to walk in a group but not feel the pressure to chat. Another Mary who had recently had a health diagnosis and wanted space and time to contemplate it. Then there was serial pilgrim walker Sarita, who'd already completed a handful of holy trails before. And then there was Sally.

Speaker 5:

I'm a gay regular church goer, so there are sort of thoughts about that that I think will crop up during the day, about inclusion and exclusion and how we fit in and how we don't fit in.

Speaker 1:

This group of strangers, who had come from all over with very different reasons for being here, were united inside the church and blessed by the Reverend Lindsay Yates.

Speaker 9:

It's also a season of expectancy. It's about looking for and expecting signs of God's kingdom or a better world. It's a season of great optimism, and so, as you walk to Chichester today, I hope you may be made more and more aware of the goodness that's all around us, the goodness within yourselves, and the many blessings that we share.

Speaker 5:

Speaker 9:

Whatever the intention you've chosen for today. I pray that you will have the space to engage with it as you make your pilgrimage to the cathedral together.

Speaker 1:

The intention that Lindsay spoke of was an item that Abigail had asked us to pick up in the church yard before we left A twig, a leaf, anything we wanted. It was to be a symbol of something we were metaphorically carrying with us on our journey A thought, a person, a memory. I had just parted ways with a very dear friend for many complicated reasons, and chose the spiky husk of a beach-nut to keep in my pocket. Just before we left to complete silence, Abigail wanted to read us a poem.

Speaker 4:

What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows. No time to see when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. No time to see in broad daylight streams full of stars, like skies at night. No time to turn at beauty's glance and watch her feet how they can dance. No time to wait till her mouth can enrich that smile her eyes began A poor life. This is if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.

Speaker 1:

And with that we were off. Without the conversation and small talk a group walk usually brings, we heard everything the leaves rustling under our boots, the puddles squelching, the birds singing, and everyone jumped when the pheasant startled us. We wandered up to a nature reserve called Kingley Vale and the perhaps fittingly named Devil's Humps, a trio of burial mounds on the highest point, before plunging into the woodland that is home to some of the oldest yew trees in England. These were once used as gathering places by druids, worshipped by pagans, used to make longbows for battle by the church, and these particular ones are also believed to hold the deceased souls of the Viking soldiers who were defeated. Here At West Stoke Church, we stopped to eat our sandwiches inside the building under the glow of candlelight. Then the centurion way led us into Chichester, where the sound of the birds and the hedgerows were replaced by the more raucous calls of the seagulls, backed by the roar of passing cars. On arrival to Bishop's Gardens, abigail motioned for us to throw our intentions from the old city walls into the now darkened night. We arrived at the cathedral in time for even song, and it was a glorious way to break the silence, hearing a single voice become joined by many there.

Speaker 11:

I was eager to hear my choir's excited conversations about how they enjoyed their sight.

Speaker 1:

It was absolutely fantastic having those few hours of silence.

Speaker 8:

Did you find it hard or did you go by quick? I found the first five or ten minutes, quite strange. It felt a bit unfriendly because normally you'd be saying, oh, who are you and why are you here, you know? But so I was just saying to the others I was quite aware of everybody's, the noise everybody was making walking, and then I was like I'm going to go and get a little bit of a break. And then it was then, that was it. Then it was normal and really nice. It was great. Did you get much thinking done? Yes, but not too much, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's good. I like to say you think of everything, but also nothing.

Speaker 10:

Absolutely yeah, that's yeah well put, it's the first pilgrimage I've ever done and I love the fact it was silent. I loved having all that time to contemplate and really work through two things I wanted to think about which I really felt feel I've come in a lovely circle.

Speaker 6:

Fantastic, yeah, yeah, really good, I think. Just the chance to be able to think without having constant distractions. So, yeah, that's what I enjoyed.

Speaker 12:

Superb. I think it's really critical to have time out at this time of the year, regardless of your religious beliefs, to really reflect on the importance of the season and the importance of the message. I think it's quite hard to do that unless you actually step out.

Speaker 1:

Much like the other pilgrims, I also appreciated that silent time spent in nature. It was wonderful to be with others without needing to say a single word to them. I'm also glad I got space to think about the friend I'd had the privilege to know and now, like my beach nut, had been lost to the darkening light Over the holiday season. It can all get a bit much for us all, with expectations, to be or act a certain way, and it can be difficult remembering those who we have lost. But by silently walking, worshipping at the altar of the outdoors instead of at the tills at the stores, can remind us that the best things in life aren't things. That was me walking through the wilds of Sussex with the British Pilgrimage Trust, a charity who is helping people rediscover lost pilgrim paths and encourage everyone to bring their own beliefs. Undertaking a walk in silence, whether linking churches or not, certainly felt like a pilgrimage into nature and into myself. If you get caught up in the madness of modern day life, I urge you to try it. You won't make any noise, but the nature that surrounds you will speak to you loud and clear. Now, whether or not you're religious, there is one thing that everyone experiences on a long walk. And that is blisters. Want to know how to avoid them. Listen up for my travel hack of the month. Everything about blisters is horrible the fluid filled sores sting if you burst them and hurt if you don't. And the fact that when you get them, more often than not, both mentally and physically, you still do have the energy to walk on, but the pain in your feet keeps stopping you. But there are several things you can do to beat the blisters when hiking. Listen up. First up preparation is key. Make sure your walking boots or shoes are well fitting and comfortable. Unless they're made of leather, they shouldn't need breaking in, but it's a good idea to wear them a bit first to make sure there are no areas that will rub. If there are, remove them, file them down and consider returning the footwear, as if it starts to just be a little bit annoying first, it will definitely end up with a blister on a very long walk. Next, think about socks. Some people swear by a thin pair than a thick one. Personally, I opt for just one well fitting, medium thickness walking sock. The main thing is to look out for areas where a well worn pair may be wearing a bit thin, for example at the heel or back of your foot. If they do, it's actually these bits that can cause blisters. So check your socks before you start on a long stroll. For those prone to blisters, there are some oils and lotions you can apply pre-walk to stop rubbing. Stride out is one I've used and farmed works well. Others opt for talcum powder. It's all down to personal choice. There's one moment when I was walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain perhaps the world's most famous pilgrim path that I will never forget. I knew my feet were in a bad way but kept putting off doing anything about it. Then, with a single footstep, I felt a horrible sensation a pop and warm, sticky liquid seeping into my sock. And that was my first mistake. I ignored it, I did nothing, and so to my next tip. The first sign of a blister is a hot spot forming. As soon as you feel this slight discomfort, stop and do something about it. Take your sock off and allow your feet to cool and dry. Add some mole, skin or blister plaster, ifen compied effective if a little challenging and warmer weather, and even duct tape which can prevent further rubbing. If it's too late and the blister is there, then it's a real debate on whether to pop or not. If I'm on a long, multi-day hike, I always pop, but be sure to do this with a sterilised needle. You can heat it in the flame of a camping stove and then wipe the area with antiseptic wipes before dressing it with sterilised dressing or a blister plaster. Above all, know that blisters are part of most adventures and the more disgusting your blister woes, the better stories they make afterwards. But with a bit of know-how, you can make sure your feet are kept in good walking order. That was my Wander Woman travel hack the insider knowledge I offer every single episode to make your adventures happier and, hopefully, in this episode, pain free. And speaking of pain, my next two guests know all about this. Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly, a former BBC political correspondent and family barrister respectively, decided to quit their day jobs to become nuns. However, before they could make their final vows in 2019, their convent told them that the congregation had become too small and they would have to leave, dashing all their hopes for their future. However, rather than despair, these two women took on a project discovering lost pilgrim paths for the St Patrick Centre in down Patrick, northern Ireland. The result was a network of mini-Caminos which they visited, following in the Saints' footprints and, more than anything, learning about the history of Ireland and taking in some simply wonderful scenery along the way. I caught up with them back in 2021 to find out more. A note on the recording we had just walked that coastal Camino and I had my nine-month-old son with me in a café, so forgive the background noise.

Speaker 3:

Well, basically I was a BBC correspondent for 15 years covering the ups and downs of the peace. I covered the Good Friday Agreement. At the time I was with the Belfast Telegraph and I suppose over the years, after 20 years in journalism, I was always kind of into my faith. But I got really started to go very deep into my faith in my 40s and I started to feel that I didn't want to be a journalist anymore. I wanted to have more meaningful life. It's a great profession, but I wanted to do something for other people and I guess I got to a point where I just wanted, instead of interviewing politicians, I was inclined to think, oh, this person needs a lot of prayer. I thought this is not really for me anymore. So I thought I would do charity work and I thought that's what I was being called to, this new vocation. But to my great surprise, I ended up being a sister of adoration, because I went. The deeper I went, the more I felt that God's asking for more, and so I went on retreat and it was around the end of March 2014. I had been to Washington covering the White House and I thought I had a sense it would be my last time covering the St Patrick's Day celebrations and I just made up my mind on retreat that, yes, this is what I wanted. I wanted to give my life to God and I had this great sense of joy and I had thought I would go to South America or join an apostolic order. But when I started to, I went to pray at the adoration convent on the Falls Road. My mum used to go there all the time and I'd never been inside it. I had planned to go to Zambia to work as an aid worker, but when I started to pray at the adoration convent, that's where I realised that I was called and I went to Zambia. You didn't need to go anywhere else. No, I went to Zambia to fulfill my commitment and it was great, but, yeah, that was where I felt very fulfilled and very happy and was able to pray for the politicians.

Speaker 13:

And what Martina and I were concerned about as well, and also Tim, that this would be an authentic St Patrick's experience. So we knew that people would be interested in the walking and the beauty of the area and we also wanted to make sure that they would be introduced to Patrick, his history, his legacy, obviously what he was about and why he did what he did. And when you put together the beauty of the area, the location, everything and also the history of the walking, there's something for everyone. We have Christians who walk our route of all faiths, of all natures, with non-Christians. We have those of no faith, with atheists, with humanists, all are welcome. Because there's something for everybody on it. And we do get a great sense of camaraderie with people when they're walking. And I'll give you one story very quickly. There was one lady and her husband who came on the canoe and they came for a special occasion and I met them at the point we were about to canoe and I could see the lady was a bit tense and I knew it was nothing to do with anything to do with anyone here. I just wondered why she was so tense. But anyway, she got on the canoe with a puss and then she wasn't too keen on it. But I have to tell you, see, by the time she got off she was a free woman, she was a different woman, she was liberated by the experience, by the canoeing, by finding out that she could do it.

Speaker 3:

I would say I'm an accidental pilgrim guide because when I wrote the passport I thought well, here's your passport, go like you, phoebe, and have a good time. You don't need me. But the center wanted, felt that people needed to be guided, and so Elaine and I agreed, kind of once our pictures, I think, were already on the website we agreed we'd do it and we're enjoying it. It's a great way to kind of pay the rent.

Speaker 13:

And then one thing I would add, whenever we were sent out as pilgrim guides, I said to my you know, it felt like I was, you know, one of the chicks. The mother eagle on the top of the cliff takes her chicks and throws them out, and then you just got to flap and you got to survive. She swoops in underneath to pick up anybody, but on the pilgrim way. I have to say I find it's also been so healing for me and it's helped me to recover, especially after having to leave the sisters which I loved, which was difficult to leave, and having had that experience, which has been ongoing, has just been so healing for me.

Speaker 1:

It has it really has been. That was Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly who, not long after my interview with them, had their prayers answered and were accepted by Poor Clare Monastery in Ireland, where they can finally take their vows. I wish them the best of luck with their new lives and thank them for their work introducing me to several beautiful walks in Northern Ireland. But, as we know, there is a whole world out there of wonderful walks to discover, some ancient and related to specific saints, others brand new and more spiritual than religious. No matter your persuasion, they're really something quite addictive about exploring pilgrim paths, and our planet is blessed with some truly remarkable specimens. So listen up, wayfarers, to this episode's top 10 pilgrim hikes. Starting off at number 10 is the Camino de Santiago in Spain, perhaps the most famous pilgrim is route in the world, but in fact it's not just one trail but a whole network of them that have been mapped across Europe since the 10th century for those congregating on the relics of St James in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. The most travelled of all of them is the last 100 kilometres of the Camino Frances. I've walked the 130 kilometres between Samos to Santiago and it still remains one of the most defining hikes of my life. At nine we're in the Peruvian Andes, the final destination of the pilgrimage. The Chapel de S, high above the sacred valley of the Incas near Cusco, is one of the most spectacular places anywhere on earth, but for the thousands of pilgrims who make the hike, it's the miraculous healing powers from two water sources that is its understandable appeal. The last part of the hike is usually overnight, starting from just outside Cusco and taking around six hours. There is few more wonderful, not apt places in the UK where you'd want to finish a pilgrim route than Lindisfarne, known as Holy Island. In fact, our eighth entry is one of the most spiritual or inspiring places I've ever visited, and I hold no strong religious beliefs. St Cuthbert's Way is a 100 kilometre route between Malrose and the Scottish borders to the Northumberland coast, where you'll have to await the tide to cross the causeway barefoot. To Lindisfarne At seven is a pilgrim route with a difference. There is no destination in undertaking a circumambulation around Mount Kailash in Tibet, otherwise known as walking the Yatra, but it is one of those pleasingly pointy mountains that it is forbidden to summit, such as its religious significance in Hinduism, buddhism and Jainism. It takes three days to complete the 52 kilometre clockwise pilgrimage, earning karma and good fortune, starting and finishing in the village of Darchen At six, is the Old Way. Think of a pilgrim route in the UK and chances are the word canterbury will enter your mind. The Old Way doesn't first seem like a misnomer, given that it was only officially fully opened in 2020. However, it is properly ancient, with it being rediscovered from the goth map that was drawn in 1360. A 393 kilometre or 250 mile route meanders from modern day Southampton to Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine of Thomas Beckett. For number five, we're headed to the USA for the Sacred Door Trail. This 321 kilometre or 200 mile trail in southwestern Montana is described as non-denominational and celebrates the interdependent relationship between self, earth, community and the mystery or wonder and the sacred. For a true celebration of Mother Earth, there are few places in the world that can do it like Montana. At four, we're walking the Kumano Kodo in Japan, first trod by pilgrims more than a thousand years ago. There are six main routes, each located in the mountain south of Osaka and taking in three great shrines known collectively as the Kamano Sanzan. I recently spent three days walking the 70 kilometre route, staying in traditional homes and enjoying the hot onsen baths. It's twinned with the Camino de Santiago and so if you walk both, you become an official dual pilgrim Buen camino. At three, it's Norway, following St Olav's way through some of the country's most spectacular scenery. The 640 kilometre route starts at Oslo and finishes at the Nideros Cathedral in Trondheim, the site of St Olav's tomb, a saint who performed all manner of miracles between 995 and 1030. Highlights along the route include the Dover of Fjall Mountains and hundreds of Viking-era grave mounds. At number two, we're in Northern Ireland and the St Patrick Way's Coastal Camino. The story behind it is remarkable. As you've just heard, elaine Kelly and Martina Purdy were nuns who couldn't make their final vows because their congregation had grown too small. So during lockdown, they were asked by the Down Patrick Centre, dedicated to St Patrick, to create several St Patrick Way Caminos. The result is a series of walking routes with a coastal version that visits the point where the saint was said to have arrived in Ireland, visits a holy well where he said to have baptized converts and ends at the charming medieval port of Ardglass. And at number one, it's the North Wales Pilgrims Way. This 209 kilometre route links Basingwick Abbey near Holywell, flintshire, to Bardsey Island, a pilgrimage site where St Cadfan founded a community 1500 years ago. In the Middle Ages, two pilgrimages to Bardsey were considered as good as one to Rome, but I'm content with one. It's a route that takes in some of the best Welsh mountains and valleys, as well as connecting ancient churches and tiny villages. At the end, bardsey Island is a short boat ride away the perfect finish. That was my top 10, a collection of some of the best spiritual strolls our planet has to offer. And while the traditional image of a pilgrim is one with a single wooden staff, thankfully gear designers come a long way and there are now pairs of lightweight and travel friendly walking poles you can take with you on your travels for walks of all kinds. This episode's gear section looks at what you need to look for when buying your strolling sticks. First, up, the basics. Don't be fooled into thinking that these sticks, as some people refer to them, are for the old and infirm. When used correctly, they can reduce the impact on your knees coming downhill by around 40%. That's not to be underestimated. A friend of mine who worked as a mountain guide and volunteered for mountain rescue needed two knee replacements before he was 30. Use them as soon as possible. It's never too late. Secondly, though the figure of a pilgrim clasping a single wooden pole looks apart, don't be tempted to only hike with one. It's better than none, but two helps your joints, allows you to build up a rhythm on a flat section and move faster, and helps you keep stable when carrying a big backpack Next up. Think of weight when it comes to poles. The lighter the better, but losing grams or pounds usually means spending more cash and often means losing features such as easy to use clip locks. So be sure to pardon the pun. To weigh up the pros and cons, also consider the locking mechanism. Poles will usually be divided into two or three segments that lock together. The main types you'll encounter are twist locks they keep weight down, but can be difficult to operate with cold or wet hands. Or external clip locks, easy to use even when wearing gloves or when wet, but they do tend to add a little more weight. It's a personal choice, but I found the clips ones last a lot longer. Most good poles will be adjustable, offering a height of between 90 and 130cm. The segments will either be telescopic or foldable. Just check that the collapse size will fit in your luggage before you buy them. Perhaps one of the key parts of the pole is the handle. These can be made from cork, plastic, rubber and foam. Note that foam and cork do work better for warmer weather. The key thing to look for is cushioning and a moulded grip to make sure there's not too many blister causing indentations. Finally, the thing that makes the biggest price difference is the material they are made from. Aluminium or alloy is durable and will bend before they break, and it is cheaper but often heavier. Carbon fibre is often more expensive and if they do break they are more likely to splinter, but they can be super light and so great for travel. Whichever way you go, your knees will definitely thank you. That was my regular gear chat. I hope it helps you stride into your next adventure. Now, talking of striding, when I was in Ottawa early this year on my way to a special assignment in the Arctic more in a future episode I met an inspiring woman who has been taking leaps to educate the public in her native Ottawa about the indigenous Ojibwe people through a series of festivals and in her latest venture through introducing the sacred and endangered spirit horse to the world, truna Mother Simard explains to me her mission to help save this wild breed and why she feels a particular affinity with them.

Speaker 2:

During the pandemic, I was home and listening to this podcast of an artist, rhonda Snow, who was talking about the Ojibwe spirit horses, and I was a little blown away. So I'm Ojibwe, my daughters are very much in the equestrian world and we've owned horses and showed them most of their lives and I had never heard of these ponies and so I was like, how do I not know about this? I'm so, you know, involved in our culture and you know, teaching and sharing it, and so, when things opened back up, we went on a bit of a mission down to southwestern Ontario, to TJ Stables, where she had quite a large herd of Ojibwe spirit horses from Rhonda Snow and we met the ponies and it just kind of I came home and said to my team I might have bought us four Ojibwe spirit horses I think we're looking for a farm and you know, I just you know, I really felt that you know, meeting the horses. They're just so, you know, sacred and special, and I felt so connected to the story that we're trying to share with Canadians and visitors around the world, just about the. You know the impacts, you know what the ponies have gone through and their resilience and survival, so similar to our own story and I just felt they were a really important part of us, you know, sharing our culture and our story. And so we started. I came home and we started looking for farm opportunities and we came across that what used to be the Lone Star Ranch. So they were our wild ponies that were. You know they roamed free here all across Turtle Island in the north. They lived in our forests and, like our deer and our moose and you know our elders and communities say that, you know we very much had that kind of partnership relationship with them. So they weren't like contained or corral, but they lived with the communities and it was like a reciprocal. They would feed them in the winter in exchange, they would come to the communities and be, you know, used for transportation and you know different things like that. So, and in the 1970s, you know they were still wild but obviously they were, excuse me, a bit of a considered, a bit of a nuisance by then and they were eating crops and that and so they were being culled by the government and it went down to only four. Wow. So at one point there was only four. It's about as close to extinction as you can get. There were some men from La Cloucquois First Nation who actually rescued the last four mayors and they took them over the border, across the ice, to Minnesota and when they arrived I think everyone did assume they were mustangs and, you know, through DNA testing were able to determine that they were actually a distinct breed of horse. Unfortunately, as there was no stallions left, they did. They did bring in a wild stallion to continue the breed and there's about somewhere between 150-200 of them registered now. So still a very, very, you know, rare and endangered breed. But there is no Ojibwe horse society that is monitoring the breed and they DNA test and track and, you know, try and keep it the line as pure as possible by, you know, helping to recommend pairs to be bred and new foals and stuff. So yeah, a very important part of our history here that we almost lost in Canada and is slowly rebuilding with these ponies. They're really an amazing breed like they, you know they surprised me and the you know the first four that we got were totally unhandled, you know, like feral type horses had not had a lot of human contact and, you know, in nine months have come around to, you know, just being very engaged and, you know, wanting to interact with humans.

Speaker 1:

should care about maintaining the spirit horse?

Speaker 2:

So I think it's so important because you know I really see a great connection to our Indigenous community and you know some of the challenges we have faced through colonization that these horses you know really faced the same. You know, challenges of being displaced from their lands, they weren't valued. Because you know they're small, they're pony size, which is why you'll see them called Ojibwe spirit horses or ponies. You know they are pony size and you know, as the Spanish horses and the larger breeds were coming in, they were kind of seen, as you know, worthless, like you know they didn't have the same value as the bigger, stronger horses and you know. So I just think it's. They really have an important story to share, I think about Canada and you know the resilience and you know the new reconciliation and you know moving forward. You know they carry a very strong message.

Speaker 1:

That was the inspirational Trina Mather-Simard, who operates Madahoki Farm in Ottawa to help educate tourists and locals about the indigenous Ojibwe people through her newly rescued spirit horses. I was lucky enough to meet them when I visited, and while we shouldn't anthropomorphise animals, I have to admit they truly seem to have beautiful and unique characters. Check them out at madahokica. And already it's nearly the end of the episode, so time for me to share with you my utterly incredible Wonder Woman of the Month. I hope you've enjoyed what you've heard. Please do subscribe so you never miss an episode and please, please, please do consider leaving a review. It means so very much. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at PhoebeRSmith. Go to my website, phoebe-smithcom, where you can sign up for my occasional newsletter and get in touch with me. Now this episode. We're about to travel back in time to the fourth century, in keeping with our pilgrimage theme, to meet our Wander Woman of the Month. Imagine a line being drawn across an old parchment map, Indiana Jones style, from Gaul across northern Italy to Constantinople and then onto Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Galilee, Hebron, and imagine walking it. It's a feat that would have been remarkable at any period in history, but this was in the year 381, and the hiker or other pilgrim was a lone woman. Her name was Algeria, born in , a Roman province now thought to be around present-day Galicia in northern Spain. Historians believe she must have been from a noble family to allow her to travel without hindrance across the empire from her home in Mesopotamia, aka modern-day Iraq. Deeply religious, she seemingly decided to dedicate her life to visiting holy sites across the world as she knew it, on a multi-year pilgrimage. Not only that, but while doing so she wrote her travels down in a book translated as the Travels of Egeria. Historians agree she was the first ever pilgrim and her book is the earliest account of a Christian pilgrimage known to exist, using biblical references as a kind of early guidebook. Between 381 and 384, she travelled hundreds of thousands of miles and tracked down the locations of landmarks from the Bible, such as the Tomb of Job, mount Nebo and to the well where Holy Jacob had watered Holy Rachel's flocks. Her route took her through the Roman Empire's eastern capital of Constantinople, aka Istanbul, at a time when the Emperor was negotiating a peace treaty with the King of the Goths and when the Huns controlled north of the Danube. In Britannia or Britain, Hadrian's Wall was overrun by the Picts and the Romans were expelled from Wales. This period of the 4th century is particularly tumultuous in the Roman Empire, but nothing stopped Egeria's Peregrinations. In 382 she continued to Egypt, visiting Alexandria and Mount Sinai. She then travelled through Mesopotamia and crossed the river into Syria. Along the way, she stayed in post houses and the newly developed monasteries, not dissimilar to the albergues and churches that offer pilgrims a safe place to sleep while on Caminos today. The detail she wrote is remarkable and, uncharacteristically for the time, was written in the first person, making this a true form of the early travel narrative we find so popular today. "We began the ascent of the mountains one by one, she writes. These mountains are ascended with infinite toil and you cannot go up gently by a spiral track, as we say, snail shell lies, but you climb straight up the whole way, as if up a wall, and you must come straight down each mountain until you reach the very foot of the middle, one which is specially called Sinai. When she returned from her spiritual quest, she gave out her words to friends at home, who she addresses in the book simply as Dear Ladies. For a time, the text was lost and only part of it remains after being rediscovered by an Italian scholar in a monastic library in 1884. Her writings have informed the way historians see the Roman world its rituals, its religion, its architecture, its society and its people. Because of her endless desire for knowledge and understanding, her relentless energy, her diplomacy and charm, our understanding is vastly richer. Yet how many people know her name? For her ability to plot a journey when no one had walked before, for her determination to see her project through to the end, despite the risks and no guarantee of rewards, and for taking the time to write it down so that others could learn from her travels, algeria is deservedly our Wonder Woman of the Month. What a woman Algeria was. Whether you're religious or not, you cannot help but admire her determination to forge her own path and use the text as inspiration for what would be an incredible adventure. To journey on foot from Europe to the Middle East as a lone woman now, never mind back in the fourth century, is hugely intrepid, and for that I can say, algeria, we truly salute you. In the next episode of the Wander Woman podcast, I go back to the beach to discover the sustainability initiatives that are changing Thailand. I also chat to a man who has discovered a new way of sightseeing in China, one that's as close as you can get to travelling back in time. My travel hack will see you beating the dreaded seasickness on your water-based journeys. We'll be talking sun cream in my travel gear section, and I recommend the best travel books to transport you around the globe from the comfort of your armchair. See you then, Wander Woman out. The Wander Woman podcast is written and edited by me, Phoebe Smith. The producer for this episode and writer of additional material is Daniel Nielsen. The logo was designed by John Summerton. Thanks to all the people I met on my journey and were willing to talk to me. It's because of you that this podcast is able to happen at all.