For the next 5 weeks, we’ll be posting updates from PAPYRUS Supporter George as she embarks on a pilgrimage known as ‘The Way of St James’. She is walking the route in memory of her daughter, Sophie.
If you would like to make a donation to support George on Sophie’s walk, you can do so here.
***Update October 2019*** Following the walk, George has put together a beautiful calendar and poster of the ‘Doors of the Camino’ to help raise funds for PAPYRUS. Find out more, and get your copies.
***Update December 2019***
It is nearly a year since Sophie took her own life. Much has happened since that tragic and devastating event in our lives. We as a family have moved on in our own way but the pain is still acute as is the huge loss of our darling Sophie.
As we repeatedly say, Andy, Fiona, Gregor and myself are committed to helping prevent other families going through the terrible grief and loss that we experience each day. To that end we reach out to you to support the work of PAPYRUS in any way you see fit.
If you are reading this you will know that I completed the Camino Frances in June this year and have used the experience to write my story of that walk, as well as sell calendars to raise funds for this hugely important charity. There are a few left and they are available here.
As a family we face some huge milestones in December. Sophie should be celebrating her 30th birthday on 12th December. On the 19th December Andy, Fiona and I shall face the first anniversary of her death. We shall take her favourite Christmas cake to the Search and Rescue staff who worked tirelessly for three days searching for her. It will be called “Sophie’s Cake“, and will hopefully represent our small gratitude for their sheer graft in awful conditions last year.
What else can we do? We can live for Sophie. We can do what she wanted us to do and enjoy life. We can experience the life she wanted for us. We do it in her memory.
If I may add my very personal notes, this is how my life is now. I live my life and I have the most amazing support and love from so many friends. It helps so much. I have moments of the hugest amounts of grief. I live in my house that I shared with Sophie. I kind of expect her to walk in at any moment with her love of life to share a beer or wine, and stories. Sophie was well read and told me what to read; I taught her how to cook in return. She filled the house with fun, warmth and love. It doesn’t happen anymore. I phoned her all the time about my problems on my first round of chemotherapy as she was an oncology nurse and brilliant at her job. I am on my second round now, I miss her painfully for that too. I firmly believe that some people might have a short life but they make a difference. I know that Sophie made a difference to all of her patients as she was so amazing in her support for me.
20/6/19 – Day 34
“Santiago de Compostela
We set off in the dark before 6.30 am. It was a long morning walk through the woods before breakfast, our final snack of orange juice, cafe con leche and toast, and it was suitably delicious!
The march into Santiago was not as busy as expected nor as arduous.
We queued for credentials, and comments were made by Sara, Jan and Marian about my unusual patience! I was “perfectly well behaved “!!! What did they expect? What a buzz of excitement there was in the queue.
We went to mass. It was not like O’Cebreiro and was short lived for us. Much too formal. Time for a beer and tapas! And so we enjoyed an afternoon and evening in Santiago, friends went shopping and I studied food! The evening meal was (at last) excellent!! Then we shared Sophie’s ashes in the main square. Farewell for now Sophie until our next journey.
We met our new Camino friends for a late drink and toasted Sophie. That was special, thank you Marian, Sara, Jan, Oscar, Yvonne, Frederico and Louisa.
To our darling Sophie. This walk was for you, in memory of you, and WITH you, always. Xxxx“
19/6/19 – Day 33
“Physically, eucalyptus trees were the main feature of the day! Interesting and gave us a lovely scent.
Sophie died six months ago today. It was a hugely emotional day, much of it spent in tears, laughter and conversation. Kindness flooded in bye phone, text, email and Facebook.
Marian asked me a poignant question. Was I yet able to think about Sophie and smile. Not today but it is beginning to happen, especially when I share memories of her with a couple of her close friends.
I spent a part of the afternoon walking with Frederico from Argentina. We talked about Sophie a great deal. After the tears flowed he told me his beautiful love story with Louisa. Incidentally Louisa was simultaneously sharing the same story with Marian. The story was a real boost and made the final few miles painless!
Frederico and I discussed the meaning of the Camino for us. He told me “the Camino feeds the soul”. I think I agree.
Today it is a privilege to walk with such close friends who can read me like a book. Mutually, Sara told me that she felt honoured to share my grief. Sharing today is helping so much.
Recently I was given some brilliant advice from someone who has experienced losing her own daughter so tragically. Firstly it doesn’t get better, it gets different. It is starting to differ. Secondly friendships will strengthen and intensify. Yes, they are doing so. Thank you to that friend.
Also today I received a beautiful email from Andy, Sophie’s Dad, who continuously shares the strength of grief with me, but also tries to focus on some positive and uplifting outcomes of our loss of darling Sophie. He is a brick (in the nicest possible sense!).
Spenceley-Buckland tours booked a great apartment again, and we were sent to a small, different cafe for supper that was excellent!!! Whoop!!! Best cheesecake ever!!!
I read a quote today from Mother Theresa. “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier”. What a great aim for the rest of my life.
That was Sophie’s day. Everyday is Sophie’s day really.
That’s the Camino. Feeding my soul.”
18/6/19 – Day 32
“Heads and hips and knees and toes!
Slightly amiss from the children’s song, I know, but there were several parts of our bodies today that said “hello”!! A long day of ups and downs, and my shoe soles felt to be wearing thin.
We reached a small village called Ribadiso before the rain fell. Only one place to eat, and so we met up with fellow pilgrims Yvonne and Oscar, Frederico and Louisa, Gregg and Mary, and one other. We ate mediocre paella, but the company was the BEST!! What a great night!”
17/6/19 – Day 31
“Palas de Rei, what the Hecky pecky???!!
Another long walk, but as there are now four of us there is much banter!
Palas de Rei does not live up to its name! A bit dull really! And then there was supper!
What the Hecky pecky was the meat Jan and I were served? And why on earth did we not take a photo of our “beefsteak”? It was quite indescribable. It looked like a large man’s boot sole, hanging over the edge of the plate, and having managed to eventually slice a piece off, the texture and taste was just as expected from the sight!!”
16/6/19 – Day 30
“Buckland boot camp.
Beautiful if lengthy walk to Portomarín with the new girls, my goodness Jan and Sara walk fast! The walk is busy now as many people do the stretch from Sarria to Santiago as they can qualify for the Compostela certificate!
Avery cheerful, sunny and giggly day, with a beautiful lunch stop. Portomarín had a slightly Mediterranean feel about it. Very pretty place.”
15/6/19 – Day 29
Sara and Jan!
Now we are four!! Just over 100 km to go!”
14/6/19 – Day 28
Generally Marian and I walk a little apart in our own worlds. At a crucial moment this morning we were chatting. During this conversation we did consider why the path was heading so much lower than the road route. Eventually a car stopped and the driver explained that we were on the wrong route. Marian wondered why he hadn’t turned up earlier, I wondered why he didn’t offer us a lift back up the hill!
We made a climb a BIG climb!!
The walk was long and beautiful. Emotionally the walk was intense. I felt strongly that I was leaving Sophie in the mountains behind me to the south east. In my reflections on this walk I shall always consider the strength for life that darling Sophie gave me. Since she died I have lost that self belief and confidence in my ability. That lack of spirit was certainly evident in the early weeks of this journey, I doubted myself physically and emotionally. Sophie was my rock.
Marian said something beautiful today. “There must be many guiding angels on this Camino”.
My Sophie angel guides me.”
13/6/19 – Day 27
Today was the last big climb of 700 metres up to O’Cebreiro through some beautiful scenery and into Galicia! It was cold in this small village late this afternoon but the views ahead and behind were awesome.
Marian went to Mass. I had the choice of sitting with the view, or in a bar or church. Breaking personal tradition I went to church.
It was the most beautiful church service I have ever experienced. For me I say experienced and not attended. I had expected to observe really and not be a true part. I was totally engulfed by the warmth and inclusion. The Mass was led by the most humble (and incidentally beautifully handsome) priest who included all nationalities and beliefs. The music (Ave María and Panis Angelicus) was piped from his phone! Five pilgrims were chosen to read in different languages (one being Marian).
At the end of the service there was a pilgrim’s blessing. We were called towards the altar; asked to hold hands; say the Lord’s prayer in our own language; and then hugged and wished “Buen Camino” individually before being given an individually painted pebble for a safe journey.
It was a humbling experience, very beautiful, and I shed many tears.”
12/6/19 – Day 26
Sophie would be 29 and a half years old today. I am overly aware of dates and milestones. It is heading towards the 19th June and that is the six month anniversary of that beautiful person taking her own life. That day will always be etched into my brain, my heart and my being. My heart and my body continue to hurt emotionally and physically for our darling Sophie. As so many described her “she was so beautiful inside and out”.
This morning’s walk was stunning. We walked up and down, once more through vineyards, but always with Sophie’s mountains in view (where I set her free the other day). Leaving Villafranca after coffee we headed towards the next valley and farewell to those mountains. Hasta luego darling girl.
The cough! Today is also known as the cough! We are both struggling and since neither of us could be classed as mean, we keep sharing the damned cough! Incidentally we have a kitty which we call the “magic purse”. We feel like we are not spending real money as it comes from said purse, despite the fact we do actually visit those holes in the wall to fill it every few days! However, back to the relevance of the cough. One of us has been continually ill SO the only additional spending other than the magic purse has been the numerous visits to farmacias for medicines!
Small refuge tonight and a particular treat for Marian as the home cooked menu is veggie and excellent!”
11/6/19 – Day 25
Very tired after ascent and big descent yesterday. Very boring walk today. Only saving grace was the final view back to Sophie’s hills!!”
10/6/19 – Day 24
Walked to the highest point of the Camino, Alto Altar at 1515m. Scattered most of Sophie’s ashes into the wind amongst some beautiful scenery. Away our beautiful girl flew!
Big drop in height to Molinaseca and less than 150 miles to go!!”
9/6/19 – Day 23
“To Rabanal (a highlight!).
A sleepy start from the 3 musketeers after being kept awake by party goers and motorbikes all night. Steady trudge up to El Ganso where we said farewell to Billy once more.
Reached Rabanal, a very pretty hill village where we stayed at the Gaucelmo Confraternity Albergue. A very peaceful evening.”
8/6/19 – Day 22
“Late start, return of Billy, Astorga.”
7/6/19 – Day 21
Put Strava on to measure my walk around León. It was only when I got some Kudos having covered 16 miles in just over 3 hours that I realised that part of the journey was escaping the outskirts of Leon by bus again!! Got caught out by one savvy friend who spotted my wandering in the estacion de autobus!!
León now done. The old city is good, but the highlight was the cathedral ‘s cloisters.”
6/6/19 – Day 20
“Non decision, indecision then decision!
Lovely quiet morning’s walk as far as coffee and then a boring roadside walk to our destination for the day – Mansilla. Checked into Albergue, showered and settled down to an early afternoon beer.
And then Marian planted the seed…..
“We could have caught the bus to León and had an evening there”.
Upsticks after a small refund and off we went! As James Brierley (the Camino guide from heaven) says “If the idea of taking transport seems like heresy it might be useful to ask ourselves – why not?”
5/6/19 – Day 19
“Out of sorts with a happy ending!
After a terrible night’s sleep (or lack of) I was out of sorts for much of the day! Today was a long walk, but arrived at a small B and B that smelt of good food! Indeed it was hearty, home cooked supper, and great company with a group of Camino-savvy Scots!”
4/6/19 – Day 18
Felt like a Roman soldier! This morning was very long, very straight and a little boring as the scenery did not change for 17km. I had to do a little of my new hobby (studying farming) to keep myself entertained! Passed a field that had very wonky drilling or sowing or both!
I pondered about the four delightful Irish sisters (and one husband) we met last night. We chatted about Sophie and my story. They told me about an organisation in Eire called Pieta House who organise walks called “darkness into light”. I thought beautiful and wonder if they are similar to Papyrus’ “walks of hope”.
It’s cool today. Sun and cloud and walking into a westerly breeze. Good walking weather. We met Mr Chocolate again! He’s a delightful Japanese man that seems to pop up in those flagging moments with a chocky!!”
3/6/19 – Day 17
“From turmoil to tranquility!
Today’s journey was short and not arduous; not particularly interesting, but for me, tranquil. The turmoil and doubt have gone.
Decisions get made along the way, some life changing, others just practical. I shall make Sophie’s favourite Christmas cake again, but we Aireys will donate it to the men and women of the Queensferry Coastguard Search and Rescue to say a very small thank you for their tireless search for our beautiful Sophie last December. Fi and I both pledged to not send Christmas cards and pledge money too.
Day 17 now done, and 17 to go, but not quite halfway yet!”
2/6/19 – Day 16
“Come on George!
Bizarrely and incidentally I received a few fab messages last night and this morning! Much needed, so thank you.
Today was not difficult but a long day (27 km), but thankfully a little cooler.
The most notable event today was meeting an English speaker who pronounced “Oh, you ladies are doing well!”. Not to be patronised by anyone, we have assigned him to our group list of “less than favourable pilgrims”, of which there are now three.
1/6/19 – Day 15
Today was a tough day, mentally more than physically. It was very hot which added to the pain. There was also a 5 mile hike before a very poor breakfast.
Late morning the doubts began to set in. I doubted my ability and stickability. I doubted my desire to continue compared to my longing to be at home. My back has started to ache badly each day, and today was one of those days where I am inconsolable in missing Sophie. I have those days and they will always happen. By evening, even the thought of being nearly half way didn’t help. I just dread the thought of doing the same distance again.
During the afternoon Marian suggested we stop and rest at the next opportunity. Around the next corner we spotted the ruins of an abbey and heard the tune Hallelujah playing on a guitar. Sure enough we arrived at a makeshift bar and the world was temporarily a little better.
A tough day.”
31/5/19 – Day 14
“A whole new ball game!
We left Burgos at 7.30 and by 10am we were in the quiet countryside lanes heading towards the ‘Matera’. Clear blue sky and very warm. We lost many familiar faces who stopped at Burgos.
A favourite couple that we met will remain nameless! We never exchanged names. We spoke briefly each day in any tongue that occurred! The lady walked for several days at a similar pace; her husband cycled and popped up every couple of hours. On our last night together in Ages I gave her a Sophie card and told her my beautiful baby ‘Es muerta’. We all cried together. We don’t speak the same language but we share the same language and feelings. That is the Camino. I shall never forget my Spanish friend who also taught me to say ‘hasta luego’ rather than adios!
Long slow uphill to a pretty village called Hornillos. Soph was egging me up the hill today. Her presence influenced Marian to have two large beers today. That would be Soph!”
30/5/19 – Day 13
“A day of two halves.
Up with the lark we had a beautiful morning’s walk. Then the urban slog into Burgos! Enough said.
Burgos is beautiful, we are not doing it justice! We have sore feet!”
29/5/19 – Day 12
“Long and emotional walk today. Beautiful, but my mind was with Soph and her friends, one of whom texted me this morning feeling the same way.
Saw livestock again, first in days!”
28/5/19 – Day 11
“I call today “Pumbaa”!
Marian never snores, until last night that is!! She will be known as Pumbaa for the day! A pleasant walk through Rioja vines and then back to arable land.
Feet starting to suffer, and so walked out to supper in socks and sandals. I hear Sophie mocking me “Oh God, look what George is wearing now!”. I assure you, Soph, there is worse to come yet on this trip!”
27/5/19 – Day 10
“After a sleepless night in the dorm due to an Austrian snorer who nearly raised the roof; we had another lacklustre Walk, especially when we walked through a hilltop village that had been designed as an exclusive golf resort but had truly failed.
It was lifeless, largely up for sale; and the golf club even accepted pilgrims in for a drink!! How desperate can they be? A soulless place.”
26/5/19 – Day 9
A long walk today (18 miles) and largely unmemorable. Arrived in Nájera, lacking in interest. Paid 12 euros for a poor refuge. But worse than anything was the evening meal! Green beans that seemed to have been cooked for weeks! Enough said.”
25/5/19 – Day 8
A favourite thing for us about the Camino is the characters we meet. Chico is the highlight and today we had our last conversation with her as she travels back to Japan tomorrow. Chico leaves the albergues at 6.30 each morning and never rests until evening. She walks slowly with her strange collection of bags. She makes us think of Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise, but we can’t remember the outcome!!!! Chico is a truly delightful character who we shall never forget.
Other than our encounter, a dull day BUT we are now in Rioja land (oh hecky pecky!!) and we have reached Logrono which is over the hundred mile mark. Whoop!! Less than 400 miles to Santiago!”
24/5/19 – Day 7
“So the day started in the Estella Albergue (a hostel) in a panic as Marian had up sticks and gone! Having one phone between us, there was no contact so I had to simply wander off alone. We met in a cafe after 4km, each having wasted time searching for the other!
Today was beautiful. The scenery was stunning; the weather was cooler and dry; and Sophie was with me all day. When I was on chemo, she boosted me round Buttermere. Today she egged me on for over 17 miles (I must start talking in kilometres!).
Stayed in a hillside village called Sansol, where the hostel kindly had a foot pool!”
22/5/19 – Day 5
“After an emotional goodbye to my amazing brother Billy, who has looked after me since St. Jean, we left Pamplona and climbed up to Alto del Perdon. A most beautiful walk in the sunshine. People who have watched “The Way” will recognise the sculptures (see image below).
I scattered some of Sophie’s ashes and she flew away into the wind. Once over the hills we were into serious arable agricultural land. No more horses like before Pamplona, just fields of wheat, barley and oats, all beautifully surrounded by poppies.
Refuge tonight, 5 euros each!
21/5/19 – Day 4
Our walk today involved ups and downs along the River Arga where I scattered some of Sophie’s ashes in the sunshine. She is with us!
Pamplona is pleasant and noisy. Celebrations were happening as the team have been promoted. To what league, who knows?
Great evening in good company despite the food!”
20/5/19 – Day 3
“Better weather and a longer walk of 28k.”
19/5/19 – Day 2
“Rain, cold, wind and a touch of snow.
After much faffing and doubt on my part, we decided to walk the high route despite the weather. Only one photo from today as there was no visibility. If yesterday was boot camp, today was endurance.
I had intended to rest some of Sophie’s ashes at the highest point, but it was too cold and wet for me and I didn’t want to leave her there, even though she was a toughie in that respect.
Writing this in Hotel Ronscesvalles’ bar, where Sophie would sit with a pint!!
More in two days from Pamplona (hopefully) with some sunshine (hopefully).
18/5/19 – Day 1
After the train to St. Jean, we faced what I found to be a challenging walk of nearly 5 miles uphill.
I followed the others, but the highlights were seeing eagles and a red kite; and the night’s hostel suddenly appear!”
17/5/19 – Beginning the journey
“Mishaps, delays and misbehaviour!
Due to delays we chanced an earlier train with invalid tickets to the airport and succeeded. We must look like innocents!
The time saved was of no use whatsoever as flight badly delayed
In the meantime, having forgotten to weigh myself pre-Camino, I was caught by airport staff using the baggage check in machine! Marian laughed before I was told off as it simply read ‘machine overload’!”
16/5/19 – Introduction
“The Way of St James (Camino) is a long distance footpath with a difference. For hundreds of years it has been a pilgrimage from a variety of places in Europe to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I am hoping to complete the 800 kilometre route from St jean de Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees.
I start on Saturday 18th May. I am walking with and in memory of our beautiful daughter Sophie who took her own life on 19th December 2018. It is going to be called “Sophie’s Walk”; and I intend to continue to raise awareness of, and even funds for PAPYRUS, the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide.
My ongoing story will be published every few days here on the PAPYRUS website and potentially also in the Westmoreland Gazette.
Thank you in anticipation of your support.
We will be posting regular updates from George as she takes on ‘The Way of St James’ in memory of Sophie. If you would like to make a donation to support George on Sophie’s walk, you can do so here.