I am in a new place….
IMG_1970It’s a place of exposed cliffs and sheltered bays; of screeching cockatoos and comedian kookaburras; of purple sunsets and moonrises over shimmering ocean; of shy honeyeaters and wheeling lorikeets.


There are two lighthouses in my new neighbourhood.

There is a General Store where they know everybody’s name.

There are views to infinity and covered lanes, drooping with vines.

There are Port Jackson figs and bad banksia men. There are frangipanis, though the trees are little more than bare stumps just now. But the flowers will come.

I know all this because I am tramping for miles and miles, trying to walk myself into “local” status. It will take a lifetime, of course. Maybe two. I don’t kid myself about that. But let’s face it, it’s the journey, not the destination, and because I don’t presume to know how much time I will have, I am exploring as far and wide and deep as I can, as fast as I can, leaving nothing for some mythical “later”.


Sailboats make bold in the harbour, but alone on the open sea they are tiny handkerchiefs fluttering in wilful breezes. Ferries pootle about and tugs scurry to work. Busy busy busy. Liners glide and the navy frigates take no prisoners.

There was a shipwreck here. I stroke the enormous metal links of an anchor chain as gulls wheel overhead, crying the same desolate sound they must have made when the boat went down.

The clouds here are brushstrokes made by some wildly confident artist who dips her brush into a multicoloured pot and with one sweep leaves us gasping…



The sun rises behind two sandstone steeples. Both are made gold in an instant. Their bells don’t peal – that would be too presumptuous. They ding and dong like twins with different pitches, humble village workday calls that take me back to other walks where equally intimate bells called across fields to me as I hiked.

These are welcoming bells, greeting me just as my neighbours did. They came from downstairs on the day my boxes were delivered, and helped me unpack. We were a team in an instant. The bloke from upstairs knocked one Sunday night with fresh fish fillets, caught that day. He and his bonny wife have a little boy who is getting teeth. I will miss that gummy smile on the stairs when the molars have all pushed through. I hope to be here to see him start to read or to wobble down the hill on training wheels.

Other neighbours tell me they are “here” if I need them.


I am here too.

I want to be here for a long time.

There are enough trails and mysteries to keep me twisting and turning on myself, getting lost and found, picking up shells and watching sea-snails leave rust-coloured trails, wondering and wandering, for many long days –  should I be lucky enough to have them.

That miracle.

To have days. Days and days of health and light.

To live and breathe and walk…

IMG_1890I walk the clifftops, watching for whales.

And yes, I really do see them.

They’ve been heading north, though I am told that now others are coming south.

Do they greet each other?

Do they swap stories of their watery ways, calling to each other in recognition, as we walkers do on our separate but joined trails.

“Morning! Lovely day!”

It’s always a lovely day…

IMG_1772I’m stepping into these days and these ways, finding my rhythm and my pace, learning the stories underneath my feet and inscribing my own tentative etchings over them. I make my way home, muscles warmed and cheeks red, telling myself to remember.

Remember this day.

This air. This bird call. This sun on my cheek and this glint on the water.

Remember this possibility.

I am walking into a new life. I stumble. I lose my way.

But I’m walking. One step, then the next. I’m walking myself home again…



A PS – There was an article of mine about this magnificent part of the world in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 19th. Just click here to read. I’m pretty passionate about the subject, as you can tell!

And here’s another from October 14th – a different take on the same issue… www.smh.com.au/comment/dont-turn-south-head-into-a-wedding-production-line-20151007-gk3oxr.html

For some moving pictures, here is a video (with some bolshie locals!) about the issues…

On a different subject…The Accidental Atheist is 30 minutes of searching radio as Gary Bryson, a lifetime atheist, asks whether he has “missed out” on something. One of the people he asked was me! Our conversation took place out on South Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour – a place of deep meaning for me. You can podcast it by clicking here – https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/peo9QyyE2Q?play=true

If you are in Australia, grab the spring issue of SLOW LIVING magazine from your newsagent. It’s a beautiful mag, and I have an article in it that celebrates a personal “lighthouse” person – one who got me through some rough water! You can’t get their articles online, but if you are considering subscribing, I can recommend it. Info here… http://www.slowmagazine.com.au/current-issue

24 thoughts on “Walking home…again…

  1. I don’t know where you are, Ailsa, but you took me there. I tasted the air and almost smarted from the sting of salt whipped into my eyes… Or are they tears? Keep on walking x

    1. Hi Harry,
      Sometimes both. Together and apart. But the salt feels healing.
      I hope you are travelling well. Thanks for stopping by. xxx

  2. Dear ailsa, greetings from Elwood. I am happy to read your writing again, and ask how you are when I see people you know. There is a link in these photos between Sydney and Elwood – I grew up in iluka road, Clifton gardens – which is in your photo across the harbour! One day, if you haven’t already, I expect you will catch the ferry to taronga park zoo, walk a little way uphill then branch off to the right and walk through the bush around the harbour through Ashton park trust, you will walk where I played, in the bush between the houses and the lapping of the sea on the glorious hawkesbury sandstone, around to Clifton gardens, further around through the Victorian era naval yards, further around towards balmoral beach. I am happy to think you are living surrounded by friendship, great beAuty, and tracks! As well as near the labyrinth in centennial park in which I long to be immersed.

    1. Hello Jane!
      I have actually done a little of that walk, but am yet to do the Taronga end. I will think of you as I cover that ground, walking my story into the ground with yours. How lovely. Thanks for your care and for your story. So lovely. I will think of you even as I look across the water. Jane’s patch. Beautiful.
      And I walk the labyrinth regularly. You MUST come and do it. It is so sublime at dawn.
      I will be thinking of you everywhere! xxxx

  3. So lovely to see the photos and read that you are walking your way into a new community. Glad to read a new blog, and hope your writing will come back.

    1. You are such a constant positive, JC. Thank you for your wishes and your encouragement. Slowly slowly. Small steps but I am feeling some progress. Hope your days are full and happy. xxx

  4. Ailsa: I was there – just 11 days ago – with a surgeon mate from Japan – here with his 10-year old son. We looked across to the North Head and through to the city – while feeling so, so far away from that “madding crowd”! The fishing village below was where Christina STEAD lived! Though I doubt it looked anything like it does nowadays! Safe walking and watching!

    1. How amazing Jim. I know exactly the view you mean. And although the “village” is changed from Christina’s time, there is still a powerful sense of place. I love it so. Am going to do some walks around there in the spring, I hope. To give thanks….
      Thank you to YOU, my e-friend. Such a gift.

  5. Dear Ailsa of the Walking Land!
    From as far as Québec, in Canada ! I am delight to walk again with you! I discover you and your Sinning across Spain book few year ago and still feel the potential of the journey, daily, with wide open eyes from the soul and the daily vigilant observing of the moment! With gratitude for your inviting photos, and profound reflection on your moving, being and walking! Grateful for your new caring neighbors too! Safe journey and Spring is at your door!

    1. Hello Marie of the deep north!
      How wonderful to feel your support and kindness from the other side of the world, where you must be coming to the end of your summer. Long long walking days, I imagine. How lovely. One day…
      For now, thank you for walking with me in this digital village, and may your kindness be matched by love and support around you. Thank you. Such lovely words. xxxx

  6. Dear Ailsa
    Beautiful evocative words, as always. Painting so many pictures. And your photos – stunning!
    Lovely to hear your positivity and open-ness and honesty.
    May the sun always find you, and the storms too when you need them.
    Every good wish for your new adventure. But Melbourne misses you!

    1. Thanks so much Bev. I miss Melbourne too, and I won’t stay away always. Hoping to get back for a decent visit before the end of the year. Meantime, words like yours keep me buoyed and grateful. Stay warm and well. xxxx

  7. Brave, lovely Ailsa. Sending you joy and strength as you walk your camino into all the new stories that this new place and space shall pen with you. Xx

    1. Gracias, Leagh. I will take both the joy and the strength, with such gratitude. Hoping for stories ahead. And that your path is open and clear. Strength to you too, through your days. xxxxxx

  8. Thank you Ailsa. It is indeed an enchanted place your spirit led you. All that nature right in/next to the city. I think you are home. X x x

  9. Ailsa,
    Wonderful to read you again. Looks like you’ve settled in Sydney comfortably.
    I wanted to let you know we finished The Camino Frances! Got back to Sydney late July. An extraordinary experience, certainly everything I’d hoped for and much, much more. Already planning to take on the Primitivo and La Plata as soon as I can hacer un huecito en la vida australiana. Highlights? Just Spain, it’s people, landscapes, it’s mornings and evenings, it’s simple tasty food and extraordinary wines. To be outside all day in such inspiring country and know the evening ahead held great food, bundles of laughter and a comfy warm bed was very addictive. Eso si es vivir

    Qué dios te bendiga

  10. Ricardo! Enhorabuena!
    I’m so thrilled that you loved it and that it was all you had hoped. What a joy.
    And you will be back. Undoubtedly. The little pause will only make it sweeter.
    Thanks for writing pilgrim.
    Hasta pronto.

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