There is so much that is intriguing, valuable and admirable about the quiet pilgrimage wending its way just now through Argyll to Faslane and on to London.
Described as ‘an ecumenical inter-faith act of witness for peace and economic justice’ people join, drop off and return to this little band of pilgrims in stages, although two we met on the Crinan Canal at Oakfield Bridge yesterday morning, Margery and Bob, are there for all of the long haul.
The core purpose of their witness is to focus the attention of the nation on the fact that the UK Government fully intends to replace the controversial submarine-launched Trident nuclear weapons system; and to do so at a cost of up to £100 billion.
Alongside this expense on a weapon that can only be used if we decide to take the world out with us, the same government is:
- cutting people’s benefits if they have a spare room – even if one is an elderly recent widow or widower, where their deceased spouse required a separate room for care requirements;
- cutting disability benefit and directly causing suicides of some highly disabled people who nevertheless have been classified by ATOS as fit to return to work and have lost their disability allowance, leaving them – genuinely unable to work – with no support at all;
- cutting budgets for health services – the ‘Liverpool Care Pathway’ being an obscene instrument in this cause;
- cutting budgets for education with an increasingly ill-educated population, devoid of the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy.
The model for a pilgrimage by a small band of people continually replaced in relay was the Olympic Torch relay round Britain – a fitting beacon of hope and determination to succeed.
The Iona to Faslane legs have the relay walkers doing stages of 10-15 miles at a time – and the companionship of a yacht, the Tanera Mor.
The walkers dualled as lock operators on the two day stage through the Crinan Canal, stopping at Lochhead on the first night; and going on to the eastern basin at Ardrishaig and on to Tarbert in Kintyre last night. This morning the walkers took the ferry over to Portavadie and over to Glendaruel – and Tanera Mor headed off into the Kyles of Bute.
Friday they head to Hunter’s Quay; Saturday over to Gourock then back across the Clyde to Kilcreggan and on to Faslane. And Sunday is an all day picnic at the gates to the Faslane Submarine base. Everyone interested is welcome.
The first thing that struck us when we met the team coming through Argyll, was the white heads and their generation. That was inspirational stuff. It just said ‘Fidelity’ – not wavering off course over time on a cause that matters to them; not afraid of challenge, effort and discomfort.
Interestingly, as they walked the canal, talking to and leafleting everyone they met, they’ve found that young kids are really fascinated by them – and very admiring. It’s not hard to see why. We saw evidence of this very direct inter-generational engagement for ourselves. It was hard wired.
Judith and Jill have recently been to the International Conference Against Nuclear [ICAN] in Oslo, with Veronika Tudhope, Vice Chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who is travelliing with the team, overseeing the Scottish end of the pilgrimage. Veronika says that they were the oldest group there and brought something special to the gathering in experience, gravitas and example.
While none of those we met are formally quakers – Kath McDonald described herself as ‘a faithless quaker’ – five of the small group said that they’d been markedly influenced in their pacifist stance by quakerism.
Three of them are retired GPs – Judith, Richard and Cath. Jill started on this road by protesting at Hunter’s Quay about the Polaris submarine base at the Holy Loch at the end of the 1950s. Margery has lived for some time in the Rhineland after marrying a German in the 1970s. At that time, even though it was over 25 years after the end of the second world war, Germans were still Britain’s comic baddies. She says it was surprisingly tough – and for her parents whose generation made it particularly hard for them – although they always welcomed her husband and became very close to him.
Yesterday morning, while Richard, Cath and Bob moved the Tanera Mor to a convenient pontoon, the little band of walkers came through Lochgilphead to the canal at Oakfield Bridge, flying their jaunty Peace flags, being greeted by toots on the horns of the commuter traffic and waving happily in return.
The bright tatterdemalion quality of the flags, the back packs and the white Peace Pilgrimage T-shirts is appropriately gentle, non-aggressive and joyful. it brought a sense of carnival as they tramped up the slip road together from the roundabout to the canal.
Their other take on Trident and the need for them and the rest of us to do what we can do, is about making young people aware of its obscenely expensive uselessness – so that when they pass on the baton, there will be less then there might have been for the next generation to shoulder.
They have loved getting to grips with the lock gates and walking along the canal. Some of them live in cities. The tranquil green of the trees along the tow path and the water is giving them something back on their journey. And they’ve found it a natural place for people to talk to them – no one’s in a hurry.
We last saw them talking away together as they walked off on along towpath towards Ardrishaig, flags fluttering in the breeze behind them, the yacht motoring alongside with its banner and flag.
Contact with people like this, who accept responsibility, who don’t give up, who exude peacefulness – who talk of ‘a vision of a fairer, more generous future for all, based on cooperation and mutual support, rather than merely the survival of the fittest or richest’ – makes you feel better – and guilty for leaving it all to them.
Anyone can join in and walk for as much or as little as they like. This is a sort of relay of conscience, taking it up and passing it on. Details of the itinerary and dates are on the UK Peace and Justice Pilgrimage website here.
Note: With thanks to Veronika Tudhope for the photographs of the group on the Tanera Mor and crossing the canal bridge at Bellanoch.