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Welcome – and thank you so much for clicking on my walking blog! I write about walking as a physical, mental and spiritual activity and hope you enjoy reading about my adventures along the way. If you click on the heading above a link to categorise the walks I have written about will appear on the right of the screen. Please also click here to subscribe to my blog. Alternatively just keep scrolling down.
You can follow my local walks in amongst other places, Harlington and St Albans, my long distance trails, such as The Ridgeway and The Pilgrims Way and walks in my spiritual home of Dorset. I hope that you find my comments helpful and can gain some inspiration to put on those walking boots and set off outside your front door. All your comments are particularly welcomed as this is a journey of discovery for me too. As Marcel Proust said “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us”.
Have fun and “Keep Trudgin…..”
Index of walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks:
I thought it would be useful to set out an index and link to the local walks I have undertaken which I will update as time goes on. Any comments on the walks would be more than welcome.
Walks in Bedfordshire
An early morning walk up Barton Springs: Barton-le-Clay, Beds. About 5 miles.
The Millenium Circular Walk from Woburn: A circular walk taking in the Parishes of Woburn, Eversholt, Segenhoe, Ridgmont, Apsley Guise and Woburn Sands – a varied and interesting 15 mile walk with good refreshment stops en route.
The Magic May Tree: An 8 mile circular walk around Warden Hills, Luton and Lilley. Hilly walk, good views, refreshment stop.
A walk from Hope to Gratitude: A 2 1/2 mile circuit around Harlington, Beds taking in Harlington Bottoms
Sharpenhoe, Spring and a Secret Place: 7 mile hilly circular walk from Harlington taking in Sharpenhoe Clappers
Blue Plaques and Byways: easy 5 mile walk around the village of Harlington and environs taking the blue plaques, Bunyan Oak and local byways
Walks in Hertfordshire
Walk the HOOP: a 12 mile circular walk around the outskirts of Hitchin, varied terrain, good views, refreshment stops
Cuts and Alleyways: a nostalgic three part walk around the historic city of St Albans; approximately eight miles.
The Alban Way – A Good Walk for Muddy Days: 6.5 miles each way along the disused railway line between St Albans and Hatfield
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I chose one of the hottest days of the year to walk the Hitchin Outer Orbital Path (HOOP), partly as further training for walking the Pilgrims’ Way and also to discover a walk near Hitchin – but there were a couple of refreshment stops along the way, some shade through the woods and the cafes in Hitchin to recuperate and recover from the heat at the finish. This walk was an unexpected delight and I would thoroughly recommend it as an enjoyable way to spend a day.
The Route of the HOOP
A link to this route around the outskirts of the Hertfordshire market town of Hitchin is given on this useful leaflet here. There is plenty of parking in the town centre and from there the route heads westwards in the direction of Pirton. It takes in Oughtonhead Common, crosses Westmill Lane and the A600 and works its way towards the village of Ickleford. From here it heads in an easterly direction to the outskirts of Letchworth and follows the route of the Letchworth Greenway for a while. The HOOP route eventually heads southwards and runs around the easterly outskirts of Hitchin until passing Purwell Nine Springs Nature Reserve, the hamlet of Charlton and returning to the town centre.
Walking Distance and Terrain of the HOOP
The whole circular path is 12 miles but can be broken down if required into convenient sections of 4.5 miles; 3 miles; 2.5 miles and 2 miles as explained in the leaflet. The terrain makes for easy walking – pavements and countryside paths. There are a couple of small hills but nothing too demanding.
Places of Interest
Shortly after leaving the town and emerging into the countryside The Garden Gate Tearoom is passed. This looked very inviting and although closed on the day I walked is open on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
After passing Oughtonhead Common the route takes a very pretty way alongside the river. I had not visited this area before and it is somewhere I will definitely be returning. The area felt secluded and the shade under the trees was very welcome. The river was remarkably clear reflecting the high summer greenery from the trees above.
After passing through the nature reserve the woods and river are left behind and I reached Westmill and eventually turned right. I found the signposting on the HOOP very good apart from here. The Icknield Way and other footpaths are signposted but at the junction of paths shown below the HOOP signposting disappears. It is necessary to turn right here, to walk towards and cross the A166 and walk along the back of houses and into Ickleford.
The village of Ickleford itself is very pretty and if one wanted one could take a slight detour and visit the lavender fields at Cadwell Farm. There are also a couple of pubs in Ickleford for refreshment and a village shop.
After crossing the road through Ickleford, the river and the mainline railway it was a long slow climb between hedgerows in full leaf up to Wilbury Hills. The heat was getting pretty intense by now and this was a good place to find some shade and drink some water. There is a car park and picnic place at Wilbury Hills but little can be seen of the old Iron Age hillfort.
After crossing the Stotfold Road the route joins the Letchworth Greenway and runs through a housing estate. I had to stop to take a picture of the immaculately kept pre-fab houses at this stage. Many of them had tremendous views over the open Hertfordshire Countryside and I couldn’t help but think of the television programme I had recently watched when residents described their absolute joy at leaving bombed out London and moving to a modern pre-fab house in the Hertfordshire countryside. I wonder how many of us would be content with such a dwelling now, but in fact they had all necessities and all we really require for shelter.
The heat started to become uncomfortable as the sun reflected off the Letchworth pavements and I returned to the countryside. A welcome haven of shade beckoned through some woods slightly to the left of the actual path and I took this alternative route whilst I could.
After emerging from the wood and eventually crossing Cambridge Road, I choose to take a short diversion down to the Wyevale Garden Centre to pick up an ice cream. The café is in the old Harkness Roses bulding which I can remember as a child. After crossing the busy road the Letchworth Greenway continued until Purwell Nine springs Nature Reserve and I walked alongside the river. My search for the elusive sight of a kingfisher continued. I have walked so many, many miles alongside riverbanks, including the whole of the River Lea from source to Thames, the River Frome in Dorset and the Thames when walking the Ridgeway Trail but try as I might I have never managed to catch sight of the electric blue colouring which I am told will alert me to the presence of the bird. The search will go on.
The Hitchin Outer Orbital Path continues to follow the river along the back of some houses until crossing the Stevenage Road and passing through Charlton before returning to the town centre.
There are plenty of places for refreshments in Hitchin. Particularly to be recommended is the Chai Café near the Church where I always feel I can treat myself, but still indulge healthily.
The Hitchin Outer Orbital Path is a route that can be thoroughly recommended. Save from the comments above the signposting is good, there are places of interest on route, a varied landscape and easily traversable terrain.
For more posts about local walks in the Beds/Herts area or long-distance national trails, including the Ridgeway National Trail and the Pilgrims’ Way, please subscribe to my blog http://jackiemcall.co.uk/. or “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll: About the Journey.
This week I was privileged to visit Leighton Buzzard Mencap’s Summer Club. I watched an amazing professionally run drama/dance workshop which resulted in eighteen children with varying additional needs putting on a ten minute show after much joyful rehearsal; such laughter and fun was had by all. At the same time, of course, the parents/carers had a much needed period of respite during the long summer holidays.
It was also brilliant to see the enthusiasm of the young volunteers from a local school who grew in confidence in their interactions with the children during the day. I spoke in particular to one young lad who was part way through his teacher training course, specialising in Special Educational Needs. He had found his vocation through helping at the Summer Club as a volunteer several years ago.
The found the whole experience extremely positive and moving. Any sponsorship for my gratitude walk of the Pilgrims’ Way to go towards the continuation of this summer club would be gratefully received and put to extremely good use.
DAY FIVE – THE RIDGEWAY
Sometimes when out walking, as in day five of walking the Ridgeway National Trail from Watlington to Princes Risborough, I just plod. This relatively short day held nothing particularly physically demanding and nothing mentally challenging. I had by now settled into an easy rhythm of walking each day and so I just put one foot in front of the other and moved ever along the trail for an easy twelve miles.
Beginning back at the White Mark Farm car park just outside Watlington I began strolling along the hedgelined way. The terrain underfoot was less chalky than earlier days making the walking easier and it was a pleasure to hear bird song and see wildflowers along the way.
THE MODERN WORLD INTRUDES ON THE RIDGEWAY TRAIL
The Ridgeway begins to rise here for a long time but at a very slow pace and the hedges begin to be replaced by beech trees. Whilst still hearing the birdsong I also noticed a gentle hum in the background, gradually increasing the further East I travelled. Eventually the reason for the hum became apparent as I approached the M40 motorway. The absolute sense of isolation which I had felt in the early days of my experience of walking the Ridgeway National Trail had now disappeared and the “modern” world intruded on my trudging so much more. I crossed the motorway by tunnel and skirted round the Aston Rowant Nature Reserve. After crossing a further major road, the A40, things quietened down a bit for a mile or so until a rhythmic thumping noise could be heard ahead of me. The further on I walked the louder the sound got. It was the heavy bass beat of dance music and the further on I travelled the more the noise increased. it got until I expected any minute to turn the corner and find myself in the middle of a music festival. I love all types of music and attend lots of concerts but the bass sound was so overwhelming that it was becoming physically painful. All I could see from my map was that I was passing to the right of the Chalk Quarries just outside Chinnor. I never did find out what the source of the music was and I didn’t pass anyone at all near here to ask.
Once I had left the noise behind, the track entered woodlands and gently rose along the lower slopes of Bledlow Ridge. Again I felt less sense of isolation on this part of the trail. A passed a couple of cottages and occasional garden plants began to appear alongside the path.
I also passed the occasional other walker, cyclist or horserider…………
…………….. and train. (The recently renovated Chinnor and Princes Risborough steam railway runs along a restored line close to this part of the Ridgeway). I spied one form of horse powered transport nonchalantly ignoring a steam powered one!
A REWARD AT JOURNEY’S END
The Ridgeway continues for several more miles along hedgerows and through woodlands before descending and crossing the mainline modern railway line. Although the trail is still mainly rural on this part of the Ridgeway one is frequently reminded of the intrusion of modern man on the landscape and upon reaching the noisy A4010 just outside Princess Risborough I longed for the seclusion of just a few days ago. I had to walk alongside the road for only a few hundred yards but I found it quite painful to be jolted right back to modern reality. I then returned to footpaths and skirted the town. This day’s walk ended with a long climb up to the top of Whiteleaf Cross. After a day of “plodding” with a general background resentment about the intrusion of other things and people upon my peace the climb to the top of the hill was the highlight of the day. Half way up I got talking to a chap who was doing his daily count of butterflies on the wild flowers; there was a stone age long barrow to the left of me and the views were stunning. I could look right back over the last couple of days of my walking and if I tried really hard, even see Didcot Power Station (which I thought I had long left behind!) in the distance.
The lovely T was waiting for me in the car park at the top of the hill with supplies of chocolate and I returned home to get a good night’s sleep ready to walk day six of the Ridgeway.
For a full index of my posts on Walking the Ridgeway please click here.
To read more about my adventures trudging…. local paths and national trails, please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll – “About the Journey” or subscribe to my blog by clicking here and entering your e mail address in the box on the right.
Taking a walk over Barton Springs very early one morning to see the sun rise was an idea that had been softly floating around in my head for a while. A combination of a full moon meaning I could see my way walking up the hills and superb fine weather combined to give me the impetus to put my thoughts into action.
This National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest has always been a favourite of mine since the time I lived in Barton-le-Clay and I had often walked across the classic downland slopes and through the woods to the west of the stream…………. but never this early in the morning! I set the alarm for 4 am and left Harlington shortly thereafter. Arriving in Church Road in Barton it was easy to park outside St Nicholas’s and access the hills by turning left at the end of the lane and climbing up. Maybe it is all the training I have been doing for my Gratitude Walk, but I found the climb up surprisingly easy. I soon reached a high point from which I could see a distant salmon coloured glow in the sky. With each step I took following the path along the top of the hill the layers of light blue then orange glow began to increase and I could see puddles of mist clinging into the hollows of the land around.
I stopped on a bench for I don’t know how long and just gazed out over the landscape. I really don’t need any more than this in life. I am so privileged to have the physical ability to climb the hills; the sight to see the view and the appreciation that I now have for “simple pleasures”.
No words can really sum up the connection I felt with nature and the feeling of God being present around and within. The pictures don’t do the experience justice either! I return again to Hardy: “He was one who had an eye for such mysteries”. We are truly blessed.
PILGRIMS’ WAY GRATITUDE WALK
I delighted to be raising money for the Leighton Buzzard Mencap Holiday Club as part of my gratitude walk.
Although affiliated to the Royal Mencap society they receive no funding from them and are a totally voluntary society that has been part of the local community for over 40 years. They are reliant for their existence on funding from donations and grants from organisations and individuals.
Each year they run an immensely popular holiday club for children from 8 to 18 years old with additional needs. This scheme which runs for three weeks during the school holidays is supervised by experienced leaders and provides:
An action-packed club for approximately 35 children
The opportunity to share fun activities with other children
Invaluable experience for student volunteers from local schools, and
A well-deserved break for parents.
The activities on offer include music, drama and craft to encourage expression and creative ability. Swimming, sailing, rock climbing, ice skating and skiing provide for more adventurous experiences and helps increase confidence.
The scheme is reliant on the goodwill, energy and enthusiasm of sixth-form students assisting coming from local schools and building relationships with the children and creating such a successful atmosphere.
I am so pleased to have been given the opportunity of raising sponsorship money for such a wonderful group of committed people and such a super and worthwhile cause. I would be so grateful if you would consider making a donation either by contacting me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a sponsorship form or direct to my Just Giving Page by clicking here.
An Index of Pilgrims’ Way posts:
An index of all my Pilgrims Way posts can be found at “The Pilgrims’ Way: A Gratitude Walk”. I will be updating my blog each day to give details of how far I progress on my walk.
To subscribe to my blog detailing my local walks and adventures along long-distance trails please click here and add your e mail details in the column in the right or alternatively please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll – “About the Journey”
I have walked the 14 mile Millenium Circular Walk in Bedfordshire taking in the parishes of Aspley Guise, Aspley Heath, Eversholt, Husborne Crawley, Ridgmont, Woburn and Woburn Sands several times and never been disappointed and today was not an exception. Although easily accessible from many parts of Bedfordshire and indeed Milton Keynes, the walk is very peaceful and one can walk for a long time without passing a soul. It is only about fifteen minutes away from my usual walks around Harlington.
Overview of the Millenium Circular Walk
Easy parking is available at the start of the walk in Woburn opposite the Parish Church and the path heads out of Woburn and soon enters the grounds of the park. A leaflet is easily downloadable here giving easy to follow route details. For me the Millenium circular walk fulfils all the requirements of a “good walk” taking in varied landscapes and terrains, including woodland, fields, quiet lanes, gentle hills and pretty villages. Several refreshment places are passed along the way and there are various points at which it is easy to find a bench to stop for a break.
Woburn Abbey and Park
I am always thrilled by the deer in the park. I just love how their antlers are growing at this time of year. Some were so furry I just wanted to stroke them. After walking a couple of miles the route leaves the park and crosses fields and follows footpaths until the picturesque village of Eversholt is reached. I always think that the location of the cricket pitch here, with the Church in the background and pub just around the corner must make it one of the prettiest fields in the country. Eversholt also boasts a millennium pond and many pretty cottages.
The Redundant Church at Segenhoe
After following a stream and fieldways for several miles and crossing Cobblers Lane I reached the redundant Church at Segenhoe. Several years ago I spent some time here very early one Spring morning just as the sun was beginning to rise. The feeling of peace and seclusion combined with the power of the sun rising with the Church in the background was truly stunning and a memory which will never leave me.
Just beyond Segenhoe I reached Ridgmont, a convenient stop-off place for a coffee at The Firs Café. Fully refreshed I walked back through the village, skirted around the outskirts and eventually headed towards Husborne Crawley, turning off down the pretty Crows Lane. Close to here there is a yellow ribbon tree and sign remembering fallen service personnel.
From here the path runs around the edge of the impressive looking Crawley Park and house and carries on to the outskirts of Aspley Guise. This village contains three houses of higher architectural interest as well as the Church and was home to several “secret operations” during the Second World War. I loved the pretty cottage I passed on entering the village.
Trudging up the tree-tunnelled pathway opposite St Botolphs Church, crossing a recreation ground and then carefully negotiating the way across the golf course I arrived at Woburn Sands. Time for another coffee and slice of cake! By this time it had started to rain so I spent a pleasant half hour cruising charity shops until the showers finished and I left the town via the aptly named Sandy Lane and up across Aspley Heath. The terrain underfoot here is really like walking along a beach under the shelter of pines, then more mature woodland.
The directions for the walk took me through further woodland until I reached the derelict buildings of Horsemoor Farm. It was spookily quiet here and I wondered how many years it was since this had no doubt once been a hive of activity and agricultural industry. The return into Woburn from here is not long and if you get your timing right – more coffee and cake await!!
What is the Millenium Walk like?
This is such a great day’s walk . Easily accomplished in six hours, leaving as much extra time as is wanted for refreshments along the way! Such a great reminder of how much beautiful countryside and history is just on our doorstep. Maybe I should keep this hidden corner of Bedfordshire a secret.
Why I am walking The Pilgrims’ Way
Why a Gratitude Walk?
“Mine eyes have seen the glory………. of one step at a time”
One of my very special moments during the last five years was at 2.50 of the above clip when Mike Zito (who is trudging a similar path to myself) looked up and smiled and nodded at me during this concert. The special meaning to me of the words which he was singing are really the reason why I am walking the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral as a gratitude walk.
On day 3 of my 150 mile walk (September 14) along the Pilgrims’ Way I will arrive in Farnham, hopefully happy, mentally healthy and sane – if somewhat tired! Five years ago on this day I found myself in a very different place on my journey through life. Two am in in the morning on September 14, 2011 found me sitting in a huddle at the top of Brighton Beach having “run away” from home. In a bag beside me was a photograph of my son; a book of Thomas Hardy poems; bottles of wine and a small trowel, fork and pair of secateurs – my plan being to use these tools to build myself a shelter in the woods where I could withdraw from the world I found so difficult to live in. However, also in the bag was a smart business suit and set of high heeled shoes, which I knew I would be needing when I walked straight back into an office and resumed my old career.
I was half sleeping when I was woken by an horrendous noise in the distance. It sounded like a cross between a woman in labour, a howling wolf and a scream of pure terror. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. I tried to resume my sleep but the same wailing woke me again. I realised eventually that the sound was coming from inside of me. All the anger, hurt, fear and despair came from deep in my soul out into the cold salty Brighton air. This very stubborn, independent and fearful woman finally broke like a piece of glass shattering into a million tiny sharp shards.
Some call it “desperation point”, some “a jumping off place” – for me it was just a complete and horrifically beautiful moment of surrender. God put in my path some people who helped me find a whole new way of being. My obsession to drink alcohol was removed once I took some actions and I was handed a set of tools to help me deal with life. Rather like a glorious stained glass window, those pieces of broken glass were put back into a wonderful new pattern.
My walk from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral is to express gratitude for my recovery and the last awesome five years of my life. I will also be using the opportunity to raise money for a Leighton Buzzard Mencap Summer Camp (see further post here). When I was a child I was fortunate enough to have a home-made kaleidoscope put together with bits of broken glass from my granddad’s workshop. When the end of the tube was turned the beautiful patterns changed. Just like that childhood toy my life will no doubt take twists and turns and make new patterns as I continue trudging… the Road of Happy Destiny
To read further posts about my journey along the Pilgrims’ Way please click here.
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Every single day of walking the Ridgeway was for me a fulfilling experience – each day different. However, if I had to choose my favourite day it would be the 15 mile walk from Streatley to Watlington.
I left behind the “Old English Rose” appeal of Goring and Streatley and strode out in the sunshine along the riverbank. The Thames was lined with mansion upon mansion, each with carefully manicured lawns running down to the water. Many with their own small vessels roped up alongside the edge of their property. This is all so far removed from the world I inhabit or ever will and left me pondering on wealth and whether it brings happiness. Thoreau said “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life” and I firmly believe this is true. I was blessed with the physical health to enjoy walking and be outside in the open countryside. Although by the opinion of some others, I am probably not “financially secure” – I had the money for a few nights away in B and Bs. I was in possession of all my five senses to fully experience life and I knew that at the end of this day’s walk, my husband, “the lovely T” would be waiting for me at a car park on top of White Mark Hill!
I continued through the villages of North Stoke and South Stoke, each picture postcard perfect. Each house seemed to be called “the Old Rectory”, “The Old Bakery”, “Church House”, “The Old Mill”, “Brick Lodge”, “The Old Post Office”, and so on. I wandered through the lychgate into the 13th Century North Stoke Church. The name of Bill Bailey (comedian and presenter) was written just a few spaces up from mine in the visitor’s book – I knew he had walked The Ridgeway the previous week.
The Ridgeway takes a right turn away from the Thames just before the bridge at Wallingford and soon follows the line of Grim’s Ditch all the way to Nuffield. Since leaving Streatley, I had passed just a couple of dog walkers and now amongst the dense shrubbery on either side of the track I was completely alone again. The path wanders along the ditch through woods and open fields up and down hill and shortly after Batchelor’s Hill I passed a cottage with a very welcome water tap.
The day had turned out to be quite hot and I knew I need to refill my bottle at each opportunity. I understood that there was a further water tap a few miles on at Nuffield Church – but not just a water tap!!
The wonderful parish community leave the Church open and inside were tea and coffee making facilities. I had not managed on any day to get a hot drink whilst walking and the thought of a cup of tea almost bought me to tears!
There was also a hand-written sign which said: “LOOK IN THE FRIDGE” – in the fridge were home made cakes left for Ridgeway walkers. I sat on my own in the silent church with my cup of tea and cake for a period of probably fifteen minutes but it felt like an eternity, and gave quiet thanks for so so much.
I returned the following year to show the lovely T this wonderful church and searched a few sheets back for my name in the visitors book.
Fully refreshed I continued on my way across a golf course, past Nuffield House (the home of William Morris, Lord Nuffield and definitely worth a separate visit) through the woods and fields of traditional English countryside. I had just passed Swyncome House when I heard some familiar voices – the family I had passed on Day Three of walking the Ridgeway – this time reunited with their son. They had driven further on and were walking this stretch from a different starting point. We greeted each other like long-lost friends! I love how some of the usual social barriers are broken down when out walking.
I drew closer to Watlington and knowing that I was about a mile from the car park where I was due to meet my husband I put down my rucksack to dig out my hairbrush and lipstick, when who should turn the corner coming in the opposite direction but the lovely man himself. He accompanied me for the last mile of the walk. Delighted as I was to be re-united with T, I found the 35 mile drive home and the noise and intrusive nature of other cars and people extremely difficult. That was only after four days walking. I wonder how I will find the 14 day walk along the Pilgrims Way in September 2016?
For a full index of my posts on Walking the Ridgeway please click here.
To read more about my adventures trudging…. local paths and national trails, please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll – “About the Journey” or subscribe to my blog by clicking here and entering your e mail address in the box on the right.
I have been fortunate to walk some sections of the Camí de Cavalls in Menorca and thought it would be worth sharing my experience. The Cami is an ancient path of 186 km runing around the coastline of the whole island. Much of the walking is directly along beaches or paths beside the sea. Some of it passes slightly inland but still follows the direction of the coast.
The Cami de Cavalls is one of the most beautiful paths I have walked and I would really like to keep it a secret! Although well known by Menorcans for centuries, following recent restoration it has become accessible to many more. In my Index below I detail the sections which I have walked and hope to add many more.
History of the Cami de Cavalls
Much of the history of the path is unsure. It has been claimed that it dates from the Fourteenth Century and began life as part of a defence system which allowed men to move from one place to another quickly. It is known, however, that during the Eighteenth Century it connected outposts,forts and watchtowers as a communication service around the boundary of the island.
The local agricultural labourers were meant to keep the path clear and weed free for many years but about fifty years ago the path became overgrown and some landowners tried to extend their boundaries across the route. Following much negotiation the Cami de Cavalls has now been restored and marked with wayposts. The route was officially opened in 2010 and the red wooden posts mark the way around the Menorcan coast.
Index of Posts on walking the Cami de Cavalls
For further posts on my walking adventures please subscribe by clicking here and entering your e mail address in the box on the right. Alternatively please “like” my Facebook page at Jackie McAll: About the Journey