Finis Terrae; End of the Earth

Waiting for the Oporto train to take us to Vila Nova de Cerveira, I’m, brought to musing, watching people moving around our planet. And years glide sweetly by, downstream; with many changes and many things the same, I sit again with pen in hand, with two houses and two girlfriends behind this present peregrine.


Vigo is where Laurie Lee walked out one midsummer morning on his own pilgrimage into 1930’s Spain. It is a stopping place – it has to be, sitting on the coast of Finisterre, a snug harvester of land and sea; and as with all borders, no-one stays long. Neither do I, for rural northern Portugal is but a short train ride and many years away from the glitzy Corte Ingles mall here. I feel as though borders reinforce – not split, not unite, but define and strengthen the differences that bind the world together like a stiched football. Towns bordering countries, even counties, seem to have stronger accents and regional customs, in so many ways like the differences between men and women; it makes the difference – the borders of being, so emphatic, yet potentially such a sweet intrigue.


Women cram onto the small train with new signs in Portuguese, hoisting bags, sacks and holdalls passed up by co-conspirators and stuffed under seats everywhere, including ours. They have brought similar bags through to Spain this morning, weighed down with lace handmade in rocky walled hamlets smelling of livestock and lusty casseroles of beans, black pudding and chouriço. The skilful labour to make such fancy products is much cheaper in the valleys behind the Costa Verde. Our brief stop at the border involves exasperated customs officers re-examining this brigade of women smugglers – they see them every day, plying a meagre trade. It’s a game, the customs officers trying to stick to the book in half-hearted fashion, the women pleading loudly and turning toward us with sly smiles of success, their bags of household treasures intact.


Borders exist in everything, even in the continuity we experience as time; though harder to perceive than lines on maps, more ethereal than night and day and calendar years, there are definable if subjective breaks. They can be as striking as before and after photos of a budding Mr Universe, the gloomy balding man, the woman with splitting hairs, or the dowdy greys of next door’s washing making your clothes laundered in some new detergent more dazzling.

Santiago de Compostela cathedral
Santiago de Compostela cathedral ©

In Santiago de Compostela, where I have just left, the continuities of time and belief are stronger than one would sometimes care to comprehend. Narrow old streets make a renovated mediaeval backdrop for the powerful threads of history that root this town in the earth while dedicating itself quite clearly to something not of this earth.


Saint James’ church, a lofty, soaring splendour of space brings us mortals to our proper stations in life, perhaps. The massive blocks are so much of the earth that you can almost smell the sweat of the labour on them from far gone days. Days, years, when these building blocks were wrenched free from gravity to be poised atop one another in a powerful, yet sometimes dreamlike sensuality to overawe the very men and women who placed them there.


The massive incense burner or Botafumeiro inside the cathedral is regularly lit and its arcing swoop astonishes the congregation nowadays. In ages past, it must have been an awe inspiring and humbling experience to ragged pilgrims, unwashed but devoutly treading the footpaths of Europe for the indulgence gained by their hardships.


Such sights exist, thankfully. The natural splendours of the many worlds we live in can, without a doubt, carry us in bliss to realise there is more to life than what we know and think we know. But Santiago, in solid reality, with flecks like mica of something beyond, convinces us that we can be more than we are. For whatever purpose men and women can create in mind or matter, an ideal; though in this world, it is part of a vision beyond the visible spectrum.


Borders exist; in multifarious forms. Barriers should not; not in the physical or mental world for only by crossing borders do we find the beyond. After all is said and done good fences make good neighbours.


Catch yer later, Bob Cranwell, Amateur Emigrant

  • reply Anne Kenny ,

    A fine piece of writing Bob – very evocative.

    Leave a comment

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    • Greenpeace
    • Ragged uni square
    • Wikipedia logo
    • wateraid logo