Pilgrims have always walked in times of upheaval, pitching themselves against weather, hunger, thirst and sometimes pain as they tread the paths their ancestors followed before them.
In The Gathering Place, author, nature campaigner and veteran solo walker Mary Colwell undertakes a 500-mile pilgrimage along the Camino Francés in northern Spain at a unique moment in history – a time of pandemic, profound political change, and a climate and biodiversity emergency.
In a typical year, more than 300,000 people walk this route or part of it, but in between lockdowns in 2020, Mary was virtually alone. The modern world weaves in and out of the Camino's worn trackway, providing a focus for contemplation and a place where memories and experiences can gather. There are times of intense spirituality, meetings with a demon slayer, strange goings-on and magical tales, and the constant backdrop of nature with all its complexity and wonder.
In this delightful book, Mary's winter pilgrimage weaves a personal tale with a walk that millions have undertaken over the centuries. The Gathering Place is a beautiful, thoughtful and, at times, humorous journey of both body and soul.
Mary Colwell is an author, producer and campaigner for nature. She has written for The Guardian, BBC Wildlife, The Tablet, Country Life and many other publications. She has made TV and radio documentaries for the BBC Natural History Unit and has published three books: John Muir: The Scotsman Who Saved America's Wild Places, Curlew Moon and Beak, Tooth & Claw. Mary has won a Sony Radio Academy Gold Award, the David Bellamy Award for her conservation work on curlews, the WWT Marsh Award for Conservation, the BTO Dilys Breese Medal for outstanding science communication and, in 2022, she was awarded the prestigious RSPB Medal. In 2020, she set up the charity Curlew Action. Mary also spearheaded the successful campaign to introduce a GCSE in Natural History in England from 2025.
"A compelling storyteller, Colwell's 500-mile pilgrimage is rich with memories, myths and associations from the past. In this deeply poetic journey into an inner and an outer landscape, the natural world is often her only companion, powerfully evoked and brilliantly observed."
– Caroline Lucas MP
"In The Gathering Place, Mary Colwell is a candle of open-minded curiosity, which reminds us that while clear answers are hard to come by, we should never stop asking questions."
– Patrick Laurie, author of Native
"An unforgettable story of heroes and villains, kindness and horror, holiness and wickedness, miracles, bizarre legends, lost souls, and eventually, solace in a troubled world. Not to be missed."
– Michael McCarthy, author of The Moth Snowstorm
"Mary Colwell brings an inspiring sense of openness, courage, humility and loving curiosity to her daily encounters with the natural and human worlds."
– Jeremy Mynott, author of The Consolation of Nature
"A masterpiece of storytelling on a journey that will move hearts and minds alike."
– Nick Mayhew-Smith, author of Britain's Pilgrim Places