St. Cuthbert's Way Workshop
Holy Island, UK. Photo by Chris Combe
Challenge yourself. Inspire the writer in you.
The research is in. Walking, walking in nature, traveling to a less familiar place, and risk-taking do boost creativity and enhance writing. That's why so many well-known writers have spent time traveling to and writing in places far from home. And it's the premise of Compass Writers retreats. By getting out in nature, moving our bodies, and engaging in simple artistic activities, we fire the creativity centers of the brain and give oxygen to the work on the page.
During this 9-day writing retreat, we will explore several themes, including:seeing and listening deeply; facing the writing void; and exploring one's truth in narrative, poetic, or personal journaling form. Along the way, we will discuss aspects of the writing craft. What are the beats of the traditional story arc? How do we get to realistic dialogue? How to say a lot with a little?
Each day will start with gentle yoga (no experience needed), a physical form of art. We'll have breakfast and begin our first day of walking. Throughout these seven days, we will traverse an ever-changing variety of lush scenery and spectacular views, from verdant forests to rural farmland to quiet Northumbrian beaches. This walk traverses Scottish countryside at its very best.
Along the way, we'll encounter abbeys, historical sites, castles, the River Tweed with its pristine water and diverse wildlife, Roman fort ruins, friendly locals, farms, and a lot of sheep.
Throughout this moving retreat, we'll find spots to stop and write, discuss writing, interact with the scenery around us, and get to know each other and our writing muses a little better. On shorter walking days, we'll gather for afternoon sessions and each night we'll gather to dine before moving into an evening workshop session.
Throughout the workshop, we will utilize an integrated arts approach to inspire our writing: nature drawing, light clay work, music et al. Each participant will be asked to lead one arts-based prompt session – a wonderful, inclusive way to build community and share our writing interests equally.
This workshop is also grounded in the Amherst Writers & Artists method, which helps keep each of us safe and recognizes all of us as the artists we are.
St. Cuthbert Way Walk FAQs
What is Arts Integration?
Arts integration is an approach to teaching, learning, and inspiring writing through the use of simple drawing, painting, and other physical art forms (yoga and walking count). At Compass Writers, we often use gentle art activities as prompts for writing sessions and as a means of more deeply accessing the centers of the brain associated with creativity.
What is the AWA Method?
The Amherst Writers & Artists method is prompt-based and designed to make writers of all levels feel safe and equal, thus allowing each writer to write freely. As a free-thinking writer, you are invited to use my prompts or follow your muse. All writers will be invited to read back their work in the non-judgemental and encouraging environment of the workshop.
Toward that end, the essential practices of an AWA workshop are:
Everyone's writing, including the leader's, is treated with equal respect and value.
Writing is kept confidential and treated as fiction.
Writers may choose to refrain from reading their work aloud.
Responses to just-written work reflect what is strong and successful.
Responses and exercises support the development of literary craft.
Do I need to be "good" at art or have any background in art?
None. Zero. Zilch. We are not here to become fine painters. You are a writer. And by engaging in simple art activities or observation of art we see on the walking path, we increase our knowledge of writing craft, start to observe the world anew, find writing prompts all around us, and gain a greater appreciation for and sense of connection with the wider artistic world. As writers, we are artists.
Can I come if I REALLY can't draw?
Yes! Don't let your concern about this aspect of the retreat stop you! Really! The arts-integrated exercises are suggested, not forced. They are a chance to try something new. Explore yourself and your writing in new ways. As with anything in this workshop, take what you like and leave the rest.
The cost of this workshop and accommodations is $3,500 per person. A deposit of $1,000 by June 1 secures your seat. The remainder is due by August 1. If spreading payments over a longer period would ease the burden, please let me know. Airfare is NOT included and we leave it to participants to book their own.
Rooms are double occupancy. That means you will be rooming with one other person for the first seven nights. If you are coming together I am happy to put you in the same room. Otherwise, we will rotate partners as we go. Each walker will have their own room on the last two nights of the workshop on Holy Island.
Currently, economy airfare from Seattle or Los Angeles is running between $900 and $1,300
Travel insurance runs between $250 and $500 depending on level and coverage (see Travel Insurance)
If you are traveling from Seattle, I may be able to make your airfare part of a group rate.
Short story: Expect full expenses (including your daily lunch, personal souvenirs, alcohol, etc.) to be approximately $5,000.
What does the $3,500/9-day trip include?
7 days (9 nights) walking St. Cuthbert's Way, an official walking path and pilgrimage route from Melrose, Scotland to Holy Island, UK. This includes two nights on Holy Island. Again, rooms are double occupancy.
All art supplies. Each day will include walking, writing sessions and integrative arts exercises to promote, inspire or prompt writing. No art experience needed!
Daily morning stretching/yoga
Learning sessions/presentations on story arc, interviewing, the art of the detail
A full "Scottish breakfast" each morning and dinner each night. You are in charge of your lunch and snacks, both easily found on the road.
A flask to remember the trip – and to enjoy your favorite beverage or local Scotch
Information on the history of St. Cuthbert's way, a map and several historical stops along the route. Alcohol is not covered on this trip.
Transport at the end of the trip – from Holy Island back to the airport in Edinburgh, Scotland
1-hour writing critique of your work (10 pages double-spaced, 12 pt) or coaching session after the walk via Zoom.
Reminder: Participants are responsible for air travel to and from Scotland and for getting themselves to the walk start point in Melrose, Scotland by September 19.
What does it not include?
Round trip flights to/from Edinburgh
Transit from Edinburgh airport to our meeting place in Melrose. Those who travel from Seattle with Cheryl are invited to ride in a taxi with her to Melrose.
Personal, medical, or trip cancellation insurance
Travel insurance (I do require that you purchase this insurance and suggest you include trip cancellation to it)
COVID tests, testing, or quarantine should these be necessary at any point
Who is the best candidate for this trip?
This workshop is open to writers of all levels, whether you haven't picked up that pen since high school or you're well-published.
It is limited to six walkers. Why? Because smaller groups allow us to get to know each other, share our writing confidently, and grow together. Not to mention it is far easier to keep a group of six people together than a larger group.
So. If you write, you are the perfect candidate. The AWA method believes that if you pick up a pen (or keyboard) to put words on a page, you are a writer. As the founder of the method, Pat Scheider, put it: "A writer is someone who writes."
The purpose of this retreat is to connect and encourage each other's writing and honor the courage it takes to do the work.
What are the physical requirements?
Writers should be able to walk 3-5 hours a day (up to 13 miles one day and 10 miles on another. Other days are around seven miles). The route includes a range of surfaces from smooth asphalt to rocky terrain. There are some hills, although this is largely a "beginner/moderate level" walk.
Can I join if I know I cannot go the full distances?
Yes. Only you know your limits. If you can only walk shorter distances, you may walk out on a path to the middle of what you know is your limit and then turn around and return to the start point and bus or taxi forward. You'll need to cover extra transportation costs. The bus is quite inexpensive, the road distances between walk points aren't long and buses are comfortable in Scotland.
Will I have to carry my luggage?
No. A small day pack is useful to hold your notebook and doodling supplies and to have snacks available. But our luggage (one bag each, more at a higher charge) will be transported forward for us.
What about restricted diets?
Those without restricted diets will do best on this trip. In general, vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products will be fine as well. Each day comes with a full Scottish breakfast, which can be modified for vegetarians and gluten-free eaters. We'll be going to restaurants (limited in the region) for dinner and modifications may be iffy in those. If you are interested, but have food restrictions, please email me before booking so I can look into your needs.
Scotland? Will it rain? What weather should I expect?
Yes, it will! No trip to Scotland is complete without a downpour! And I hope that we experience an array of moods on the road. But with the right wet gear, you will be just fine and it will certainly offer a nice mood for your writing. Do not be afraid of rain. Sometimes it's the best part of this trip. In the fall, Scotland is likely to experience temperatures ranging from around 46°F to 57°F, so this will be a cool-weather walk. I will provide a list of recommended clothing and gear. NOTE: I recommend you bring only enough to fit in a standard carry-on bag ( 22" X 14" X 9”).
Will we walk together?
There will be days when walkers are invited to go at their own pace and but largely we need to stick together for the writing exercises. If this becomes too cumbersome, we will re-think on the road.
Am I in good enough shape to walk?
Only you can determine that. But we do provide a suggested schedule to increase your walking from 1 mile to 10 miles in the months leading up to the workshop. I am happy to talk with you about this and all questions you might have. All travelers who have joined past walks felt trepidation with regard to this question before the trip, and each (including our eldest walker at age 78) found they were able to complete the adventure.
St. Cuthbert's Way is a “pilgrimage route.” What does that mean? Must I be religious?
If I could shout the answer to that latter one, I would:
NO, you do not need to have any religious affiliation, spiritual practice, or belief in anything beyond yourself to join this workshop.
Yes, the route has been marked as an official pilgrimage path by some Christian denominations. However, we will be approaching this path from a historical perspective. Scotland has dubbed it one of the country's official historic walkways.
That said, you will see many nods to the region's religious history and to individuals revered or considered holy within that history. If that spirituality inspires you, lovely. I hope that all of us find a deep spiritual connection on this path – with each other, with our deeper selves, and with nature.
Pilgrimage, at its essence, is the act of stepping out of one's ordinary life for a time to consider new thoughts, explore emotions and contemplate one's inner world. A pilgrimage starts at one place, has a midpoint, and arrives at another place, internally and externally. To me, writing is a pilgrimage. I hope that this walk becomes a pilgrimage for your writing as well.
How much travel insurance is needed?
As we have learned these past few years, travel insurance is essential for bigger trips. It is required for this trip and must cover any medical expenses that might come up during our time together.
At a minimum, you need insurance to cover the standard $1,000,000 medical evacuation coverage, trip cancellation, trip interruption and trip delay coverage and $100,000 in medical coverage including hospitalization due to COVID-19, and if available in your state, coverage that will cover you should you need to quarantine. A note on rates: According to a Forbes review, the average travel insurance cost for a $5,000 trip is $228, and the range of rates is from $154 for a basic policy to $437 for a policy with generous coverage.
Speaking of which, what if COVID occurs on the road?
I will make every effort to protect walkers from COVID-19 by encouraging healthy practices like handwashing and use of masks and social distancing where they may be warranted. All walkers must be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and must bring masks with them, just in case.
If COVID-19 symptoms occur during the trip, the affected walker will need to test for the virus. A positive test means, sadly, they will need to leave the trip. I and my travel partners will do everything in our power to help you find appropriate accommodations where you can quarantine. Quarantine costs are the individual's responsibility.
What's the cancellation policy?
If I must cancel:
I reserve the right to cancel the trip if fewer than six walkers register. If I must cancel, those registered will receive a full refund.
If you must cancel:
The initial $1,000 deposit is non-refundable and will be forfeited in all cases.
If you cancel before June 1, 2023, the remainder of what you paid will be refunded.
After June 1, 2023, the remainder will be refunded only if I can fill your vacated seat with another participant.
If I do find a replacement for your vacated seat, I will consider refunding the deposit fee as well.
There can be no exceptions to this cancellation policy, which includes instances of personal emergencies. After June 1, 2023, travel protection insurance will provide your only option for recouping your investment in the trip.
Wow! That seems overwhelming. Why do it anyway?
Whew! Breathe in, breathe out. It feels like a lot of information and commitment. I know. But I want you to feel confident in your decision. Things like walk training, travel insurance, and cancellation policies give us all pause. It takes time to research. But having chosen to participate in and lead walking writing workshops, I want to offer you this: Each one has been deeply affirming and its impacts are long-lasting. My own confidence climbed as did my commitment to my writing and those I’ve walked and written with feel the same. And, we’ve made many incredible friends on the journey.
As one participant on our West Highland Way walk put it:
"The walk and the workshop changed everything for me. I no longer say 'I like to write.' I say boldly 'I am a writer."
Walk Distances and Destinations
The workshop begins in Melrose, Scotland on September 19 with dinner at 5 p.m. It ends at breakfast on Holy Island, UK on September 28.
Day 1 Tuesday, September 19: Arrive at Melrose, a delightful market town famous for its abbey. Point of history: St. Cuthbert started his religious life in Melrose and Robert the Bruce's embalmed heart is buried beside Melrose Abbey. We will gather at dinner, introduce ourselves, do a short writing session, and head to bed.
Day 2 Wednesday, September 20: We start our day with breakfast and yoga/stretching before walking 8 miles from Melrose Abbey to the village of St. Boswells .Along the way, stop to write, doodle, and take in fantastic views of the Border countryside. Dryburgh Abbey is along the way. Dinner and evening session.
Day 3 Thursday, September 21: Leaving St. Boswells, the 7-mile path winds its way along the curvy River Tweed and through the village of Maxton. A long stretch over the Dere Street Roman Road takes us to our stop in Jedburgh.
Day 4 Friday, September 22: Building up mileage today! On our 9.5-mile stroll to the village of Morebattle, we'll pass through Cessford. Imagine writing at Cessford Castle!
Day 5, Saturday, September 23: This 7.5-mile walk day starts with a climb over a low ridge and then drops into the Kale Water Valley and Wideopen Hill, the highest point on the walk and the halfway point of the route. Expect great views of the Cheviots as we make our way to the picturesque village of Kirk Yetholm
Day 6: Sunday, September 24: This is our long day – 13 miles! It's also the point of our journey where you'll be able to place one foot in Scotland and the other in England! And we'll pass Northumberland's largest hill fort before descending to Wooler, a market town founded in the 13th century.
Day 7 Monday, September 25: Leaving Wooler, this 10-mile leg will take us over Weetwood Moor and past the villages of West Horton and East Horton towards St Cuthbert's Cave. Yes, we'll write in or near a cave! After that, we'll roll into the village of Fenwick.
Day 8: Tuesday, September 26: The final 7 miles to Holy Island. Tide times on this final day will determine our start time since we are aiming for the causeway road which leads onto the island only when the water is low. Or we may use the Pilgrim's Path across the sands to access the island.
Day 9 Wednesday, September 27: A full day exploring and writing on Holy Island brings us to the end of our journey together.
Day 10 Thursday, September 28: Transport to Edinburgh airport.
Note: Scotland in September can be quite rainy. While the walking lengths and days will not be altered, the workshop itinerary and sessions may need to be, depending on the availability of indoor writing spaces along the route.
Workshop Facilitator Cheryl Murfin, M.ED, AWA
I've been writing for as long as I can remember. What has kept me writing is the ongoing encouragement from others and my desire to support and encourage other writers. Compass Writers was born to achieve both goals.
I was trained as a reporter and received my BA in Journalism from the University of Washington. I received my MFA in integrated arts (writing) from the University of Montana's innovative Creative Pulse program. I've been a writing workshop facilitator for 20 years and am certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method. In 2008, I founded the Venice Writer's Block, a supportive writing community that now has more than 2,000 members. In 2021, Seattle Writers Block was launched. I've been long-distance walking and writing with others since 2019, walking among other paths the Camino de Santiago pilgrim path, Scotland's West Highland Way, and portions of the Via Francigena.
I've written for newspapers and magazines for 30 years and am currently managing editor at Seattle's Child. My blog, A Voice on the Road, chronicles my walking writing experience, both alone and with groups of workshop writers.
But none of that is what makes me the right person to lead you on St. Cuthbert's Way.
Here's what does: I believe we are all born with creative genius. I also believe that writing and most other artistic pursuits are important tools for unlocking a person's truth. Meeting yourself on the page and in other art practices is both a means of healing and a means of growing as a human being. Because I believe this, I am ready and eager to encourage you to approach your art with your entire being — body, mind, and spirit.
Let’s Walk Together
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