Friday, 30 May 2008

Assisi Diary Post 2: 27/05/2008 Canterbury

Assisi Post 2 - 27/05/2008, Canterbury 2224.25 kms left

Well. Have just covered 123 kms in 4 days! Of course my backpack was being transported for me but given we were doing around 30 kms each day, I do not consider it cheating!

Headed off on the Friday morning and met Fred as planned at St Martins. Here we joined the Pilgrimage organised by the Connection at St Martins (see below for a link to their website) and went down to the Crypt Cafe where free hot drinks were being served for the pilgrims. After a time we were joined by a very chatty lady from Cardiff, who ended up in our walking group and turned out to be great fun with some wonderful turns of phrase (or is it turn of phrases?). We also met up with Jim, another member of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome, and his sister Ann.

The link to the site is

Eventually the Pilgrimage was launched at about 11:00 from the steps of St Martins and after a short distance we stopped so that we could chose a walking group depending on our walking ability/fitness. We joined a medium speed group led by Chris.

It was a pretty hard slog. We were walking out of London which of course is pretty big! The combination of hard pavements and noisy, smelly traffic was not conducive to the peace and calm one might associate with a Pilgrimage. The situation was exacerbated by the (planned) late start which meant we needed to keep up a good pace if we were to arrive at our destination at a reasonable time.

Despite my two recent walks (6 days in Spain & 6 days in Italy), on both of which I was carrying a fully loaded rucksack, I found the going tough. Luckily the weather was pleasant and on each of the 3 stops we had, I was able to take of my boots and let the feet breath.

Ably led by Chris and with Charlie (CAR, keep right, I SAID KEEP RIGHT) bringing up the rear, we reached our final destination at about 19:00 where we were welcomed with hot drinks and a very good home-cooked meal. We were accommodated in a Church hall and in fact some of us were able to sleep in the Church itself.

After dinner we went down to the local pub for a beer (despite being warned it was not a very good pub). The warnings proved only too accurate. The pub had no decent beer and was so noisy that we had to sit outside. Unfortunately the evening had become somewhat cool so it was not that pleasant to sit outside. We just had one drink and retuned to our quarters. We were pretty tired anyway. I spoke later in the Pilgrimage to another pilgrim who said he had also visited the pub and it was the worst pub he had ever been in!

The following day we set off shortly after 9:00 with sunny skies and now out of London the route took us along beautiful rural countryside. We walked along paths through rolling hills and in lovely cool woods. Weather was blue skies and sun. Mostly pleasant, at times a bit hot. The sun factor 50 had to be applied!

Day 2 gave us England's fair and pleasant fields ( or whatever the quote is - sorry its not my specialist subject!)

There were several photo opportunities for myself and Fred at 'Pilgrim Way' street signs. Luckily Jim was there to record the event. At one point we found ourselves at Stansted. " Have we gone wrong?" we asked ourselves, but we had been following our leader. No, this was a different Stansted, not the one of airport fame.

A very welcome sight for footsore pilgrims

Time after time we were given hospitality of coffee and sandwiches and cakes from beautiful Churches en route and were greeted by friendly, welcoming Vicars. Most unexpectedly, at the last coffee stop of the day which was provided by the St Martins volunteers, there was the wonderful rainbow Peace Flag flying. it had the word 'Pace' (the Italian for Peace) on it. It reminded me of my previous pilgrimage to Rome where on the very 1st day on the Via Francigena pilgrim route in Italy, I saw the Peace Flag.

Our destination that night brought 3 bonuses. First was a wonderful hot shower, very welcome after 2 days of walking. The next was an opportunity to share prayer with the community at Aylesford Priory. The third was a visit to a great pub. It was quiet and peaceful with lovely comfortable seats and great beer. They had Summer Lightning on of which I had a sup or two!

The following day was Sunday and unfortunately the walk was to start at 8:00 which clashed with the Mass which also started at 8:00. The organisers very kindly offered to ferry me by car to join my walking group at the first coffee stop. But it meant I would not have done the full distance by foot. Nonetheless I resigned myself to the practicalities of the situation. I (and as it turned out several others) attended a lovely Mass and as I came out I was greeted by one of the organisers in walking gear saying " Right, if you want to, and you are very quick, we can catch up with the walkers."

I had to do a double take. "Do you mean we can walk to the coffee stop instead of taking the car?" I asked, not quite believing what I was hearing. "Yes" he said. "Have you any idea what that means to me?" I asked. What it meant was that (assuming I did reach Assisi), I would be able to say I had walked the whole way there, and not "Well I walked the whole way there except for the 8 kms when I went to Mass and ......."and then of course it gets complicated.

Anyway, the net result was that Vaughan led us to the next group, then Paula took us on to the next and then after walking with another group we caught up with our original group at the lunch stop. I spied our leader Chris. "What time are you leaving" I asked. "13:15" was the reply. "What time is it now?" I asked. "12:55" he said. 20 minutes rest. That's OK I thought to myself. So Jim and I joined our group OK. I am still grateful to Vaughan for volunteering to stay back and lead us and Paula for carrying on the baton. I send you both a big pilgrim hug!

It had been raining the previous night and that morning it continued. It was not too bad and after an hour or two the rain stopped and he sun came out and dried us up. It turned out to be a very pleasant walk again. We arrived at our destination and who should arrive but a good friend Yvonne. We had been in touch and she did say she would try and walk with me but I know that things can conspire against that sort of thing.

Anyway she made it and the organisers very kindly allowed her to be a guest walker the following day. We left the group and took off for a Chinese meal, rejoining Fred and Jim later in the pub (where else!) where we were entertained to music by Abba (juke box). It was a great night.

Yvonne insisted I join her in her hotel so we tried to get a taxi but no go! So we walked about 2 miles to the hotel, me grumbling and muttering under my breath the whole time as I had walked enough that day. Fortunately Yvonne with her long legs was well ahead of me and heard none of it! It was a very comfortable room and we got a taxi back the following morning and Yvonne joined the final walk into Canterbury.

Day 4 turned out to be a bit wetter than day 3 but we soldiered on bravely (!).

Pilgrims warmed by a fire specially lit for us

We were about 10 kms from Canterbury when I thought I saw someone I recognised but who had not been on the walk.

It was Marion who had said she might meet me in Canterbury but was not absolutely sure she would be able. It was great to see her and we arranged to meet later. When we did meet later, it transpired that she, Jim and Yvonne had all met in Rome within a week or so ago! It all seemed a bit bizarre. Each of them had just done a pilgrimage in Italy. Marion had come from the direction of Siena, Yvonne from Assisi and Jim from a south Pilgrimage. They did all recognised each other. It just seemed an amazing co-incidence that they should all meet again on my pilgrimage!

Journey's end (for some!) outside Canterbury Cathedral

Anyway we went to the gathering point prior to the procession to Canterbury Cathedral and who should turn up but Vanda! So our third member was now with us. After the ceremonies Marion offered to take us to the YHA where we were staying which we gratefully accepted as by now it was raining again.

So we booked in and that was the end of one part of the Pilgrimage and the start of the next!

I am very grateful to the organisers of the Pilgrimage for all the hard work and especially to all the volunteers who gave us refreshments along the way. It was a hard 4 days but great fun and the route was in some really lovely countryside. Thanks again.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Assisi Diary Post 1: 22/05/2008, London

Start of my journey, Westminster cathedral

Assisi Diary Posting 1 - 22/05/2008, London
So this is my first posting to my new Diary and the last few days have been absolutely nuts! I think out of the last 48 hours I have slept about 7.

I was actually supposed to have started this walk from my house in Hertfordshire on Tuesday but completely underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete the various bits and pieces I had to do before leaving (I would never make a project manager would I Carl? and by the way let us wish Carl all the best as he gets married tomorrow 23rd May).

Anyway it soon became clear I would not be ready for Tuesday. So then I thought I could start the walk from Hertford town on Wednesday as that was only 15 kms and I had already booked my accommodation at the YHA. I was supposed to see my Parish Priest as he had agreed to bless my journey so I re-arranged this for the Wednesday. But no, I still had a pile of stuff to do at 20:00 on Wednesday night. Somehow it did not seem sensible to only walk one day in Herts so by 23:00 on Wednesday I had resigned myself to skipping out the pre-London stage and starting from London itself.

Would you believe though that even by 03:00 on Thursday morning I still had not finished my preparations? In fact here I am at 23:30 on Thursday evening and I still have not finished! One of the things I needed to do was update my website with info about this walk, and email people with details about where to find my diary. This I still have not done!

So back to the sceal (that's the Irish for story). Having decided not to walk at all prior to London I naturally thought I would have loads of time to finish everything. Not a bit of it! I did not leave the house today until after 16:00 and I had to be in Westminster before 18:00. By now I had decided that the most appropriate thing for me would be to start from Westminster Cathedral if I could not start from my home town. This I had arranged but needed to be at the Cathedral before 18:00 in order to have my Pilgrim passport stamped.
Anyway despite the problems uploading my revised website I managed to get there by the required time and received a stamp and a very very special send-off from the duty Chaplain. And now comes the 'Camino moment'. Sometimes things happen in real life that you cannot invent in a book because no-one would believe you. It seems to happen more frequently on a pilgrimage so they have become known by some as 'Camino moments'.

I had decided I wanted to light a candle in the Cathedral at the Chapel of St Patrick but annoyingly I had only 2p in change. initially I thought "It doesn't matter, but then I decided it did so I went in to a nearby cafe to get change. I had received my order and got the change I needed when suddenly I heard a voice saying "Hello Ann".

It was a member of the St Francis Ramblers who was delivering posters about a forthcoming Barn dance and was heading for the Cathedral. Mind you I forgot to ask her why she was in this cafe as she did not seem to buy anything. I was very pleased to see her and then to my delight she agreed to take a photo of me in front of the Cathedral, and insisted on taking them 'til she felt it was the right picture. We went in to the Cathedral, she to deliver the poster, me to light the candle. On our way in we met yet another member of the Rambler group. None of this would have happened if I had not gone off to find change!

from Cathedral to Abbey

the route takes me past a very famous London Landmark

End of day 1: St-Martins-in-the-Fields

So I then walked the rather short distance (perhaps 0.5 kms or 1 km) from Westminster Cathedral to St-Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square as this is where I will start the onward journey to Canterbury tomorrow.