Category Archives: Pilgrimage Diary

Pilgrimage Story

Day 1

Millenium Stones

The pilgrimage started in mist. Yet for me it felt as though the mist had lifted. All the fears and moods I had experienced for the last few weeks lifted and I felt a lightness of spirit that continued for the whole of the 5 days. As we gathered in the car park at the top of Reigate Hill I really felt I was setting out on a journey.

My memories of that first day are of abundance and space. Our first stop was at these rather mysterious ‘Millenium Stones’. Each one had an inscription from the last two thousand years. Starting with the first few verses of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

It is the beginning of an extraordinary passage which links words with actions and God with the reality of the physical world. In the rhythm of the steps we took; In the ups and downs of the North Downs, we all experienced a bit of that reality.

Sheep and Goats

This is some of us on the first day near the stones. The sheep and goats were very friendly and interested in us, especially our packed lunches! As we walked along the mist lifted and we had amazing views over the countryside and then sometimes we were in woods, quite closed in. I remember especially fields of wild garlic under the trees with their great glossy green leaves. We also saw our first bluebells that day, but just a smattering, not the carpets we saw later. And there was an abundance of conversation. One of the people walking with us that day was a young man about to train as a priest. I was really interested in how he had come to that decision. It seemed that other people had recognised this in him before he had in himself and had told him so. And I walked with a lady swimming teacher and we talked about how kids did and didn’t learn to swim. On that first day I didn’t feel a need for silence, that came later.

After almost 20 miles of walking we came to a strange sort of wood. A number of large bushy pine trees had come down across the path. We couldn’t tell if they had been felled or just fallen. It seemed at first as though it would be impossible to get through them but there proved to be a way round or over all of them, all of us felt this to be symbolic in one way or another.  Then we came out of the wood and had sight of Chevening  House. It looked much like any other large country house, only the tall metal fence around it showed it to be a government residence.

Chevening Altar

As it grew dark we came to Chevening village. I knew we were going to stop at the church but I hadn’t expected such a warm welcome: Coffee and cake and a wonderful lecture on the history of the church. The image I cannot get out of my head is of coming into the warmly lit church through a curtain. We were tired and dirty but made so welcome. On the altar was this wonderful carving of the last supper.

 Day 2

The second day seemed harder. For many people in our group it was a lot harder. Blisters and knee problems set in. I was lucky that I had had time to prepare and get my knees strong enough but I know that some people in our group were really struggling on that second day. It was on this second day that the walk began to feel more like a pilgrimage.

Pilgrims WayIt had rained heavily in the night and the clouds were still over the downs. There were quite a lot of small steep, slippery paths and, although we still had some amazing views we had to concentrate on the footing.

Then, quite suddenly, we came out on a large clear space high over the valley. The land around belonged to a Christian training centre and they had put a large wooden cross at the edge of this space to act as an open air worship centre. As I looked at the cross I seemed to see another cross on another windy hilltop long ago, as the sky went dark:

Cross

Walking in woodsAs we talked together many people said ‘Oh, but the walking’s not the important thing’. But for me it was a sort of calming rhythm that forced me to exist at a slower pace. I had wondered what it would be like to be without the pressures of working with computers and, that afternoon, I started to find out.  I dropped behind and just enjoyed the beauty of the woods ‘A cathedral of treeness’. Each kind of tree had its own special way of growing and existing. At the end of that day, coming into Rochester we walked through a long wood full of elegant beech trees that made different shapes as we walked.

Ladybird and nettlesEvery now and then I would look down and see the spring growth at the side of the path. I caught this ladybird sitting on a bed of nettles.

 

 

 

 

Day 3

Day 3 did not start well for me. We had arranged to attend morning prayer and communion at Rochester cathedral. I was not raised in a Christian family and our own church is fairly informal so the complexity of these services was baffling. I couldn’t understand why we had to pause in the middle of sentences (and for how long?). The Dean was wearing a beautiful robe but it made the service like a theatrical performance. That, and not being able to follow the short service in the various books we were given, I felt I was just looking on as an outsider, not involved at all.

Then at (a very good) breakfast in the church café it was suggested that we should all walk together at a slower pace. I had really enjoyed the fast pace and long walks of the last two days so this didn’t seem like a good idea at all in my current state of mind.

At this point I should explain something: Each one of us had been given a ‘Prayer partner’. This was someone who was not walking with us but was supporting us through prayer and other means. Vanessa and I sent texts to each other and she had also prepared a little card for each day with a thought and a bible verse. I had a daily shock as she hit the nail on the head with amazing accuracy. Her thought for day 3 was:

You have an inner strength and I know you can help encourage others. Keep going, this may be the hardest day but you can do it.

Sometimes we just need to be told! The walk was a lot shorter that day.

StepsBut we had a lot of steps, endlessly up and down, and it was the only rainy day. I hope I was encouraging to those around us. I’ll remember it as a day of conversations: A conversation, walking through the rain, about God and Science (two great passions of my life) and how they each made the other come alive; A conversation over coffee in a pub about our lives when we were younger; A conversation about answers to prayer and, near the end of the walk: a conversation about these very strange flowers growing under some Yew trees:

Strange Flowers

 Day 4

Vanessa’s text for the day was Matthew 11:28:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Lean the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Message translation)

Pilgrim's Way

And so it was. It was a day of fast walking on easy tracks but the sense of lightness and rhythm increased. We had a singer with us and she tried to get us all singing. The problem was we couldn’t remember the words. We were walking mostly on the original pilgrims way and I had a sense of all the thousands and thousands of feet that had been before us. What were they hoping for? Healing of their bodies or souls? Resolution or forgiveness? As I walked along in the spring sunshine I imagined Jesus walking beside me, keeping step. Not the western vision of Jesus: tall and delicate, but a short swarthy chap with dark skin and a hooked nose, in a rather grubby linen robe. In the evening I drew this picture of the both of us walking together:

Walking with Jesus
At lunchtime we were joined by a few others, including our Vicar, Phil. There was the option of driving a few miles and doing a shorter walk or walking another 11 miles that afternoon. I was quite keen to do the longer walk and in the end there were just 3 of us doing the whole 11 miles. One of our youth ministers, Wendy, was with us and she extracted all sorts of information from me and Hazel: How we met our husbands, how we ended up in our professions. When we finally came into Chilham we were certainly ready for a drink and a rest but it was a good afternoon.

 Day 5

Pilgrims

The final day was just as I had imagined it: Lots of people walking together, sunshine and fluffy clouds. With only 7 miles to walk it was like a holiday. We passed through lots of apple orchards with blossom on the trees. With everyone walking at different speeds there were lots of stops and conversations. I had lived for two years in north west Canterbury so the countryside became more and more familiar to me.

BlossomIt seemed like a different person who had walked through the chestnut woods 26 years ago and in a way it was. It was before marriage, children, Jesus and a whole career in computing. In spite of this it was good to be back. As is so often the case, it was all smaller, brighter and really quite pretty compared with all those years ago.

And then, finally we were at the cathedral. And what happened there, and what happened next will be in the next post.

 

Pilgrimage Diary – Alpacas, Yellow fields and White hedges

This will be my last blog sitting at my desk at home for a week. I have the wordpress app on my phone so expect short pictorial blogs for a week or so. Tomorrow we set off on a 5 day walk to Canterbury. Yesterday I went on a 12 mile walk starting from Reigate Heath. I quite like walking alone; you become very aware of sounds: bird song, planes overhead, and the scents of plants and other farm stuff.

A few miles in I came across a traffic jam on a small country road. This was caused by three Alpacas which had escaped from a local farm. They seemed very happy wandering about and ignored their owners who were trying to round them up.

AlpacasAlpacasThey wandered around the green holding up the traffic with no worries at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early spring everything is odd colours. There are yellow fields full of rapeseed and white hawthorn hedges.

rapeseedI think I am ready for the pilgrimage. After 12 miles nothing hurt which was good although I was still tired. I’m still suffering some strange mood swings but these are getting less. Could I be missing work? When I get back I’m going to get down to some proper oil painting which will keep me busier. Hawthorn

Pilgrimage Diary – 30th March

Reigate HeathThe light was wonderful this afternoon so I headed out to Reigate Heath to do this little sketch. I liked the strange red colour the trees have before the leaves have properly come out and the yellow of the gorse bushes. Also the sky is a strange yellow/orange colour in the late afternoon.

After I’d done the sketch I just sat and let the peace of the afternoon sink in. It really felt like God was just there on the Heath enjoying it too.

This morning I was in church at a ‘family communion’. I have to say that it is the sort of service I usually avoid but I actually really enjoyed it. The lady next to me was struggling with a young boy so I just started chatting to her while the communion is going on, she was really nice. It was great meeting up with all sorts of people after the service.

Going back to work tomorrow for a day to train the new chap. That’s going to be strange.

Pilgrimage Diary – 29th March

Thinking about our walk I did two pictures. The first is this which is more the feel of walking over a windy hillside.walk 1
The second is a map with pictures of the very last part of our walk.

Canterbury walk (2)
This last part will be through the very beautiful countryside around Canterbury. I’ve imagined a blue sky with little fluffy clouds. It will be interesting to see what it is really like.

I haven’t been blogging this weeks but I’ve been quite busy. I had a trip to London with a friend to the Tate Britain. Great gallery. We had a little tour with a lovely guide. And I have been starting to set up a new Christian Book Club.  But I have also been quite tired. I think this is a reaction to suddenly being able to relax after so long under pressure. The other night I slept for 8 hours straight which is really unusual. Maybe this is God’s way of healing.

Tomorrow is Mother’s day. It is a significant one for me as, for the first time in 19 years, I will have neither of my children with me. Will is living in London now. Lucy is on her French exchange. I’m OK with this, it feels right. As a mother there is a sadness and a joy in seeing your children grow up. There is an article in the Times today by Janice Taylor about modern parenting which is interesting from a Christian point of view:

The Tory MP Rory Stewart said this week that “ours is a culture not of ancestor worship but of descendant worship. Children must sense that nothing an adult does is more important than their own desires”

In the absence of religious faith, we believe only in our own DNA and push around our household gods in Bugaboos. Parenthood is no longer a phase of everyday life, but a revered state. The world is not an adult domain into which children must learn to fit, but increasingly organised around childish needs. As Mr Stewart told Radio Times, babies are the new Opium of the masses.

So, for many people, Dawkins is right. There really is nothing but ‘The Selfish Gene’.  Even as a Christian it is hard not to see your own children as amazing (especially when they really are amazing!) but it is balanced by the knowledge that they  are God’s Children as well as ours. So ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ to me. I’ll enjoy it.

Pilgrimage Diary – Walking

Walking North Downs Stepping Stones

Two lovely weekend days and I was too busy to blog! On Saturday we did a practice walk for the pilgrimage. We walked from Reigate to Dorking along the ridge of the North Downs. The picture on the left is some of us resting high up above the valley. Then down to the valley and across the stepping stones across the Mole, which is the other picture. The guy in the stripy tee shirt is Cyril, my husband, who was quite nervous. Even after a couple of weeks of reasonably dry weather the river is still very high and coming just over the stones. Its not very deep but you would still get wet if you fell in! In the river valley the woods were full of wild garlic which had a wonderful aroma.

Then back along the Greensand Way to Reigate. After 20 miles my right knee was aching a lot but some people were suffering more. I’m not exactly sure what effect this is having from a spiritual point of view. It feels like a ‘clearing out’; being out in the familiar, beautiful Surrey countryside, letting my mind wander where it will. I was very tired but peaceful when we came back and in bed by 9:30.

Pilgrimage Diary – 21st March

Back blogging after a difficult couple of days. I guess I should have expected some adjustments after stopping work so suddenly. The answer was simple. I woke up this sunny morning and got my painting gear together. Drove about a mile to the foot of the downs and painted the view. Reigate is just to the left. Tomorrow morning we will be walking 20 miles to Dorking – first over the top of where I’m sitting and coming back in front. I’m not sure how to develop these pictures. I might just try my new watercolour paints to start off with.

IMG_0009IMG_0007 (2)

Then we wandered out to the shops this afternoon.

On the way back the rain came down and the sun was still out. The rainbow seemed to be coming right into Lucy’s House.IMG_0005

Pilgrimage Diary – Not working

Me 1Today is my first day not working. There were times when I really did feel like the picture. A strange and rather wonderful sense of space. The spring flowers are everywhere, although no tulips yet (did I mention the tulips? I’ll get back to that). There were some things that should have been frustrating but weren’t: Meeting up with a friend cancelled, a very slow queue in the supermarket.

My original blog readers must be getting a bit frustrated because I haven’t done a book review in ages. I have been reading ‘A New kind of Christianity’ by Brian McLaren. There are some great ideas but I think it says a lot about the state of the church in the USA. We do moan about our rather meek and mild Church of England but maybe its not so bad after all! But he has some great ideas about Heaven, Hell and how we have got it wrong. Watch this space for more details.