Tag Archives: Canterbury

Pilgrimage Story – Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral

After 5 days of walking I expected to feel exhausted, desperate for the end of the walk. I also expected to feel a sense of completion. Neither was true. We often talk about ‘life changing experiences’ and, I guess, every experience changes us a little bit. But I honestly think that I will look back at those five days and realise they were a turning point. I am still not sure what my future holds but I have learned some important things:

Firstly that God wants us to live now. Not constantly worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. When I look back my most vivid visual memory will be walking through the beech woods before Rochester. The silver trunks of the trees moving in some mysterious pattern against the blue and green of bluebells and new leaves. I had hoped that the rhythm of the walking would slow my thoughts and so it did. And I finally realised that, by the grace of God, I am OK. Not unbattered by life’s storms, not unscarred, but really OK.

Secondly I have discovered that I really like long distance walking. I was lucky in that I had time to prepare but I love the gentle sense of discovery, a sort of slow motion uncovering. Having spent most of the last 25 years in front of a computer screen it was a great joy to use my body in this way.

Thirdly that there can be a great joy in supporting others. There were many times when those around me were struggling in different ways. I’ve never been particularly good at coming up behind people and helping them along but I began to see that I could do this.

Almost the last thing we did was attend evensong at Canterbury Cathedral. I wasn’t that keen. We had already had a private service. But it was exactly right. The beauty of the ancient ritual and the choir singing was like a gentle full stop to the whole experience. I will carry these five days with me for the rest of my life.

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:


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


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 – 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 – Shrove Tuesday

When I started this blog I never meant it to be a personal diary. I have never kept a diary so why start now? But in about a month a group of us will be walking from Reigate to Canterbury. A distance of just over 80 miles. So it seems right to record the journey to the pilgrimage as well as the event itself. I’m going to try to write something every day, however short.

So, how do I feel at the moment? Exhausted, stretched too thin, very glad to be giving up work in two weeks time. At the moment I am driving west every evening, almost along the route we will be walking. Last night I drove into huge rainclouds, with Dire Straits on the CD player. Then, when I reached Reigate Hill, the cloud broke up. This has been a very strange way to leave a job. Everyone has been very sweet and supportive which is nice and I don’t have any doubts about where I’m going. An unusual aspect of this company is that the owner sends out e-mails with words of wisdom and quotes. He seems to favour L. Ron Hubbard which is interesting. So, in the spirit of this blog my quote is a book title:

If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat (By John Ortberg)