A final post on a journey that began in Winchester and finished in Canterbury… among the highlights was a night in the friars cells and catching up with friends and family on the walk and at some of the overnight stops.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely… although if you’re pressed for time there’s a half length walk from Central London to Canterbury that misses out some of the toughest bits 🙂
What was the difference for you between a pilgrimage and a very long walk?
Some of the things you see on the way, a sense of walking in the footsteps of others, a sense that the very journey is in someway a prayer, plenty of solitude and quiet to reflect and think, some abstinence, and in my case a lot of helpful podcasts/worship tunes/listening to audio Bible versions.
How does it compare to a retreat in a monastery?
Aylesbury Priory (the friars) was wonderful, and it was magical to join in with morning and evening prayer there with the friars and the community, but for me the walk was much healthier in many ways than staying put in one place.
There were a few times of real ‘penguin prayers‘ and others where i was learning lessons by being distracted… for example – I wasted much of an afternoon wondering how far I might reasonably go that day – and in my distraction with speed, distance, markers, possibilities I lost focus on the present… of course that turned out to be an apt parable in itself so nothing is wasted.
Why Winchester to Canterbury?
The idea of pilgrimage crept up on me during a talk at our men’s group by seasoned pilgrim Simon Wethered who regularly hikes on the Camino de Santiago. That was a journey too far for me in the time frame and budget, but he also mentioned UK pilgrim routes.
As i investigated this one I realised I’d pass areas I knew well, including Surrey, but it wasn’t until I got going that the symmetry of the walk made sense to me. The end of day four saw me walking past the Harrow Pub in Caterham and onto Oxted. The Harrow had been the pub of choice for sixth form events when I was in my teens, including the leaving do and a wake for a very close friend who sadly died in a car accident a few months after telling me he wanted to ‘live fast and die young’. Oxted is the closest point on the Downs to where my Mum has lived for the past 15 years since our family left the home I had grown up in. So I spent the first four days of the walk walking towards this key formative place in my life, and the final four days walking away from it, with a wonderful evening with my Mum in the middle. It felt like God had his good hand on that one.
What is it like being back?
As I said in my last post Canterbury felt more like a staging post than a final destination.
I was certainly ready to come home and see the kids and Nicola again.
It only took about 20/25 minutes on the international high speed train to cross over this bridge again:
I think arriving in Canterbury was stranger than arriving in London… Canterbury seemed intrusively noisy after the absolute solitude of a rarely walked North Downs Way path – especially quiet on the rainy days! London seemed like a return to normality – an appreciated hustle and bustle – how things should be.
And it was fabulous to reunite with the family again – absence certainly helps you appreciate what you have got.