A family walk of celebration for EDAW'08

In the last week of February 2008 I walked with several friends from Southwark in London to Canterbury in Kent roughly following the route taken by Chaucer's pilgrims. The aim was to raise both funds and awareness for beat (formerly the Eating Disorders Association) in their awareness week . This blog is my reflection on the walk complete with pictures. For an alternative slant on it and stats on the fundraising see our other website www.walk4beat.co.uk

Monday, 7 April 2008

We got there in the end

and Connie did a fantastic impression of the tortoise in the proverb on the way.

I'll post separately about Wye where we stayed on Thursday night. It is a beautiful place and well worth a visit.

We left town via a footpath which wasn't technically part of either the Pilgrims Way or the North Downs Way, but it led to both and we were soon climbing steeply up through woodland. Ann-Marie who is fit and had been given some walking poles by one of Nigel's friends steamed ahead whereas Connie who by then was in a lot of pain with her knee, and I struggled.

We got through and met some interesting "people" on the way. It was helpful too to get a sign that we were still going in the right direction.

About half way along our route we passed Godmersham Park House which was owned by Jane Austen's brother. I did look in the lake to see if I could find Colin Firth but alas I was unlucky - this may be because it was February and Mr Firth was keeping warm inside, or perhaps it was because, despite what it says in the link above, the novel associated with the house is actually Mansfield Park not Pride and Prejudice. There was a lovely fallen old tree in the grounds which gave them more of a Thornfield feel, and Connie got a very unflattering photo of me climbing over the fence to get at it, but I'm not going to show you that one - instead you can have this one which even makes me look vaguely athletic.

A rather unsuccessful lunch break in Chilham where the landlady (not unreasonably, but we weren't feeling reasonable we were HUNGRY) wouldn't let us eat our sandwiches in the pub, and we were off on the last stretch. More woodland gradually gave way to suburb and then city. It was raining by the time we arrived in Canterbury and pretty cold, but we didn't care. We knew by then that my family were waiting at the city gates, and that Connie's were on their way. One glimpse of the Cathedral, and Connie, by now accompanied by "my baby" and secure in the knowledge that she would soon see hers, was off. She was the first to arrive at the Cathedral gates. Ann-Marie and I had to run to join her.
We were greeted by Cannon Claire, last but by no means least of our pilgrimage clergy, and ushered into the crypt for prayers. It was a jubilant, emotional and utterly wonderful experience much improved in the eyes of my and Connie's eldest children by the likeness of the Cathedral crypt to Hogwarts, and in the eyes of our youngest by the presence of each other.

This was actually the last photo taken on the walk

And this, the second to last, was the most atmospheric

But there are loads more which sum up the whole experience more faithfully - you have been warned!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Day 4 - the sisters' tale

There were more of us on Thursday than on any other day. We were joined by Nigel, my father's friend, Kathryn's teacher, High Sheriff of Kent, and all round lovely guy. He also happens to be a fairly physically fit guy with tight deadlines to meet, so he led the "fast track" group leaving another group to plod along afterwards. My sister and I were in the second group.

We started in Hollingbourne which is only a small village and were soon in beautiful countryside. Peter and Sally did the first couple of miles but just missed out on meeting this monk who was taking a rest on his way to Canterbury. According to local legend (or at least according to my mother) no one knows who put him there.

From then onwards the fast group zoomed away, getting to Charing in time for an early lunch. Juliette, Connie and I took it slower giving time to take in the scenery and have a good gossip. It must have been about 11.30 when we got to the cross on the hill and then it was on to Charing and the countryside between there and Wye. It all brought back lots of memories for us sisters and we talked endlessly, but I hope included Connie too.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Day 3 - into the garden

Apparently in the army the officers organise boxing matches on the third day of any exercise to diffuse the tension.

There were times when we could have hit each other on our day 3. We were saved by two things; the arrival of dear little Louise and the beautiful countryside which we began to walk through as soon as we left Rochester (which is itself a very lovely little city).

We spent the night at the Travelodge on the M2. It is clean and safe, but has absolutely no atmosphere, and isn't very near Rochester so we were reliant on taxi drivers to get us to and from the city. This they did, eventually, but waiting for them to come meant that we were late for breakfast. This didn't matter really as Louise who'd eaten before she set off, was very tolerant in waiting for us to breakfast at the excellent Cathedral cafe. As we left the grounds, finally ready to start our walking, a groundsman gave us some extra sponsor money. If you have the chance to visit Rochester do do so - it's lovely and the people are very friendly.

Very soon after we left the town, we were into the countryside. We didn't get onto the North Downs Way which we probably could and maybe should have done, but stuck to Bill's maps of the roads and the Pilgrims Way.

This didn't stop us walking along some really beautiful footpaths and had the distinct advantage that we also passed pubs and shops. The locals at the Windmill at Burham were particularly friendly and the landlord gave us both free drinks and some sponsor money.

The others loved the beautiful scenery, and reacted as anyone seeing something new for the first time would. For me it was different. I didn't feel homesick because in a very real sense I WAS at home, in the county where I was brought up. This was particularly evident when we met up with David, a neighbour from my childhood, and when we passed Boxley Waterworks, scene of many a geography field trip.

We were very hungry by the time we got to Detling, crossing the busy road via Jade's Crossing, and ate at the Cock Horse before trundling off for the last section of our day.

Ann-Marie had expressed dissapointment that we weren't going to be finishing at a Cathedral on day 3 and it's true there was no evensong or SS Wesley to greet us in Hollingborne, but as the sun set over the beautiful Kent countryside my mother was there to meet us, and to take us home to her house for eal supper and a rest for our feet.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Day 2 - Crayford to Rochester

Day 2 always bid fair to be the hardest day, but I think when I look back it will also be the day I'm most proud to have done.

The area between the Thames Estuary and the Medway isn't on your traditional tourist maps, and there's a reason for that. This is the area of the Dartford Crossing, of traffic and motorways and cement factories and pollution. And much of it WAS like that - and yet it was also interesting and inspiring and the end of our day was probably the most emotional time of the whole journey for me.

We stayed in South London for the night with brother-in-law Colin and his wife and son. They were the most wonderful of hosts. We were greeted after our first day's walking with pink bubbly wine and a lovely meal then allowed to rest in comfort before being waved off for day two. I'll write some more about Colin our first "inn keeper" as he deserves a post of his own.

From their house we took the train back to Crayford Station for the beginning of our walk.

Crayford isn't a beauty spot, but the staff at their MacDonalds were as friendly as those elsewhere, and it was a convenient place to start from.

We travelled on, through Dartford which is actually a pretty town with a medieval Church, and not just a crossing. Another Church in the area wasn't quite as picturesque, but had a very good name for their toddler group!

We soon got very tired and the pavements didn't make for easy walking. When I got a friendly text from R asking "where are you now?" I'm afraid the grumpy reply was "In Gravesend where Pocahontas died". Gravesend has its merits, including a very pleasant Inn where we lunched and it's probably worth visiting on its own accord. Ebsfleet on the other hand, as my mother who is a devotee of Ashford International, doesn't yet have much to recommend it as far as I can see although the locals are presumably proud of their football team and their Bishop gets about a bit.

The lead in to Rochester itself is long. At one point I really did think we would make it to Evensong at the Cathedral on time, but it wasn't to be. There was more countryside but there was still a LOT of traffic on our final few miles and we were very tired by the time we saw the Medway. Having been at school in Maidstone and considered the river only fit to throw school hats into at the end of the school year when they were abolished, I was surprised at how emotional I was to see the river. Then again I was VERY tired, and the view from Rochester is VERY different from that from the High Level Bridge in Maidstone. The Cathedral was beautiful, welcoming, calm and restful. The clergy had included us in their prayers AND put out the b-eat information leaflets they had asked for. The choir sang "Lead Me Lord" and I wept with a combination of joy, gratitude and relief.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Charlotte's Day

We named Day 1 of the walk "Charlotte's Day" after Charlotte, a young woman who lost her life to her eating disorder. At Southwark Cathedral Canon Jane led the prayers for all those whose lives have been lost. It was a fitting and prayerful start to our first step of the journey and the love and care we received at Southwark was to be replicated in many places along our journey.

The first steps were along the busy streets of South London, past well known landmarks and on to less familiar territory.

On Jamaica Road we experienced our first act of public hospitality from the staff of the most amazing MacDonald's. Andy and his staff offered us free drinks for our journey. Christine at Beckenham was as friendly, but I have to admit by the time we got there we were past the point of wishing to get our cameras out. At Greenwich we said goodbye to the girls, and the three of us set off past the palace. If you've never been to Greenwich, which until then I hadn't, please consider a visit - it's absolutely amazing.

After that there was still a long way to go to the end of the day and a lot to see. I'd promised Connie that as we were broadly following the Thames Estuary, the way would be flat. This was of course totally inaccurate. If we'd spent the kind of time Bill did researching the route we'd have known that we would be travelling along "Maze Hill" and might have guessed that it, along with Shooters Hill Road, wouldn't exactly be on the level. Sir John Vanbrugh built his house at the top of Shooters Hill, and let me tell you, he did it for the view not for the pleasure of walking up the thing!

I have more pictures of the rest of the day (I think) which I'll add to this when I finally retrieve them from the camera. In Bexleyheath we re-enacted the parable of the Good Samaritan when asking directions. With our matching T-shirts and folders we undoubtedly DID look as if we were selling something, and housewives and business men hurried on desperate to avoid us. The kids in hoodies smoking by the water feature however, were delighted to help, one of them even remarking delightedly "I've never been any good at this before". With their help we limped on and reached Crayford Station and the train to our first night's rest.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The pilgrims

The Prologue
In the style of Chaucer, I'll start by introducing the pilgrims.

The mother
First there's me. I'm obviously not QUITE so unfit as I thought I was. I'm certainly no sportswoman, but I made it to the end without major body strain and with no blisters. I've wanted to walk the Pilgrim's Way for years and the co-incidence of being in Southwark where Chaucer's pilgrims started and having a week in which to raise awareness for beat seemed enough to run with. This time last year I probably wouldn't have had the courage to do it or the realisation that I'm not indispensable at home, but this year, having said I'd do it, I got caught up in the enthusiasm of others and began to believe that, just perhaps, it would become a reality.

The friends
I honestly don't think Connie had a clue what she was letting herself in for when she said she'd walk with me, but walk she did, all the way to the end. On the way we had both tears and fun, and it was a real pleasure to have a week together.

Ann-Marie was much more fit when she volunteered to walk, and throughout the days it showed rather. I think we sometimes slowed her down, but she put up with our tortoise-like behaviour. Born profoundly deaf, Ann-Marie has overcome many obstacles in life, and this walk was probably a breeze compared to some of them. Her presence was an inspiration to Connie and me, and without her we probably wouldn't have got to the end.

The girls
Lisa and Nicola registered to walk the first mile, but ended up walking five with us. They were great fun and we enjoyed their company enormously.
Louise walked the most difficult day, day three, when we were crabbed and unpleasant company. Bravely she joined us as planned for the fourth day also. She is a wonderful girl and it was amazing to meet her.
The grandmother
My mother fully intended to walk with us, but an unfortunate foot injury prevented it. Instead she performed the vital task of fetching and carrying us from some of our stops, and was there both at the beginning to wave us off and at the end to welcome us home.

The sister
My sister did day four with us, and helped to make it the day of most fun for all of us. It was lovely to see you Juliette, hope you enjoyed yourself.

The Priests

When I've finished writing all the rest of the thank you letters, I'm going to write to Archbishop Rowan to thank him for his Church. The CofE gets a lot of bad press, some of it deserved, but in his own back yard, it certainly knows how to support a weary pilgrim or two. We were given a truly holy send off by Canon Jane at Southwark, a warm welcome and some good practical support by Philip at Rochester, and our whole families were received and blessed at the end by Canon Claire of Canterbury. Through the wonders of text messaging we also had Kathryn our personal priest with us all the way.

The senior citizens

Peter and Sally joined us for part of day four. Peter's knowledge of the area and of walking in general was phenominal, and it was just splendid to have Sally the listener with us as we walked through some of the most beautiful of countryside.

The Professor
Professor Janet Treasure, who is, as Bill
described her, one of those people with more letters after her name than in it, DID wave us off from Southwark but I can't prove it. I don't have any photos because, bless her, she was holding the cameras.

The dignitaries
Nigel Wheeler is a friend of my father's. He is also High Sheriff of Kent.
More importantly he is also a charismatic and inspiring person. We were very blessed to have him walk with us on day four. I say walk with US, because he actually walked with the "fast group" including Louise and Ann-Marie, leaving the tortoises (me, Connie and Juliette) more time to admire the scenery and take in the fresh air ;-)
He was joined for part of the walk by Richard a local councillor, and by several other friends who didn't make it into the photos. The monk in the picture however, did not move a muscle to help us, but I think you'll agree he's a fu
n sort of person to meet on your way.

The husband

Bill probably deserves a post of his own. Without him the walk would undoubtedly have remained a dream and Connie's offer to come with me just a passing joke. Bill spent hours on the website planning the routes and advertising the walk. All the time we were walking he was supporting us and tracking our movements. He was there at the end in Canterbury, but then again he was there all the way along too really.