"While our ageing group of Walkers have decided that the time is right to hang up their long distance walking boots, they would be pleased to give practical advice and asistance to any younger Catholic men wishing to carry on this pilgrimage tradition. Those interested should visit our 'Contact Us' page and we promise to respond promptly to any enquiry"
From: Peter Walters (on behalf of the Walk organising committee)
NOTES ON THE 2018 WALK (Saturday 6 to Sunday 14 October)
A good omen? – the Friday before the Walk
As in previous years, those of the Walsingham Walkers with long journeys to make gathered together in one of the schoolrooms adjoining St. Ignatius Church in Stamford Hill for an overnight stay that would enable us to start the following morning’s walk reasonably refreshed. Sadly this year, our numbers were down to five Walkers in all, four of whom took advantage of the Stamford Hill stopover, courtesy of Fr. Andrew, the new priest at St Ignatius.
Our first duty was to purchase some breakfast food for the following morning, so off we went to Sainsburys at the top of Stamford Hill who duly obliged with the necessary provisions. Having got our focus quite properly on culinary matters, we then decided to repeat the excellent experience we had last year at the Columbian restaurant near to Seven Sisters Road. However, while exiting the Church car park, a rat ran across our path that caused the odd ribald comment but, remembering that in Chinese mythology the rat is a symbol of wisdom and prophesy, I was heartened by this occurrence. Might this not be a good omen for the Walk?
A short stroll took us down to the Columbians food emporium and we were, once again, not disappointed with the quality and extent of the food they served us, all in a noisy but very friendly environment with a background of loud South American music. Lots of young folk in particular who were obviously having a good time, as indeed, were we.
Back to the slightly quieter environment of the schoolroom and ready for a comfortable (ish) night on the schoolroom floor that, in my case, was one of the most uncomfortable nights I have ever spent as my brand new and really quite expensive inflatable sleeping mat turned out to have a couple of small holes in it that became apparent in the wee small hours when I was just too tired/semi-comatose to do anything about it. In the morning, out came the repair kit and with many quite unreasonable mutterings against the Taiwanese factory that had produced the wretched mat, I endeavoured to deal with the punctures, hoping that the glue would set by the following night and that the omen of the rat would come to my aid. Fat chance, as it turned out.
Weird practices of boating folk – the first day (Saturday) - 17 miles walked
Saturday looked to be dry and quite cool – ideal walking weather in fact, despite some rain threatening clouds. Before that. however, we made our way to the side Chapel at St Ignatius where one of the priests there kindly said Mass for us, after which we said our Novena Prayers for the first time and sang the Salve Regina. Back in the schoolroom, we had the usual pre-Walk briefing and then gathered in the car park for the first decade of the Rosary, five elderly pilgrims with an average age of 72, but all looking bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for the task ahead. This year those walking were Tony Grossfield, Jeff Pillar, Henryk Szewczyk and Peter Walters with Rod Kearney driving Jeff’s van that we were using as our support vehicle for the period of the Walk. With such a small number, we could not justify using the Shrine’s minibus this year.
One of the really nice things about the first day of the Walk is that after trundling down a couple of streets and across a recreation ground, we then spend the rest of the day along the towpath of the Lea Navigation Canal and finally along the bank of the New River. So much better than a day spent walking on London streets.
This year, the increase in folk who were using the towpath for their exercise, whether walking, jogging, running or cycling (or on the Canal itself in rowing boats), seemed to be much higher than last year. Perhaps the message about the benefits of exercise is finally getting through.
There was a regular smell of wood smoke from some of the boats permanently moored along the Canal bank that acted as an autumnal background to our first silent hour – very pleasant and appropriate for an early October morning. Not sure the large heron standing in part of the Canal appreciated this, but then you pays your money and takes your choice – you want fish so you have to put up with wood smoke!
As the morning continued, the weather became warmer and the threat of rain receded, but only temporarily.
En route I noticed that some of the boat owners had adopted what seemed to me to be the rather weird practice of putting large plastic or fabric animals on top of their boats, some of which had become rather weather worn, to say the least. I noticed a rhinoceros, a tiger and a black panther in particular. Still, I have seen some rather silly illuminated plastic snowmen and reindeer at Christmas time in the gardens of some of the properties in the town near to my home, so landlubbers can be just as daft at boatmen!
After a comfort stop at Picketts Lock which signalled the end of the first silent hour, we continued on our way towards Waltham Abbey. One of the things about this stretch of the Canal is the contrast between parts of it where the boats are well maintained while in other parts, they are scruffy, with rubbish dumped along the towpath, giving a general air of dilapidation which is a shame as it would not take much to apply a lick of paint and to clear up after oneself.
As our lunch stop was several miles away from our stopping point on the Canal, we were met by Rod in the van to convey us there - an extended journey that, because of a road closure, took us on an interesting tour of a local industrial estate. This provided the opportunity for one or two ribald comments from the rest of us in the van whose empty stomachs were overriding the Walsingham Walkers’ well known sense of patience and understanding (ha ha!), particularly since it had started raining a while before lunch and we were anxious to get to the dry warmth of the pub.
However, we managed to arrive on time at the Queens Head pub where Ellie, the landlady, provided us with the usual array of sandwiches, sausage rolls and other goodies. Outside, however, the rain continued to fall with great gusto and into this maelstrom we went after lunch, following our trip back to the Canal in the van. Even saying a decade of the Rosary and being especially diligent during our next silent hour, did nothing to stop the rain from falling and the chocolate biscuits that Rod had, in the meantime, purchased for consumption at our next comfort stop, were well received by the men who, by that time, were sitting like a group of drowned rats in the van as they munched their biscuits.
All good things come to an end, as did our comfort break and off we set on the last leg of the walk which sees us switch from the Lea Navigation Canal to the New River once we have reached Broxbourne Station. This last stretch is quite tiring as the nice flat pathway at the beginning is progressively replaced by rough ground that, at the end of a long day, is not particularly welcome. However, we managed and arrived at Rye House Station just about on time from whence the van took us to our evening sleepover point at the crypt of St. Augustine’s Church in Hoddesdon where we were welcomed by Tony and Tina Curtis who provided a welcome cup of tea, along with some delicious cake. We also had the opportunity to meet and greet another old friend of ours, Marina Morris, who has been such a consistent supporter of the Walk over the years.
After Mass in the Church, Father Phillip joined us for a meal in the Golden Lion pub the cost of which was generously paid for by the parish. Thus replete, we retired to the crypt for the night. My sleeping mat was still leaking air and so I borrowed one of the crypt pillar cushions as a temporary bed for the night. Slightly off the wall (quite literally), but very effective.
Dry and sunny at last ! – the second day (Sunday) - 19.5 miles walked
The weather today turned out to be dry and cool, but bright – in fact, pretty well perfect for walking and so we bade the rain goodbye with much gratitude. Our breakfast was served, courtesy of the aptly named ‘Café Delight’ the other side of the road to the Church and the cooked breakfast provided was exactly what we needed for the long day ahead.
Father Phillip joined us for our morning prayers and just before we left, we said another decade of the Rosary beside the Lourdes grotto in the Presbytery garden
Our trusty van ferried us back to the River Lea at Rye House Station where we set off and the next silent hour began. I was quite amused to see a couple of fisherman who clearly had not gone to the Café Delight for their breakfast as they were cooking sausages over a home-made fire of a few sticks – very rural and basic and probably contrary to the Lea Valley Authority’s rules, but the look on their faces indicated that anyone interfering with their intended repast was in for a whole lot of trouble!
It was nice to see (and hear) the significant number of Canada geese on the water, many of which swam over to investigate the peculiar bunch of pensioners invading their territory (or perhaps they just thought we might have some food for them).
Having bade a fond farewell to the Canal towpath at Ware, we proceeded through the village, out the other side and up the hill to the Wodson Sports Centre for our first comfort break. We were there early, so this enabled us to take a slightly longer break than provided for in the itinerary which was quite important since the walk into Puckeridge for the lunch stop is a long one and tediously close to the busy A10 traffic (although, thankfully, there is a pavement to walk on).
We arrived, more or less on time at the Crown and Falcon where our old friends Rachel and Ian were still there to greet us. I say ‘still there’ since they have been trying to sell the pub as a going concern for several years, but so far without success. After the usual commiserations about this unhappy situation we settled down to enjoy Rachel’s very generous lunch of sandwiches, sausage rolls, onion rings and other goodies (we only ash for sandwiches but we have built up such a good relationship with the folk who provide our food that they take it upon themselves to ‘go the extra mile’ with what is provided, which is much appreciated by the men).
After lunch we said the next decade of the Rosary in the pub car park and then proceeded onwards with our next silent hour. There was a cycle race that afternoon but this did not trouble us unduly as the cyclists were staggered at fairly long intervals and it was pleasant to be able to greet them as fellow road travellers as we proceeded on our way through the lanes of North West Essex.
As this is a long stretch of the Walk, there were two comfort breaks during the afternoon, one at Furneaux Pelham and the other at Brent Pelham. Towards the end of the afternoon, it became noticeably colder but when you are walking this does not really trouble you overmuch. The chocolate bars generously provided by Marina were gobbled up eagerly by those of us who wanted an extra sugar boost to get us through to the end point of the afternoon’s walk at Langley Lower Green.
There, the van ferried us to the Parish Hall of Our Lady of Compassion Church in Saffron Walden where we were met by Father David Clemens, another strong supporter of the Walk, along with my wife Jill and brother-in-law and sister-in-law Brian (Rikki) and Sue Ray. The ladies provided tea and biscuits to refresh us and Jill was able to give me the good news that she had been able to purchase another sleeping mat to replace my punctured one. Much relief all round.
After Father David had given Benediction, we all moved to The Temeraire pub in the town for our evening meal and were well fed there before retiring to the Parish Hall for the night.
The day the van died – the third day (Monday) – 20 miles walked
Monday morning was cold, but again dry and yours truly emerged from the Parish Hall to sniff the morning air outside in a good mood, duly refreshed by a better night’s sleep on the new sleeping mat that, thankfully, did not deflate on me.
After an early D.I.Y. breakfast, Father David said Mass for us in the Church after which we said our Novena Prayers and sang the Salve Regina, then said the next decade of the Rosary in the front garden of the Presbytery before setting off in the van back to Langley Lower Green where we had finished the previous day’s walk. The volume of morning traffic in Saffron Walden was such that we had to do a bit of a detour to avoid it but eventually we reached Langley for the start of the day’s pilgrimage.
All went well for a bit, with a pleasant walk along country lanes in the quietness of our silent hour until we reached our comfort stop just outside Elmdon. Then disaster struck. Jeff’s van developed a serious fault with the linkage between the gear lever and the gearbox and while the AA man who was called out, was able to do a temporary fix, his advice was that the van should be repaired permanently by a VW garage. Unfortunately, the nearest VW garage that would deal with a VW van was at Bury St Edmunds. On the plus side, however, we were only about 20 minutes drive away from my home and we were able to call on my wife to come out with my old Land Rover so we could use it as a substitute support vehicle while the van was being repaired at Bury St Edmunds. Unfortunately, the garage could not begin work on the vehicle until the following morning.
After a bit of a ‘soft shoe shuffle’ involving ferrying Jill back home, telephoning the insurers to get Rod put temporarily on my insurance policy and then driving back to Elmdon to see how the AA man was getting on, we were once more back on the road although the delay meant that it was impossible to finish the rest of the walk that morning and we went straight to our lunchtime stop at the Plough pub in Great Chesterford. The lunch break (another excellent lunch of ham and cheese paninis with tomato soup that went down very well with the men) gave us the chance to plan the afternoon’s revised agenda. The knock on effect of the earlier delay meant the we would not be able to do the entire route and so we chose to begin it at the top of the Linton Water Tower hill (to the great relief of the men as this particular steep hill has long been bit of a bete noire). While we were making our way to Balsham and then onwards towards Newmarket, Jeff was to drive the van to St Etheldreda’s Church in Newmarket (we were due to stay overnight at the Parish Centre there) while Rod tracked the Walkers in the other vehicle.
The walk into Balsham is not particularly interesting and one has to keep a careful watch on traffic along this stretch of road. Fortunately, once in Balsham, we then went off road along what can be best described as a ‘green lane’ although it was not very green and not much of a lane. However, the afternoon passed without (further) incident and Rod picked us up at the finishing point near Six Mile Bottom Road and ferried us to the Parish Centre where we were met by their new priest, Father Christopher Smith and the Parish Secretary, Rita Harben who had very kindly agreed to cook for us that evening.
After a welcome cup of tea and biscuits, we had a decent break before Father Christopher gave us Benediction in the Church, after which Rita provided an excellent chicken casserole, with wine, followed by two puddings. Thus (very!) replete, we retired (or more correctly, waddled) into our sleeping beds that night.
A forgetful publican – the fourth day (Tuesday) - 19 miles walked
The day was dry, sunny, but with a fresh wind to keep pilgrims like us from overheating too much (nothing worse than an overheated pilgrim). After another D.I.Y light breakfast (these usually comprise just cereals and toast), Father Christopher said Mass for us in the Church after which we moved to the side chapel for our Novena Prayers and to sing the Salve Regina.
Jeff then went off in the van to Bury St Edmunds for his tryst with the garage while Rod took us back to last night’s finishing point of the Walk in the Land Rover, with the intention of going to Bury St Edmunds afterwards to pick up Jeff. Meanwhile our (slightly depleted) band of three said the next decade of the Rosary and then set off with the next silent hour, towards Ashley.
The morning passed without incident and by the time we had got to the morning comfort stop, Jeff and Rod were both back in the Land Rover, having left Jeff’s van to the tender mercies of the garage.
However, while (as I have said) the morning passed without incident, the lunch period did not. On arrival on time at the Crown pub in Ashley the pub, which usually opens especially for us that lunchtime, was shut. We looked around. Nothing. We knocked on the door and rung the bell several times. Nothing. In desperation, yours truly hollered through the letterbox resulting in a slightly bleary eyed lady publican poking her head out of an upstairs window. She announced that she thought we were coming on Wednesday, not Tuesday, despite the fact that our booking (for Tuesday) was documented in an email exchange between us. After due apologies from the publican, we considered the options which were either to drive into Newmarket to the Waitrose there and purchase sandwiches (which would lose valuable time) or see what the village shop in Ashley had to offer.
At this point things started to look up and if you are in Ashley at any time, I highly recommend that you pay their little community-run village shop a visit, which is exactly what we did. Not only did the shop stock an excellent selection of filled rolls and sandwiches, we were also able to purchase drinks, crisps and chocolate. More than that, the shop has a forecourt area with three tables and chairs so we were able to eat our lunch in comfort and in the shade. Our joy was complete (it doesn’t take all that much to make an elderly pilgrim happy nowadays).
At 19 miles, Tuesday is one of our longer walking days and the last stretch into Icklingham, a few miles north west of Bury St Edmunds, seems to go on forever. However we got there intact, but tired, and sunk gratefully into the seats of our vehicle for the drive into the crypt of St Edmunds Church in Bury St Edmunds where my (other) brother-in-law and sister-in-law, John and Marie Neal, along with several of their friends, met us with a most welcome cup of tea.
One of the new priests at the Church, Father Jay Magpuyo, took Benediction for us in the side Chapel, after which we enjoyed an excellent fish chowder, followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard, prepared by John and Marie, all washed down with wine. A bunch of truly spoilt pilgrims.
And so to bed in a warm and comfortable crypt. I am sure that if it was more widely known that pilgrimages like ours are not all about suffering, there would be a much better response from some of our younger Catholic men, but we shall have to see.
Rescued by a compass– the fifth day (Wednesday) – 18 miles walked
John and Marie and their team provided us with an excellent cooked breakfast (you see – not all penance and flagellation) and after our Morning Prayers in the Crypt we emergede into a dry, sunny and warmer day with another of those delightful cool breezes. As a bonus, we managed to move the Land Rover out of the Church Car park (which, after 8am is used by the School) into a vacant space in the adjoining road which took the pressure off the parking situation.
As an additional bonus, we managed to leave well ahead of schedule on our trek towards Brandon – something that was quite important since in 2017, we got lost on the last section through the forest into Brandon Country Park. Accordingly, the availability of more time was a good thing in case lightning chose to strike twice (famous last words, as the afternoon Walk was to prove!).
Back, then, to Icklingham and the next decade of the Rosary before we proceeded on what must be one of the most attractive sections of the Walk, through open fields where sheep may (and do) safely graze. All the more poignant when one is walking in the quietness of one of our silent hours. Our first comfort stop was before a wooded area in sight of the monument that sits at the side of the (now) dualled A11 road. Fortunately, we do not have to cross this road (previously a hazardous exercise) as there is now an underpass, conveniently provided by that nice man at the Ministry. Onwards we went and arrived, on time, at Brandon Country Park for a welcome sandwich/crisps/cake/tea/coffee lunch at the Copper Beech tearoom there, courtesy of Hazel who is the manager there and who, despite our never having met as she does not work on Wednesdays has, nonetheless, become an old friend of the Walkers.
Having said the next decade of the Rosary in the Car Park of the Country Park we then started the next silent hour as we made our way through Brandon and on into the little village of Weeting where we stopped for a comfort break at Weeting Castle.
After resuming our walk, we were met by a slight conundrum. At one point along our rural route, our path was blocked by a locked gate and a notice telling us that the area ahead was closed for grazing purposes. Not only were there no sheep or cattle to be seen, but the plan attached to the notice told us that the green area shown on the plan was closed and the red area was open whereas the wording on the notice said the exact opposite. So, we took the (non-existent) bull by the horns, climbed over the gate and made our way forward. However, the phrase ‘beware your sins will find you out’ came to the fore here since we promptly got lost and had no decent signal on our phones to activate them for GPS purposes. However, to the rescue came Tony’s good old fashioned compass. We knew we had to proceed in a northerly direction and the compass enabled us to do just that.
Not long after,u we found the road we were looking for and managed to get to our last comfort stop for the day at the forest exit point. The rest of the walk that day is a bit similar to yesterday in the last section seems to go on forever. However we stuck to it like the true pilgrims we are and ended up at our intended finishing point at Cranwich where we were met by Rod in the support vehicle who took us to St. Thomas of Canterbury Church in Brandon. Jeff’s van was now duly repaired and had been collected earlier so we now had two support vehicles sitting in for only four Walkers. No-one could ever say we lacked vehicular support!
Our very good friends, Frank and Sheila Devlin met us at the Church with tea and biscuits, after which we were joined by the new priest at Brandon, Father Luke Goymour and a couple of parishioners, for Evening Prayers in the Church. Afterwards, the Blessed Sacrament was removed from the Church as this was to be our overnight abode.
The meal this evening was at the Ram pub in Brandon, which seems always to be a good spot for generating fast and furious debates about faith and (on this occasion) the development of Catholic Church practices. Parts of the Magisterium came in for a bit of a bashing but both it and we parted good friends by the end of the evening. Oh, and we all came to the unanimous view that today’s politicians are a useless and self-seeking bunch. Nothing like a good generalisation to finish off the day’s proceedings.
On return to the Church, I ended up being the last of the pilgrims to ablute for the evening. On return from the washrooms, I was met by the sweet sound of two quite distinct forms of snoring, one loud and deep and the other not quite so loud but higher in pitch. Like two old owls answering each other in a wood. I did mention this in passing the following morning but was met by ‘who me?’ blank looks from those assembled. Odd that.
Advertising our new toe massaging service – the sixth day (Thursday) – 14 miles walked
On return from an early visit to the loo with the Church still in darkness, I was met by the plaintive cry of an anguished pilgrim – in this case Rod – who, in a state of some consternation, asked me to push the toes of his left leg upwards. Now, you need to understand that while I have led a fairly rich and varied life, never before have I received a request like this from another bloke. However, ‘I’ve got cramp you fool’, resolved my fears and I duly obliged, returning to my bedspace shaken, but not stirred.
Frank and Sheila arrived early (the men having been previously warned to get themselves in a decent state of dress before a lady was present) and provided us with an excellent cooked breakfast, after which Father Luke said Mass, joined by a goodly number of parishioners. At the end of Mass, Father asked the Walkers to come forward to the front of the Church and gave us a blessing. A really nice touch that was much appreciated by the men.
After Mass, we said our usual Novena Prayers and sang the Salve Regina before the Walsingham Walk plaque at the back of the Church. This was followed by the Rosary after which we bade a fond farewell to the parishioners at Brandon who have supported us so well over the years.
Thursday started as a damp and overcast day but, thankfully, it was not raining and it was not long before the sun made an appearance. Frank and Sheila had kindly agreed to provide sanctuary for my Land Rover on their son’s drive for the rest of the pilgrimage with the intention that we pick it upon the homeward journey. We managed to sort this out before our departure that morning, so we were now back to where we started with Jeff’s van as the support vehicle.
After dropping us off at Cranwich, Rod drove the van to a local supermarket to purchase sandwiches for our lunch while we made our way silently along pleasant Norfolk lanes en route to our first comfort stop, shortly after Everett’s Farm. However, to get to this idyll, we first had to fight our way across a grove of (mainly dead) trees where it was almost impossible to determine the route of the public path. Mutterings of ‘where’s my machete’ were heard, but we managed. We also passed some large fields where literally thousands of geese were bunched up like snowdrops in a wood. If that is ‘free range’, then my maiden aunt is a Russian ballerina. From there we continued into Cockley Cley where we had our lunch seated pleasantly on the village green but not, it has to be said, all bunched up like the geese.
By common agreement, the afternoon’s walk on the road from Cockley Cley into Swaffham is just plain dangerous. It is not the fact that the road itself is dangerous per se but that the behaviour of most of the motorists along it nowadays leaves much to be desired, many of whom seem to have lost the ability to locate their brake pedal or to move their steering wheel slightly to the right to give us elbow room and just slice past us at what seems like the speed of light. We did what we could by donning high visibility jackets at the front and rear of our small column but it is clear that we really must try and find a suitable alternative to this part of the route.
Nonetheless, we managed to emerge unscathed, onto the safe pavements of Swaffham (doubtless the prayers of our friends and supporters playing a part in this) and thence through the town and up to the comfort stop just before the A47. Crossing that road is another hazard but we managed to do so without losing any pilgrims in the process (there is, fortunately, a middle section of the road that is marked with diagonal lines providing a halfway house to those daft enough to cross it). After that, we trudged into Sporle, some three miles north of Swaffham, where we were met by the van to take us back to Swaffham and to the safety of the Parish Room of Our Lady of Pity Church in Swaffham via Waitrose where we were able to purchase additional supplies for breakfast on Friday and Saturday.
Father Gordon Williams, along with Roger and Frances Sparks, met us in the Parish Room with tea and biscuits and with a little time on our hands, we were able to relax and have a bit of a chat.
After Benediction, kindly provided by Father Gordon, we found ourselves in the pleasant surroundings of the Station pub. While still retaining the features of a pub including bar) Jim and Diana have successfully developed this watering hole into a rather special restaurant, complete with baby grand piano. Sadly the pianistic skills of the pilgrims went no further than ‘chopsticks’ so this remained a just piece of furniture for the evening. Be that as it may, we were treated to a really excellent meal of poached salmon with delightful trimmings followed by some delicious puddings (the size of Rod’s Pavlova pudding inducing some of us to breach the commandment about envy).
And so, it was a group of well satisfied Walkers who retired to the Parish Room for a quiet overnight snooze.
Was it a mirage? – the seventh day (Friday) – 14.5 miles walked
A cloudy sky presented itself today, along with a cool breeze, creating almost perfect conditions in which to walk.
After a light breakfast in the Parish Room we joined with the Parish Mass that was well attended not just by parishioners but also by nuns from the nearby convent. After Mass, we said the Novena Prayers and sang the Salve as usual and then made our way by van back to Sporle where we had finished the previous evening. After saying another decade of the Rosary, we set off during our silent hour in the direction of Great Dunham where, on arrival, we had a comfort stop just outside the village.
Our lunch stop that day was the Millenium amenity area at Tittleshall, a well-maintained community facility with, slightly oddly, an orchard planted to the side of it. There we ate our sandwich lunch with the knowledge that, having now walked 115 miles since London, we were ‘nearly there.
After lunch, we had our second silent hour of the day as we marched onwards to Fakenham. Whether it was the depth of my thoughts or the euphoria of knowing we had well and truly broken the back of the Walk, I don’t know, but as we approached the next road sign, I was convinced in my mind that it read ‘Fakenham 2 miles’. Sadly, this was but a mirage as on closer inspection, the sign referred to Fransham and not Fakenham. Bearing my disappointment manfully I gritted my teeth since, in my heart of hearts, I knew that we faced not two, but six miles before Fakenham would show up.
Fakenham is one of those odd towns that, to me, presents the appearance of slight dilapidation, although it has great potential. It is also an extremely long town and we end up walking from one end of it to the other in order to get to St. Anthony of Padua Church.
However, we got there OK and were welcomed by Father Dick Healey with cups of tea and coffee and some excellent cake. Nothing like a bit of tea and cake to revive the spirits, I always think.
Father Dick conducted Benediction for us in the Church, after which we sallied forth (no pun intended) to the Salvation Army Citadel (our sleepover venue for the night) where we were met by Lieutenant Adrian Allen, with whom I had an interesting chat about our different routes into where we were currently worshipping.
After we had settled in, we popped next door to the Drifters fish bar for a fish and chip supper and then back to the Citadel for our usual AGM meeting.
The AGM was quite a serious affair this year because we have been wondering for some time about the future of the Walk now that our numbers are down and the Walkers’ ages are up. This year we have only been able to put four men on the road, most of whom had experienced real difficulty with the high mileage and we agreed that in a year’s time, the Walk would prove to be more, and not less, difficult. We reviewed the various options open to the men for the future, as set out in a Report I had previously prepared, including the numerous different methods used over the past eight years to advertise the Walk in order to attract a younger men (or at least, men below our average age of 72!) none of which had really worked. Reluctantly, therefore, we came to the conclusion that now was the right time to draw a line under the Walk.
However, there was a strong feeling among the men that we did not simply want to drop the Walk entirely and so it was agreed that instead of a Walk, in 2019 we would meet for a Walkers’ and former Walkers’ reunion weekend as a means of keeping the idea of the Walk alive. We would issue invitations immediately after Easter with a cut off date of three months for acceptances. Each person would be responsible for their own booking of accommodation at Elmham House and we would construct a programme of events for the weekend, with new night prayers to reflect the practice of the former Master of the Guild. The programme would include some of the ingredients of the second weekend of the Walk, but without cramming too much in. We considered whether wives could be invited along but felt that while there were advantages in doing so, it would alter the intended nature of the occasion and so this would be a ‘men only’ event.
It was agreed that for so long as we had funds to do so, we would retain the Walsingham Walkers’ website as a means of keeping the existence of the Walk ‘out there’ on an international platform, but that the Spring and Summer Newletters would now be surplus to requirements. Christmas Cards would be issued this year but not afterwards.
We would also retain all the information we have pertaining to the infrastructure of the Walk (Walk and support vehicle maps, details of places to stay and eat and a typical itinerary, along with copies of the current Prayers Booklets) and if other, younger men wanted to take it on, we would be happy to act as advisers.
After the AGM, we retired for the night, grateful for the excellent facilities available at the Citadel.
And so we finally arrived – the eighth day (Saturday) – 5.25 miles walked
Saturday was both bright and sunny and after a light breakfast, we walked up to St. Anthonys for a period of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (a nice peaceful way to start the day) and afterwards said our Novena Prayers and sang the Salve.
Our final ‘goodbye’ to Father Dick was in the Church car park area where we said the final decade of the Rosary together before setting off for the final leg of the Walk into Walsingham.
Arriving slightly earlier than usual at the Shrine site in Houghton St Giles gave us a little more time for the Angelus in front of the Charlotte Boyd memorial, the usual group photograph and our individual private devotions at the Slipper Chapel and the Holy Ghost Chapel. Lunch was at the Shrine tearoom and we then walked the final mile to Walsingham and into the Church of the Annunciation where Father Gerard Mary conducted a service of thanksgiving for us.
Having booked ourselves into Elmham House, we assembled at the entrance to Walsingham Abbey/Priory grounds for the usual tour of the grounds and brief narrative of the main events of the history of Walsingham.
The rest of the afternoon was ‘free time’ for shopping or for just wandering around the town and taking in the atmosphere of the place. In the course of doing so, I came across the new Marian Museum in the High street which contains a very significant collection of Marian items including sculpted figures in wood, plaster, bronze and porcelain. Very well worth a look next time you are in Walsingham.
Early evening, we met in the Common Room in St Joseph’s for our Evening Prayers followed by the Salve. As we were, this year, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the original 1948 cross carrying walks, we thought it would be appropriate to mark the occasion with a dinner at the Black Lion pub in Walsingham who served us excellent food, wine and beer and sent us happily back to Elmham House next door, well ready for the first real bed any of us had slept in for over a week.
The Holy Mile – the final day (Sunday) – 1 mile walked
Our alarm clocks did not fail us and we were up early the following morning and ready for the Holy Mile along the old railway track linking Town and Shrine. I always enjoy this quiet and atmospheric slow walk to the Shrine when we say all 15 decades of the Rosary as we go. By prior arrangement, the Shrine kindly agreed to ring the bell as we were arriving at the Slipper Chapel that only serves to add to the atmosphere and spirituality of the event.
This is the time when we deposit the petitions that we have been carrying all week from London, into the box on the Altar of the Slipper Chapel and so we did on this occasion after which, and for the very last time, we said our Novena Prayers and sang the Salve Regina before walking back into Walsingham and a welcome breakfast at Elmham House.
There is always a bit of time to spare after breakfast and before Mass so we were able, without any rush, to check out of Elmham House and get our bags packed into the vehicles that would take us on our way home. Rod had his car at Walsingham, Tony’s wife was driving down from Holt to pick him up while Jeff, Henryk and I would be in Jeff’s van heading in the direction of London.
However, this is jumping the gun a bit since we still had the Parish Mass in the Church of the Annunciation to look forward to. This is always well attended with hymns properly sung although on this occasion, everyone seemed to be a bit perplexed by the tune to one of the hymns that seemed to have come straight out of 1930s cinema. I was just waiting for the girl with the ice creams to come down the aisle, to complete the (slightly irreverent) picture that had formed in my mind. That apart, the Mass was to the usual high standard and a fitting end to the Walk.
After lots of post Mass handshaking, manly backslapping and hugs, we went on our way, although for Jeff, Henryk and I the Walk events were not yet over since we had my Land Rover to pick up from Brandon where Frank and Sheila invited us in for tea, biscuits and a chat. This was a most welcome diversion before the rigours of the car journey ahead. Afterwards, Jeff went on his way to Swansea while I took Henryk to Audley End Rail Station in Essex where he was lucky enough to get on a train bound for Liverpool Street within two minutes of arrival on the platform. I then continued on my way home with that slightly deflated feeling of ‘is that it?’ but then, perhaps, this may not be the end of the Walsingham Walk. The answer to our prayers would be that younger Catholic men learn of the Walk and take on board for themselves the challenge of this traditional, walking pilgrimage from London to Walsingham.