Canterbury pilgrimage

The Connection at St Martin’s

25th anniversary Pilgrimage to Canterbury, May 2015

On the morning of 22nd May, 100 pilgrims gathered together on the steps of St Martin in the Fields to walk the 74 miles to Canterbury to raise money for the homeless charity, founded by Dick Sheppard, the Connection at St Martin’s. Numbered amongst those pilgrims was Paul Taylor joining the walk for the first time.

The pilgrims were a diverse group (as were the pilgrims in Chaucer’s tales) but they all shared a common goal; to complete the walk and to help the Connection to help the homeless and marginalised in our community.

The pilgrimage was launched by Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, who quoted from the prologue of the Canterbury Tales and cut the ribbon to send us on our way through the streets of south east London to our first day’s resting point, St Mary the Virgin’s church in Swanley. The nave served as our dormitory and the catering team managed to feed us all using the very limited facilities of a kitchen at the back of church.

It was not until day two that we found ourselves in the Wealden countryside facing two of the three stiff climbs on the route. One hill, styled the Hill of Doom, presented an intimidating sight in gentle drizzle but all checked in at the imposing Priory at Aylesford (which was also hosting a wedding when we arrived and a disco at the reception afterwards as we tried to sleep). A special communion service was organised for the pilgrims by the Cistercian brothers. Once again the catering team saw to our needs, with the podiatrists (who travelled with us) having plenty of custom.

Day three saw us on route to Charing. The route was a combination of the Pilgrim’s Way and the North Down’s Way which took us past the famous resting monk sat on a bench at Harrietsham in happy contemplation. The pilgrims bunked down in the primary school at Charing and attended a special communion service for the pilgrims which was conducted at the beautiful church of St Peter’s and St Paul’s by the rector of St Barnabas, Woodside Park who, with his wife and children, were fellow pilgrims. A full professional kitchen meant that roast beef and roast potatoes followed by apple and blackberry pie could be served. The supper was cleared away in preparation for the final evening’s entertainment which included: music, singing, magic and poetry performed by the pilgrims. It is perhaps unfair to pick a highlight but it is true to say that Old McDonald’s Farm sung in Latin, with the audience joining in with the chorus (also in Latin) brought an uproarious response.

The third 6.00am reveille in a row after 55 miles of walking meant that the final day was slightly delayed as everyone got into gear and got going for the final stretch that lead to Canterbury. Our route took us along the river Stour all the way to Canterbury stopping off at St Mary’s Chilham for a 10.45am lunch and the most magnificent tea at St Mary’s Chartham at 2.15pm. Supper for those who could manage it was served at 4.00pm at the Quaker Friends’ Meeting House in Canterbury.

All 100 pilgrims and the support team then marched through the streets of Canterbury to the Cathedral for a commemorative service and wreath laying ceremony at the grave of Dick Sheppard. Patrick (not his real name), a client of the Connection, set a record that can never be beaten by completing his 25th Pilgrimage and speaking at the service. One logistical challenge presented itself; Pat’s dog (a 12 years old miniature Yorkshire terrier, who had herself completed her 7th Pilgrimage) could not accompany her owner. They share a mutual attachment to each other which is moving to see but she doesn’t like singing, speeches or clapping; they set her off into a cacophony of high pitched barking. The only solution that presented itself was for me to dog sit for the two hours of the service. It is hard to say whether Pat or his dog was the most delighted when they were re-united.

My reflections on the Pilgrimage can be summed up in the simple observation that the Pilgrimage was an object lesson in Christianity at work in the Community. For the four days of the Pilgrimage we, as a diverse group of people, (who today have returned to our normal lives) were but one body with one goal who shared our stories, our hopes, our regrets and opened our souls to one another and to God.

Details of the SPB Pilgrimage to Canterbury in July will be circulated soon. It will start immediately after the 4.00pm Flower Festival, from St George’s Orcheston. The first leg should be a pleasant three hour stroll to the Cathedral prior to the first full day of walking starting from the Cathedral at 9.00am on 20th July.

Paul Taylor