Sunday, 28 February 2010

Hard Core.

Four pints of milk, five litres of tonic water, and The Observer, and for the first time in four weeks I've ended a walk with wet feet. I don't know what it's like where you are, but it's chucking it down in Edmonton.
After saying farewell to Dad and Anji in Berwick, we got back into King's Cross yesterday evening, and went our separate ways - The Archdeacon back to Dorset, me back to All Saints Vicarage, and Susie - Susie went off to a party in Islington... some things never change.
On Friday morning The Archdeacon and I were privileged to be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist at the parish church of St Mary's, Lindisfarne. We offered the Eucharist with thanksgiving for a journey safely completed, for the great saints who had inspired us, and for the life of Jean Wilson, one of the organists at All Saints, who had died while I was in Scotland - I will miss her cheerfulness, her music, and the music of her laughter.
I preached a short homily about the stone I had carried from Iona.
Sitting in that historic church at the end of my pilgrimage, I experienced once again that great and inspiring sense of 'smallness' that I described on my walk from Inveraray to Inverarnan (7DHP) - what a brief moment I am in the great story that we are called to be part of.
Plans to spend a large part of the afternoon exploring the island were scuppered by torrential rain, so after a couple of pints of Blessed Beer in The Ship (we highly recommend The Crown and Anchor) we wandered out to the beach beyond Lindisfarne Castle, howled our afternoon prayers out at the wind that was howling at us, and then got back indoors.
On Saturday we packed up and made our last trip of the pilgrimage, to the parish church of St Aidan's, Bamburgh. As I knelt at the small cross marking the place where St Aidan is reputed to have died I felt that the pilgrimage was now properly ended and it was time to head back to London.
PS I'll be keeping this blog going until my Sabbatical is finished, on Palm Sunday. So, the hard core of you can continue to follow my efforts to relate what I've experienced in the lonely mountains to my life in the crowded city (although I'm off to Islay on Saturday...), and we'll discover whether or not Danny DeVito agrees to play The Archdeacon in the film version of Pilgrim's Cairn.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

From An Ocean To A Sea.

Day 21: Fenwick to Lindisfarne.

Distance: 11.3 miles (351.7 total).

Duration: 5 hrs 31 mins.

Lowest Temp: 5ºc.

Weather: Dry grey.

Highest Alt: I really don’t know, couple of hundred feet maybe?

Archdeacon Watch: Growing anxious about the pub situation on Lindisfarne – none found open thus far.

Its been a funny old day, as the saying goes. The Archdeacon and I started out, to his great disgust, headed in the wrong direction, all because I was keen to add a little detour to our journey. I’d like to tell you that those extra miles were to kill the time we had to wait until the tide went out, allowing us to cross the causeway to Lindisfarne, at around two o’clock. I’d really like to tell you that. Unfortunately there was nothing that sensible about my desire to add a few miles. Like the overgrown adolescent that every man basically is, when I realised that with the addition of an extra mile or two today I could reach 350 miles... well, I couldn’t resist. I know. It’s sad.

Although he was huffing and puffing with resentment every step of the way, I got The Archdeacon to the pub around midday, and then made him sit in the beer garden for midday prayer before he was allowed his pint of Black Sheep. Susie and my Dad joined us around half an hour later, and then a little after one we made our way down to the coast and then out to Lindisfarne. From leaving the mainland until we reached the Parish Church of St Mary’s we walked in silence, and then after saying afternoon prayer in the church we looked for a pub to enjoy a celebratory pint in. All shut. Not to be. Thankfully Susie had brought a hip flask with some Laphroaig, so we enjoyed a nip of that instead.

Three weeks ago and over three hundred miles away, I stood on the Mahair on the west coast of Iona and looked out across the Atlantic Ocean. Today I completed this pilgrimage, walking out onto Lindisfarne, a slender strip of land lying low in the North Sea.

As we made our way along the causeway to this holy island, with the sea drawn back on either side of us, I had a strong sense of the way in which the sea had surrounded my journey, as it surrounds the islands which the Celtic Saints so often made their pilgrimages to. For three weeks I have been walking from the ocean, walking to the sea – and although we give them different names, they are of course part of just one great body of water.

This journey is over. My pilgrimage continues, as does yours. And wherever we are walking, whatever direction we are headed, around us on every side there is always that great ocean, that great sea, which we can give a hundred different names to, but which I would call the love of God.

Thank you to those who have walked with me on this pilgrimage, the Pilgrim Driver, my Elderly Uncle, The Long Suffering One, The Archdeacon, and Young Tom; thank you to all those of you who have accompanied me through this blog; thank you to those of you who have prayed for me; and thank you to Mum for snowdrops.

Where shall we go next?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Aidan & Edmonton.

Day 20: Wooler to Fenwick.

Distance: 12.3 miles (340.4 total).

Duration: 5 hrs 9 mins.

Lowest Temp: 0ºc.

Weather: A green and pleasant land? I think Mr Blake must have been holidaying in Scotland.

Highest Alt: 580 ft.

Archdeacon Watch: After complaining of a near-death experience during the morning session he rallied after Midday Prayer and a Mars bar.

Young Tom’s departure was much like his arrival, and he slipped away from us in the dead of night. Actually it was about seven in the morning when he got a cab to Berwick, but as far as The Archdeacon and I are concerned that’s the dead of night.

Today’s was one of the more challenging legs weather-wise, and the meteorological conditions took a significant turn for the worse about halfway through the day, some five minutes or so after The Archdeacon had breezily asserted, 'It’s definitely clearing up now.’

Apologies for yesterday’s fairly downbeat post. The good people of All Saints, Edmonton must be beginning to wonder if they need to start advertising for a new Vicar, I’ve been sounding so morose about this pilgrimage ending. Today I’ve been feeling considerably brighter, and I’ve got St Aidan to thank for the change in my mood.

Walking today’s miles, which have brought us virtually within sight of Lindisfarne, I began to wonder how St Aidan felt as he grew ever nearer to Bamburgh Castle, and ever further from Iona and the people he knew. I guess that we’ve firmly established by now that I’m not particularly qualified to peer into the minds of Saints, nevertheless I’d like to imagine that at this point in his journey St Aidan was feeling those often twinned emotions of anticipation and apprehension: he had travelled across the country at the request of Oswald, King of Northumbria, and it was to be his mission to found a community on the pattern of Iona on this far shore, there was a lot for him to look forward to; but at the same time he was leaving behind so much that was familiar to him.

Some people have questioned what I can possibly hope to find in the lives of the Celtic Saints that might be of use where I serve in North London: at first glance there would appear to be a great deal more than miles which separate Iona and N9. However, the world those Saints worked and worshipped in was very similar to the context I serve in. Theirs was a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-faith society, and they often had to profess their faith in the face of opposition. When Aidan went to Northumbria he was going to a people whose language he did not even speak. He went to them and he walked with them.

I don’t suppose I’ve even begun to figure out what Iona, and Columba, and Aidan, and Lindisfarne, and Cuthbert, and that whole era of Christianity has to offer to the community I serve, but I do believe that those two worlds are much close than they might at first appear.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Those Last Few Miles of the Day.

Day 19: Town Yetholm to Wooler.

Distance: 14.5 miles (328.1 total).

Duration: 6 hrs 27 mins.

Lowest Temp: -1ºc.

Scottish Weather: Majestic.

English Weather: Minging.

Highest Alt: 1180 ft.

Archdeacon Watch: Indefatigable – and goodness only knows I’ve tried to fatig him.

Today I had my second tearful moment – it was when I crossed the border into England. The Archdeacon and Young Tom were far from sympathetic. They wanted to mark the occasion with a verse of ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’, but thankfully they were unable to summon either the words or the tune between them, so for that small mercy I am thankful.

Towards the end of today’s leg we walked out of English hills where a lot of English snow had fallen upon us, into a car park which can’t have been more than a mile from our destination. At this point the designers of St Cuthbert’s Way (which is not the best signposted Way I’ve walked, and I reckon I’ve walked at least three in the last two weeks alone) stuck what I call, ‘an annoying little jiggly bit’ on at the end, so that instead of cracking down the road straight to the pub, we were taken up across Wooler Common and all around the houses – by my reckoning it delayed our first pint by a good half hour or so. It’s not uncommon for the various long-distance ‘Ways’ to include these ‘annoying little jiggly bits’ – sometimes they’re there for some laudable purpose like keeping you away from traffic, other times I think they’re just there to add to the mileage. Whatever their purpose, they’re always particularly annoying when they come at the end of a leg.

At the end of a leg I really don’t want a ‘jiggly bit’ stuck on. It doesn’t matter how far I’ve walked in a day, when I hit the ‘three miles from home’ stretch, then I just want those miles to pass and to get to the end of the leg. Whether its been a thirteen mile day or twenty-three, at three miles from home a certain kind of tiredness kicks in.

As I walk the final miles of this pilgrimage I’m beginning to feel something of that ‘nearly home’ tiredness. Actually, I’m experiencing all sorts of contradictory feelings. Part of me feels the full distance of each mile I’ve put behind me, and I’m just getting tired – it was slow walking today. That part of me can’t wait to see Susie on Thursday and then get the train back home. But there is another part of me which simply doesn’t want this pilgrimage to end, and I feel like turning back and heading once more for Iona. I don’t want to stop walking.

I think the next couple of days are going to be quite strange.

I just don’t want to stop walking.

I know in my heart that the pilgrimage will continue, but I don’t want the walking to end.

Blogging Can Be Bad For You.

Day 18: Jedburgh to Town Yetholm.

Distance: 15.5 miles (313.6 total).

Duration: 6 hrs 2 mins.

Lowest Temp: 0ºc.

Weather: Foggy start, sunny conclusion, with the fleetest of snow flurries in between.

Highest Alt: 1207 ft.

Archdeacon Watch: With his walking sticks tapping incessantly behind me, it’s like being hunted by a psychopathic metronome.

(Sorry about the delay with this post. The Plough in Town Yetholm didn't have wi-fi access. However, that's about the only thing it doesn't have - it's a cracking pub and comes highly recommended.)

The morning began with a big hug from my brother-in-law, Young Tom, who had come up from London last night. His train had been somewhat delayed, and so he hadn’t actually arrived in Jedburgh until long after The Archdeacon and I were tucked up in bed (separately). Once the two of them had sorted out their packed lunch for the day (I just stick to two or three mini Mars bars and nothing else) we were off.

We walked to Morebattle through a persistent light fog which broke as we headed up into the hills. Either The Archdeacon is getting faster or I’m getting slower, but either way the distance between us is narrowing on the uphill sections; often he remains visible to the naked eye.

Young Tom is a keen photographer, and intrigued by our pattern of praying a couple of times during each leg, he asked if I’d mind him taking photos of us at prayer. I didn’t see any good reason to refuse at the time, but I’m now slightly worried that if students of religion in centuries to come think that the photos he took were indicative of any wider practices, then textbooks about Christianity in Britain in the twenty-first century might be slightly inaccurate; it wasn’t all about bearded blokes standing in fields, giggling hard because a couple of RAF Tornadoes were belting through the sky above as they were trying to recite a Psalm.

Around the ten mile mark I found myself getting slightly agitated because I hadn’t had any ‘great spiritual insight’ to post this evening. Instead of enjoying the beautiful scenery and the peace, I was scrabbling about the landscape and our walking together, looking for something, anything, to make ‘a point’ about. Then I remembered Loch Feochan: on the fourth day of my pilgrimage, as I headed south from Oban, I’d found myself busy doing exactly the same thing – instead of simply receiving with joy all that I was seeing, I was constantly trying to frame it for this blog, either in words or through the lens of my camera. Thankfully, as soon as I realised what I was doing I was able quite quickly to turn off my mental commentary and start simply taking the beauty around me for the beauty that it was, and not for what I could make of it.

Blogging can be bad for you. It can lead you to think that you always have to have something to say. Sometimes we don’t have to say anything.

Apparently tonight is my last night in Scotland. I’d thought the funny black line on my map was a train line, but Young Tom assures me that it’s the English border. So, seeing as it’s my last night in my heart’s home, I might just round off the night with a little whisky – it’s a special occasion.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Day 17: St Boswells to Jedburgh.

Distance: 12.9 miles (298.1 total).

Duration: 5 hrs 10 mins.

Lowest Temp: -1ºc.

Weather: Hazy shade of Winter.

Highest Alt: 567 ft.

Archdeacon Watch: ‘It’s me age,’ he keeps telling me.

(Sorry for another late post – we actually finished around 2.30 today... but then found a pub showing the Wigan-Spurs game. Get in there Super Pav!).

We are walking among Borderers.

Today we finally turned our back on the River Tweed, which has been our companion for much of our way since we left Biggar, and headed south towards the River Teviot and Jedburgh. These final miles of our pilgrimage take us along St Cuthbert’s Way, much of which follows the old Roman Road of Dere Street.

We are in border country, nearer to England than to Edinburgh, and for many centuries this has been contested country. We’re walking through land that marked a long fought border of the Roman Empire. Its been a line of conflict between England and Scotland, and this morning we passed Ancrum Moor where a Scottish army was victorious in 1545.

Border land.

The Celtic Saints we have been following were border people. Columba’s monastery on Iona was more or less on the border between the kingdoms of the Picts and Dál Riata. They often chose to put their monasteries on islands, border places between land, sea and sky. There are many stories of Celtic monks setting sail for ‘desert places’ beyond the known borders of their world.

When we think of borders, our first thought is of lines of separation, of that which keeps different peoples or places apart. But of course borders can also be thought of as places where different worlds touch. St Columba and his successors sought to live in the border places where our world touches and is touched by that which we call the heavenly. They sought to see that which is beyond our world, in the things that are within it.

And they knew that borders are places of struggle and sometimes conflict. To try to live a life of faith is to live as a borderer. To live as a borderer is to live with struggle.

And lastly, I’ve had a question come in which, although too late for our formal Question Time on Friday, I’m willing to answer because I think it’s an important one. A certain Garrett asks, If your pilgrimage was a film, which film would best describe it? AND, who would you chose to play the starring role? The answer is, (not quite answering his question but my own), ‘If they made a film of this pilgrimage, I think I would best be played by Rob Lowe, and The Archdeacon by Ken Davitian’.

PS I ought to say that if you’re ever staying in St Boswells, check yourself in to The Old Manse. We were wonderfully looked after there, in spite of the fact that they weren’t actually expecting us until March 20th. And not only did Claire take our horrible muddy gaiters in to dry, but she washed them too! We felt slightly guilty each time we sloshed through another puddle on today’s leg.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Old Melrose.

Day 16: Selkirk to St Boswell’s.

Distance: 17.8 miles (285.2 total).

Duration: 7 hrs 18 mins.

Lowest Temp: 1ºc.

Weather: Crystal white beneath our feet and clear blue above us.

Highest Alt: 957 ft.

Situated a couple of miles from Melrose, on a bend in the River Tweed, there is not a great deal to see now at Old Melrose. It’s a beautiful, tranquil corner, hidden away and at peace. If Iona is most decidedly ‘Columba’s Island’, and if most people think of St Cuthbert when they think of Lindisfarne, then perhaps Old Melrose is St Aidan’s place – an overlooked corner for an all too often overlooked Saint.

The story goes that on the night St Aidan died in Bamburgh, a young shepherd called Cuthbert saw in the sky the lights of angels taking Aidan’s soul to heaven, and went at once to begin a new life as a monk at the monastery at Old Melrose which Aidan had founded.

There are many places in the chronology of the Celtic Saints where events coincide. St Ninian is said to have founded his abbey at Whithorn in the same year that his great inspiration, St Martin of Tours, died. As St Columba died, so the missionary St Augustine of Canterbury, is supposed to have landed in Kent.

Perhaps these are just coincidences, or perhaps they reflect an understanding by the historians of many centuries ago, that each new beginning marks some kind of ending, and in all our endings there is the potential for something new to begin.

The days and hours and miles are all passing too quickly for me at the moment. Obviously part of me is looking forward so much to walking on to Lindisfarne, to completing my pilgrimage from Iona, but there is also a growing part of me that doesn’t want this journey to end. Whereas in the first days of this pilgrimage I spent my time looking ahead, now I tend to be looking backwards to all the wonderful experiences that are falling ever further into my past. I needed to visit Old Melrose today, to be reminded that whenever something passes from our lives there is often also something new which is beginning to stir, even if we might not be able to recognise it at the time for what it will be.

Lastly for today, thanks ever so much to my Dad and to Anji for their wonderful hospitality over the past three nights. The Archdeacon and I enjoyed a very pleasant visit to Selkirk Cricket Club last night, where Malcolm bought us a pint, Scone tried to persuade us of the delights of the Cape Wrath Way, and a gentleman by the name of Banksy enlivened the evening’s sport of ‘carpet bowls’ with a wide and varied range of what we assumed were Gaelic battle cries.

Friday, 19 February 2010


Pete asks: What is going on?

Dear Confused of Brooklyn, I assume that this refers to your earlier comment regarding my clothing arrangements. Most morning’s, what’s going on is this (in order of appearance): boxer trunks (is that what they’re called? You all know the sort of things I mean), Compeed blister plaster, thermal liner socks, thermal top, thermal leggings, thick socks, waterproof leggings, thin top, walking boots, waterproof jacket, gaiters. Most days this has been entirely unnecessary, and what should have been going on was, flip flops, Bermuda shorts, t-shirt, sun-hat.

Cath asks: If you could have one day of your pilgrimage (so far) again, which would it be and why?

Gosh. Visiting St Columba’s Bay on Iona was incredibly moving, as that is where so many great journeys began, in so many different ways, including my small pilgrimage. In terms of pure walking, yesterday was probably one of the finest days so far. However, I’d have to say the seventh day, walking between Inveraray and Inverarnan. It was the day I was most looking forward to, walking up away from Loch Fyne into the mountains, before dropping back down to the top of Loch Lomond. It was a wonderful experience, and what’s more to go back to day seven would mean I still had fourteen days of walking still ahead of me, instead of only seven.

Elaine asks: Why is it you are looking suspiciously like a Russian partisan?

Dear Elaine, you have four weeks to find yourself a new church to worship in!

Michael asks: Is the Holy Spirit nudging you to have as part of our future a book about your experience?

Dear Michael, I certainly intend to spend part of March writing something about this experience. I think I’ll take the days of the pilgrimage as the framework, and expand on some of the reflections that have come out of them. Whether or not I have it in me to produce a book, I don’t know. It would be good, at the very least, maybe to produce some Quiet Day material or something like that. Thank you for all your words of encouragement.

Susie asks: How come you have had endless days of beautiful weather and stunning scenery, and when I joined you I got rain, Glasgow and a litter strewn Clyde?

Dear Susie, God knows that frail sinners need a lot of encouragement if they are to make good pilgrims; so, for most of my journey He’s surrounded me with warmth and beauty, but when we were together, He left that up to you.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Do I Look Like I Might Know The Answer?

As promised earlier in the week, today's the day you can post any questions you like about the pilgrimage.
At 5pm I'll settle down with a large glass of wisdom, and do my best to answer.
But pilgrimage questions only - no, I don't know how the General Election will turn out, whether or not we're in a 'double dip' recession, or where Spurs will finish in the Premiership.
Look forward to hearing from you.

The Archdeacon Addresses An Anxious Nation.

Day 15: Peebles to Selkirk.

Distance: 18.7 miles (267.4 total).

Duration: 7 hrs 35 mins.

Lowest Temp: 0ºc.

Weather: Have given up trying to find new ways of saying ‘perfect for walking’.

Highest Alt: 1748 ft.

‘I now know that one of the most significant things in being priested is that you get to give the notices at the end of mass’ said The Pilgrim after his ordination. This was said in that distinctive period in the church’s history when Pilgrim was a Curate and I was his Vicar. You need to know that the notices were not used primarily to convey information about the events of the coming week but more specifically for Vicar and Curate to abuse one another. Given this history you will not be surprised at the appalling treatment that I have received so far in this Blog however you might be a touch surprised that The Pilgrim has allowed me loose on it!

Another couple I know also walked to Lindisfarne however not from Iona but from Bristol where they happened to be priests. They realised that along the way they met people who they later they realised were angels – i.e. people who almost miraculously brought help at time of extreme need. I would like to say that I have also met an angel in the form of the blessed Roy who, as you will know from the Blog, has the very distinctive experience of being The Pilgrim’s father. Never mind what he has done for The Pilgrim he has enabled me to get this far. When the range of necessary and important equipment that I had wisely brought proved to be too heavy a burden and frankly too much a source of merriment for The Pilgrim, he travelled 70 odd miles to relieve me of: my tent; sleeping bag; sleeping bag liner; cooker; pots and pans; kitchen sink; and dog basket. I feel privileged to have my walking style compared to his, which has if nothing else panache and I am now being given wonderful hospitality by Roy and his wife Anji.

Today’s walk, which even The Pilgrim admitted was the best walking day so far, was from Peebles to Selkirk. The thermometer read –3 and the car journey from Selkirk back to Peebles (we stayed with Roy and Angie last night) was initially through thick fog, however as has been proven several time the weather forecast was largely inaccurate and the sky cleared and temperature rose (a bit). An easy walk for 7 miles down the Tweed led to the impressive Traquair House – a sign proclaimed it the oldest inhabited house in Scotland in which 27 Kings have stayed. The Pilgrim also told me that the gates have remained shut since the last Stuart was on the throne and will only open when the next one ascends – he said this with a wistful look in his eye, which I think might be something to do with personal ambition!

We then launched out on a stunning section of the Southern Upland Way, which took us up to the highest point on the whole pilgrimage – some 1,760 feet. It is The Pilgrim’s tradition to sing Praise to the Holiest in the Height every time he reaches a high point over 1,000ft. We actually did this twice (only the first verse as neither of us can remember any more) as there was some dispute about the which point was the highest, however we did sing it to two different tunes. When going up hills (which I love) I am prone to focusing totally on getting to the summit and therefore so often miss what is around me on the way. I loved every moment of today and realised that getting to the summit was of little significance compared with the scenery that I was walking through and actually also the very special and cherished conversation I was having with my friend. We hardly abused one another all day!

While I am writing this he is in the bath with a G and T, which frankly is not in the spirit of Aiden as far as I can see.

Tomorrow is a rest day. He’s off with the help of the blessed Roy to stand up to his waist in the North Sea at Coldingham, with some vain hope that an otter or two might come to his aid. I’m doing a far more sensible thing and going to play 18 holes at Peebles with my old friend David Sceats, the Episcopal priest in Selkirk.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Finding Lost Paths.

Day 14: Biggar to Peebles.

Distance: 17.9 miles (248.7 total).

Duration: 6 hrs 40 mins.

Lowest Temp: 0ºc.

Weather: Perfect.

Highest Alt: 700 ft or thereabouts.

Archdeacon Watch: He took a little rest today, but is now full of beans and raring to go – and tomorrow he’s writing the post.

Dr Beeching is not what you would call a popular man in this part of the world. The Borders were particularly hard hit by the rail line cuts of the 1960s, and the loss of local lines is still keenly felt.

Most of my walk today was along one of those old rail lines. It was beautiful walking, on a clear cool day, with the Tweed as my companion for most of the way.

Walking the lost line stirred in my imagination thoughts of all those many people who would have passed this way by train: those for whom it was just the regular commute and those who took particularly special and memorable trips across this way. I’m not sure that Pilgrim’s Cairn has many readers this side of the border, but if there’s anybody out there with particular memories of travelling by rail the line that today I walked, I’d love to hear them.

In a sense, this pilgrimage is itself a kind of walking ‘a lost line’. Once there would have been significant traffic between Iona and Lindisfarne, as monks, bishops and princes made their way back and forth between the two, carrying news of battles lost and hearts won, news of great events and domestic gossip.

The walk from Biggar to Peebles evoked in me so many different senses of ‘paths lost’.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, that time when Christians seek to follow Christ into the wilderness places to struggle with temptation. Lots of us will be giving up chocolate, booze, fags or whatever else. Perhaps Lent is also about rediscovering ‘lost paths’, about finding again a true path which once upon a time we were walking, but which somehow has been lost to us; a time for finding our way again.

On Friday I have my second rest day. On my last rest day I encouraged all of you to go for a bit of a walk, this time I thought I’d let you rest, and instead give myself a job to do. Quite a few questions have been posted on this site over the past few weeks and I’m really sorry that I haven’t had the time to answer them – at the end of each day there’s only just time to re-hydrate, clean up, eat, go over the next day’s walk, (perhaps re-hydrate a little more), and then bed. So, as with the walking last weekend, I’ll put up a sort of ‘blank’ post on Friday morning, and if you want to post a question you can do it then, and I’ll try to answer as best I can around 5-ish.

See you tomorrow my friends, sleep well - I know I will.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Day 13: Lanark to Biggar.

Distance: 17.4 miles (230.8 total).

Duration: 7 hrs 37 mins.

Lowest Temp: 2ºc.

Weather: All around us but never on top of us.

Highest Alt: 825 ft

Archdeacon Watch: Glad not to be on the bus, mostly.

Last night we were wonderfully looked after by the Revd Dan Gafvert, who taught us a lot about Lanark and about Lanarkshire. It was great to be able to stop, for the second and last time on this pilgrimage, in someone’s home.

This morning The Archdeacon declared himself fit for service once more, so off we set. Now, in my defence, I’d like to put it on the record that over the first few miles of each leg I really need to keep going just to work out the various aches and pains I have in my right foot (everything else, I’m delighted to say, continues to work well – well, as well as ever). Stopping and starting makes me sore. Here ends the case for the defence.

By the time we’d made the two miles to New Lanark, The Archdeacon had introduced a series of pauses to our progress, as he’d mucked around with his clothing, faffed about with his rucksack, and had the inevitable long minutes of fiddling with his walking sticks. I prayed the Rosary, and tried to think good thoughts.

Then we reached New Lanark itself, a wonderful heritage site which is well worth a visit. The Archdeacon disappeared into the Gift Shop and Visitor Centre. This is a walk, a long walk, popping in to Gift Shops and Visitor Centres is something we just don't do. However, I rustled up as much Christian charity as I could muster and waited. He didn’t reappear. I continued to wait. Still no sign.

I began to have a tantrum in my head: ‘What’s he up to? He’s just making this walk harder. It’s like having another pack to carry.’

And then I stopped. Comparing this person, parson and friend to my pack made me realize just how stupid I was being. I remembered that my pack contained only the essentials for the journey, and that all the people I’ve been privileged to share this pilgrimage with are essential to it.

What’s more, all the people I’m privileged to share life’s pilgrimage with, are never extra weight – they are essentials, without which no pilgrimage is worthy of the name. It's only my poverty of love which makes others feel like extra weight, and the more I can learn to love, the more I will understand that the people I encounter are never weights but gifts.

And lastly, I wish to defend The Archdeacon from expressions of sympathy which he has received in recent days. He is a proud man who would be deeply distressed to think that anyone is feeling sorry for him. In the ten years of our friendship that’s a distress I’ve never caused him, and nor do I intend to in the ten or so days ahead, as I drive him over Glen and Ben (Scottish terms for landscape, not people we’ve met).

PS The Archdeacon has managed to organise for us to celebrate the Eucharist on Lindisfarne at 10am on Friday 26th February. As I always put when advertising forthcoming events in the service sheet, ‘all are welcome’.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Never Stop Again.

Day 12: Bothwell to Lanark.

Distance: 19.8 miles (213.4 total).

Duration: 7 hrs 22 mins.

Lowest Temp: 2ºc.

Weather: Just like that song by Crowded House.

Highest Alt: 651 ft

The Archdeacon smells better than I do. That’s largely because whilst my journey to Lanark involved nearly twenty miles of walking along the occasionally elusive Clyde Walkway, his involved two bus trips, costing £1.69 and £3. Perhaps I should explain.

When The Archdeacon arrived in Bishopbriggs on Friday evening, I was rather dismayed to discover that he’d brought a tent and a sleeping bag with him. Given that our journey was going to be taking in a series of hostelries and bed and breakfasts these seemed rather superfluous, and I tried to persuade him so, but he was not to be persuaded; The Long Suffering One tried to persuade him that they were unnecessary encumbrances, but he was not to be persuaded; my Uncle and Aunty tried to persuade him that they were unhelpful burdens, but he was not to be persuaded.

So, off we set on Sunday morning, me with my spare pants and a change of socks, and The Archdeacon with his tent and sleeping bag, and who knows what all else.

Curiously enough, The Archdeacon and my Dad walk in very much the same way. They both tear off as fast as they can for as far as they can, before coming to a sudden breath-shuddering halt; at this point The Archdeacon tinkers obsessively with his walking sticks and rucksack straps, in the belief that if he gets them perfectly set he will Never Have To Stop Again.

We first realised something was wrong at lunchtime. He’d been keeping up a good pace, but when he removed his waterproof jacket there was actual steam rising from his clothing – owing to the space taken up by the tent (and sleeping bag), he was having to wear virtually every item of clothing he possessed. “I’m feeling a bit hot”, he observed.

It was at the thirteen mile mark that he really began to flag. The Long Suffering One was deeply sympathetic and helpful. I just wanted to hit him with one of his tent poles and then smother him with the sleeping bag.

Anyway, he soldiered on to Bothwell. This afternoon he met up with my Dad, who took away several kilos of utterly pointless baggage, and so he’s going to have another go at being a pilgrim tomorrow. Keep him in your prayers, and perhaps see if you can’t get a Mass offered up for me.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

My Funny Valentine.

Day 11: Bishopbriggs to Bothwell.

Distance: 18.5 miles (193.6 total).

Duration: 7 hrs 43 mins.

Lowest Temp: 4ºc.

Weather: Like my socks, mostly damp with wet patches.

Highest Alt: 260 ft

Yesterday's rest day with my Lovely Aunt and Elderly Uncle was very welcome indeed. Going to bed on Friday night, knowing that I could sleep in and there were no long miles ahead of me the next day was great. Susie and I had a quiet lazy day together, marred only by events at The Millennium Stadium.

The Archdeacon went off with my Elderly Uncle to see Motherwell play Hamilton. They were accompanied by my friend the Hooligan Pensioner, who brightened up everybody's day by trying to smuggle some whisky into the stadium and being collared by the polis (a Gaelic word for 'member of the constabulary').

Today we walked straight into Glasgow, picking up the Clyde at Glasgow Green and then more or less following it all the way out to Bothwell. Around Glasgow Green the Clyde is beautiful, and enjoyed by lots of walkers, cyclists, rowers, and joggers. As we walked along though, I found myself feeling quite shocked at the amount of litter everywhere. This isn't to suggest that Glasgow is more litter-strewn than any other major city, just that I've been in such gorgeous unspoiled countryside up to now, that the sight of so much debris was quite depressing. It feels hard to believe that the bare black trees lining the river, shrouded in the shreds of a million corner shop carrier bags, could ever bear anything as fresh and lovely as a leaf.

I wanted to go back to Iona, to Mull, to Loch Melfort or to Conic Hill. I wanted to get out of the city and the great wake of filth we trail behind us wherever we congregate together in great masses. But as a London priest, it's a city that I’m privileged to serve in, and it’s in cities that most people have to live, which for all their joys and glories, also have their noise, and their dirt, and their anonymity, and their loneliness, and moments of violence and acres of poverty. If the best I can come up with at the end of this sabbatical is 'it's nice in the countryside', then this will have been three utterly wasted months. As my friend, The Provost, put it: 'The question you have to be working out is, how do you take Iona back to Edmonton.'

It's a question which the wonderful Donald Meek also poses in his excellent book 'The Quest for Celtic Christianity': 'Modern 'Celtic Christianity', in fact, appears to be directed towards the religiously inclined and 'concerned' middle classes who have money to buy books and participate in 'retreats', and the time and the resources to go on pilgrimages and 'drop out' of the contemporary rat-race. It does not seem to have much to say to the practical challenges of planting churches in present-day housing estates, or to confronting contemporary drug culture and larger moral issues.'

Anyway, Susie's still with me, it's Valentine's Day, and there are probably other things I should be doing.

PS Thank you so much to all of you who joined in my pilgrimage this weekend. I’ve loved reading your posts, and am truly grateful for your company, your wisdom and your humour. Together we make this pilgrim’s cairn.