Monday, 1 September 2014

Pilgrim Days 1-4

Pilgrim day 1

Buzzing from Westpoint, I arrive at Winchester Cathedral around this huge edifice built for the glory of God despite Oliver Cromwell shelling it!  A city with great Christian influence, Alfred the Great made Winchester his capital city. It was a few yards from here that I would preach at the Buttercross every week as a young man, and a few yards further, stands a converted cinema where hundreds now gather to continue to build a great city and church I dearly love.

I head North past the first meeting place of my school sweetheart, Heather.  Heading up the Andover Road I pass Peter Symonds where a frightened 12 year old ran away from boarding school.  I head to South Wonston then across fields to Whitchurch.  The rain is unrelenting and I am soaked to the skin when I finally find a cosy pub. The problem with stopping is your body gets vocal. The feet mention blisters and the legs soon threaten
strike action. I get moving before they convince my brain.  

British footpaths are a nightmare. They give you the first direction, a nudge in the right direction but then abandon you in every farmyard or road junction. My maps soon were soaked through, mushing together like left over rice. This meant that the last 5 miles I was walking blind with two huge blisters making every step painful.  A very hospitable Travel Lodge receptionist on greeting this drowned walker, gave me a big towel, a warm welcome and a room.

Pilgrim day 2

It's raining, making it hard to get going.  Newbury was an hour's walk on busy roads so I took time to grab a Latte and dry off in the centre. First words I heard were of a mother calling her daughter, "Grace come here," and felt we do need to plant a church in Newbury. The cross-country walk North was beautiful, with the constant shrill call of the buzzards.  

Finding a way to cross the M4 was exasperating and wasted a good hour or more.  It felt like leaving the Shire when I finally achieved it. My feet were very sore and the footpath now completely overgrown with brambles and nettles. A slip and twisted ankle later I carried on but more slowly, down to about 2.5 miles an hour. By now my water bottle was empty so I headed for a pub a mile off the track.  It had closed down. Hope,deferred can make the heart sick. So a short-cut back across fields only to be stopped by a farmer in his 4x4. Explaining my mission he granted me continue but sadly not in his jeep. It took a long time to traverse these Berkshire hills and when I finally arrived at Abington I soaked in the bath for 30 minutes like some wallowing hippo. Sheer bliss.

Pilgrim Day 3

Welcome sunshine and an early start to get to Oxford for coffee. Sat on the steps of the Martyrs memorial and felt moved by the inscription, statues and thoughts of these great heroes of the faith. The statue of Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556) holding out a bible -  the leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and finally Mary I.

C S Lewis taught at Oxford and met nearby in a pub with the "Inklings", an Oxford writers' group which included Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien. Down a side street I found yet another inscription to John Wesley's first Methodist church meeting in Oxford! 

From Oxford a long and beautiful cross-country walk to Ashendon, a really remote village.  The paths criss cross farmland and are impossible to keep to as the farmers plough and plant so as to obscure any marked way. Often you have to drop onto country lanes but fast drivers make this a nerve-racking experience. Last 4 miles were the hardest of this pilgrimage yet. Ten hours walking, each step like walking on broken glass and my mind imagining a hot bath and bed.

Pilgrim Day 4

Probably the best walking day yet. The fields to Waddesdon were alive with swallows grabbing their last meals before their pilgrimage South. The hedgerows are full of food and colour. Purple blackberries,elderberries and sloe contrast with the vivid reds of the hips and Lords and Ladies.  

Over this journey I had to cross 3 fields with young cows that would follow me, all skittish and playful with their snuffing and puffing making me more than a little nervous. For a good part of the walk I followed the North Buckingham Way which meant easier navigation.  Beautiful little villages appear over hill tops, welcoming the traveller, and I do find it quite inspiring that most of these hamlets have Wesleyan Chapels or Baptist Churches. I think of Commission's 'Start, Re Start and Multiply'!

The hardest part of the navigation is the crossing of main roads and this was certainly the case today. Milton Keynes is just one series of crossings so it was with great relief I arrived at the Premier Inn and soaked my mangled feet in an antiseptic bath!!

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