Day 2 Gillingham to Canterbury 27 m(46km)
A gentle day with a following wind. What more could you ask for? But following the A2 (another dead straight road probably of Roman origins?) can get a bit monotonous. The bank holiday traffic is out in force, and so are the boy racers!
Canterbury. Arrived to a city making the most of the last holiday weekend of the year. Heaving with visitors, interspersed by endless individuals cashing in on the moment. I was even stopped in my tracks and offered an historic boat ride on the canal. When I asked if they would take my bike for free, he gently dissolved into the crowd.
Cathedral. The pilgrim’s passport definitely works. When I showed it at the gates of the Cathedral precinct, they ushered me in free of charge (normally £8) and took me immediately to the Welcome Office, where I was told that Canon Clare was expecting me. Even though I had arrived early, she adjusted her schedule to accommodate me, and guided me into the inner sanctum of the Cathedral to a chapel not normally open to visitors, but reserved for pilgrims either at the beginning or end of their journey. The chapel is called Our Lady of the Undercroft, remote in the crypt area of the Cathedral, and bathed in a mute light that gave it a fitting atmosphere. She very kindly pronounced the words and prayers given to pilgrims as they set off on their journeys. Afterwards, she told me a little of her 32 day walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and we were able to share one or two experiences in common.
Then she took me to see the stone that marks the beginning of the Via Francigena outside the Cathedral, now becoming known as the “Kilometre Zero” of the journey. For those who would like to check out further information on this route, the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome (founded in 2006) has an informative website (www.pilgrimstorome.org.uk) and needs people (like me) to report back on their experiences to expand their database.
Returning to the Cathedral for Evensong (still clad in my yellow lycra!) the visiting choir (Cantique from near Wigan) led the singing for the final hymn, which turned out to to be “To be a pilgrim” by John Bunyan. Serendipity plays its role yet again. That the start of my pilgrimage journey to Rome should begin on the day that the life of John Bunyan (a Bedfordshire lad) should be commemorated. If I’d planned for, it wouldn’t have happened!