Arriving back home and settling back into domesticity always requires some adjustment after such a venture. Even harder if you spend 80-90 days walking the route, and the rhythms of the daily schedule are much more ingrained in your psyche.
My journey has roused some local interest, especially in the press, and this has led to an invitation by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to feature on their Sunday morning programme (October 17th) at 8.20am. I see this as a great opportunity to spread the word about the Via Francigena, and help promote it as one of the great European journeys where you can enjoy a sense of community as you travel along and associate with other pilgrims.
And you don’t have to do it as a single journey, from Canterbury to Rome. Why not try sections, as time permits. Everybody is subject to myriad commitments, so why not cherry-pick a couple of especially interesting sections and do them when you can? To qualify for the Testimonium at the end, walkers only need to complete 100kms, and cyclists 200kms. This could easily be completed in a week, allowing a couple of days to enjoy Rome.
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!
Many years awheel exploring the world, I am now addressing the most ancient of routes in Europe: the Via Francigena. First walked by St Augustine in 598 when he went to Rome to receive the pallium (his seal of office as the first Archbishop of Canterbury), it has recently been re-established using the travel notes of Archbishop Sigeric in 990 (one of the early bloggers!). Although I will have the benefit of a pair of wheels for my journey, carrying my pilgrim’s credential (passport) I will qualify for the official ‘testimonium’ given to pilgrims when they arrive at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Following ancient routes, especially routes of religious and historical significance, has always been a passionate interest of mine. My forthcoming journey along the Via Francigena comes in the wake of several other long journeys, including the ancient Camino de Santiago de Compostela. So why am I doing it? Is it just for the sheer pleasure of completing it? Well, partly, but also read below:
January 12th saw Haiti (the poorest country in the west) suffer its most devastating earthquake. 230,000 died, along with 300,000 injured. The 6 month anniversary of the quake has reminded us of the continued desperation of the situation.
For many years, we have supported the humanitarian efforts of the Claretian Missionaries in Belize. But on this one occasion, our attention deservedly shifts to the people of Haiti in their time of need. The Claretians in Haiti have spent several years building the infrastructure of their future work, which included an elementary school, which was completely destroyed. The money we raise through this venture will go directly to helping to rebuild this school.
Cycle pilgrimage: Kimbolton-Canterbury-Rome (1300 miles)
I will be setting off on August 29th, and hope to arrive in Rome about 18 days later. Much more than a cycle ride, this will be a genuine attempt to follow the route established 1400 years ago. I will be passing through places of historical connection, seeking to have my ‘credential’ (pilgrim’s passport) stamped and signed along the way, in order to qualify for the testimonium at journey’s end.
(I can now report that, at the end of all the fund-raising, we have been able to send £6,500 to help rebuild the Claretian Elementary School in Port-au-Prince. If you contributed to that amount, a sincere ‘thank you’ for your support)