I have reported elsewhere on this blog (click here) about the closure of Ushaw College, for 203 years the principal Catholic Seminary in the north of England for the training of priests. A general gathering for the final Grand Day last March (Old Boys Day) to mark the closure of the College ignited the idea of a first reunion of my own class in the College, which turned into a 50th anniversary celebration of the year many of us started our College careers (1961).
But these things do not happen without a prime mover, and our reunion would not have happened without the initiative and sterling efforts of Peter Forster, who dedicated many months and hundreds of hours in laying the foundations for what turned out to be a very happy and successful occasion in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Durham (only 3 miles from Ushaw). People were tentative and a little nervous about renewing contact with old school friends they hadn’t seen in over 43 years. Would
we all revert to our teenage personae, and use those dreaded nicknames we were glad to be rid of when we left the College? A master-stroke was to include partners and spouses. It must have been a daunting prospect for them, but they all settled happily to meeting a sea of new faces and learning some of the ‘truths’ about the lives of their men-folk which pre-dated their relationships.
A lively, convivial meal was happily interrupted by a Skyped video-conference with one of our class-mates living in Minnesota, also by the reading of a letter from another whose clerical duties prevented him from attending. And a couple of powerpoint slide-shows brought to life a host of faded black & white photos which happily showed all of us in our better-looking days, and
Although several at the reunion lived within a short radius of Durham, some had come considerable distances, including one from Rome, one from Normandy, and one might have come from Dublin but for the sad news of his house being flooded by the recent rains.
For those who could stay the following day, we were treated to a final guided visit of the College before its definitive closure, and we now await news of how this remarkable property will be deployed in the future.
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.