The idea of pilgrimage has been on my mind for several years and I started by visiting cathedrals; Winchester, York and Lincoln then last year I visited Christchurch Oxford and Coventry.
At Coventry I found a cathedral that was alive and this persuaded me that my pilgrimage involved cathedrals.
This year Open Doors* http://www.opendoorsuk.org/events/fundraise/pilgrimage.php had a plan to raise money by walking the Winchester- Canterbury Pilgrims Way following a new book published in February. https://www.cicerone.co.uk/product/detail.cfm/book/777/title/the-pilgrims–way#.WT5IvZLyvIU
I thought I might first try Southwark to Canterbury but soon found I could not carry my backpack and do the walking. I had a brilliant day in London and loved Southwark Cathedral which was alive and welcoming. The refectory provided good food and a comfortable place to rest my feet. It was here I saw two real life pilgrims with their khaki outfits wide brim hats and the pilgrims shell hanging from their backs. The cathedral, next to Borough Markets, is in the heart of community. One lovely lady, with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, seeing my distress in the Harvard Chapel came and prayed with me. This was a lovely pilgrim moment for me because, as I read that Harvard had been christened in Southwark Cathedral and went on to found the American University that carries his name, I realised the needs of all men who, in this world seem to have everything, yet don’t know Jesus.
So to a night in ladies only backpackers and then a rail trip from London Bridge to Rochester. I did not have a place to stay in Rochester. I had been trying online for weeks but I was fairly confident that once I got into the Tourist Information Office all would be well. Times have changed; they could offer a list but after 2 expensive phone calls I gave up deciding to ask at the cathedral and if that failed to hop on the train to Canterbury. The cathedral was alive with a flower show but alas the tea room was closed because, they said, of little demand. People in the cathedral had no idea of any accommodation not even for pilgrims
I waved goodbye to Rochester from the train.
I arrived at Canterbury East Station walked up the Dane John and eventually arrived at the Cathedral. Those I asked knew of no ‘pilgrim accommodation’ so, knowing my ticket would give me access to the cathedral every day, I rushed out to The Beaney House of Art; once again the visitor information centre could not help except direct me to Premier and Travel Lodge on the outside of town. Long walk with back pack and a sad return to town centre realising there was no room at the Inn.
There followed a brilliant night on the streets with all the students marching in bands up and down the cobbled streets, an unusual meeting with some lovely people outside the cathedral gates and times with the street sleepers bedding down for the night. Eventually, about 3.30am, tired of walking round I came up behind the street pastors saying,
“Hey know someone who needs £20 for a few hours on their sofa?”
They told me that there was nowhere in Canterbury where I could lay my head but McDonald’s was open all night and the manager was very kind. He was very kind and I spent the rest of the night chatting with students and local young people who were more interested in God than those I meet in the daylight.
I was excited I had another 6 days and nights in Canterbury I just knew I was going to love every minute.
The lovely guy on reception took one look at me and said “I find you different bed”. Apparently I don’t look the type to fit on a top bunk! I did not argue; nights on the top bunk in St Christopher’s were not the best! So for 4 lovely nights I had the bed by the window in a six bed room.
The garden was a wonderful extra, the lounge comfortable, the kitchen fabulously equipped and a place in the fridge. Great place to stay and it cost less for 6 nights than my one night in the Cathedral Lodge.
Although I know I am on a pilgrimage not just a holiday but Holy days I still don’t know where and why. A sacred place a holy relic who knows. All I know is that it hangs around Cathedrals as being the place in England where God has been worshipped the longest.
Seems that although pilgrims were offered hospitality in times gone by they were often a nuisance. Canterbury was extended and an Ambulatory built round the place of worship so that dratted pilgrims could walk in and round without disturbing the service. There is a sense in which modern tourists with their lack of respect for holy ground are resented by the clergy and one clergy person nearly bit my head off but others had nothing but love and compassion. Takes all sorts.
I was in Canterbury for 8 days and I had intended to travel out and walk on some of the Pilgrim’s Way but instead found myself immersed in the City and Cathedral. I was interested in finding out where modern day pilgrims would be welcome.