On Sunday May 12th a group of us set out from Chaldon Parish church with the intention of walking to Canterbury over the next 6 days. We were excited but naturally apprehensive. The group was led by Helen Burnett, Vicar at Chaldon, and consisted of members of Chaldon and Whyteleafe churches along with three of us from St Mary’s.
Helen had helped us to prepare not only in providing a practical kit list but by giving us small exercises to do including thinking about our expectations, reasons for going, fears and what we would be leaving behind.
For me the week before we left was the hardest. I had signed up feeling confident and excited but then the doubts started. Fortunately Sunday soon came and there we were at the morning service in Chaldon, collecting our pilgrim pack from Helen with our first stamp from Jane Edwards, churchwarden.
We were all issued with a passport to fill with ‘stamps’ from churches along the way. The first at Chaldon is particularly special as it is new, arranged by Helen.
There were so many highlights of the week and it is difficult to summarise. We covered around 80 miles on foot in six days staying in different accommodation each night which ranged from a church hall on the first night to Canterbury Lodge on the last night. In between we stayed in a Holiday Inn, Priory, campsite and bunk house.
As Helen wrote in the Chaldon newsletter:
If we hadn’t loved each other we would have fallen out long before Canterbury, we shared in both physical and emotional support and we shared food and accommodation. As a result, we got to know each other in far greater detail than we might have anticipated!
We couldn’t have completed the walk without support from many who brought supplies and transported our luggage. We were blessed with perfect weather, sunny and bright but not too hot and were able to appreciate the beautiful landscape as we walked. We travelled as a group stopping at churches and pubs along the way and met people as we went, for example an ex-military man in a park who helped with directions and a church warden who had us carrying hymn books between 2 churches!
Fund-raising was not an aim of the pilgrimage but when we realised that it fell in Christian Aid week one of the group set up a Just Giving Page for Christian Aid. We have raised over £4000 which is sufficient to fit a clinic in Sierra Leone with a full set of solar panels to run their lighting, refrigeration and medical equipment needs and to purchase medical fridges. We are so grateful for everyone’s support and feel our task was easier than door knocking locally. Sponsorship money was much appreciated but so too were words of encouragement, prayer and Kendall mint cake.
One of our group wrote a poem. It was not intended for publication but helped us combat the post pilgrimage blues and is reproduced with permission (below) as it sums up the week, those who walked and those who supported us. We already have a provisional date next year to complete the other part of the walk from Chaldon to Winchester (or Winchester to Chaldon, still open to debate). Do speak to me, Martin or Jenny if you think you might like to join us for all or part of the week. It truly was an amazing, life changing experience.
We began with a blessing from the Chaldon congregation
It all turned into a huge celebration.
Our first passport entry was the Devil stamp
He’s not very scary; he just looks a bit camp.
Helen our leader had it all so well planned.
And off we set as a very merry band.
Eight miles in the sunshine to the hall at Limpsfield church.
But I shunned the hall floor and left them all in the lurch.
I returned the next morning, bright and alert
But I’d missed great food with amazing dessert.
Fiona led us today; she was off like a rocket.
Not easy for Debs, who’s the size of Polly Pocket.
We walked eighteen miles but we’re not really sure –
With Helen measuring, it could be fewer miles or more.
We kept marching on and admired the vista,
Oh dear, said Lorraine, I’m getting a blister.
Wrotham Premier Inn proved too cosy for some
We waited for Liz at breakfast but she didn’t come.
She soon arrived a bit bleary, and we all ate well
Then met for morning prayers in a shady dell.
Our next stop was The Friars, for lodging with monks,
The next night was camping; then we slept in bunks.
Each day the sun shone and we saw no rain
And one after another we lent our boots to Jane.
On the Pilgrims Way there are kissing gates aplenty.
On Tuesday we counted as many as twenty.
Each Pilgrim must turn and kiss the next in line –
If only Martin had shaved it would all have been fine.
But we all forgave his sandpaper embrace
And were happy to kiss his smiling face.
Wherever we went, his recorder he’d bring.
He’d play lovely music and we’d join in and sing.
The other men also had their tasks to do
Jan drove the support car and carried the bags too.
Michael was backstop and so patiently stood
With his back to me waiting, while I peed in the wood.
Nurse Debbie’s training came in very handy
For tending sore feet, and helping Mandy
To strap up her knee at the start of each day
And then off she sped without any delay.
Jenny’s knowledge of flora and fauna was amazing
At one point we saw some donkeys grazing.
We didn’t need help to identify those
But some weird wild flowers kept her more on her toes.
What a life-changing experience; and we all had a ball
We wouldn’t change a thing; we loved it all.
We have new firm friends and memories aplenty –
Let’s please do it again in 2020!!
Reported by Liz Cooke