Nigel and John are safely back!

Huge congratulations to Nigel Miller and John Lockey from Havant parish, who successfully completed their “Southwark-to-Canterbury” pilgrimage in aid of CAFOD’s Lenten appeal! Nigel has sent a diary of their adventure. Here’s what he said:

“John and I decided to make a pilgrimage during Lent 2012 from Southwark to Canterbury. This was firstly a journey of faith in honour of our church’s two patrons, St. Thomas More and St. Thomas of Canterbury (St. Thomas a Beckett). It is also a journey full of echoes in history and literature, as it was the route followed by King Henry II as a penance after the assassination of St. Thomas a Beckett, and passes the places of execution and burial of St. Thomas More. It is well described in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. We also hoped to raise money and awareness for CAFOD’s Lenten appeal for clean water for all. The length of each leg was decided on the basis of the cheap accommodation that I could easily book in advance, and was hence mostly beside motorways.

We started on 11 March with 8am Mass in St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark, and set off full of optimism with our packs, after a quick survey of the surrounding streets. We walked up Westminster Bridge Road across the river to Parliament Square, past the peace camp to Westminster Abbey, another traditional starting point for pilgrims.

Next, we were planning to go down Whitehall to the City, but we found the road was blocked off due to what looked like a serious fire. However, as one of the smiling policemen told us, it was in fact just a scene being filmed for the next James Bond film, so we made a detour along the Embankment and the Thames Path to the Tower of London, where St. Thomas More was executed on the order of King Henry VIII.

We then took a detour through the rejuvenated docklands of the East End, crossing the river at Woolwich by the foot tunnel that runs below the Woolwich Ferry at about 2 pm. This was about half of our planned route for the day, and we came to realise what a long distance that first leg was, as we could have probably stopped there!

We then trudged past the Woolwich Arsenal, and onward through a succession of increasingly dreary suburbs, until we reached Dartford and the M25. At this point, we still had another two miles to trudge as the Dartford Travelodge was in fact at Stone. We reached the Travelodge extremely tired and footsore, via an unmarked level crossing at the back of a small railway station. We both wondered if we would ever walk anywhere again at that point!

On Monday morning, we set off along the main road towards Gravesend, passing through Northfleet and past Ebbsfleet Football Ground, until we reached Gravesend, which has a very scenic waterfront. From there we followed the ‘Saxon Shore Path’ for half a mile, through an alleyway dubbed locally as ‘Mugger’s Alley’, and managed to emerge safely onto a straight and pleasant (but misty) cycle track across a marsh.

After a couple of hours we eventually got into Higham, with the first ‘Pickwick’ connection. Then, up a long hill and back down again for a few miles, we reached the edge of Rochester, where we stopped for the night in the Medway Leisure Park, in a hotel under the motorway bridge over the Medway. We told the staff about our pilgrimage in aid of CAFOD and they were very supportive and interested.

On Tuesday, we set out across Rochester Bridge into Rochester, passing the Castle and the Cathedral. We were unable to enter the Cathedral as it was in use for worship. We then trailed onwards along the high streets of Rochester and Chatham, and past the Chatham War memorial.

As we left Chatham and entered Gillingham, we saw the first signpost (apart from the one in the distance on the M25) for Canterbury. We were a little over half way through and, so far, God had taken good care of us. Coming into Rainham, the far side of Gillingham, we found the first sign directly connected to pilgrimages when we passed a church dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury and clearly inspired by pilgrims.

We continued to Bobbing on the edge of Sittingbourne, where we eventually located the night’s lodging by the side of a main road. Bobbing is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (probably) in the Manciple’s Prologue as ‘Bobbe-up-and-down’. (It could also be Boughton, which we went through the next day).

Wednesday was a long 15 miles, made longer by the fact that I misread the map and that our lodgings turned out to be about two miles further on than we had expected. We started the day walking through Sittingbourne and continued on a country road for about five miles, which led us through the village of Teyning, and we arrived in Faversham for lunch.

After lunch, feeling refreshed, we reached the Kentish countryside. We got to Boughton, and thought we had finished for the day, with just a short and easy walk into Canterbury the next day. However, we had yet a steep hill to climb to get to Dunkirk, another mile and a half to walk plus a busy dual-carriageway to cross to reach our overnight stop. At this point, we had two choices – another mile round trip to cross the main road, or a quick dash when the traffic had sensible gaps. We chose the latter and God was with us.

The last morning we set off early. We had to start by crossing the busy road we had crossed the night before, as there was no pavement on our side. After half a mile along the A2, we were very glad to turn off onto a footpath that lead through Blean Forest and brought us into the outskirts of Canterbury. We then went past playing fields and cemeteries and reached St. Dunstan’s in the city.

The crypt of St Dunstan’s church contains the Roper Vault, where lies the head of St. Thomas More. It was taken there originally by his daughter, from the Tower of London, and was reburied in 1932. This was actually one of the reasons for travelling to Canterbury, and we said some prayers at his altar. From here we continued into the walled city of Canterbury, past the Pilgrim’s Hospital, avoiding the temptation to drop in for treatment of our blisters, and we reached the Cathedral close itself – at last!

We went to pray by the altar where St. Thomas was assassinated, and we were helped by the cathedral ushers who asked the many tourists walking round at the time to respect us at prayer. I was myself quite overcome that we had finally reached our destination after four and a half days of hard slog on the road, carrying a significant weight of clothes, provisions, and a couple of books – my whole life at that time in fact. It was very strange then to make the journey back to London by train in just two hours, and ending up back home a further two hours after that. May God be praised for keeping us safe and guiding us home again.”

Congratulations again to Nigel and John for completing this incredible challenge, and for helping CAFOD at the same time! They have already raised £250, which will be match-funded – many many thanks! 🙂 If you would like to sponsor them, it’s not too late! Just visit their justgiving page.

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