Day 10 of Walking Out of the World, an 86 day walk to Compostela.
In nine days I had walked 170 miles to London carrying the heavy replica mediaeval pilgrim bourdon, a two-metre wooden staff carried by the 15th century pilgrim from Worcester to Compostela, Robert Sutton. You the virtual traveller on this pilgrimage will remember how difficult it was obtaining stamps for a pilgrim record. This was now much easier in London and I was spoiled for choice. I first went to get my Compostela credencial stamped at the Spanish embassy in Belgravia and to my delight this was done by a green uniformed Guardia Civil officer who saluted as he returned it to me!
I walked from the embassy to Westminster Cathedral, which had been the original planned pilgrimage departure point before the idea of collecting the bourdon from Worcester had arisen. I received the embossed stamp of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and I got the cathedral stamp too, for good measure, and the Confraternity of Saint James secretary Marion Marples (RIP) arrived with the pilgrim association’s stamp. So I collected four stamps within an hour which made up for the stamp famine on the stage from Worcester!
Westminster cathedral was also handy for the charity I was walking for which had its main offices nearby. Sponsoring a children’s mobility charity had not been my idea, but a friend suggested it: “If you’re going to walk all that way, raise some money for kids who can’t walk!”
Many of the staff at Whizz-Kidz came down to the cathedral to see me off, together with Karl, who came along in his specially adapted electric wheelchair to show me how the money raised can help children with mobility difficulties live more independently.
As I walked from London on the second stage, I took with me Walter Starkie’s The Road to Santiago. He writes, “As we become older we become more and more obsessed by the longing to undertake a hidden journey which will remind us gently of the ultimate one, and evoke for us countless shadowy spirits to haunt us when we plod along the road.”
I found myself drawn to thinking of those further down the pilgrim trail. Somewhere in France there will be others plodding along in solitude and sometimes I will meet up with them on the Way, le Chemin, el Camino; but for the moment I had to accept that mostly it would be a solitary day followed by a solitary evening. But to be solitary is not the same as to be lonely and there is a sense of walking in solitude while part of a pilgrim community.
Starkie refers to Langland’s poem Piers Plowman and the way that Plowman’s soul craved for a pilgrimage that would be the passage from a lower to a higher stage of life. “The idea of a pilgrimage to Santiago from home, setting out from your own front door, implies such a life-changing intention, or at least a desire to set out into the unknown of a new phase of life.”
From Westminster to Limpsfield in Surrey is a long haul of twenty miles through endless suburbs, but in a fairly straight line. (Through Balham, West Norwood, Thornton Heath, Croydon, Warlingham mostly on main roads going south but parks and heathland break the tarmac monotony. I will not provide a detailed itinerary: there are various ways of doing this according to where you want to shop, lunch and rest. Suburbs are to be walked through at a pace: they do not merit a detailed description!) Crossing over the Pilgrim’s Way, there is a foot bridge over the M25, and suddenly you escape the metropolis after Limpsfield and all becomes quiet and green, on the road going south to Edenbridge in the last light of the day, as the sun drops behind the Sussex downs in the west.
In two more days the pilgrim will reach the end of land at Newhaven and leave by boat for France. There is something very appealing about a foot journey for the next two days across the fields and footpaths and wooden styles of Surrey and Sussex, ending with stepping aboard the midnight boat across the Channel, and the prospect of the first French pilgrim stamp in my credencial from the church of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle in Dieppe.
The planned road stretches out for hundreds of miles before me but tonight there is one simple goal for the pilgrim: to look out for a field and put up the tent once more.
In case you missed it, I was sponsored by readers to walk 2000 miles for Whizz-Kidz, so here’s one final link for you to donate today, to move a life forward!