Sunday, 4 September 2011

Day Eight - Sunday 4th September - York Minster & back to Todmorden

Another modern-day pilgrim, Deborah Douglas, wrote in Pilgrims in the Kingdom: “It is exhilarating to walk atop the city walls of York… looking down on a thriving city that remembers not only the Middle Ages but also the Vikings, the Saxons and the Romans.”


Ah yes, the Romans – we were here because of a Roman – the first Bishop of York, no less. Today we were going to meet the 97th Archbishop of York – a man who, as a refugee to this country himself, had doubtless faced in a very raw way, some of the challenges we’d encountered.

It was, as I’d hoped, a comfortable night’s sleep in the enclosed wooden pew. Last night on my way back from supper I’d noticed a body sleeping on the front steps of the church. This morning I went out to see if he wanted some breakfast. My approach startled him, but he accepted my offer and tucked into toast and coffee, and told me his name was Brendan. It crossed my mind to tell him why we were sleeping in the chapel, but then again I thought it was probably of more interest to us than him, so I left him to eat in peace.

Tina had asked me if I’d join her in doing an interview for BBC Radio York. So after breakfast she and I and Brian took a taxi to their studio, where we were interviewed by Julia Booth. From the way she talked it was clear that Tina’s passion for the subject – and her love for Paulinus, the apostle of the north – is undimmed. I like to think that the northerners listening felt a tingle of pride when they heard her speaking.

Tina & Joan
After the interview we had to hot-foot it, blisters and all, to Museum Gardens to meet the rest of the group, plus a coach-load of people from St Mary’s who’d come to join us for the ‘closing ceremony’ as someone called it. Among them was Joan, who I was told had been a stalwart and supporter of the Paulinus Way project from the outset. Tina greeted her like a long-lost mother, and insisted that she walk at the front of group with those who had walked the whole way. It was a nice acknowledgement that Joan’s role had also been a journey of pilgrimage.

When we reached the Minster entrance we huddled outside waiting for the Archbishop to appear. Many of us agreed that it felt strange not to be walking, and I got a reminder on my phone that I should have been doing coffee after church back in Heptonstall. Oops!

As yesterday evening, and as when we’d limped into Leeds, we were incongruous in comparison with the cathedral slickers who were going through that impressive entrance. Once again, we were ragged interlopers in a world where it matters to be smart. But the only difference was that here we were known and our achievement was acknowledged. We wore our griminess as a badge of honour.

When he arrived, the Archbishop said a prayer on the steps before leading us down the aisle. We were watched in silence by the entire congregation. As I linked arms with Helena and Jayne, I found it was a moment of intense humility, and in a sudden flash I understood something quite new. I realised that there’s nothing cringing or inferior about being humble, but at the heart of true humility is a kernel of inextinguishable pride.

We took our seats in the reserved pews and the service began. The first part was a welcome from our own Bishop, Stephen of Wakefield. He summoned Tina and presented her with a staff with a scallop shell and gourd tied to the top, and put a hat on her head, also decorated with a scallop shell.

Typically, when it came to singing the first hymn, we all lost our way in the hymnbooks, and our fumbling with the collection bowl provoked impatient clucks from the sidesman. But we’d taken so many wrong turns this week, and still managed to reach our destination, that it didn’t matter one bit.

The Dean of York, the Very Revd Keith Jones, preached. He must have noticed our shabbiness, because he said: "We come besmirched with the world as the pilgrims come, grimy with their journey." He rounded off by saying: "Christians are pilgrims as we live. Our Baptism is our commission. Our destination is not less than the love of God."
All Revved Up

When Jesus commissioned his followers, sending them out on their journeys, he gave them some very specific instructions (Matthew 10:5-42). In essence they were:
-  Mix with everyone, not just your own kind. On a pilgrimage you have no choice!
- Travel light – don’t be weighed down by material things. Okay, so we had our bags ferried by minibus. But again, many of us learnt that it’s much easier to make progress when you’re not carrying baggage.
- When someone is receptive, keep the conversation going. There was plenty of good chat!
- You don’t need to put up with hostility – just walk away and, if you need to, shake a fist at them. There were a few fists shaken – metaphorically speaking – and as many hugs of reconciliation!
- Be aware that it is a jungle out there, but also know that by God’s grace you will have the wherewithal to deal with whatever you meet. I would say that we learnt this lesson above all. Journeying by foot, sleeping in basic accommodation, losing your way geographically and emotionally – you’re flying by faith. And, despites the wrong turns (and pubs closed at lunchtime) we were provided for at every turn.

All of Us

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Day Seven - Saturday 3rd September - Tadcaster to York

Alison, Trevor, Robert, Jayne

We’ve made it! As I write we’ve set up our ‘home’ for the last night – tonight we’re staying in York Central Methodist Church. We walked the last half-mile through throngs of tourists and Saturday-afternoon shoppers to get here – feeling incongruous, as we had in Leeds, and a little spaced out. For some pilgrims the last half mile was almost unbearable. Heather ‘Two Sticks’ Taylor spent a lot of time leaning on her sticks, and when we arrived was almost (but not quite) too whacked to laugh and be her usual jovial self.
Most of us are sleeping in the capacious chapel – the enclosed pews not only give privacy, but some are very large – and carpeted! You should have heard our whoops of excitement as we set up home for the night. After only a week, it’s the little luxuries which count. Better still, I’ve snaffled Jean’s bedding because she’s staying in a hotel. A pillow and duvet! I’m expecting a thoroughly good night’s sleep.
This morning we woke to another sunny day in the church hall of St Mary’s Tadcaster. Around breakfast time Jayne, Trevor and Alison spotted something – or someone – lying on the ground in the churchyard. They approached with trepidation, and it turned out to be a sleeping man, by the name of Robert. He’d been on his way home to Leeds, missed the last bus and simply collapsed in the graveyard. So they welcomed him in and he had breakfast with them. As Brian said later, it was, “A real act of Christian charity.”
Pat tends Brian's blistered feet
Revd Sue Sheriff led us in worship in a side chapel of the beautiful church, and then we were treated to a second breakfast of bacon butties, made by the people of St Mary’s. One of them, John, joined us on the walk. As with Alex yesterday, his local knowledge was invaluable for helping pilgrims find their way.
Although we were a larger group for the last two walking days, I’ve noticed that we’ve fallen into a more natural rhythm. We’re better at waiting for people to catch up, and people fall more easily in and out of chats, or walk awhile alone. Today’s walking was less arduous than the last couple of days, although we had some interesting detours through a muddy potato field and over a broken-down bridge. Giggle of the day was someone saying that John ‘puts the grim in pilgrim’! To be clear, that's John from Tod not John from Tad!
Along the walk I chatted to Pat, who will be missing the very last bit of the pilgrimage tomorrow because she’s embarking on a pastoral ministry course at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield. I asked how it had been for her. She said it had been a good spiritual experience: “Yesterday was tough, I won’t deny it, but it’s taught me about walking step by step. This is the physical challenge, and tomorrow I will be starting on the mental challenge.”
I think Revd Jeanette was essentially agreeing when she said: “I think many of us came on the journey not knowing what it was we are working on. It may not be clear, or it may be the start of a much longer journey.”
There’s something there about the cycle of life, death, renewal and regeneration. T. S. Eliot wrote about it in the opening lines of ‘East Coker’ and, although the village of East Coker is hundreds of miles away in Somerset, for me his words also encapsulate the Englishness of the landscape we walked through today:
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth

The rain started a matter of minutes after we arrived at our destination in York. It seemed so fitting. We’d set off in a deluge; we’d had a bit of drizzle on the approach to Halifax Minster but, other than that – not a drop the whole way!
Today as we walked, the news came through that yesterday evening, back in Todmorden, Revd Nancy had given the last rites to Irene Saul – an elderly member of the congregation. The mere mention of her name provoked vibrant memories among those who knew her. Some people remarked on how beautifully turned out she always was, while Jean remembered the trifles she used to make for church occasions. The vicar at the time disapproved of alcohol, so Irene would put sherry in a few and surreptitiously offer them to people ‘with’ or ‘without’.

And so, as we approached the end of our pilgrimage we said private prayers for Irene, approaching the end of hers.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Day Six - Friday 2nd September - Leeds to Tadcaster

We're making headlines
In contrast to the night in Halifax (my fault, not the Minster’s) I slept like a baby in Headingley Methodist Church. No butterfly ghosts interrupted my dreams, and I really recommend sleeping on pew cushions.
Like so many churches, HMC is well equipped with ample tea- and coffee-making facilities, and people went over the road to Greggs for bacon butties.
I’d met Alex through Twitter. She was interested in the Paulinus Way and keen to join us for the day. I was chuffed to bits to have picked up a pilgrim through social networking. As it happened she lived round the corner, and came to join us for our morning worship.
As a Methodist Minister, Heather led us in worship. From the way she spoke you could tell that she was still very affected by the events of the night before. For me, it made it all the richer, more real, and refocussed my attention on the fact that this is a pilgrimage.
The first part of the ‘walk’ was by bus. First we went to the bus station, where we were to meet up with nine more pilgrims. All bar one had already walked with us over the weekend but, due to other commitments, hadn’t been able to do the whole week. With Alex’s local knowledge we found the right bus stop easily and, as a brand new group of pilgrims, we got on the bus to Slaid Hill, away from the city, to start our walk.
I’m childish enough that I always get on the top deck of the bus when I can, and I was loving the views over suburban Leeds, when we had to disembark and start – actually – walking. One of the aspects of this journey that I’m loving is the contrast – from walking the Pennine Hills to riding a city bus.
But it wasn’t an easy day for me - the cracks are beginning to show. People are forming allegiances and, predictably, storming. I heard sharp words used at least twice today. But I also saw hugs of reconciliation. And, yes, I’m not above it myself.
It started to trouble me – are we on a pilgrimage, or just a long walk? Bishop Tom had warned us that it’s no holiday – was the holiday over and, if so, where was the pilgrimage? Today, it did not feel spiritually edifying. I talked to Helena, to get a Swedish perspective. She’d already told me that in Sweden they generally have a meditation of at least an hour in the evening. So I quizzed her more, and she told me that it’s common to walk in silence in single file, possibly reflecting on something specific.
The boudoir
I also talked to Donald, who has spent time with the Iona Community. He told me that, when he goes on pilgrimage there, pilgrims make regular stops for reflection and prayer. We’re doing no such thing. Heather’s worship this morning refocussed me, but I had lost focus during the day.
Alex walked with us as far as Bramham, when she had to get a bus back to Leeds. Afterwards she sent us a tweet: “Funny how you knit with a group so quickly but it's time to leave the pilgrims on @PaulinusWay. Really enjoyed my day on the trail. :)”
Jayne Booth - councillor, rebel & alternative

It may be that future groups of pilgrims walking the Paulinus Way will have more structured journeys, with a greater focus on spirituality. And I would like to join them. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that St Mary’s Church is a very – but very – inclusive church – and everyone has been welcomed to take part. People who have rarely set foot in a church have been moved by the experience of sleeping under stained glass and saints. And I, for one, am proud to be part of that.

Day Five - Thursday 1st September - Wakefield to Leeds

The fountain in Wakefield
When Daniel Defoe visited Wakefield on his tour between 1724 and 1726, he described it as: “A clean, large, well-built town, very populous and very rich.” Hmmm, I’m not sure many people today would recognise his description of affluence, but I do know Wakefield to be a vibrant place of character – with a cathedral slap bang in the middle. There it stands, in the midst of all the commerce and consumerism – a reminder that there are things in life other than shopping.

When I arrived everyone was finishing their breakfast of beans and eggs and saying their goodbyes. They told me that they’d been to a lovely Eucharist service led by Canon Tony Macpherson alongside Rt Revd Tony Robinson, the Bishop of Pontefract. The five who’d walked the journey from Dewsbury to Wakefield on the rest day were exuberant about having done it.

So we set off through the Yorkshire countryside, on a gorgeous sunny day, with everyone refreshed after a day off. The thing that really struck me was how different the landscape was. Rather than steep, dark, Pennine hills, we were walking through rolling hills and ploughed fields. It reminded me of Hertfordshire, where I’m from. The smell of cabbage rotting in the fields is very familiar.

Because of the nature of the landscape, we were able to walk long interrupted stretches. I would say it was they day we really started to get to know one another. Owen told me some unrepeatable jokes, and a few people got nicknames. Rev Hev became known as ‘Two Sticks Taylor’, on account of her habit of crossing her walking sticks behind her neck as she walked (she swears it helps). We thought of calling Brian ‘Boudoir Brian’, and I became ‘Tinkle Bell’… well you can work it out.

We got off to a good start but, as it turned out, it was also the longest slog of a walking day so far – and the hottest. Worse, the Transpennine Trail is badly signposted (ie, not signposted at all) in parts, so there was a fair bit of huddling around the map and head-scratching as we tried to work out the route. The Aire and Calder Navigation was stunning to walk along but, by the time we got to it we were tired and footsore and, truth be told, starting to fray around the edges. There was markedly less chat. At every rest stop everyone stretched or sat massaging their legs. Yet for all that, only Brian - who was really suffering with his feet - accepted Tina’s offer of a lift. Of all of us, Rev Hev has pretty much always taken up the rear, along with Revd Jeanette, whose job it is to wear a bright yellow tabard and be the ‘rearguard’. But despite struggling at times, Heather isn’t giving up. I heard someone suggest she go in the car, but without hesitation she replied, “I’m not stopping until I fall over.”

I’ve noticed that some people are being fairly puritan about the journey - and funnily enough they’re not necessarily the churchgoers. Alison has been carrying all her belongings – sleeping bag, clothes etc, the whole way, because, "That’s what pilgrimage is all about!” For my part, I’m extremely glad that Stuart, Tina and Owen are ferrying our bags around for us.

A highlight for Jayne was some good news about her Mum, when she heard that her tumour had shrunk. The results are as good as can be expected, and mean that she can continue with her chemotherapy treatment.

Coming into Leeds along the canal, Alison suddenly spotted a kingfisher the other side of the water. We all crowded round – and suddenly a flash of vivid blue and orange streaked along the water. Amazing! It was an example of the natural world infiltrating the city, much as, in Wakefield, the sacred Cathedral infiltrates the secular shopping centre. And as we walked through the hustle and bustle of the city, we pilgrims started to look out of place among the commuters – grubby, footsore infiltrators in the smart, sharp-suited city.

When we arrived at Headingley Methodist Church we were met by Barbara, who showed us to our carpeted rooms and allowed us to take pew cushions out of the church to use as makeshift beds. Alas we weren't allowed to sleep in the church itself, because of insurance restrictions. We were tired, and there was a bit of argy bargy about it. By this point in the journey people clearly LOVED sleeping in the heart of the church - and that applies to churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.

I shared a room with Helena, Jayne, Alison and Barbara. Just as we were settling down, Barbara came round to check that we were okay. Someone asked her about ghosts, and she told us that the church ghost is a little butterfly, which has been known to fly out at funerals. A ghostly butterfly! - it seemed a lovely image to fall asleep to at the end of a long day.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Day Four - Wednesday 31st August - Dewsbury to Wakefield

Today is a rest day. Although I’ve been at home I’ve had reports from my fellow pilgrims who are in Dewsbury and Wakefield – and somewhere in between the two.
Although most people will do this section of the route by bus, in fact a small group did decide to walk it. Jayne sent me an email: “It was easy to navigate straight down the canal, with beautiful scenery and historical industrial bits. We picked up coal for our New Year celebrations and told Helena about the English custom.” Jayne’s Mum is undergoing chemotherapy, and she continued: “I carried holy water that Revd Kevin had blessed for me for my Mum, which was very apt and deeply moving.”
Before I left yesterday evening I asked everyone to summarise their experience so far and send me their thoughts today. Typically and rather wonderfully, I got a mixed bag of responses – which somehow aptly reflects us as a group. Or, as Revd Owen put it, “What an odd bunch we all are!”
Photo Courtesy of Dewsbury Minster
Tina’s comment summed up how quickly we’ve become a bonded group: “When I had to go home and swap cars, it was almost like stepping into a different world – a parallel universe – like looking through a looking glass.” Having been home a couple of times myself, I can relate to that. When we return to our ‘normal’ lives, for a little while they seem strange.
Helena, who’s travelled from Sweden to walk the Paulinus Way, said she felt something similar after walking back to the Minster from the shopping centre. She continued: “I wouldn't say this is the easiest way to see at new country, but is definitely to most fascinating. Tack for er granslosa gastfrihet!” And I agree wholeheartedly with her, whatever she said!
In people’s comments, it was clear that the hospitality we’ve received so far has really struck us pilgrims. I know it’s been pre-arranged, that it’s hardly as though we’ve knocked on strangers’ doors. But all the same, people have made a huge effort to welcome and accommodate us, and to show us around their churches and minsters. Alison and Jayne both had one word for it – “Amazing!”
For others, to sleep right in among the church and all its history has been an incredible experience. Barbara said it was the stay at Halifax Minster: “It’s a tardis-like building – wonderful. The windows are superb, particularly the round Marigold window.”
For Tina, the night at Dewsbury Minster was particularly special: “I felt really cocooned by this truly welcoming sanctuary. On opening the door this morning it was a shock for a moment to realise that there was a world outside.”

Day Three - Tuesday 30th August - Halifax to Dewsbury

It’s always good to be able to tell it warts and all – and there was really no need to pretend that I’d slept well. After all, most of the other pilgrims had been quite candid about how much the bells had disturbed their sleep on the first night. For me, the problem wasn’t bells – it was nylon. All night I slipped and slithered around on the camping mattress, sleeping bag, liner – and that pillow, which turned out to be utterly pointless. By 6am I gave up and went in search of a cup of tea.
My sleepless state had left me feeling quite disillusioned with the whole pilgrimage thing. So it was lovely to go upstairs and see the morning light shining through the stained glass, and hear the murmur of people starting to surface, chat and laugh, and the welcome sound of a kettle boiling. As I walked down the aisle, Revd Jeanette emerged from her pew-bed: “Sleep well?” she asked. “No!” I replied, but by now I was smiling.
Breakfast was cereal or bread and jam, and then I went back to my desk. I’m one of those people who gets completely stuck in my work and so, when Revd Owen came to tell me it was time for 9am prayers, I reluctantly left off and went to join the rest in the choir stalls. Prayers are held at the Minster every morning, and Hilary invited us to take part in the daily rhythm of the church, which I thought was lovely. Today is the day the church commemorates John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. So it was fitting that we sang To Be a Pilgrim again (as we had on Sunday). It was also good to see another familiar face - Revd Marion Russell is one of the Minster chaplains, and she joined us for the service and read a lesson.
Once out on the walk, we seemed a very small group. I realised that many people had joined us over the bank holiday weekend, but were now back at work. Stuart had warned us that much of the day's walking would be on roads, but said that we'd be following the route Paulinus is known to have trodden.
Once again the miles flew by as I got to know the other pilgrims. Barbara told me that she was not a churchgoer, but had been drawn to the pilgrimage as a result of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela about six years ago. She talked about the amazing experience of being considered almost holy by the Spanish people she met along the way. She was astonished when people crossed themselves because she was a pilgrim – doing something holy - an image which sent shivers down my spine.
Barbara did the pilgrimage with a friend who, as it turned out, was struggling with marriage problems. By the end, however, she was out of her rut and had a completely fresh perspective on her relationship.
As I walked and talked, the theme which emerged was change and how to respond to it. It’s so easy to become stuck in a familiar position, and pilgrimage is, in essence, a fundamental challenge to change – whether that means accepting a situation beyond our control or embracing something new. After all, on day one we’d been walking, getting to know one another and enjoying the views, when Frank’s sudden collapse had cast everything in an entirely new light and demanded a change of perspective and planning. And that morning, when Revd Owen had told me to leave the work I was so engrossed in, I’d been very resistant to change. But oh, I was so glad that torn myself away from my laptop to spend half an hour in prayer.

Walking into Dewsbury we passed a nasty scene of a young Asian lad screaming and swearing at a woman, who hurled back racist insults. I turned to Helena: “Welcome to Dewsbury!” I said. She smiled wanly.
But the next minute everything changed and our spirits were lifted. As we approached the Minster, we could see four people waving flags. And yes – they were waving for us! Then a shout went up – “It’s Frank!” And sure enough there he was, fully upright and smiling broadly, waving a silver flag and welcoming us to the Minster!
Our flag-waving welcome committee
I think that, as we crossed the busy road - pushing buttons and patiently waiting for lights to change - our hearts were racing ahead of us.
Once we got there the welcome from the Minster was just as spirit-lifting, with hugs from people we'd never met before - and, of course, hugs all round for Frank.
Tina and Frank
Revd Kevin Partington welcomed us: "The warmest of welcomes to the mother church of West Yorkshire. This is where Paulinus kicked it all off - the cradle of Christianity in this part of the world." He invited everyone to make themselves at home, and said that bowls would be organised for foot washing. How thoughtful!
Wednesday is a rest day, so I caught the train home after a cup of tea, leaving the other pilgrims on a guided tour of the Minster. But I have to say I was very torn between going and staying in such a warm atmosphere. 
The other pilgrims will be compiling the next day's blog between them, and letting me know their reflections and how it's been so far for them. But for me, today was all about the challenge of change.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Day Two - Monday 29th August - Mytholmroyd to Halifax

After a troubled first day, the morning of day two brought bright sunshine and – thank God – better news about Frank. Apparently he was up and about in the ward and back to his usual self. Those who knew him clearly held him in great affection, and I arrived in Mytholmroyd to find that the mood had lifted greatly.
Revd Martin and Victoria MacDonald had hosted the pilgrims who’d stayed the night in St Michael’s Church, and had clearly made them feel very much at home, as well as providing an excellent breakfast. There was much hilarity about Brian and John’s self-inflating bed, and the fact that they’d set it up between two ornate altar candlesticks, so that their makeshift bedroom looked every inch a boudoir! The only complaint was about the bells. Apparently they’d rung loudly all night every quarter of an hour, right above the pilgrims’ heads.
Martin said a prayer from St Michael’s for us, before we set off along the canal towpath. The day’s walking was much easier, the weather was good, and the miles flew by. So we were astonished when we reached Sowerby Bridge before midday.
Stuart, Tina & Revd Jeanette
We sat outside a pub while the staff brought out plates of sandwiches and the chunkiest chips you’ve ever seen. It was alarming to see Revd Jeanette piling chips into her cheese panini but, as she pointed out, she’d be walking it off in the afternoon.
The afternoon’s walk was also along the canal towpath. Although I know the Rochdale Canal pretty well, it never gets boring – and there was plenty of good chat, interrupted occasionally by yells of ‘bike’, which meant that everyone flattened themselves against the side to allow a cyclist or two to whizz by.
I’d noticed Janet singing with the St Mary’s Singers at Sunday’s service. She has the most beautiful voice and, sure enough, she told me she’d performed for eight years with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. She said she started to go to St Mary’s when she and her husband, Stuart (another pilgrim) moved to Todmorden: “I immediately felt right at home there, and I’ve been going ever since.”
Helena had come all the way from Sweden. She lives in Skara and her husband is a priest in nearby Husaby, and she works as a church archivist. They have two children aged 16 and 20. She told me she’d joined the pilgrimage because she had a week’s holiday and likes meeting people and walking. Then she looked at me: “And to think about what God wants for me,” she added.
Jayne must be by far the fittest among us – an endurance athlete who’s run marathons and had been considering taking part in an ultra-endurance event next May. Those plans have been put to one side because her mother is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Jayne told me she was flying downhill in a fell race recently, distracted by thinking about the situation, when she tripped and fell face first. It struck me as an example of how we can be wrongfooted and unbalanced by anything unexpected, disturbing, or distracting – and end up damaging ourselves. In Jayne’s case, mercifully, she suffered only scrapes and bruises, but it did sound like a dramatic fall.
Trevor, Alison & Jayne at Salterhebble Lock
From time to time Jeanette received text messages about Frank, who was discharged from hospital in the mid afternoon. The news was received with relieved smiles all round. We walked the scenic route into Halifax, and the weather was kind right up until the point when we were approaching the Minster – and even then it only drizzled a bit. My friend Revd Hilary Barber met us at the Minster and offered us a mug of tea. He is so warm and welcoming, it’s always a pleasure to see him. After tea he gave us a tour of the Minster, and showed off some of its best features. I must confess to being a bit of a Philistine. Generally, a church tour leaves me unmoved. But there was something about walking around the Minster with a group of footsore pilgrims still in their muddy boots, and something about Revd Barber’s enthusiasm and informal style, that made it really engaging – a real treat. For me, the highlight was the mouse carved into a chair leg, to show that it had been carved by the craftsman Mousey Thompson.
Over the course of the evening everyone set up camp. Some people bunked down on the floor in the wooden pews, while others used pew cushions to make up beds on the chapel floors. Soon we heard the whirring noise of Brian and John’s bed inflating, as they recreated their boudoir in the Minster.
We ended up ordering a delivery of Halifax’s finest Chinese food. From somewhere someone produced some wine and plastic glasses, and we dug around in the Minster’s kitchenette to find forks and plates, and sat down in the cafĂ©-style area at the back of the church to tuck in. After the meal Revd Owen burped fruitily and talked about his favourite episodes of Father Ted. I really believe that every church should be used this fully, at least once in a while.
I went downstairs to the vestry, where I’d set up my office and camp. As I was writing my blog I could hear gales of loud and raucous laughter upstairs. Everyone was tired, so we didn’t exactly burn the midnight oil, but staying in the Minster that night felt every bit as thrilling as any childhood sleepover ever did.

Day One - Sunday 28th August - Todmorden to Mytholmroyd

We started off in a downpour, and with a bit of confusion about which direction to take. But once we got going we started walking as a group and, as you do, we got to talking.
I was surprised to learn how many people didn’t know many other people on the pilgrimage. One was ‘Hev the Rev’, a Methodist Minister who moved to Todmorden from Durham about a year ago. Despite looking every inch the part in her hi-tech walking gear, Heather told me she usually only ever walks from her front door to the Land Rover. And she did seem to be struggling a bit up the first hill, but was clearly determined. She told me she doesn’t know that many people and, like me, found the prospect of the pilgrimage a bit daunting. But, as she said: “You’ve got to face your fears.”
The oldest of our group was Frank, at 84. Obviously a colourful character, the seasoned walker soldiered up the steep hill without any apparent problem. I took a great picture of him stopping for a short breather, before he smiled at me and set off again with a sprightly gait.
Paulinus, Gabriella, Martha & Florence
Believe it or not, there was a real-life Paulinus walking with us. He and his family had travelled from Wrexham to take part for the day. He was just about to tell me how his name was in fact connected to St Paulinus, when there was a cry up ahead. It turned out that Frank had collapsed. It quickly became clear that he needed assistance, so the first-aider rushed to his side, and Revd Owen dialled 999. The rest of us, clearly shocked, went to wait a short distance away, while Tina and Stuart sprang into action to deal with the situation.
A chill wind was blowing up there on the hill, just below the Bridestones, and it seemed an eternity before the rescue team arrived. Eventually it was decided that those of us who weren’t able to help Frank in any way should carry on just a bit further, and call it a day after that.
There was still an underlying sense of collective anxiety about Frank. We knew that the search and rescue team had arrived, that he was being taken care of, and that Pat was going to accompany him to hospital. But for all that it was a subdued group who walked down the hill to catch the bus to Mytholmroyd. I imagine the air above Cornholme was thick with our prayers.
That night, instead of staying with the group and bedding down on the church floor of St Michael’s Church, I confess I opted out and went home. My only contact with Frank had been that he’d flashed me that lovely smile. But even though I didn’t know him at all, I still felt exhausted by the anxiety I’d felt for him. Was it self-indulgence? Did it go against the spirit of pilgrimage to opt out the minute anything went wrong? Maybe, but the route took us virtually past my front door - just when I felt most in need of home comforts.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

To Be a Pilgrim

I found this morning’s Communion service at St Mary’s Church very moving and, in truth, I felt a little wobbly at times. Funnily enough, it was during the most rousing, upbeat hymn that I felt almost choked and had to regain my composure. I think it’s because, although they are a very welcoming bunch, I was starting to realise just how daunting it is to join a group of strangers for anything – especially something unknown. I wasn’t in my usual place of worship, singing and praying alongside the people I’ve come to know well. But, as I was to discover, I was by no means the only one feeling that way. And after all isn’t that what pilgrimage is all about – a journey into the unknown?

When I wasn’t feeling wobbly I found the whole experience very motivating. There’s something amazing about singing ‘To Be a Pilgrim’ when that’s just what you’re about to be. And sharing the peace was lovely – especially the warm hug from Tina.

Revd Owen Page led the service alongside the Right Reverend Thomas Butler, Honorary Assistant Bishop of Wakefield. In his powerful sermon, Bishop Tom brought to life the vivid image of Paulinus banging in his crosses to claim for Christ the places he visited: ‘Bang bang – Todmorden belongs to Christ. Bang bang – Dewsbury belongs to Christ.’ The crosses, said Bishop Tom, were a promise that Jesus would be known in the kingdom.

He quoted a poem – The Sparrow – by another local hero – Ted Hughes. One line goes: ‘Though he looks like shirking, he works at it like working’. Bishop Tom likened it to pilgrimage – which might look like a walking holiday, but is in fact no such thing. He rounded off with the rousing words: ‘Go to it, pioneering pilgrims on the Paulinus Way… and go to it, brothers and sisters at St Mary’s… Walk together in faith.’

And suddenly I had a sense that that’s what it’s all about. When we were tucking into a spread of sandwiches and cakes afterwards, I got chatting to a couple of the parishioners who, for one reason or another, were unable to walk the pilgrimage. Talking to them I realised that, although they wouldn’t be with us on the geographical journey, they would be with us in spirit. Though I didn’t know them well, they had ceased to be strangers. And so, despite the fact that the heavens chose the moment we walked out of the church to open and drench us, I had a sense that we were all taking our first steps with a spring in our step.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Torch One – Batteries Nil

All week I’ve been doing my usual form of packing, which involves tossing anything I think I’ll want to take onto a chair in my office. The problem with this particular method, is that it gives me the illusion of having packed without actually having packed a single thing. The result is a chair piled high with clothes, books, toiletries – and, in this case, blister kits and any amount of chargers and electronic equipment. It all needs sorting out – and by now I should have learnt that it’s no five-minute job.
I re-read the information sheet that Tina has sent out to all the pilgrims – and I’m very glad of it. She suggests that a torch might be useful in a dark church hall – good point! The horror of tripping over a sleeping body and waking everyone on a 2am loo trip doesn’t bear thinking about.
So I make yet another trip to the cellar to have a good rummage around in the camping box. I’m distracted by something I come across in a stuff bag. The nylon sets my teeth on edge as I pull it out. It turns out to be a camping pillow. Now how on earth did we acquire that? Like many people, we have a habit of accumulating things without any idea how. Ordinarily I’d scoff the idea of a camping pillow (when a de-lumped pile of clothes will do the job), but we’re not carrying our bags, and it might be nice to have it. So I stuff it into my rucksack. Now, on with the hunt for the torch. Aha – found it! I check that it works and find that I have, in some hyper-organised moment, remembered to take out the batteries before putting it away. So now the hunt's on for the batteries…

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Before We Go

There's a real buzz in the air as the big day – or I should say big weekend – approaches. Tina Clayton, who with her husband Stuart is driving the Paulinus Project – has been up at 7am, working up to 15 hours a day – to bring it all together. As I saw at our recent meeting, there’s a huge amount of goodwill and support from the people of Todmorden – and it all needs co-ordinating. Someone has just come up with an idea for a play. Tina and Stuart would love to make it happen – but it’s so last minute.

Everything kicks off at 11am on Saturday 27th August, when the Mayor of Todmorden will officially open the three-day festival, which will have a medieval theme. There will be exhibitions, competitions and more – art, music, flowers, food, street entertainment and a free community feast – following in the Medieval tradition of hospitality. In addition, the Paulinus Way route maps and book will be launched over the weekend.

Ironically, we pilgrims will miss a lot of the festivities, because we’ll be setting off at Sunday lunchtime. There will be up to a hundred of us, some of whom will be walking for the weekend, and some who, like me, will be going the whole distance – 65 miles from Todmorden to York – over a week. Pilgrims ranging in age from 20-something to late 70s will be taking part, some travelling from as far afield as Sweden and New Zealand.

To be honest, I find the prospect of walking with so many people I don’t know quite daunting. But Revd Jeanette, one of the assistant curates at St Mary's Church, told me she’s really looking forward to that aspect of it: "We will learn and grow together as a group of pilgrims. I pray that we all may help each other along the road," she said.

Jeanette also reminded me that it won't be physically easy. Not only will we be walking up to 12 miles a day, but up to 45 of us will be spending the nights in very basic church accommodation: "It will teach us how to trust and live life more simply, as we sleep on church floors and do away with creature comforts. It will give us an awareness of the lengths Paulinus went to, to spread the Gospel, and a healthy regard for his zeal and stamina."

Another pilgrim I spoke to, Pat Dale, said she’s always loved walking – so much so that she started a St Mary’s walking club three years ago. Pat is about to embark on a pastoral ministry, which will begin on Sunday September 4th, the day after the pilgrimage ends. It means she’ll have to get a train back on the Saturday and miss the Sunday morning service at York Minster, but that doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm: “About eight months ago I knew God wanted me to do the ministry, and this is a wonderful opportunity to walk as Jesus used to walk, to preach and heal.” 

As well as a spiritual journey, for Pat it’s a journey towards fitness and health. She suffers from weight-related sleep apnoea, and she’s already lost a stone and a half, and aims to lose another stone before the start of the walk.

Tina told me why she’ll be going: “I want, just for the moment, to be in the footsteps of this man I’ve spent so long with, and get a sense of his commitment and faith. When people ask me why I’ve dedicated three years of my life to this, I tell them that, despite all the uncertainties, things have always had an amazing way of working out.”

This morning I received a copy of the Bishop of Oxford's new book through the post – Pocket Prayers for Pilgrims. There’s something very satisfying about a pocket-sized book. I’ll be taking it along on the pilgrimage, and asking pilgrims to read the songs, reflections and prayers, and tell me what resonates with them on their journeys – through life, and through Yorkshire.

The back cover says: "To go on pilgrimage is to set out on a journey that may take us to unexpected places."

For me that sums it up. For all our reservations, we’re looking forward to discovering some unexpected places on our pilgrimage.

Something Amazing Happened

By Kathy Cook
Thanks to Trevor @ bare arts

At our meeting yesterday evening I heard the amazing story of a small but unexpected incident which took place a couple of weeks ago. Kathy Cook, the artist and co-owner of bare arts brewery in Todmorden, was working on her painting which is to be the logo of the St Paulinus Ale, which has been brewed by bare arts. The painting features a shell, the traditional symbol of pilgrims, along with the sparrow from Paulinus’s Parable.
As Kathy was painting, a sparrow flew in through the window, and perched above her. She managed to catch it and set it free.
If you haven’t already, you need to read The Parable of the Sparrow, by Paulinus, to realise what an extraordinary story it is.