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 café-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.

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