Friday, 2 September 2011

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.

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