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.

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