Walsingham Walk - 7th to 15th October 2017

Applications are now invited for the 2017 London to Walsingham Walk.  No special fitness or long distance walking experience is required and full guidance will be given.  If you are a Catholic man and interested in a traditional walking pilgrimage, you will be very welcome to join us. For further details, please complete and send the Enquiry Form that can be found on the ‘Contact’ tab

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The Walsingham Walkers are a group of Catholic men committed to the Walsingham Walk - an annual Rosary pilgrimage from London to Walsingham.

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                    THE WALSINGHAM WALKERS


An unincorporated association of Catholic men committed to annual pilgrimage Rosary walks to Walsingham

NOTES ON THE 2016 WALK (Saturday 1 to Sunday 9 October)


New driver, new minibus – the first day (Saturday) - 17 miles walked

Perhaps the first thing to say is a big ‘thank you’ to the Shrine at Walsingham for agreeing to lend us their minibus to use as the support vehicle for this year’s Walk and also to Antoni Dworniak for agreeing to be our driver.  Last year’s insurance issues evaporated with the passage of time and the insurers generously agreed to allow Antoni and the back-up drivers to be added to the policy at no additional cost, which was really helpful.  The minibus proved essential, not just in ferrying the Walkers from the Walk finishing point each day to the sleepover venue, but also in providing respite on a couple of occasions to one or two of the pilgrims whose feet were getting the better of them.

Although numbers were down this year (five Walkers plus driver) and the minibus larger than we really needed, it gave us the chance to trial the new transport arrangements and iron out any issues (always easier if you only have a small group).  I will comment at the end of these notes on the plans to increase the number of Walkers for the future.  For the moment, however, our group comprised Rod Kearney, Ian Netton, Jeff Pillar, Henryk Szewczyk, Peter Walters and, of course, Antoni Dworniak.

Our thanks also go to Fr. David Smolira for allowing, once again, several of the men who come from the nether regions of this fair isle, to sleep over at one of the Schoolrooms adjacent to St. Ignatius Church on the evening prior to the Walk so they could be up bright and early for the 8.00am start on the Saturday.

After the usual greetings and back slapping and with a little time on our hands (since, miracle of miracles, everyone turned up on time) we proceeded with some of the administrative things that had to be done such as handing over of cash, checking everyone had the Itinerary, distribution of Prayer Books etc, and then repaired to the side chapel at St Ignatius for the very first Mass of the Walk, said for us by Fr. David, followed by our first Novena prayers.  Fr. David’s timely homily gave added encouragement (if such were needed at this early stage) to proceed onwards and upwards and after the final instructions about Walk procedures etc and saying the first decade of the Rosary, we started out on this cool but, for the moment at least, dry morning.

Dry, that is, for the first half a mile.  Then the heavens opened and under the cover of a large tree in the recreation ground off Gladesmore Road, we donned our wet weather gear (apart from Henryk who found refuge under a rather small umbrella until, at our first comfort stop, wisdom overtook him and he put his waterproof gear on).  Thus equipped, we continued with the first silent hour of the Walk

I am always surprised (I suppose I shouldn’t be) at the increasing number of residential boats on the Lea Navigation Canal, on the towpath of which we spent almost the whole of our first day.  Possibly, this is a reflection of the acute housing shortage in London, but the boats seemed to be everywhere you looked, with some even moored horizontally to the canal bank so as to accommodate even more of them.  The thing I had not noticed before, however, was the number of solar panels on the roofs of the boats – but I guess this makes sense, especially bearing in mind how far some of them were from the electrical supply services that most of us take for granted in our homes.

We arrived at our first comfort stop at Picketts Lock without incident and with the men in good spirits, clearly looking forward to the lunch stop at Waltham Abbey (‘no food, no walkies’, to paraphrase a certain dreadful television programme that, of course, the writer never watches).

There is, on the Lea Navigation Canal, always that strange mixture of human and natural debris (discarded plastic and other rubbish, mixed with fallen logs) that wildlife seem to be able to adapt for their own purposes and I noticed with interest that a couple of coots had, quite happily, adopted a floating pontoon of rubbish as their personal pied a terre.  The other thing that is quite obvious is the tameness of much of the wildlife here, including ducks, geese, moorhen and coots, most of which, in my own neck of the woods, would be bolting for cover at the merest sight of a human being.

On arrival at the point where the Canal abuts the car park of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey, we met by the minibus and ferried to our lunch stop at the Queens Head pub in Paternoster Hill (what an appropriate location for a pilgrim’s eating house!), all of us rather wet and cold from the almost continual rain that had beset our morning walk.  However, Ellie at the pub was as good as her word and provided a selection of sandwiches and piping hot chips to warm the men up and bring them back to life.  It was then that I discovered how leaky my rather old day pack was, resulting in the transformation of some of the paperwork inside it into a form of papier mache.  

It is amazing how quickly these lunch beaks pass and so back to the Canal we went in the minibus and another decade of the Rosary preceded the second silent hour that marked the beginning of the afternoon’s Walk.

Then the weather changed.  Out came the sun to grace us with its presence (how easy is it to understand that ancient folk worshipped it – we were pretty close to doing so ourselves at that point!) and from then on in – and for several days afterwards – the rain left us alone.  

The afternoon was a pleasant one (even more pleasant for Rod who, when asked where we were walking to by a pretty young lady at one of the Canal locks, just had to stop and give her the fullest possible explanation of the virtues of pilgrimage.  At least, that’s what he told us).

Our route today is one of contrasts.  The Lea Navigation Canal is a large and businesslike canal and was our companion right up to Broxbourne where we hopped over the road to join the much smaller New River, with its crystal clear water which was originally constructed in the eighteenth century as a means of bringing clean water from Hertfordshire into London.  Fishing is not allowed there, although the writer has fond memories of his youth when it was custom and practice for small boys to stand nonchalantly on one of the bridges over the River with a length of fishing line attached to a finger and a hook on the other end baited with bread in the hope of hauling out a whale.

The day’s Walk finished at Rye House rail station and our tryst with the minibus that took us to St. Augustine’s Church Hoddesdon where we were met by Tony and Tina Curtis who very kindly provided us with tea, biscuits and cake.  Tony and Tina have taken on the mantle of our old friend Marina Morris, whose poor health prevented her from being with us and for whom many prayers were offered.

This year, as with last, we shared the Crypt at St. Augustine’s for a while with the Italian community who, customarily, have tea and cakes there following the afternoon Mass in the Church and we had the opportunity to tell them about the pilgrimage.  

Our next event was the Parish Mass in the evening, conducted by Fr. Philip Miller who then joined us in the Golden Lion afterwards for an excellent meal and it was good to be able to share experiences with him since we were last together.

And so to bed!  The Crypt provides a warm and comfortable place for the Walkers who (judging by the subsequent synchronised snoring) had a very good night there.

Our very own George Formby – the second day (Sunday) - 19.5 miles walked

On sniffing the air, first thing, it was pleasing to see that the day promised to be dry and sunny, albeit with a welcome cold wind (too much heat being one of the principal enemies of long distance walkers).  After the usual mutterings about what time of day did I think this was to get up on a Sunday, the men gathered themselves and their belongings together in good time for our morning prayers and subsequent Novena prayers in the side Chapel at St. Augustine’s attended by Fr. Philip and then on to the Café Delight for an excellent cooked breakfast (quite important in view of the larger mileage that had to be undertaken today).

Returning to the Crypt, we checked that all was clean and tidy before proceeding to the Presbytery Garden to say the next decade of the Rosary in front of the Lourdes grotto there.  Then into the minibus and back to Rye House station to re-establish our previous connection with the Canal that was to be our companion for the next hour or so.  Off we then went, but without conversation for it was the third silent hour.

A large conference of Canada geese on the canal eyed us suspiciously as we made our way but each chose to ignore the other, which was more than could be said for the cyclists that seemed to treat the Canal towpath as a racing track and required us all to be ever-so-slightly psychic as to their presence since very few of them had thought to attach a bell to their ‘designer’ handlebars.  It might be helpful if the Lea Valley Park Authority publicised more clearly the fact that their Regulations require that priority should be given to pedestrians along the towpaths.  

We then came across an angler with so much equipment that he needed a very large trolley to accommodate it all.  The equipment must have cost thousands and yet, from his dishevelled appearance, the man looked as if he hadn’t got two halfpennies to rub together.  Weird.

We bade a sad goodbye to the Canal at the little town of Ware, walking through its urban environment and up the hill beyond to our first comfort stop at Wodson Sports Centre.  After that, it was a long trudge by the A10 (fortunately on a pavement, although with traffic whizzing by at speed one is always aware of the potential dangers) and finally into Puckeridge for our lunch break at the Crown and Falcon pub.  Our old friends Rachel and Ian, who run the pub, have been trying to sell it and retire but (fortunately for us) have yet to do so although as they now have a purchaser, it is very possible that by next year we shall have to forge a new friendship with the subsequent owners.

After a pleasant sandwich lunch, we said goodbye to our hosts and convened in the pub car park for the next decade of the Rosary followed by the next silent hour as we travelled in the direction of Langley Lower Green.

May be it was the prospect of a ‘quick snifter’ at The Bull in Langley later on that drove the men onwards (the pub were due to have a beer festival that weekend) but we seemed to make very good speed on the country roads, reaching both of our comfort stops at Furneaux Pelham and, subsequently, Brent Pelham, in record time, only to discover on arrival at Langley that the Beer Festival was so successful that they had just about sold out of beer and, to add insult to injury, the pub had also run out of Ghost Ship, one of its staple beers and the subject of much adoration by the public at large (and certain pilgrims in particular).  I guess one could construct a half decent homily on the subject of the broken reed of material expectations but common decency (combined with a desire not to be lynched) prevented the writer from pointing this out to the men.

However, I am getting a bit ahead of myself.  During our afternoon Walk we met what appeared at first sight to be followers of the local hunt, but which was in fact merely a very large group of ramblers, with assorted dogs with whom we exchanged a hearty ‘good afternoon’.

Here I should mention the debates among the men as they Walk.  These range far and wide from the sublime (what is hell like and is anyone in it?) to the ridiculous (if Jeff snuffed it on the Walk, what are the chances he could be canonised and if so, could we then get Papal dispensation to flog bits of him off as relics?).  Nothing like a bit of real silliness to take the mind off the pain of blisters.

We finally pitched up at Langley Lower Green, refreshed ourselves for a few minutes with the last remnants of the Bell’s cellar, and met the minibus that then took us into Saffron Walden and to the Parish Hall of Our Lady of Compassion Church where the writer’s wife Jill and sister-in-law Sue provided a welcome cup of tea with biscuits.  After that, it was into the Church for Benediction, conducted by Fr. David Clemens.  Interestingly, our driver, Anthoni made his own set of notes of the Walk from the driver’s perspective and I see that he commented on the Benediction in the following terms: “The service was truly beautiful …….Church splendour, character and incredible warmth of spirituality”.   That’s one of the things I like about the Walk – little nuggets of gold piercing the mundane from time to time.

Following Benediction, we cruised down to the Temeraire pub in Saffron Walden for our evening meal.  There, we were joined by Jill and Sue, along with Sue’s husband Rikki (one of our experienced former Walkers) as well as another Walker, Tony Grossfield who was unable to join us this year because of a heart problem (Fr. David having a prior commitment, otherwise he would also have been with us).

Another little nugget on the Walk was Antoni’s singing with ukelele accompaniment (he has recently taken up the instrument).  May be there is scope here for a Walsingham Walkers’ jazz band?

Clavering – a poisoner’s paradise? – the third day (Monday) – 20 miles walked

After an early rise (5.45am) and a light breakfast at the Parish Hall, we attended the Parish Mass, conducted by Fr Tim as Fr. David was about to depart for his holiday, after which we said our Novena Prayers and the next decade of the Rosary before departing in the minibus back to where we left off the previous evening at Langley Lower Green.

The next silent hour followed as we made our way along pleasant country roads, enjoying a bright and sunny day (albeit tempered by a cold wind).  Our morning Walk circles around the northern perimeter of the Clavering Parish, and it was either here or yesterday afternoon (I cannot exactly remember which) that there were various questions from the men about the village and what it is well known for. The village name means, strictly: “the place where the clover grows”, but its place in history is due, arguably, to one Sarah Chesham, otherwise known as ‘the Clavering poisoner’, who, by repute, poisoned certain of her children and her husband but was finally convicted of poisoning in 1851 and was the last woman to be hanged for this crime.  So, be careful where you eat in Clavering!

After our comfort break just outside Elmdon, we prepared ourselves for what is always a long stretch to our lunch stop.  The first part is fine, passing through some attractive countryside, but we are then hit by a long steep hill and out onto an open, bare plain which the wind rattles across.  This abated as we entered Ickleton after which we were subjected to a seemingly interminable stretch of uninteresting and litter strewn road, passing under the motorway and finally emerging at the outskirts of Great Chesterford, which is an extremely long village.  The pub we were aiming for (The Plough) is, unfortunately, almost at the far end of the village and so the carrot of food and rest was held there dangling in front of us as we trudged onwards, ironically passing two other eating houses en route.

However, we finally reached our destination and with possibly the most wonderful spicy parsnip soup ever (which the publican makes especially for us as we remarked in previous years how good it was) and half a filled baguette to accompany it, the aches and pains of the morning were slowly dissipated.

After lunch we said a decade of the Rosary and made our way quietly (due to the silent hour) out of Essex and into Cambridgeshire via Linton.  At 20 miles (approximately), today is the longest day of the entire Walk and the afternoon is a difficult one in that there is a steep and unrelenting climb across the countryside from Great Chesterford up to the Linton Heights and then down into Linton for a brief respite and the Dog and Duck pub there before attempting the murderous climb up to the Linton Water Tower.  This is one of those hills that starts off gently, just to lull you into a false sense of security, before getting progressively steeper and steeper.  Whoever said that East Anglia is flat, clearly has never walked through this part of it.

The we had the long walk to Balsham along a cross-country route, finishing just short of Six Mile Bottom at Newmarket where we were rescued by the minibus that took us into the town and the rather excellent Parish Centre of St. Etheldreda’s to meet Rita Harben, the Parish Secretary.  Rita had arranged for tea and biscuits to be available before Benediction. This was conducted by another good friend of the Walkers, Professor John Morrill, a Deacon at the Church       (Fr. Simon Blakesley being himself on pilgrimage in Europe).

Dinner at the Golden Lion in Newmarket, although a pleasant affair, was also slightly odd.  The pub had earlier experienced a large influx of customers due to a funeral in the town at a time when it was already short staffed and, as a result, the manager felt it was too risky to remain open for the evening rush.  Not knowing any of this, we were a little alarmed to learn, on arrival at the premises, that the pub was closed. However, when we explained who we were and the fact that our meal had been pre-booked, we were let in and given a table at the rear of the pub dining area.  A rare experience to be in a Wetherspoons pub that, apart from the staff and ourselves, was completely devoid of other customers!

Back to the Parish Centre we went, after the meal, and to an early night after a long and arduous day, sleeping like babies (babies who snore, that is).

From Exhausted to exhaust – the fourth day (Tuesday) - 19 miles walked

As with last year, the day began with a tryst in the reception area with Fr. Simon’s black Labrador dog – a friendly beast that needed no encouragement to having its tummy scratched.

Oops!  Having promised faithfully that I would open the door to John Morrill, I promptly forgot and was only reminded by the plaintive knocking sound from the outside.  Shades of William Holman Hunt (“behold I stand at the door and knock”)! Apologies duly made, John then very kindly took a Service of the Word and Holy Communion for us in the Church, after which we said our Novena prayers and followed this by a light breakfast back in the Parish Centre.

After clearing up, the minibus took us back to last night’s finishing point where we said the next decade of the Rosary before setting off on this bright and warm sunny day.  Not much to report at this stage until we reached our first comfort stop at the Stetchworth/Woodditton crossroads when Anthoni announced that the rubber widget (I’m not much good at cars) fixing the exhaust to the underbody of the car had broken and while he had made a temporary repair from a belt, combined with a bicycle inner tube, this could not be relied on, especially when the exhaust became hot.  And so, while leaving the rest of the Walkers to make their way to the lunch stop at Ashley, he and I started the process of trying to find a garage to rectify the problem.  

To cut a rather long story short, we eventually found one in Kentford – a rather dilapidated sort of a place.  However, never judge a book by its cover – the garage agreed to look at the minibus immediately for us, hoisted it up on a ramp, found a part that would fit, at least temporarily (although I suspect it will actually last quite a long time) and then would not accept any payment from us at all for their work.  So there is a God in heaven after all!

And so it was with great relief that we arrived at the lunch stop at The Crown in Ashley to be greeted by Sarah McCabe who, although having only taken over the pub a couple of years ago, has rapidly become a good friend of the Walkers and produces for us the most amazing doorstep sandwiches with fresh bread that melts in the mouth and fillings to match as well as chips.  Rupert, Sarah’s enormous but (fortunately) soppy Great Dane wandered among us to supervise things generally.  The Crown has recently been awarded the CAMRA pub of the year for the Cambridgeshire area which, judging by the quality of the beers on offer, was well deserved.

Reluctantly, we left the pub and after saying our Rosary decade in the car park, we continued with the next silent hour, through Ashley and back out into open countryside.  The afternoon was still fine and sunny (we were very fortunate to have such good walking weather).

After a couple of comfort stops at a lay by near to the A14 and at the Cavenham cross roads respectively, we made for the last final leg into Icklingham, a tortuous stretch that is long and straight and, blow me down, when you get to the end of it, all you see is another equally long straight stretch!  Enough to try the patience of the most docile of pilgrims.  Thankfully, our purgatory came to an end after the second stretch where the minibus was a welcome sight.

A longish drive into Bury St Edmunds followed and into the car park of St. Edmunds Church we went where we met my brother-in-law and sister-in-law John and Marie Neal and their friends and fellow parishioners who provided us with a cup of tea on arrival, followed by (after our evening prayers in the side Chapel) an excellent fish chowder meal with sticky toffee pudding and custard to follow (is this what Heaven is like?) plus some excellent red and white wine to accompany the meal.  All in the refurbished and (very comfortable) Crypt of the Church.

We were, that evening, entertained once again by Antoni on his ukelele which was a fitting end to a most pleasant time with our B.S.E. friends and family.  And so to bed, knowing that we had now completed 73 of the 127 miles of our pilgrimage.

Fast passing traffic makes us think – the fifth day (Wednesday) – 17.75 miles walked

On sniffing the air outside the door of the Crypt I was met with the smell of cooked sugar beet from the large factory on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds.  Not unpleasant but quite recognisable.  The day was dry and fine, but rather cold.

John and Marie and their team kindly provided us with an excellent cooked breakfast after which we said our morning prayers in the side Chapel, followed by our Novena prayers and then took off in the minibus back to Icklingham where, due to problems with a dangerous road, our starting point was just a little further through the village than our finishing point the previous evening.

After the Rosary decade, we experienced an interesting and very pastoral morning, walking through fields of sheep who tended to run as soon as we were anywhere near them although the rams, with their horns, could have seen us off easily if they had a mind to do so.  But we were left alone to proceed in silence (this being our morning silent hour).

The going was good and we got a little ahead of ourselves but were then slowed slightly by the new footpath after the A11 underpass which has, surprisingly in view of the fuss that was made over its establishment, become a little overgrown.  If this is not attended to in the near future, it may well become almost impassable in view of the gorse bushes which are encroaching upon it.

On through Elvedon Forest we went and finally into the lunch stop at the Brandon Country Park Copper Beech Tea Room where we always get a wonderful welcome, despite the fact that, as with most of these eating places, we only see them once a year.  Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder!  To say that the Tea Room does us proud is an understatement, what with sandwiches, sausage rolls, oodles of crisps and pieces of cake (doggy bag required as we couldn’t finish it all).  More than enough to get us through the rest of the day.

Staggering outside into the car park after our feast we said the Rosary and then went on our way with the next silent hour (this one slightly more difficult as we pass right through most of Brandon which is not the quietest of places for spiritual contemplation).

Weeting Castle provided us with a useful comfort stop, after which we trundled through forest land to emerge at our pre-planned forest exit point (the last comfort stop).  From there on in, we walked on a straight length of highway that gave us a sharp reminder of how fast cars travel nowadays and how reluctant drivers are to allow for pedestrians walking along the road.  This, together with a similar stretch of road that takes us into Swaffham on Thursday has caused us to re-think the route at these points and we really must try and find a safer (off road) alternative for the future, even if that means extending the mileage a little.

Finally, we arrived at Cranwich and were taken back by the minibus to St. Thomas of Canterbury Church at Brandon (which we had passed earlier on our way to Weeting).  There we met Frank and Sheila Devlin who had organised tea and biscuits for us, after which we said our evening prayers.  

Dinner at The Ram pub, later that evening, was a pleasant and relaxed affair with good beer to accompany it and we then bedded down in the Church at a fairly early hour.

Oh to be a turkey in Norfolk – or perhaps not – the sixth day (Thursday) – 14 miles walked

The weather remained good today and after a hearty cooked breakfast provided by Frank and Sheila, we loaded up the minibus with the main packs so we could effect a prompt departure after Mass, said for us by Fr. Dick White at 8.30am, but not before we had shared our Novena prayers with Frank and Sheila and several parishioners who also joined us for this and the first decade of the Rosary.

We always get such a great welcome at Brandon that it is sad to leave with the realisation that it will probably be a year before we shall see any of the Brandon folk again.

Back to Cranwich in the minibus and to the start of the day’s Walk with the next silent hour that took us to the cross roads located just after Everett’s Farm.  For the first section, however, a machete would have been useful as it is so overgrown.

This is the part of the Walk that takes us through a turkey farm that always makes me angry that these inoffensive birds are herded in their hundreds into large nissen-type huts, never having the opportunity to wander around in the open, just peering over the barrier at the ends of the huts to see what can never be theirs.  Such a shame that the economics of food production leads to this – and it could be avoided if the social will was there.  

The long stretch leading to Cockley Cley is rewarded at the end with an excellent lunch at The Twenty Churchwardens pub that, sadly, does not do sandwiches and so the pilgrims just had to ‘put up with’ a wonderful steak and ale pie with fresh vegetables.  Unfortunately, this will have to change next year as a cooked meal mid-day in addition to the evening meal is rather too much for most chaps, so we have decided that we will pick up some sandwiches at the Brandon Tesco early in the day and eat these in a suitable location.

Meal over and we gathered in the pub car park for the next decade of the Rosary and started off the afternoon Walk with a silent hour.  Our Walk takes us into Swaffham (via the rather dangerous stretch of road referred to earlier) and then through the town, past the Catholic girls’ School where we used to stay when the Walk was organised during the School holidays and onwards across the (very fast) A47 dual carriageway – very carefully, I might add.  However we managed it without losing any of the pilgrims and then tackled the final stretch to the village of Sporle, which is some 3 miles north of Swaffham although, at the end of a long walking day, it felt more like 33 miles.

En route back to Swaffham and Our Lady of Pity, we popped into Waitrose to purchase sandwich lunches for tomorrow as there are no convenient hostelries along the route we take.  And finally, we arrived at the Parish Room to be greeted by Fr. Gordon Williams with two of his parishioners Roger and Frances Sparks who provided us with a cup of tea and biscuits.

Once we had settled in, Fr. Gordon conducted Benediction for us after which we trotted (well, hobbled at least!) over to the recently refurbished Station pub and restaurant where we were treated to an excellent meal of poached salmon with fresh vegetables.  We did a recce on this last year and met the new owners who were keen to accommodate us and so I think this will now form a regular eating place for the Walkers in the future.

It was, therefore, a tired but replete band of pilgrims that made its way back to the Parish Room for a well-earned sleep, secure in the knowledge that 107 of our pilgrimage miles were now behind us.

How to be the world’s most popular pilgrim – the seventh day (Friday) – 14.5 miles walked

This was the day when yours truly misread the Itinerary and mistakenly got the men up an hour earlier than they needed to.  An event that, it is suspected, will never be forgotten and which will go down forever in the annals of the Walk, along with the grave sin of the Walker who (a couple of years ago) mistakenly put salt in the men’s tea instead of sugar.  

There was a bit of a change in the weather today – cloudy and dull with just a hint of rain.  This was reflected at breakfast by the significant mumblings about the idiot who foreshortened the mens’ beauty sleep and how the day might best be spent plotting his downfall.  

Parish Mass at the Church (conducted by Fr. Gordon) was well attended, not just by a significant number of parishioners but also by several nuns from the School, after which we shared our Novena prayers and the next decade of the Rosary with those that were able to stay on for this.

A short journey in the minibus took us back to Sporle and to the start of the day’s Walk with the next silent hour and the morning passed without incident save for the odd sight of black sheep reposing on large piles of grey grit in a highways authority storage area  adjacent to the road to Great Dunham.  Ever so slightly surreal.  

A brief comfort break just beyond Great Dunham and we were once more on our way to Tittleshall where we stopped at the Millenium amenity area opposite the Church for our sandwich lunch.  Last year when we did this we were able to eat in alfresco style with the sun in full display.  This time, however, it rained and we were confined to the minibus, and rather glad to have it available for this purpose.

The afternoon was a bit muggy with periods of light rain and, after a comfort break at Beacon Hill overlooking Fakenham, we then proceeded through the town to the Presbytery adjoining St Anthony of Padua Church to meet the new parish priest there, Fr. Dick Healey who treated us to cups of tea with cake, after which he took Benediction for us in the Church.  We were joined there by Charles Livingston, a former Walker who was intending to spend the weekend with us and walk the final stretch into Walsingham (Charles’ feet suffer from fallen arches and he is, sadly, unable to do the full Walk, although it is good to see him just for the last two or three days).

Afterwards, the minibus took us to The Salvation Army Hall where Major Keith Williams let us into the building that was to be the location of our overnight stopover.  As with the Parish Centre at Newmarket, there was a shower available for the men which meant that the aroma in the Hall the following morning was a great improvement on previous nights.

And talking about aromas – the smell of fish and chips from The Drifters restaurant a few doors away that assailed our nostrils the moment we poked our heads out of the Salvation Army’s premises caused a smile or two since this was to be our troughing spot for that evening.  Never has it been such a pleasure to follow Church guidelines on what to eat on a Friday!

While sleep was just around the corner, we first had to have our Walkers’ AGM at which decisions were taken about improvements that could be made to the Walk and possible steps that might be taken to secure the future of the Walk, particularly in the light of the ongoing discussions with the management team at the Shrine.

The AGM finished around 9.30am and we took to our beds that evening secure in the knowledge that all we had to do the following day was to walk the final 5 miles from Fakenham into the Shrine plus a further mile into the town and our pilgrimage would be complete.

And finally, we get there – the eighth day (Saturday) – 5.25 miles walked

The weather was rather better today with the sun managing to ‘put his hat on’ as the song goes, although it was a bit damp underfoot because of yesterday’s rain.

After rising at the rather more civilised hour of 7.15am, we prepared and ate our breakfast of cereals and toast and after clearing up, we assembled in the minibus for the return trip to St Anthony’s and the Parish Mass at 10.00am, conducted by Fr. Dick, afterwards saying our Novena prayers in the Church. Once we were ready to leave, Fr. Dick led us in a decade of the Rosary in the Church car park and we set off for the last leg of the Walk into Walsingham and our final silent hour.

On arrival at the Shrine and as there were quite a few other pilgrims in the Slipper Chapel, we said the Angelus outside in front of the Charlotte Boyd Memorial and made our own private devotions in the Holy Ghost Chapel and in the area where the candles now are.  It is truly surprising how many good folk ask us to light candles for them as we pass through their Church on our way to Walsingham and here was the opportunity for us to do just that.

We then walked the final mile into Walsingham and said our Novena prayers in the Church of the Annunciation there, grateful for the many mercies shown to us while on the pilgrimage, and glad that we had all made it in one piece (blisters apart).

It is but a few yards from the Church into the Black Lion (surely the definition of an ideal Church location for many Catholics?) where we not only had an excellent ploughman’s lunch, but were also able to meet up with other Walk friends in the form of Bernie Edmonds our erstwhile taxi driver, along with Mick and Sue Duggan (Mick being a former Walker over many years).

Once we had booked into the Pilgrim Bureau at Elmham House we all went up to the Priory grounds for a short talk on the history of pilgrimage in Walsingham into which were incorporated our Novena prayers and singing of the Salve at the site of the Holy House.  After that, the men had a couple of hours or so free time to wander round the shops and purchase gifts for loved ones etc.  This also gave a couple of us the opportunity to return the minibus to Paul Gray at the Shrine Bookshop, with grateful thanks for its use.

Dinner at Elmham House was followed by our evening prayers in St. Joseph’s Common Room which the staff there had kindly booked for that purpose and then – Glory be – a real bed for the first time in over a week!  And showers as well.

Is Elmham House on fire? – the final day (Sunday) – 1 mile walked

After we were up and ready for the final part of our pilgrimage we were surprised to hear the alarm bell go off in Elmham House.  Worried glances were exchanged (whose fault was it – was it me?) until we discovered from the Elmham staff that the cause was located in a room far from our group of rooms and was probably caused by steam from a nearby shower.  Great relief all round and even greater relief that it was not something more serious.

There is something immensely peaceful about the slow walk to the Shrine along the old railway track as we say all fifteen decades of the Rosary, aiming to complete this by the time we get to the Shrine itself.  This year, our timing was a bit out.  However, Plan B then kicked in and rather than arriving early, we simply waited at the top of the hill before the descent to the Shrine and continued with the Rosary until just before 8.00am when we then covered the final couple of hundred yards or so to the accompaniment of the Shrine bell as it cut through the silence of a damp and cold morning to welcome our arrival.

At the Slipper Chapel, we deposited the petitions we had carried on the pilgrimage in the box on the Altar of the Chapel, said our private prayers, followed by (for the very last time) our Novena prayers and the Salve and then returned to Walsingham for an eagerly-looked-forward-to cooked breakfast at Elmham House.

With the bit of spare time that was then available to us after breakfast we checked out of our rooms, put all our gear temporarily in Jeff’s van and sat quietly in the Elmham House Library until it was time to move over to the Church of the Annunciation for Mass, presided over (with other priests) by Fr. Keith Tulloch.

I always have mixed feelings about this Mass.  On the one hand, it is always a joyous affair with a full Church and a congregation used to singing with gusto.  On the other hand, it marks the very end of the Walk programme for the year and the goodbyes that have to be said to everyone before we depart for home.

The future of the Walk

It may surprise you to learn that the average age of this year’s Walkers was 70 (yes, 70!) and one of the problems we have with our current age range is that health problems are likely to be greater and more regularly occurring than with younger men, which explains why, although we originally had a larger group (of similar age), there were a number of cancellations, mainly on health grounds.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that unless the Walk is refreshed with additional numbers of younger men, the passage of time alone will kill it.  With this in mind, I have been in discussions with the new management team at the Shrine to see how the Walk (either in its present or in a revised format) might fit in with the Shrine’s own plans for the future and whether the wider contacts of the Shrine could be used as a means of broadcasting the Walk.  Rather like ‘Thursday’s child’, these discussions may have a little way to go, but it is hoped that they will bear fruit in time for the 2017 Walk.

Peter Walters

15 October 2016