Walsingham Walk -
Applications are now invited for the 2018 London to Walsingham Walk. Normal fitness is all that 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. A driver for our support minibus is also needed.For further details, please complete and send the Enquiry Form that can be found on the ‘Contact us’ tab
The Walsingham Walkers are a group of Catholic men committed to the Walsingham Walk -
Pictures from our walk
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THE WALSINGHAM WALKERS
An unincorporated association of Catholic men committed to annual pilgrimage Rosary walks to Walsingham
As the Walk has to make an early (8.00am) start on the first day and as some of the men have significant distances to travel to reach London, Father David Smolira, the Parish Priest at St, Ignatius Church has, over the past few years, kindly allowed two or three pilgrims to stay over in one of the school rooms adjoining the Church on the immediately previous Friday evening. This year, because of threatened weekend engineering works on the rail line I use to get to London, I decided to join this happy band and sample for myself the delights of a Stamford Hill sleepover.
After the usual greetings and rude comments on how much older we all looked since last year we turned to the serious matter of where we were going to eat that evening. On the recommendation of one of the ladies in the Church office, we wended our way down Stamford Hill towards Seven Sisters Road where, to our considerable delight, we happened upon a Columbian restaurant, complete with appropriate surroundings (including a shady looking customer in a black hat and dark glasses), great music and delightful serving wenches. Here, we were each presented with an enormous plate of wonderful food washed down with Columbian beer. So huge was the meal that the writer committed what in his book is the cardinal sin of not moving naturally to pudding. In fact, the writer had some difficulty in moving at all.
And so it was with full stomachs and heads still ringing with the heady sound of South American music that we toddled happily to the St Ignatius schoolroom and to an early, but contented sleep.
Some changes to our spiritual agenda – the first day (Saturday) -
When the remainder of our pilgrim group bowled up on Saturday morning looking (relatively) bright-
After Mass, we went back to the schoolroom for the usual pre-
These two changes were built into our Rosary prayer time during each morning of the Walk.
As followers of the Walk will be aware, the first day’s route is a pleasant one along the towpath beside the Lea Navigation Canal and, later on, beside the New River and so we began our first silent hour against this attractive backdrop. However, I could not but help notice the name on one of the boats moored alongside the Canal bank. It was: ‘Are we there yet?’
The day was dull and cloudy with plenty of wind and an overbearing threat of rain. As ever, on this most sociable of canals, there were boats, both moored and moving, runners, cyclists (more of these later) and anglers as well as rowers (singles and fours) and an abundance of wildlife.
I suppose the most notable moment of the morning was the biker who shouted ‘let’s get married’ over his shoulder at his lady friend. Her reply was, however, lost in the grind of tyre on gravel (possibly: ‘On yer bike?’).
At one point we almost got run down by a group of three speeding cyclists who just about managed to stop in time before careering into us. The writer gave them a brief lesson on the legal priorities as between cyclists and pedestrians (pedestrians rule) and the risks they ran if an accident occurred. To give him due credit, I think the rear cyclist understood this (at least that was how I interpreted the raising of his middle finger in the air as he went past). I called to mind our Lord’s stricture that we should love our neighbour, but wondered whether an exception could be made in the case of inconsiderate cyclists.
Of the many boats moored by the side of the canal, perhaps the oddest was one that could best be described as a painted garden shed on a floating base. With all the possessions gathered around it, it was clearly lived in – the ultimate alternative lifestyle, I guess.
The lunchtime break saw us at the Queen’s Head, Waltham Abbey (after an earlier comfort stop at Pickett’s Lock) where Ellie, the publican, provided us with her usual splendid array of sandwiches, sausage rolls and chips. Some of the commercial establishments that kindly supply us with food on the Walk seem to empathise with our intentions and the needs of hungry pilgrims and the Queen’s Head is one such. The effort that Ellie made was appreciated all the more by the fact that she was hobbling around, having damaged her knee in a tumble in the kitchen a few days earlier.
The afternoon remained overcast, but quite cool – in fact, excellent walking weather and it passed without incident as we continued our way along the canal footpath, changing to the New River footpath at Broxbourne Rail Station, until we reached Rye House Station at the end of our day’s excursion and the minibus then took us to our first sleepover point of the Walk, the Crypt at St Augustine’s Church in Hoddesdon. There, a welcome cup of tea awaited us with biscuits and a delicious Victoria sponge – enough to take the pain out of all but the most determined of blisters! All this was courtesy of two parishioners, Tony and Tina Curtis, who are rapidly becoming old friends of ours.
After we had settled in, we attended the Parish Mass at 6.30pm at which Father Philip Miller gave his usual enthusiastic welcome to the Walkers
Our evening meal at the Golden Lion was up to its usual standard and it was particularly generous of the landlord to ask the pop group (is that what they are called nowadays?) who were performing that evening, to defer their start by an hour to give us the opportunity to finish our meal in peace. Father Philip had, rather generously, agreed to put the cost of our meal down to a Parish expense. Thus replete, we retired for the night in the Crypt
A pastoral paradise – the second day (Sunday) -
In the morning, after our usual spiritual offices, we were ferried back by our trusty minibus to Rye House Station where we transferred our affections from last night’s stop at the New River back to the Lea Navigation Canal.
I was saddened to see a young dead swan floating in the Canal – a rare sight nowadays since lead weights
(a common cause of swan deaths) have long since been banned from angling.
A few more near misses with cyclists on the towpath (despite our travelling in single file) reminded me, yet again, that so many of these gentle people seem ignorant of the rules of the towpath. They whinge often enough on the roads when motorists show them insufficient respect but then demonstrate the same lack of respect towards the hapless towpath pedestrian.
Our lunchtime stop was with Ian and Rachel at their pub, the Crown and Falcon in Puckeridge. They always provide a varied tray of sandwiches, augmented this time by some extras, including roast spuds and hot sausage rolls. As I think I mentioned last year, Ian and Rachel have been trying to sell their pub and retire but, sadly for them (although luckily for us!), they have so far been unsuccessful.
I have referred, previously, to the diversity of wildlife on the Lea Navigational Canal but today, the North West Essex countryside, as the backdrop for our afternoon jaunt, was positively pastoral. It was bright and sunny, with a few fluffy clouds billowing about the sky. All that we needed was a daffodil or two and Mr Wordsworth would have been positively ecstatic. What with sheep, some Thelwellian ponies and a black horse of which Anna Sewell would have been proud, all was sheer perfection until, enter left stage, a pair of small yapping dogs threatening to take lumps out of Ian’s ankle. Just as we were wondering what dog pie might taste like, their owner whistled for their return and the threat disappeared as suddenly as it had begun and we were left to try and recover our charitable thoughts.
The afternoon passed, as I have said, in a (relative) state of rural idyll that matched the requirements of our usual silent hour that marks the beginning of each morning and afternoon’s walk. And so it was, that we passed without too much ado through the Pelhams (Furneaux and Brent) – admiring the Churches in each of those villages – until at last we reached Langley Lower Green, our finishing point for that day. Here, the Bull pub hovered tantalisingly in the middle distance (we have in times past enjoyed an end of day snifter here) but, alas, we had insufficient time for such a diversion on this occasion.
Our minibus took us to the Parish Hall of Our Lady of Compassion Church in Saffron Walden where my wife Jill greeted us with tea and biscuits (this being our home Parish). Benediction then followed, conducted for us by Father David Clemens, after which we, along with Father David, plus Jill, Brian (Rikki) Ray (a former Walker), his wife Sue and Tony Grossfield (who couldn’t join us this year but hopes to do so in 2018), ambled down as a group to the Temeraire pub for vegetable lasagne followed by fruit salad. With such a meal, the cows, sheep and pigs of England were safe for at least one more day.
Back to the Parish Room where we crashed out after a long day’s walk.
I should perhaps say at this point that it is my intention in these notes to record the main events of interest on the Walk. I have not mentioned every single silent hour, Rosary decade, Shrine intention, our Novena Prayers and Prayer for Petitions, not because we omitted any of them (they were included each day) but because I did not want to tire the reader (or me, for that matter) with constant repetitions of similar events. However, these have always been and will continue to be central to each pilgrimage we do.
A sad departure – the third day (Monday) – 20 miles walked
Monday morning. Still dry but, oh dear, so overcast and really quite cold (particularly in the Parish Room since we had foolishly left the widows open all night!). Sadly, Antoni, our minibus driver had become unwell, asked for permission to return home and was duly despatched to a convenient rail station by my wife. Fortunately, both Jeff Pillar and I were authorised to drive the minibus and from then on in, we took it in turns to do so in order that, at least, each of us were able to Walk half of the remaining pilgrimage. The importance of having a ‘Plan B’.
After the Parish Mass, said by Father David, and our usual Rosary decade etc and having been conveyed by minibus back to our finishing point last night, the morning passed without incident. At the first comfort stop, just outside Elmdon, we met a lady whose dog was used to help disabled children but as this was its ‘dog time’ and not ‘human time’, it was not overly interested in our ‘ coo cooing’ overtures.
Our lunch venue this year was a new one at the Crown and Thistle, Great Chesterford. We used to frequent the Plough, but with a change of tenant having occurred just a few days earlier, the resulting uncertainty encouraged us to change our affections. Good job we did since the parsnip soup and fries on offer were excellent and the barmaid welcomed us as old friends as she had also moved over from the Plough to the Crown and Thistle.
Monday afternoon seemed to be characterised by friendly dogs, one of which wanted to be stroked during our comfort stop (in contrast to yesterday’s ankle-
The steep climb to the top of the Linton Water Tower was as challenging as ever and is not one for the faint of heart (or body, for that matter) but we managed it without coronary incident. It is one of those hills that starts gently and then just when the phrase ‘easy peasey’ comes to mind the gradient changes for the worse and lots of laboured grunting ensues. Indeed, I recall that one of our former Walkers swore that his ascent to the summit was only achieved by the grace of Our Lady as he repeated the Hail Mary more vigorously than he had even done before. This is the point at which those who think that East Anglia is flat become very quiet and contemplative.
Because of the Linton Water Tower climb, we stop off at the Dog and Duck pub beforehand to gird the loins with a brief rest and cup of coffee.
Onwards we walked from Linton, through Balsham and then across some quite rough ground to Six Mile Bottom, just outside (well, six miles outside, actually) Newmarket. En route, we passed a cluster of gypsy caravans that seem to be growing in number year on year and whose vicious little dog lunged at us as we passed by on the public footpath on which they were illegally located.
On a more uplifting note, I spotted two hawks ducking and diving at each other in a kind of aerial dance – very entertaining.
As we were early arriving at Newmarket (usually, we are a bit late at this point), we took the opportunity to refuel the minibus before making our way to the Parish Centre adjoining St Etheldreda’s Church. This facility is one that most Churches would simply drool over – courtesy, I believe, of a deal done with John Lewis who wanted to develop a Waitrose shop next door for which purpose they needed the co-
Afterwards, Father procured an excellent Chinese dinner for us at the Parish Centre with a delightful chocolate torte type pudding with ice cream and some wine to accompany it, all of which went down a treat.
A sermon to remember – the fourth day (Tuesday) -
Occasionally, one of the sermons we hear really sticks in the mind and this time it was Father Simon’s at this morning’s Mass. He compared the responses to God’s will of Jonah (who tried to run from it), Martha (who tried to implement it through practical service) and Mary (who put it at the centre of her attention). His message to the Walkers was to: ‘Please let Jesus be the centre of your pilgrimage’. Quite timely when it is all too easy to let the travails of pilgrimage (or, in my case, its administration) overtake its true and proper purpose.
Today started out cloudy with a cold wind and after our Rosary decade, Shrine intention and Prayer for Petitions, it was my turn to drive the minibus that morning. Imagine my surprise at the first comfort stop when I learned that after the silent hour there had been a long discussion among the men on cross-
Lunchtime saw the men arrive at the Crown pub in Ashley, under the excellent stewardship of Sarah McCabe who has become established as one of our firm friends. Sarah has supplemented her enormous (but soppy) Great Dane with an equally enormous (and equally soppy) Great Dane pup. We are always provided with enormous sandwiches and today was no exception. The Crown is one of those pubs where you can truly relax and as Sarah opens especially for the Walkers (she is usually closed at lunchtimes) we are really grateful for this. A few of the locals did pop their heads around the door and persuaded her to dispense the odd drink or two and it was good to have their company. The other good thing about this particular lunchtime stop is that it marks the halfway point in our pilgrimage. From the psychological point of view, somehow the other half always seems much less daunting!
The Walk on Tuesday afternoon is quite difficult and the last stretch to Icklingham lies along one of those straight lanes that seem to go on and on forever. However, we managed it and the minibus then took us into Bury St Edmunds and to the Crypt of St Edmunds Church and after our evening prayers in the side Chapel, my brother-
In case anyone should think that this supply of good food detracts from our pilgrimage intentions, this not so. It is simply part and parcel of the overall pilgrimage experience. The other side of the coin, of course, is that, day after day, we are walking an average of 17 to 18 miles and decent food simply ensures that there is a sensible blend of hardship with enjoyment. You wouldn’t get very far on the Walsingham Walk with meals of bread and water alone!
The minibus driver’s lament– the fifth day (Wednesday) – 18 miles walked
After an excellent cooked breakfast provided by John and Marie and their merry band of helpers, we reluctantly left our Bury St Edmunds stopover, back by minibus to the remoter climes of Icklingham. The weather was (yet again, thank goodness) dry, cloudy but bright and a little warmer than the day before. The first few miles are quite delightful taking us, as they do, through many acres of pasture land populated by sheep and rams who, despite having horns big enough to strike terror into the hearts of most urban dwellers, tended to run away at the first sight of humans.
It was my turn to drive the minibus that morning and I have to say that until now, I did not realise what a lonely task it can be, particularly today where, because of the nature of this morning’s Walk, the comfort stops are inaccessible by motor vehicles so I had the entire morning to kill before I would see the chaps again. However, no matter, I decided that I would take the minibus straight to the lunch stop at the Brandon Country Park Copper Beech tearoom where I could await their arrival and have a cup of coffee in convivial and comfortable surroundings during the 4 hour gap. However, was it not Robbie Burns who spoke of the best laid plans of mice and men? On arrival at the Country Park, I realised that there was no telephone signal and since there is little point in having support transport if the driver cannot be contacted by mobile phone, I made my way to the nearest location where there was a good signal which just happened to be a rather run down Council housing estate where the pleasant prospect that greeted me was a row of garages that had seen much better days.
So what was I to do? Since the first hour was one of our pilgrimage silent hours, prayer and contemplation was the first order of the day but, hey, not for a whole 4 hours (unless you are a hermit). Fortunately, the minibus had a radio and (even more fortunately), Jeff had previously mitigated the adverse effects of 6 radio stations all previously tuned to pop music by re-
After a lunch of sandwiches and cake with tea and coffee in the Copper Beech tearoom, we adjourned to the car park for the next decade of the Rosary and continued on our way with the next silent hour.
The remainder of the afternoon passed without incident and we arrived, finally, at Cranwich from where the minibus took us back into Brandon to the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury where we would sleep for the night. There we were welcomed with tea and biscuits by stalwarts of that Church and great friends of the pilgrimage, Frank and Sheila Devlin and it was good to have a chat and find out what they had been up to in the intervening year since last we saw them.
After Evening Prayers, we proceeded to the Ram pub and were well fed on steak and ale pie after which we made our way cautiously back over the railway crossing and into the Church to bed down for the night.
Pilgrim curry? – the sixth day (Thursday) – 14 miles walked
We awoke to a cold morning, although it was warm in the Church due to the recent installation of double glazing, and after an welcome cooked breakfast provided by Frank and Sheila, ably assisted by their youngest son, we had Mass said for us by Father Dick White. This was then followed by our Novena Prayers, Rosary decade, Shrine intention and Prayer for Petitions, all said with the parishioners at the Mass.
Despite the cold start, the day then became bright and sunny and after an uneventful morning, we had our first D.I.Y. lunch of the pilgrimage (purchased from a nearby supermarket the previous evening) comprising sandwiches and an orange drink (the healthy part) and a bag of crisps and Kit Kat (the unhealthy part). This was largely in response to comments at last year’s AGM that the previous cooked lunch we enjoyed at the Twenty Church wardens pub on the Thursday of the Walk was too much when combined with the evening meal.
After lunch, we said the next decade of the Rosary and set off, beginning the next silent hour.
Later that afternoon, we noticed some very large hawks circling above us, vulture-
Having reached Sporle with time to spare, we decided to atone for these sinful thoughts by visiting the little Parish Church there but, unfortunately, it was closed due to the risk, it seems, of theft, one of the very real problems faced by these country Churches. Sad that this should be so. However, the mood was then lifted a little by a notice in the Churchyard stating that: ‘There is no such thing as a dog poo fairy in this Churchyard’.
Back, then, to Swaffham, and to the Parish Room at Our Lady of Pity Church where Father Gordon Williams had laid on tea and biscuits, after which he conducted Benediction for us. In conversation with Father Gordon about the length of the period of adoration in the Benediction service, we agreed that after a long day’s walk, a reasonably short period was probably sensible to avoid drooping eyelids syndrome which Father Gordon delightfully referred to as ‘contemplating the Greek Fathers’ – apparently, a phrase well known among the clergy.
Our dinner that evening was courtesy of Jim and Diana at the Station pub (now a restaurant) almost opposite the Church after which we returned to the Parish Room for our very own session contemplating the Greek Fathers.
The last big stretch – the seventh day (Friday) – 14.5 miles walked
Although only 14 or so miles today, on top of the previous mileage this still seems quite a challenging walk. After the Parish Mass and our Novena Prayers, we returned to Sporle and said the relevant Rosary decade, the Shrine’s intentions and our Prayer for Petitions (the latter will be incorporated into our Prayer Books next year). We then sped on our way under a grey sky that began to bestow its precipitation upon us although, fortunately, the heavens then behaved themselves, the rain stopped and we enjoyed a fine, dry, sunny day.
Nothing of note was reported to me by the men on the Walk (it was my turn to drive the minibus) to which I muttered something about walking with their eyes shut, earning myself one or two black looks. So, dear reader, you may safely assume that this gallant band spent the entire morning in such deep and prayerful contemplation that they would not have noticed a nuclear explosion even if it crawled up their left leg.
Lunchtime (or ‘lynchtime’ as one or two of the pilgrims hissed darkly after my comments above) was another of our D.I.Y. jobs with supermarket sandwiches as before.
Friday afternoon is always a good time (especially for me as I was free of the minibus). The walk is not too long and contains the prospect of a glorious view of Fakenham, our destination, from the top of Beacon Hill that overlooks the town, conveying the clear message that we are ‘almost there’.
Despite this general feeling of wellbeing, we still had to be careful of the traffic that can be quite busy on the approach road to Fakenham. To counter this (and other, similarly busy, country roads) we tend to walk in single file nowadays, with the person at the end of the column being equipped with a high visibility jacket (or similar). Even so, there is still a bit of a risk although, thankfully, no accidents have arisen thus far due, I am sure, to the protective prayers offered up by those good folk who support us (we call them the ‘Friends of the Walsingham Walkers’).
Our arrival in Fakenham is always a pleasant affair, enhanced not only by Father Dick Healy producing tea and cake for us in the Presbytery adjoining St Anthony of Padua Church but also the fact that one of our Walkers, Tony Grossfield, who was unable to be with us for the whole Walk, joined us there for the last couple of days of the pilgrimage. After refreshment in this way, Father Dick conducted Benediction for us in the Church.
We then walked down to the Salvation Army Citadel, a few streets away, to be greeted by Major Keith Williams. The Salvation Army allow us the use of their Church premises for the night and it is a great place to stay as the facilities there are good.
Following our evening meal at the Drifters Fish Bar, we returned to the Citadel for our AGM. Here, we reviewed the Walk, identified a couple of potential improvements and then spent the rest of the meeting debating the Walk’s future. We are all acutely aware that, currently, numbers are low and, with an average age of 71 this year, if nothing is done to increase our numbers, the Walk will simply expire by effluxion of time. Much has already been done to advertise the Walk this year, both by the Shrine and by the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom and in previous years by the Walk organising committee but with little tangible result so far. However, we identified several new avenues that we could try and we will be pursuing these over the coming months. Your prayers are sought for this as it would be a great pity if the institution of the Walsingham Walk that, either under the Guild or its current management, has been running continuously since 1952, were to fold through lack of new Walkers.
Nun on the run – the eighth day (Saturday) – 5.25 miles walked
Our Saturday began with a light breakfast we prepared for ourselves, after which we attended the Parish Mass at St. Anthony’s, conducted by Father Dick. Just before we departed, Father joined us with the Rosary decade and read out an old Ransomers prayer in order to set us on our way.
Mileage wise, today is a ‘breeze’ by comparison with previous days (just over 5 miles) and is a pleasant affair once, that is, we get off the busy road and on to the ‘lower road’ to Houghton St Giles through the Barshams. En route, we passed a young nun, positively flying along on one of those low slung tricycles one sees from time to time (although never before, to the writer’s knowledge, used as transport for a nun!). She looked as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Wonderful!
For once, we managed to arrive at the Shrine pretty much on time, meeting Bernie Edmonds in his taxi on the approach road, along with his passengers Mick Duggan (a former Walker) and his wife Sue who were all joining us for the weekend. Bernie, along with his brother Dave (sadly no longer with us) used to provide our back-
I must mention here that the staff under the supervision of Simon, the manager, bent over backwards to provide our lunch in the Pilgrim Hall, just a few yards away form the Shrine tearoom. One of their colleagues had been taken seriously ill that morning and they had to close the tearoom for a while. However, they produced our lunch on time and piping hot, despite the difficulties – for which we were duly grateful.
It was good also that day for the Walkers to meet Derek Williams, who is now in charge of the Guild’s administration from the Shrine, who just happened to be at the entrance to the Shrine site as we were approaching it. Zyg Rakowicz, another member of the Shrine’s management team, came to the Pilgrim Hall to say hello as did Monsignor John Armitage the Rector who stayed and chatted to us for a while. The significant amount of interest the Shrine team have shown in the Walk is very heartening for the men, especially in this year when numbers are down.
After lunch, we walked the final mile from the Shrine site into Little Walsingham and the Church of The Annunciation where Father Keith Tulloch had kindly arranged for one of his fellow priests to say prayers with us and give us his blessing in an act of thanksgiving for our safe arrival at the end of the 2017 Walk.
This, however, was not quite the end of the story. After we had registered at Elmham House and settled into our rooms we then all met at the entrance to the Walsingham Abbey grounds for the usual tour of the ruins, the site of the Holy House and the Holy Wells. In a modest attempt to emulate the example of the former Master of the Guild, yours truly normally gives a short talk on Walsingham’s history and endeavours to vary this each year. This year’s talk looked at the Walsingham story from the perspective of a ‘universal pilgrim’.
Jeff and Rod then had to return to Fakenham to get their own vehicles in the right place (Jeff’s would be used to ferry the men homewards the following day). For the rest of us, the remainder of the afternoon was free to explore Walsingham, purchase gifts for loved ones or simply gaze in silent adoration at a pint of the Black Lion’s best bitter. Some of us managed all three.
Our prayers that evening were preceded by an excellent dinner at Elmham House and we enjoyed the usual banter with the catering staff there.
And so to bed, as the saying goes, after a (relatively) quick final pint in the Black Lion. Gone are the days when, as younger pilgrims, we would while away the hours over the amber nectar. Nowadays, the lure of a comfortable bed (our first for over a week) takes priority over the desire for alcohol.
Up with the lark we were, at 7.10am for our slow walk from Town to Shrine along the disused railway line, saying all 15 decades of the Rosary as we went. As we arrived slightly early, we just waited quietly at the top of the hill until the Shrine bell started to ring before making the final descent to the Slipper Chapel.
This was a cold, misty morning, which served to add to the general atmosphere of peace and quiet that characterises our Rosary recitation and gives time to ponder on the past week and what it has brought to each of us.
At the Slipper Chapel we deposited the Petitions we had been carrying in our day packs all week, and for the very last time said our Novena Prayers, recited the Shrine’s final Novena intention and said our Prayer for Petitions.
On return to Walsingham, we breakfasted at Elmham House and later on that morning, attended the Parish Mass in the Church of the Annunciation before reluctantly bidding a final farewell to Walsingham and making our way homewards.