Pilgrims and Pilgrimages

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Wander

Settler
Jan 6, 2017
616
731
Here There & Everywhere
I have never been on a pilgrimage.

Not a formal pilgrimage, anyway. I have not walked to Beckett’s shrine, nor the Camino de Santiago.

But then, I am not religious.

Mind you, I have walked old pilgrim routes. Quite literally - the Pilgrim’s Way is my back yard.

However, like you, I have done many of my own pilgrimages. We do it every time we leave the house to go to our favourite spot.

So what is the most important part of a pilgrimage? Is it the leaving? Is it the journey? Is it the arriving?

As I closed the door of my house I opened up my pilgrimage. It would be a walk of several miles, mostly uphill, and it would mostly be through civilisation - from suburbia, where I live, into the lanes and farmland of the countryside, and finally into the wilds (or as wild as it can get in the south east).

It can take a while to tune in. It’s like tuning a radio - you get lots of static and then occasionally pick up a clear signal.

I started off by tuning out suburbia. Was this right? I walked with my head down, conscious that I had several miles to do and that at least half of them would be uphill, so thought I’d get on with it, switch off, and put myself into automatic.

Was this being faithful to the idea of pilgrimage? As I asked at the beginning – is it the leaving, is it the journey, or is the arriving? It looked like I was already shutting out the journey.

I was walking beside a main A-road. A road I had driven many times. Too easy to phase it out. But driving it was not the same as walking it. It passes by a large country park that used to be a private estate (the large Palladian style manor house is still there). So it has some fantastic trees. Better than that, though, were those small micro-environments that, going by in a car, you don’t see or think about. It could be the cluster of shoots at the base of a lime tree, alive with insects, birds feeding on them, squirrels foraging about. Or that collection of dead leaves, twigs, and humus that’s collected by a curb side – rotting away and giving home to all sorts of organisms.

Time to tune back in again, pick up the signals. Listen for a while.

It’s too easy to dismiss and discard. Put some effort in, though, and you get more out.

Up the hill I go.

This route was obviously an old holloway, that collection of tracks and passages that slide through the chalk hills of the south. This one had long been covered in asphalt. Nevertheless the banked sides of the lane are still impressive and still shelter and loom over you. This track leads from the Len valley up on to the top of the North Downs.

Deep greens and yew roots are more evocative, more curious, and more engaging. Glimpses through gaps in hedges look out along the length, east and west, of the North Downs and the Pilgrims Way. There, can you hear that? That’s the pewing of a pair of buzzards giddy on the eddys and currents, soaring soaring hunting. That hover there, that’s a kestrel looking for something to eat. The rabbits (hit hard by myxomatosis this year – humans aren’t the only ones taken by disease) run for it. Was it me? Was it the buzzards?

There I am – on top of the hill.

I’m absolutely bloody knackered. It was a longer, and harder, walk than I thought. If I knew it was going to be this tough I might not have done it! I’ll be phoning in for a lift home.

I’ve been here before, this exact spot. Many times. But never like this. This is the first time I deserve to be here. Have a right to be. Feel like I do, anyway. I’ve felt this journey – the closing of the door, the grey asphalt, the green trees. The transition. That steady steepening of this damned hill. Now I reckon I am as much a part of it as the clouds, the dry soil, the hunting hawks.

Now I get it.

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Tengu

Full Member
Jan 10, 2006
11,264
703
48
Wiltshire
Thats grand. Being on a journey and taking your time, -just seeing things, is a good spiritual journey.

One of our most famous books is `Canterbury tales` A bunch of varied people going on a journey, and telling stories. Few of them are in any way pious; its an excuse for a holiday in a world where holy days are spent at home.

Aurel Steins account of an old man in central Asia. He wants to go on Haji.

His family are horrified; He is a grandfather and not up to walking far, it will kill him. But he tells them that he has done everything he needed to in his life; if he dies on the road to Mecca, then, well, everyone dies somewhere.

So our Archaeologist (with some misgivings) writes him letters of introduction. He knows people who will help and keep an eye on the old man.

Six months later he is back joyfully telling everyone about his exciting adventures. The next year the Village Ihram organises a trip; Mecca is a long journey by land and sea but clearly not beyond the means of their remote village as they had previously assumed.

The Japanese to this day are great pilgrims, (Cant recall a good source) Some spend years in their journey.

I myself have been to places of early medieval Christian relevance, -some close and some very distant.
 

oldtimer

Full Member
Sep 27, 2005
2,491
1,037
79
Oxfordshire and Pyrenees-Orientales, France
This post immediately brought to mind John Hillaby (1917-1996).

His outlook on life and his interests were very much in line with those of this forum, but his book "Journey through Love " (1976) is the story of how he walked to overcome the loss of his wife and in this sense was a pilgrimage. It is exactly what I would have done had my own wife not survived a major operation some 15 years ago. Fortunately we can still walk together, albeit for shorter distances than when we were younger.

I don't think pilgrimages have to to be connected to organised religion, but I have found no better way than a multi-day walk for clarifying ideas or altering focus on problems. I regard such journeys as pilgrimages.
 

billycoen

Tenderfoot
Jan 26, 2021
67
34
north wales
This is a really interesting topic,and just having a quick think about it, i perhaps understand why i go back to certain places for my walks,i must be making some sort of connection with that place.Slightly drifting,the medieval pilgrims used to buy a right load of old tat off merchants,wood from the cross etc,i've even touched a vial of Jesus' blood in Bruges.
 

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