The Blistering Years
On an April night in 1995, Ropley Village Hall was home to a mixed group of people who had taken part in a series of walking pilgrimages over the last twenty years. Many were the stories that were recounted and the memories that were revived. How had it all begun?
“Lets walk all around the boundaries of Surrey and Sussex”, was the suggestion made in 1974 to the Vocations Committee of the Arundel and Brighton Diocese, the area of which comprises those two English counties. We had been discussing how we should mark the Holy Year, 1975, and the success of an annual sponsored walk called Youthgather had been mentioned. So – lets have a much bigger walk was the suggestion which was laughed away by the committee. After the meeting was over three of the priests attending the meeting decided that it wasn’t such a crazy idea and that we should give it a try. Father Jude McHugo’s health wouldn’t allow him to take an active part, but he has often offered the pilgrims hospitality at the school he is connected to, St George’s College, Weybridge. Father Bob Garrard, the curate at Caterham, took a big part in the early pilgrimages, and did much to set the spirit of the pilgrimages. And Father Bill Haynes, who is now the “President” of the pilgrimage organisations and who is just beginning to write this account, 27 years on.
The Holy Year Pilgrimage, 1975
The route of that first pilgrimage, following the boundaries of Surrey and Sussex was explored by Fr. Bob and by Fr. Bill and his mother, Madge Haynes, during the summer and autumn of 1974. It was to be as far as possible a footpath route, avoiding busy roads, with overnight accommodation being provided each night by various parishes of the Diocese through which our route passed. On Easter Monday, 31st March 1975, 32 intrepid walkers met at the Arundel Cathedral, and started the 14 day trek. For the most part they were strangers to one another at the outset, but they became firm friends as they endured the 240 mile walk, the snowy weather, and the hard floors at night. Indeed two marriages sprung from that first pilgrimage! The route was Arundel, Midhurst, Farnham, Weybridge, Epsom, Caterham, Lingfield, Mayfield, Hurst Green, Rye, St Leonard’s, Eastbourne, Peacehaven, Upper Beeding and Arundel. We walked solidly for the 14 days, and on the last day we were met on the South Downs above his house at Storrington by Bishop Michael Bowen, who led us back to the Cathedral and celebrated Mass with us. The question was would we repeat the experience, and it was decided that next summer we would walk the traditional Pilgrims Way from Winchester to Canterbury.
The Pilgrims Way, 1976
When we got around to planning it we decided that Winchester to Canterbury was a bit short, so we would start from Arundel, our own Cathedral. This time the walk was in the summer. We needed the extra time to prepare, and the previous year Easter had been exceptionally early, and in later years we would not have had a fortnight’s school holiday after Easter. This time the group was much larger, 50 pilgrims began from Arundel and by the time they reached Canterbury their number had grown to 70. That year was extraordinarily hot, and we were lucky to have a camper-van as a support vehicle which could provide us with cold drinks when it could meet us at various times on our route. Since then we have always had a drink stop vehicle following our route. The route was: Arundel, Midhurst, East Meon, Winchester, Medstead, Farnham, Guildford, Dorking, Caterham, Borough Green, Aylesford, Charing and Canterbury. We took one day off walking to explore Winchester, and ever since then Rest Days have been a much enjoyed part of our pilgrimages. Sadly, in those earlier days of ecumenism, we were not allowed to celebrate Mass in Canterbury Cathedral. At the end of this pilgrimage the question was not whether we have another pilgrimage the next year, but just where it would be to. And so it had been each year since.
The Walsingham Pilgrimage, 1977
Our next chosen destination was Walsingham, again starting from Arundel, and taking a route to the West of London. This was an even longer route and we realised that a fortnight’s holiday could be extended to 17 days, by starting on a Saturday and ending on a Bank Holiday Monday. The route was: Arundel, Storrington, Horsham, Dorking, Weybridge, Windsor, Beaconsfield, Tring, Luton, Ashwell, Barrington, Cambridge, Ely, Stoke Ferry, Castle Acre, and Walsingham. Water is my memory of that pilgrimage. A torrential downpour as we walked into Windsor, which caused the roof of the building where we had been going to stay to collapse. The flat boring land and water ways of the Fens. And a ford which every pilgrim had to wade through on the last day into Walsingham.
The Glastonbury Pilgrimage, 1978
Arundel to Glastonbury was just too short a route after our previous experiences, so we decided to take route via the Isle of Wight. This necessitated jokes about Christian pilgrims walking across the Solent, of course, but actually we used the Portsmouth – Ryde ferry and Yarmouth – Lymington ferry. This produced a marvellous route: Arundel, Chichester, Hayling Island, Ryde, Ventnor, Freshwater, Brockenhurst, Fordingbridge, Salisbury, Steeple Langford, Maiden Bradley, Stourton, Castle Cary and Glastonbury. We passed Old Sarum and Stonehenge in the days when you could explore the whole of the sites without being fenced in 100 yards away. Each year, the number of pilgrims were growing. We now had 70 full time pilgrims and almost 100 at some points. In several places for the next few years we had to divide ourselves between two halls at night. Our catering resources were being stretched. Parishes that offered to feed us en route just couldn’t cope, and when we cooked for ourselves it was quite difficult too. This was the year that one of our caterer/drivers walked out under the strain halfway through! Next year Frances Dean and Rosemary Wheeler would come to our rescue, and ever since Frances has been the backbone of a dedicated catering team.
The Second Canterbury Pilgrimage, 1979
By now there had been a change of Bishop in the Archdiocese of Southwark. Bishop Cyril Cowderoy had gone to his eternal reward, and our own Bishop Michael Bowen, who had blessed the beginning of our pilgrimage plans, had been taken from us and was now the Archbishop of Southwark. Now, we could get permission to celebrate Mass in Canterbury Cathedral, we had to walk there again. But, just to do something different, we took a different route from 1976. We began in Brighton, walked close to the coast to Canterbury, and returned across country to Arundel. Our route was: Brighton, Seaford, Eastbourne, St Leonard’s, Rye Sellindge, Canterbury, Charing, Benenden, Wadhurst, Forest Row, Hayward’s Heath, Upper Beeding and Arundel. It was on this pilgrimage that our numbers hit the highest ever, with well over 100 pilgrims sleeping overnight in Charing. And Rosemary Wheeler, George Kelly and Sarah Lane led by Frances Dean set new standards of culinary excellence in the pilgrimage catering department from which we have never looked back.
The First Buckfast Pilgrimage, 1980
That year I had taken a group of students from Cardinal Newman School, where I was full-time chaplain from 1975 to 1981, to Buckfast Abbey, and when I told the Abbot about the walking pilgrimages he invited us to make a pilgrimage there. Well, it seemed, and it was, a very long way, but also quite a challenge. Our route led along the wonderfully scenic, but also very hilly Dorset and Devon Coastal paths. The route was Arundel, Midhurst, East Meon, and Winchester (repeating the first three days of the First Canterbury pilgrimage) and then: Romsey, Fordingbridge, Blandford Forum, Dorchester, Burton Bradstock, Lyme Regis, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Chudleigh and Buckfast Abbey. It was a marvellous and most strenuous walk, and when we got there the Abbot said why hadn’t we come two years later when they were celebrating their centenary, so we decided we would!
The Sussex Pilgrimage, 1981
1981 was the year of St Wilfrid celebrating the 13th centenary of St Wilfrid’s landing at Selsey and bringing Christianity to the South Saxons. The churches of Sussex, in working out plans to celebrate the event together, invited us to organise an ecumenical pilgrimage that year. And so we did, and ever since, our pilgrimages have had an ecumenical nature. We decided that we would visit all the churches and schools in Sussex dedicated to St Wilfrid, which produced a great loop of a route all around Sussex. We began in Brighton (St Wilfrid’s CofE church). Then to Selsey (St Wilfrid’s RC church) via Church Norton where St Winifrid landed, and on to Bosham (where there is the earliest Christian Church in Sussex) and to Chichester (St Wilfrid's CofE church). Then via Pulborough and Cowfold, to St Wilfred’s Secondary School, Cowley. Then back to St Wilfred’s CofE church, Hayward’s Heath and via St Wilfrid’s RC church, Burgess Hill to Lewes. Then via St Wilfrid’s CofE church, Polegate to Michelham Priory, and via St Wilfrid’s RC church, Hailsham, to St Leonard’s. And finally by St Wilfrid’s church, Winchelsea Beach to Rye, where there was a splendid and most fitting ecumenical conclusion to the whole pilgrimage. Henceforth the pilgrimages were to continue as an ecumenical event, struggling with our differences, the continuing ban on inter-communion, but enjoying and learning the riches on one another’s heritages.
The Papal Pilgrimage, 1982
From the moment we heard that Pope John Paul II was to visit England we decided that we just had to walk to one of the events. We had plans for Canterbury, and for Roehampton, but eventually settled on the Wembley Stadium event. We devised a most interesting route through West London following the Grand Union Canal: Arundel, Pulborough, Horsham, Dorking, Weybridge, West Drayton, and Toyngton, near Wembley. This pilgrimage in the May sunshine was wonderful. Our final resting point was less that a mile from Wembley Stadium, and it was an irony that those who came up by coach for the day had to walk much further that we did, that day, although we had walked the whole way.
The Buckfast Centenary Pilgrimage, 1982
1982 was the year we walked two pilgrimages, as we responded to the Abbot of Buckfast’s invitation (challenge) to visit them again in their centenary year. We repeated the Dorset and Devon coast path second half of the route, but for the first part we devised a new route avoiding a few miles by getting a chartered boat to ferry us across the mouth of Southampton water. The route was: Arundel, Midhurst, Horndean, Fawley, Bransgore, Studland, Lulworth Dorchester, Bridport, Lyme Regis, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Chudleigh, Buckfast Abbey.
The Evesham Pilgrimage, 1983
Few people know that England has its own Lourdes, but dating back to the Eighth Century. Then Mary appeared to swineherd, Eoves, and caused Evesham Abbey to be built, which was for many centuries a great centre of pilgrimage, much as in the Nineteenth Century she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes. It was also revered in earlier times as the place where Simon de Montfort has previously been victorious at the Battle of Lewes. So our route in 1983 was: Lewes, Burgess Hill, Horsham, Wonersh, Farnham, Old Basing, Douai Abbey, Didcot, Oxford, Charlbury, Moreton-in-Marsh and Evesham. While at Oxford the pilgrims made the decision to make a much more adventurous pilgrimage the following year to Holy Island.
The Lindisfarne Pilgrimage, 1984
Michael Morwood-Leyland took over the responsibility of organising this pilgrimage from myself, Fr. Bill Haynes. It was indeed very complicated and ambitious, both because it was far from our homes mostly in the South of England, but also because for the first time we were traversing wild upland countryside on a pilgrimage. The journey began by train to York. The pilgrims walked to the Holy Island via: York, Wiggington, Ampleforth, Osmotherley, Richmond, Barnard Castle, Stanhope, Minsteracres, Hexham, Cambo, Rothbury, Whittingham, Wooler, and Holy Island. Then after a coach journey and a day in the Cathedral City of Durham, the pilgrims returned south by train. A relatively small group of pilgrims make this difficult journey overcoming a number of unforeseen problems en route.
The Birthdays Pilgrimage, 1985
It was now 10 years since the first pilgrimage and 20 years after the formation of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. A celebratory route was devised around the Diocese visiting each Deanery of the Diocese. The organisation proved difficult, and it was after this pilgrimage that I was again asked to take over the pilgrimage from Anthony Morwood-Leyland, with the help of an organising team or committee. For the first time a formal structure was developed of how a pilgrimage organisation could be shared between a number of responsible officers: an Accommodation Officer, a Chief Route Planner overseeing a team of Day Route Planners, a Booking Secretary, a Treasurer, a Transport Officer, a Catering Officer (Frances Dean of course), to mention but a few. The new team worked extremely well and efficiently.
The Wessex Walk, 1986
The pilgrimage was in honour of St Dunstan who reformed English monastic and church life in the 10th Century, aided the King of Wessex. In 9763, in Bath Abbey, he crowned Edgar as the first King of all England. The route was: Brighton, Henfield, Billinghurst, Haslemere, Alton, Old Basing, Kingsclere, Kintbury, Marlborough, Devizes, Westbury and so to Bath. The new team organisation worked well, with Mike Simons, the Accommodation Officer, pointing the way ahead. Bath was a beautiful destination. The greatest memory will be Sister Margaret Crinyion, who was about to leave her more open order to be a contemplative Poor Clare, busking on the streets of Bath, and generally having a last fling!
The Second Walsingham Pilgrimage, 1987
The next year, 10 years after our First Walsingham Pilgrimage, the pilgrims walked to Walsingham again from Arundel but this time taking a route to the East of London crossing the Thames via the Gravesend – Tilbury Ferry. Like the first it proved to be a long and difficult pilgrimage and was again very watery! The slogan for those who took part in this pilgrimage was “We survived the Roxwell Flood”: a river burst its bank and at one stage we were walking waste deep in water, only to find when we arrived that night that the Roxwell Village Hall had also been flooded! It continued to rain for several days and again leaving Thetford we needed to be rescued from a flooded riverside route. The route was: Arundel, Upper Beeding, Hayward’s Heath, East Grinstead, Sevenoaks, Shorne, Hutton, Roxwell, Rayne, Sudbury, Bury St Edmonds, Thetford, Mundford, Swaffham, Fakenham, and Walsingham.
The Third Canterbury Pilgrimage, 1988
You will notice that by now we were repeating our destinations and numbers have crept into the titles of our pilgrimages. After the long, long walk to Walsingham a shorter, even only one week pilgrimage was looked for the next year. We made it a long week from a Saturday to a Bank Holiday Monday and walked directly from Arundel to Canterbury, re-crossing quite a few previous routes. The shorter pilgrimage was very enjoyable, but some said it was over before it was started, so the one week formula has not yet been used again. Our route was: Arundel, Worthing, Hassocks, Seaford, Eastbourne, Battle, Benenden, Charing and Canterbury. A highlight for me was taking the pilgrims to East Worthing and celebrating Mass with them in St Charles Church where I was ordained.
St Richard’s Pilgrimage – Part One, 1989
St Richard was born in Droitwich in 1197, and became first chancellor of Oxford University and then Bishop of Chichester in 1244. So our route in his honour was: Droitwich, Alcester, Shipston-on-Stour, Chipping Norton, Oxford, East Hendred, Thatcham, Overton, Ropley, Horndean, Chichester. On this pilgrimage we were first joined by one Danny Thomas, who is now the proud owner of this illustrious Web Page! En route we became very enamoured of St Richard, a holy and humble cleric, and decided to follow his footsteps again the next year.
St Richard’s Pilgrimage – Part Two, 1990
At the end of his life St Richard, who at last gained control of his Episcopal lands, set out on a preaching journey, which ended in Dover where he fell ill and died. This obviously suggested to us a marvellous route along the South Coast: Chichester, Selsey, Littlehampton, Worthing, Brighton, Ringmer, Hailsham, St Leonard’s, Rye, Dymchurch, Hythe, to Dover. As an extra treat from Dover we made a day pilgrimage to Boulogne, and celebrated Mass in Boulogne Cathedral. We crossed the channel by ship, but during the walk we had some wonderful views of the Channel Tunnel workings that were then in full swing.
The Second Glastonbury Pilgrimage, 1991
Our first pilgrimage to Glastonbury via the Isle of Wight had become something of a pilgrimage legend, particularly when the Glastonbury Song, “As I was a walking” had become something of a theme song for us. And so the younger pilgrims were insisting that we repeat the route. As it happened only a few of the original overnight stoops were still available, so the route ended up being parallel rather than identical to the original. It was: Arundel, Midhurst, Emsworth, Ryde, Ventnor, Totland, Brockenhurst, Wellow, Salisbury, Sutton Veny, Frome, Downside Abbey, Glastonbury. It was during this pilgrimage in Ventnor, that the “Pasta Pot Declaration” was made by myself. The Pasta Pot was a restaurant where I had taken the organising team for a meal, and where I told them that, come what may, I would not be responsible for organisation of another pilgrimage. Since 1986 I had enjoyed the co-operation of a splendid team each year, but I had always been responsible for pulling the whole thing together – to be the “hub of the wheel” as it had been described. During the rest of the pilgrimage it was all sorted out and both Alan Fox and Andy Ollard had expressed a willingness to take over. As it happened Alan was to lead for two years and Andy for two. It was on this occasion that for the first time Danny Thomas tried his hand at route planning.
The Norwich Pilgrimage, 1993
Julian of Norwich was an English mystical writer who lived as a hermit in Norwich. “The Revelations of Divine Love” is one of the great English Spiritual Classics. And the route to Norwich was magnificent threading together so many different typed of English countryside. The route was: Guilford, Chobham, Burnham, Amersham, St Albans, Stevenage, Royston, Cambridge, Isleham, Lakenham, Thetford, Hingham, Norwich. The geographical and the spiritual route were lovingly crafted together by Alan Fox on his second year of leadership.
The Hereford Pilgrimage, 1994
Now Andy Ollard was in charge for a wonderful westward journey, just touching Wales for the second time. The shrine of the Fourteenth Century Bishop of Hereford, St Thomas Cantilupe, in Hereford Cathedral was its conclusion. The route was: Guildford, Farnham, Old Basing, St Mary Bourne, Collingbourne Ducis, Marlborough, Calne, Marshfield, Frampton Cotterell, Chepstow, Brockweir, Monmouth, Ross-on-Wye, Hereford. By now there was a long list of pilgrim marriage, of those who had met on our pilgrimages. But this time the meeting of Joseph Bonnici from Malta and Marietta Ort from Canada led to a truly international marriage. They are now living happily in the U.S.A.
The Martyrs Pilgrimage, 1995
In the Arundel and Brighton Diocese our local saint, St Philip Howard was celebrating his fourth centenary, and our pilgrimages were celebrating their 20th birthday, and the Diocese its 30th anniversary of breaking away for the Southwark Diocese. The route taking in the Tower of London, where St Philip died, and something of the route of our first pilgrimage, and linking Arundel and Southwark commemorated all three events, and some Protestant Martyrs as well, to be ecumenical. Our route was: Arundel, Storrington, Cranleigh, Cobham, Southwark, Bromley, Westerham, East Grinstead, Uckfield, Eastbourne, Seaford, Ringmer, Brighton. The route into London from Hampton Court was made aboard a River Thames Steamer, and the route out on the Docklands Light Railway. In London the Pilgrims visited Southwark, Cathedral, the Tyburn Convent, the Smithfield Martyrs Shrine and the Tower of London. And so Andy Ollard’s two years of leadership came to an end. Now Patrick Reeve, who for many years had been our pilgrimage treasurer, was chosen as leader.
The Third Buckfast Pilgrimage, 1996
The two pilgrimages to the Benedictine Monastery at Buckfast in the early 1980’s were becoming faded memories among the older pilgrims, and younger pilgrims asked that we might make the epic journey again, concluding along the coast paths of Dorset and Devon. But this time, with deference to a desire for shorter distances, we started from Winchester instead of Arundel. The route was: Winchester, Romsey Sway, Bournemouth, Wareham, Wool, Dorchester, Bridport, Lyme Regis Sidmouth, Exmouth, Chuldeigh, Buckfast. Danny Thomas ascended to new heights as accommodation officer, and never has pilgrimage accommodation been so good.
The Fourth Canterbury Pilgrimage, 1997
The national celebrations of the 1400 years since St. Augustine landed at Pegwell Bay to begin the conversion of England, led the pilgrims to plan a fourth pilgrimage to Canterbury for the coming year.
Bill Haynes, 1997