A couple of weeks ago, Husband and I drove to a nearby park and walked a couple of the trails. The first one was 2.5 miles, all level, very easy and the second was only a mile. It went alongside a river and was the site of a town that has since disappeared, probably in a flood. The town had some claim to historic prominence as both Andrew Jackson (7th president of the United States) and Nathan Bedford Forrest (famous Confederate general) spent time there. As we were leaving the trail, we passed a family just starting their walk, three or four adults and an equal number of children. We were amused by the amount of gear they had–everyone had a backpack and one woman was carrying a two liter bottle of water–for a 15 minute walk. Kudos for them getting out into the sunshine, but holy cow…way to overdo the equipage.
It reminded me of a walk I took in 2006. It was the first time I went on Pilgrimage with the youth from my church. There were 12 of us, I think, give or take. A mixture of high school juniors, young adults, regular adults and me, the oldest by far. The last few days of our trip were to be spent at Canterbury, the home of the Anglican (and therefore Episcopalian) Church. We were to walk to Canterbury as the pilgrims of old did…along an ancient path.
It was a seven mile trip…on the outer limits of my endurance, but something I wasn’t worried about completing.
One thing you have to know about the summer of 2006–it was one of the hottest ever in England. Remember, this is the land of no air conditioning, no ice and a place where heavy duvets adorn every bed. It is also the land of no screens on windows. One of my personal quirks is that I can not sleep with an open window. I’ m a Southern girl…open windows are an open invitation to mosquitos and snakes. And don’t tell me snakes can’t climb trees because I know they can.
We set off on our journey one hot afternoon. Unfortunately, our first few hundred yards were straight uphill. One of our group faltered about halfway up. We regrouped in the shade so she could calm down. After a while, we marched on, and once we were at the top of the hill, had a nice, level trek through a typical English village.
So far, so good.
We walked on through the village and came to a farm. The directions got a little hinky. We walked down one hedgerow and up another. Across a field and behind a barn. By this time I had promised the only boy in the group dinner at the restaurant of his choice at home if he’d carry my backpack.
The heat rose and the levels in our water bottles went down. But on we marched, reminding ourselves that the pilgrims of old had no bottled water. Because we were walking through the woods, I kept an eye out for snakes, despite being told time and again that snakes are really rare in England. But I know snake country when I see it…I told them there was a snake nearby and I was right.
On we walked, through nettles and woods and forest. It was hotter than the hinges of hell, but we finally reached the outskirts of Canterbury.
I had, at one point, really doubted that the trip would ever end. When we were finally in sight of our destination, we dropped. After a few minutes, with the catheral in sight, we ventured on. Canterbury Cathedral is surrounded by a wall and we were staying inside, on the grounds. This was the view from my wonderful room:
And here’s a shot of the cloister…
So that’s my abbreviated tale of the hardest walk I ever took. When I saw that family loaded down with backpacks and liters of water for a 15 minute stroll, it made me wonder what they’d pack for a trek to Canterbury.
Also, if you’re ever in England, don’t be fooled when they tell you there are no snakes. I’ve seen them!
Many thanks to Sally for the wonderful photos.