Pilgrim’s Progress #1 – Jack Gunn

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In remembrance of a time when going outside wasn’t government regulated, third-year history student Jack Gunn takes us with him on a pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury, and relays the historical treats he found along the way. 

In the latter part of August, I was lucky enough to embark on a pilgrimage.

Alongside a couple from Church and one of their friends, I would be walking in relay from the ancient city of Winchester to the equally ancient city of Canterbury. The plan was to have two teams covering sixteen miles each day, with the first setting off in the morning to a lunch point from where the second team would cover the remaining eight miles. This is the first of three entries which will track that journey.

Ropley Railway station, complete with steam engine

We began on the 21st August, reaching our campsite for the next two nights in the hamlet of Ropley, Hampshire. Rather wonderfully, a Victorian railway station sat not one hundred yards from our tents, so the mornings were filled with the sounds of beautiful and old steam trains warming themselves up. Our first leg began on the afternoon of the 22nd from Winchester itself. It is gloriously historical. As well as a mighty cathedral, the once capital of England and city of King Alfred the Great also houses in its Great Hall, the medieval King Arthur’s Round Table, painted so vividly with the Tudor colours. We had our pilgrimage blessed in the cathedral by the Dean herself and were sent on our way with the well-wishes of many of the volunteers surrounding her.

Following St. Swithun’s Way, named after the local saint, we hugged the River Itchen until we reached the hamlet of Martyr Worthy where we went slightly inland through fields of wheat and well-worn footpaths. The weather was kind to us and we were setting quite a decent pace, reaching a drinking spot (the Ship Inn in Bishop’s Sutton) in good time. The final stretch brought us back to our campsite, totalling the walk at twelve miles.

The days to come would follow this pattern, although I was able to walk for most of my stretches in blissful solitude. Not that I was sick of the company, but an aim of mine was to enjoy Mother Nature in her untouched beauty and somehow conversation just isn’t conducive with such appreciation. An encounter of the second day allowed me to exercise my love of the thespian when a van with blacked-out windows drove up next to us and a young and enthusiastic British woman jumped out, followed by a small German television crew. The Laws of Coincidence were on their side as they were filming a documentary on pilgrimages and were thrilled to bump into some genuine pilgrims.

My first solo walk took me from Badshot Lea, just outside Farnborough, to Guildford, much of it parallel to the road known as the Hog’s Back because it struts out of the country like the ridges on a pig’s spine. Nearing my destination, I came out of a wooded hillock, turned a corner and was presented with the warming sight of Guildford sitting proudly on its hill, the castle just visible across the countryside. At the castle, I was met by a university friend with whom I had a cocktail in the local Cosy Club (hardly sticking to the authentic experience of pilgrim ancestors and ancestresses, but when in Rome!)  She then kindly let me have a hot shower and a large plate of chile con carne at her house in the village of Cranleigh, Surrey. The next day would throw into sharp relief just how grateful I was for the warmth…

A female scorpion-fly snapped on my way to Guildford

Stay tuned for part two! 

Thanks to Jack