Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day Sixteen: London Bound!

With a fond farewell, I started taking pilgrims to train stations and the airport all morning.  Finally, John, Trina and I said good bye.

This was the last day of the pilgrimage!  What a truly marvelous pilgrimage it was! 

My treat to myself? London!  I flew down on Virgin Atlantic, stayed in Brixton, and had a blast.  First order of business?  See a play, and it was Spamalot!  Smashing way to end the sacred pilgrimage: with humor.

More reflections to come!

Buen camino!


Day Fifteen: Rosslyn Chapel

Our last day together as a semi-group was spent at Rosslyn Chapel.  Well known from "The DaVinci Code" of Dan Brown, as well as from the Knight's Templar and those who walk the Camino, and those who are into spirituality (this ground is holy, I've heard), we were amazed and delighted at this little jewel of a chapel that was filled with more symbols that you could shake a stick at. And the ruins of the Castle was equally fantastic.

One of the favorite stories that will lead to another pilgrimage: Robert the Bruce was killed in a fight with the English. His body was buried in Dunfermline, but the desire was this: his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. But the "Moors" stopped the band getting to Jerusalem, but the "Moors" were so impressed with the people that they let them take his heart to Melrose Abbey.  I heard this story where? Rosslyn Chapel.

Fantastic way to end this stretch of pilgrimage.

Buen camino!


Day Fourteen: Modern Art in Edinburgh

The Scottish National Museum of Modern Art (above is one of the exhibits) was amazing! Different! Engaging! Art-ful.

I woke at 5 to get two of the pilgrims--Sarah and Kelly--off to the airport.  Then I got more pilgrims to trains and buses.  Then I took off to the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art in the "burbs" of Edinburgh. 

As you can tell from the pics, this is no ordinary museum or museum grounds.  How I wish NC had such artistic adventures!

Later in the day I had a great coffee with Nicki Ewing, a former Assistant (and once director of l'Arche Edinburgh) of l'Arche Lambeth.  We laughed, cried, and laughed some more, collecting memories and regaling each other with our lives since we left l'Arche Lambeth 25 years ago.


Buen camino!


Day Thirteen: L'Arche Edinburgh

Today was special: the group of pilgrims spent time at the l'Arche Edinburgh community, along with a trip to Edinburgh. The craziest part of the day was getting everyone to the l'Arche community, whose headquarters are found in a modern office building complex...so not l'Arche...but it works.

There was a l'Arche house that hosted us in the complex, which was wonderful.  L'Arche is the religious community with adults with intellectual challenges.  There were four core members, and three Assistants.  Our lunch was delicious and healthy. The pilgrims heard about the life and times of l'Arche. And one of the pilgrims is interested in coming back and being part of l'Arche in Edinburgh!

The craziest part of the day?  We got 11 people in the Citroen minivan, taking them to the l'Arche community. But it was all community building.

What we've been doing at night has been meaningful: I've led them through Henri Nouwen's Journey of the Heart, a pilgrimage itself, in which students have played with solitude, silence and prayer for the last three nights. Powerful prayers and times of silence.

Tonight was our "last supper" together, which was sad.  What I heard mentioned over and over again is the power of walking across England, and the "boost" to their confidence.

Buen Camino!


Day Twelve; Deep into Edinburgh!

Beauty of Edinburgh!  The Castle!  Holyrood! And everything in between.  What isn't there to like?

The first place we stopped?  The place that J.K. Rollings hung out while writing Harry Potter, The Elephant House.

Then to Holyrood, where the Queen stays when in the area.  The history was amazing.

The bagpipers on the side of the street; the artists who did magic acts; St. Giles; the legislative hall of Scotland; John Knox house, Edinburgh castle...amazing!

And it was blue sky!

Buen Camino,


Day Eleven: Inverness!

Samantha, a.k.a., Sam, forgot some medicine which she needed.  She left it in Inverness. It turned out to be cheaper if I drove the van to Inverness than any other form of transportation.  So today was a trip to Inverness.

What I loved was going through the Highlands, with snow on the hill, the greenery...gorgeous.

Got the med, and on the way home by 6 p.m.

Buen camino!


Day Ten: Culross!

What a lovely day!

The group of pilgrims went on a pilgrimage to St. Andrews, both the golf course and the university.  I went and joined Rick and Jill Edens--pastors at United Church of Chapel Hill--down the road in Culross.  What a beautiful historic little town.  Coffee, cake, conversation, a quaint Scottish village...incredible.

That evening we had worship, with Holy Communion.  I enjoy this opportunity to have the students share the reflection of the pilgrimage we just finished.  The next three nights: reflections on the work of Henri Nouwen.

Buen Camino!

Day Nine: To Dunfermline (from Mull to Oban to Glasgow to Dunfermline by minibus, ferry, train, and minivan again)

Made it to Dunfermline! Home town of the great Mr. Carnegie, whose remains are buried there.

Again: Dave took us via car to an early ferry to Oban, where we waited to get on the train to Dunfermline through Glasgow, catch another train to Dunfermline.

Dunfermline was a "suburb" of Edinburgh.  We got off the train (John and I) at the Edinburgh airport, and got our Citroen minivan for the day.  Exquisite!  I drove for the week, escorting people around, listening to conversations, and enjoying the day with all those who I drove.

The "castle" (above is the church where  Robert the Bruce's body is buried, with his heart in Melrose Abbey), was grand. 30 rooms+  Each student had room to spread out. Dinner was delicious.  We discovered that Asda is England's Wal Mart.

A beautiful, long day.

Buen camino!


Day Eight: Iona!


I could write a lot about this day: the bus showed up on time.  The ferry ride over was uneventful, but the building up of memories, fantastic.

Memory one: getting breakfast, in which we all went different ways and got enough food for kings and queens...hungry?

Memory two: this was a moment, in the bay where Benedictine monks were killed, where we reaffirmed out baptismal covenant at the bayside. Memorable. Then we walked quietly to the other side of the island.

Memory three: picking up a stone of forgiveness and forgetfulness and throwing it into the ocean, at the place where St. Columba came on the isle from Ireland. But we kept another stone in our pocket to remember this time on Iona.

Lunch was on our own...and delicious.  A beer, a fat sandwich, and a delightful dessert.

Exploring the Abbey, taking in all the crosses, the beauty of the cloisters, the museum with even more crosses, the small chapel in the cemetery, and the remains of the nunnery.  Beautiful.  Memorable.

We got enough food to make a banquet back in our cottages.

Beautiful day.  Crystal blue sky day.

Buen camino!


Day Seven: Glasgow to the Isle of Mull

Glasgow through to Oban to the Isle of Mull...phew!  Above is a "self catering" cottage that greeted us once we got to Mull.

How hard is it to get to Iona?  Hard!  This Presbyterian breeding ground amazes me. People have to fly into Glasgow, then catch a train to Oban, taking a ferry over to Mull, then a bus to your place (in this case, a cottage, above).

The conversation was gentle and the train ride intoxicating.  The breakfast at the Best Western was more than continental: it was a full blown meal. And everyone loved not being in a tent. The train station was a pleasure palace for all of us who wanted to eat and buy any more medicine, clothes, etc.

Oban: a great little town with a distillery for Scotch. Fresh seafood fish sandwiches were amazing. By the time that we got to Mull, the buses were gone, so Dave--the editor of the only newspaper on Mull, with his wife who designed the layout for it--drove us all to the cottages.

Food at a pub, one long walk to the cottage, and we fell sound asleep.

Iona awaits!


Day Six: Chollerford to Wylam (outside of Newcastle)

We started off further down the path from Chollerford, by St. Oswald Church, standing alone in a field. We were totally dependent upon the symbol of Hadrian's Wall, the Wall itself becoming invisible. It more or less stopped existing, though once upon a time it stretched across the land. We were in awe of the grape seed fields, seen close and far away.

The group of pilgrims, well, they exist.  We were not a group of pilgrims, but now we are pilgrims on the way to Wylam. Chesley, one of the pilgrims, had sprained her knee enough that she needed a ride to the train station for the last few miles.  But if that were the only injury, we did well.

No more rain; sun above; spirit of pilgrims was grand.

Sadness was coming to the train station in Wylam (outside of Newcastle) and saying good bye to Gary and Tracey and loading everything on the train to Edinburgh in order to get to Glasgow for the night.

While it was the end of the physical pilgrimage, the pilgrimage itself of these young people goes forward.

The train ride was grand from Glasgow.  We sat with a young woman who is into fashion in London, visiting her folks, though the whole family is from Iran originally.  The students were sleeping and eating all the way to Glasgow.

The best part of Glasgow was showing up at the Best Western, which is high end in Glasgow (though 40 pounds!).  I was sent to a pub, the Giffin, where I had a dram of a nice local single malt Scotch whiskey. John joined me there for a night cap as well. 

Buen camino!


Day Five: Once Brewed to Chollerford

Feeling a little sad today as we come to the end of our pilgrimage. It rained last night--again--which didn't make any of us happy. But the weather was just that: a rain at night and the sun the rest of the day.  We walked as two different groups.  John's group took off first, and our group (Trina and Brett) left second after our usual breakfast of two buns and bangers and cereal and milk. Lunch packed (also the usual), and we were off.

Today we would walk by three more obelisks that tell us this is the apex of the walk.  We saw the tree that was used in the Kevin Costner version of "Robin Hood," the movie. Everyone had to take a pic of the tree as well as celebrate the silliness of the tree because it was impossible to be in the movie, given the time sequence of the story:

Today, evidence of the wall would decrease more and more this day. We ran into a group of young people who had done "truancy" work, along with some Scout troops. The last few days there have been more people than usual on the pilgrimage, though not as many as there are to Santiago.

We ended up in Chollerford, near the home of Gary and Tracey.  The pub we went to was Gary's favorite pub, and the meal was splendid.  It was the last night on the pilgrimage trail.

Night pilgrims!


Day Four: Walton to Once Brewed

Let's see...I think it rained again last night.  Again.


The manor house is still standing up (a.k.a., Homophobic manor). The women who slept in the "barracks" are all dry.  The morning mist on the horizon outside of the tent is beautiful as it slowly lifts, revealing the beauty all around us.

Breakfast was the usual: buns and bangers, but it tasted great; same with lunch: same old, same old, but it tasted great.  I love the sprouts, white cheese, tomatoes, lunch meat, bottled ginger soda, a Snickers bar, cookie, trail mix, apple/banana (or both).

Today's pilgrimage route was the longest!  We walked 17 miles, primarily uphill most of the way, hitting the first marker/small obelisk that marks the highest point.  Tomorrow we would hit three similar markers that dot the pilgrimage trail.  Haltwhistle was a national heritage site, showing remains of a castle and parts of Hadrian's Wall, which are usually built on top of one another.

What was amazing today was that the climb upward actually helped our groups (two at this point) coalesce into a real group of pilgrims!  The physical challenge provided the "glue" that helped us bind together.  There was nothing like the exhilaration of walking down to Once Brewed village, home to the pub Twice Brewed. It was exciting!

Buen Camino!


Day Three: Monk's Hill to Walton (Outside)

Today's journey took us close to the last city we would see before we hit Wylam and Newcastle: Carlisle. Today was May 19: Pentecost!  The birthday of the Church!  So we wore red yarn around our arms to commemorate the birthday of the Church.  Eucharist was celebrated around an RV park picnic table, and by 10 or so we were off and walking again: still wet fields of sheep and cow feces, but we were walking.

When we hit Carlisle, there was a run of people to get last minute supplies of rain pants and ponchos just in case the weather turned bad again.  We got most if not all of our stuff dry from the previous wet and soggy day of walking.  Spirits were good.  Today's walk would take us a little further along the trail.  We met more people who were walking east to west while we were walking west to east (going with the wind upon our backs).  Yesterday we walked into St. Michael's, a church that was built on top of Roman ruins.  Today we saw Carlisle Cathedral from afar, along with the above pic of the castle-like buildings of justice.

The effects of pilgrimage--the physical--were starting to erupt as blisters and sore legs and ankles suddenly emerged. I also discovered that quite a few people liked to drink a pint or two, becoming aficianados of bitter ales. But the spiritual and historical sides were starting to emerge.

And we saw our first "bit" of Hadrian's wall itself. Within the next day, it would become a common spot.  Gary explained the system of the wall, and the ditch and the earthen ramparts. It was all coming into view.

Tonight we ate at a lovely manor house, owned by a couple who had lived in the manor house for two or three generations.  We camped on the front lawn, while some camped into the "barracks," which was a dry room with a fireplace. The owner was a bit homophobic, expressing his dismay of the Anglican church welcoming marriage equality.  I just let him talk, and his ignorance showed his true colors.

Day Two: Port of Carlisle to Monk's Hill

Day Two: Port Carlisle to Monk's Hill:

It was a wet and stormy night.  This is not metaphor but literally the truth.  It rained all night and all morning.  The fields were going to be soggy with cow and sheep shit also soggy. The Merrell boots were protected by Goretex...sort of. The gaiters helped....sort of.  The rain pants helped...sort of.  The lining on the day back was gone and all papers got wet inside the day pack.  The rain coat (new) worked just fine. None of us were spared the wetness.  And yet the students smiled and made the best of the day.  Some held hands while walking in soggy fields, while others sang songs.  It was the first day of the pilgrimage.  10 miles. But it was through fields in which puddles were everywhere.  The good news was that about 12 noon the rain slackened to a drizzle, and then stopped.

The highlight today was a statue of Edward I, who was killed along the trail here along Hadrian's Wall.  We would come face to face with British--or British Romano--history along the pilgrimage trail.

When we got to the RV park, there was a warm lodge house for us to take off our clothes, and so we did.  We stripped, throwing everything on dryers, vents, and taking out hair dryers. We began (officially) the rituals today, with night prayers provoking us to think about the day. We ate at a pub that didn't offer food, so we had to dial the food in.  Pizza hit the spot tonight. While it would be tempting to have slept in the warm lodge house, I went outside into the cold night and snuggled in my sleeping bag, getting a good night sleep for a long walk the next day.

Day One: Arriving at Bowness on Solway/Port Carlisle

I left Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill on a night flight on American Airlines the night of Thursday, May 16, arriving in London, May 17th, tired but in good spirits.  On the flight over I sat by a wonderful Dutchman who loved to walk and had walked the Western Highland in Scotland previously. We regaled each other stories of walking trip stories and pilgrimages near and far.  We also gave each other the space to sleep for a few hours before we hit the tarmac in London.

London was a blur: Tim (one of the graduated seniors from UNC) and I waited for John and Trina Rogers to appear.  Originally the plan was that they would meet us at the airport since their flight came first. Alas, their flight was delayed and delayed, and then lost. So Tim and I waited for them.  Upon seeing them, John splurged and bought me a round trip ticket on the Heathrow Express between the airport and central London. 15 min rather than an hour! We arrived at Paddington, and then took the tube to Euston station where we met the other students waiting for us. Grabbing lunches quickly in the train station, we boarded the train for a 3 1/2 trip to Carlisle!  We slept and talked all the way north.

Arriving at the train station, we found the rest of the students (save for Kevin who was already at the camp site). John and Trina bought some clothes to tide them over until their luggage arrived.  Next was a local bus to the camp for the night.  We were delighted when we saw the camp site!  And there was Tracey and Gary with the site up, welcoming us.  They own the Hadrian's Wall Expedition/Trail Trekkers. The sky was sunny with some clouds, not revealing how much it would rain that night and the next day. Dinner that night was pub grub at Hope and Anchor at Port Carlisle.  Some of the students walked the extra mile to Bowness on Solway, the true jumping off point for Hadrian's Wall.  The sky that night was red!  Red sky at night, sailors delight!  Or not!

PIlgrimage Along Hadrian's Wall

I'm posting some reflections from the latest pilgrimage of the School of the Pilgrim across Hadrian's Wall.  To say the least, it was exceptional..short of extraordinary.

The pilgrimage was sponsored by the Presbyterian Campus Ministry of UNC-CH.  I worked with John Rogers--their pastor--for around a year in order to get this pilgrimage together. John looked on line and found the group www.hadrianswall.ltd.uk, which is Tracy and Gary, a couple who do pilgrimages along the wall for the last few years.  They set up the tents and strike them down, and fed us breakfast and lunch. AND they took all our "stuff" from one emcampment to the next.  Fantastic!

Words to describe this pilgrimage? Awesome; wonderful; unexpected thrill; steady; wet; sunny; rigorous, easy; mind-numbing; expanding; mysterious; wondrous; daunting; drudgery; satisfying; a notch in my belt or shoes...

While I was on pilgrimage in the UK, my brothers and sisters were getting ready for their grueling walk to Chimayo in northern NM. I want to expand my opportunities of pilgrimage, not diminish them or make it isolated to one trek.

So I will chronicle the walk on this blog site, one day at a time...with pics!

Buen camino!