Preparations for Walking The Pilgrims’ Way
With just over a week to go before I begin my walk of the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral I thought it would be worthwhile recording how my preparations are going:
How fit do I need to be to walk The Pilgrims’ Way?
I am walking the Pilgrims’ Way at a fairly leisurely pace – an average of 10 – 15 miles per day. I know that I can comfortably walk 15 miles now; the challenge will come from walking a long distance day after day for two weeks. I carried a basic level of fitness over the winter and as soon as the Spring came I began just generally increasing my walking in every day life. For the past few months I have made sure that I have undertaken a “long” walk (12 miles or so such as the Hitchin HOOP ) more or less once a week. This was the same training regime I used when I walked the Ridgeway last year. This year I also began running a little and have worked up to running 5 k about twice a week, with an occasional 7 – 8 k run. I have managed to run 5 k in just over 30 minutes. I understand that walking and running use different muscles, but hopefully the running will have improved my general cardio fitness and stamina. All my holidays and day trips this year have also involved “walking” in some form or other. I am probably at the fittest I have ever been in my life (at the age of 57!) but by no means am I “super fit” – actually I am probably at about the fitness level that I should always be automatically aiming for in every day living. I love my life and am so blessed I have a great desire to keep my body working as well as it can for as long as it can.
Also important to me has been my practice of Pilates. I attend Pilates sessions with the excellent Pilates First at their Flitwick base. My overall flexibility has improved and with (almost!) daily practice I have found that I no longer suffer from lower back pain. My instructor also gave me some specific foot exercises to do which I will be religiously practising every day during my walk together with my daily stretching. The Pilates practice has been an important part of my overall regime and the classes are something which I love.
Maps and Books
My research has included the whole philosophy and experience of walking, mentally, physically and spiritually; the purpose of pilgrimage; the history of The Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury; the particular route to follow; the experiences of others who have walked this route; interesting places I will be passing along the way; and the concept of gratitude……………………….. so I have done a lot of reading! And I still have plenty to do in the next week or so and also while I am away.
The most useful book for me in relation to the history of the Pilgrims’ Way and its route has been “The Pilgrims’ Way by ” Derek Bright. This is a comprehensive modern guide exploring the facts and fiction of this fascinating routeway. I feel that I “should” have read both Belloc’s “The Old Road” (Archibald Constable & Co, 1904) and Cartwright’s “The Pilgrims Way” (John Murray, 1911) – but I haven’t! These are the classic Victorian texts popularising the Pilgrims’ route. I have relied on Derek Bright’s drawing on these works and much other academic literature to familiarise myself with the history.
“The lovely T” bought me “Sacred Places, Pilgrim Paths” for Christmas – an beautiful anthology of various writings reflecting the experience of pilgrims throughout the ages. This uses extracts from the Bible, medieval literature, poetry, prose and modern pilgrims to explore the history and concept of pilgrimage. I also purchased “The Road to Canterbury” by Shirley Du Boulay. This is a “modern” pilgrimage (1994), by a lady walking with a few companions and relates her experiences and emotions along the route. It is probably the book closest to the type of pilgrimage which I am undertaking.
The winner of “The English Pen Award” a few years ago was “A Philosophy of Walking” by Frederic Gros. This excellent book discusses spiritual and philosophical aspects of just putting one foot in front of the other in a profound yet easily readable form. In the same way I also love “Wanderlust” by Rebecca Solnit. I read “The Green Road into the Trees” (Thomson) and re-read my well-thumbed copy of “A walk Around the Lakes” (Hunter Davies) to see how other writers document their experiences. I constantly dip into Robert MacFarlane’s “The Wild Places“, not because he specifically mentions the area of the Pilgrims’ Way but just because I love his writing about the simplicity of connecting with the wilderness.
In respect of “gratitude” I have much spiritual literature which inspires me and in particular love “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” by the American writer Sarah Ban Breathnach.
I will be using OS new AZ 1:25000 map to cover the Farnham to Canterbury sections of the Pilgrims’ Way and will also have alongside these the North Downs Way Guidebook. In respect of the first part of the walk (St Swithuns’ Way from Winchester to Farnham) I will be using the appropriate four OS Explorer Maps. I trust that these will be sufficient to find my way – but will report back when I do my daily updates on the walk.
Accommodation and Practical arrangements
I have pre-booked all my accommodation in B and Bs and hotels through a package provided by Walk Awhile. Although I usually self book any long distance trails I do, in view of the length of this one and the difficulty I had getting individual b and bs to take my bookings in advance I used a package. I have been very impressed by the efficiency of the agent. I have also treated myself and booked the luggage transfer option. Again, when walking the Ridgeway, I carried all my own luggage, so luggage transfer is a luxury for me. I am, however, aiming to travel extremely lightly because I feel that this is in sympathy with the whole concept of pilgrimage and I will post again about what I am taking in due course. Because of the cost of eating out and again in accordance with the tradition of pilgrimage I aim to eat out as little as possible. The route passes through villages and towns and I am hoping to pick up fruit, cheese, bread and milk along the way so far as I can.
I am raising money for Leighton Buzzard Mencap’s Summer Camp and had a wonderful time visiting them last month which I have written about here. People have been very generous in donating via my Just Giving Page (details here) and via sponsorship pledges and I am sure that this generosity will continue as I undertake my pilgrimage of gratitude.
Spiritually preparing to Walk a Pilgrimage
My pilgrimage is a pilgrimage of gratitude of which I have written on this post. My further post will discuss how I have been preparing in this respect.
For a full index of my posts on Walking the Pilgrims’ Way please click here.
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