Archives for posts with tag: Walk

Once more my trusty green rucksack was packed, new walking boots at the bottom. Once more I am a not so lightly packed pilgrim as I aspire to be. Once more the nerves and excitement rise at the beginning of a new adventure.


A couple of months ago now, in October 2016 I set off on another exploration of pilgrimage. The travel was with the Abbey of the Arts ( – an organised retreat to the Sacred Edge of Ireland, setting out to be Monks in the World.

Once more, I determined to travel on public transport, which meant train from Banbury, changing at Birmingham New Street, and Crewe, to Holyhead where the ferry took me across to Dublin.


I spent the night in Dublin before catching a train across Ireland to the west coast, to Galway.

“Aren’t you brave – travelling on your own?” said two women I chatted with on Banbury station as we listened to a notice about a delayed train. I didn’t feel especially brave. I was quite excited and looking forward to some time away. I was also nervous and hoping that travel connections would work and that I could pick up the tickets I needed for the remainder of my trip. Plus so many other unknowns – what would this retreat be like? What would the other people be like?

In Galway, at the Adare Guesthouse the pilgrims gathered, already experiencing the  generous welcome and care from the owners Grainne and Patrick. Next we met the hosts of the retreat, Christine and John, who would be our guides. In their gorgeous living room, overlooking Galway Bay and adorned with picture of dancing Celtic saints, we began the pilgrimage. What had brought us here, at this time in our lives? For many of us there was some sort of threshold that we were about to cross, or had crossed – loss, healing, retirement. I hoped to be inspired by the adventurous Celtic saints into being my own form of adventurer. I hoped to do some more remembering of who I was. This was a good season to do that remembering, the Celtic season of Samhain, including the feast of All Saints and All Souls, was beckoning. This was the time to remember our ancestors and witnesses around us, in community with us. We learnt a song that would be one of the refrains we would return to:‘The peace of the rolling waves to you, the peace of the shining stars. The peace of the blowing air to you, the peace of the quiet earth …’ Song, movement, poetry, ritual, story would continue to accompany us along the way.

Over the next week or so, we explored monastic themes, as we visited sacred sites in and around Galway: hospitality, community, kinship with nature, silence and solitude, sabbath, work and service, conversion. What riches we received! I’m just going to give a little flavour in this blog account.


Making a Brigit’s cross.

Welcome and Hospitality – This theme infused all our time together. Our hosts, our guides, the Irish people we met – we often heard, ‘You’re welcome’. It was a genuine expression – no empty words. We were so well fed! In soul and body we were so well fed. Our meals were all amazing. From the many breakfast options in the guesthouse, to meals out in one of the hundreds of eateries in Galway, to the amazing goats cheese salad lunch on the isle of Inis Mor – nothing disappointed. It was all delicious.

Belonging and Companions – I found myself the only ‘Brit’ among a group of Americans and one Canadian. How would this work out, I wondered?! Well, there were some separations of language and we explored different meanings of words that we shared and yet had very different interpretations! And then living, eating, walking, talking, being playful pilgrims together did its work of creating us into people with common hopes, longings, hurts and dreams. One lunch time I bought a book from one of our guides. ‘Ah’ he said, ‘you’re the Brit!’ Yes, I said, a little embarrassed. Around me there was laughter – the warm laughter of friends, of acceptance. I had feared that I, or the others, would be too different, and my fears had proved unfounded. I was part of the group. We were a group of fellow pilgrims, of ‘monklings’.


On Inis Mor.

Passion – All around us were people with passion. John and Christine had followed their hearts to find a home and whole-hearted work in Galway, the wild west edge of Ireland. They had moved from Seattle, to Vienna and then to Galway. They were passionate about the importance of contemplative practice, creativity and imagination, to human flourishing. They were skilled in sharing, teaching, encouraging, communicating their passion and inviting us to (re-)discover our own passions. Playful practices helped us to go deeper. Orla and Niceol led us in storytelling games, and reminded us we all have a story to tell and we can tell it. We think we have no connection, that we are alone or too different to others, and we do have connection to others. They dared us to say yes to play, to failure, to being human! Our guides on our days out and about, at Brigit’s garden, in the wild Burren, on the Arran Islands, were all people of passion. Jenny at Brigit’s garden had a vision of creating a natural environment that reflected the themes of Celtic seasons and the gifts of the Celtic saint Brigit. Tony, our walking guide on the Burren, had left his work as a ‘petty bureaucrat in Dublin’ to follow his passion for the land, for connecting history, politics, faith, story, geology, flora and fauna. Dara on the Arran Islands, told us of his journey to minister in a different way, leaving behind the dogmatism and universalism of the Catholic priesthood, to become a priest in the Celtic tradition, more intimately connected and rooted in one place, in these islands, and offering ritual to mark key moments in the lives of islanders. The musicians we heard in Galway, and at our final gathering. Our kind and friendly driver Cormac, who was also very much part of the group. They all reminded us that there can be another faithful way to live whole-heartedly in this world.

My work is loving the world .. Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…

Mary Oliver, The Messenger


Joyful, live music in a packed pub in Galway.

Gift – There was so much gift, so much to receive and be thankful for. Each day brought beauty, generosity, heart-opening times. Each day I thought had been the best, and the next day there was more. And the more did not diminish what had gone before. Truly all was gift. At the end of the retreat, we gathered in the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey. We gave each other a piece of apple, dipped in honey, saying to one another: ‘May you savour the sweetness of your life.’ Later, we were invited to write a poem of instruction – some words to take away and come back to as we continued to seek the way of the pilgrim, the way of being a monkling in the world.

There is always more

to receive as gift.

Walk. Sing. Savour. Take my hand.




18th July 2012

A rose-tinted nostalgia is already setting in as I remember the walk I did on just a few days ago. Though really it was on the whole surprisingly better than I feared it might be.


The day began at some unearthly hour for a Saturday, and I tried to pack far too much into a slim body bag. Porridge was eaten mostly standing up and walking around as I gathered my few bits and pieces, then put on my fluorescent jacket, picked up my waterproofs and stepped out the door at 7am. To my delight there were a few people from St John’s congregation to see me set out. After a few photos, clutching my map and copious directions, I was off. Not too fast, I was thinking, a steady pace, time to warm up the muscles and find a sustainable pace.

I had divided the walk into five sections, plus the home straight back to St John’s. The first section was the longest, so I thought, once I’ve done this, the other sections are all ‘manageable’ – about 4 miles each. Weather was cloudy and coolish – good conditions for walking. Along the way we had positioned about 10 or so publicity points at parishioners’ houses and the 3 church buildings. “Hilary’s Hike passing here soon” said the posters, accompanied by balloons and sponsor forms. It was really heartening to come across these markers. Sometimes the householders came out to see how I was doing. I waved through the windows at a few bemused parishioners having their breakfast, as I passed by their houses. A few friendly cars and their passengers peeped me a greeting.



Every now and again, churchwarden Margaret would pop up with her camera to snatch a quick photo, and make sure I was OK. Sections one and two done, I began the walk through one of the more recent housing developments in the parish. I was making quite good time, even after I got a little bit lost and retraced my steps a few times, trying to find a connecting alley way. I discovered a whole range of alleys and pathways between roads that I never knew were there. It was beginning to rain a bit more heavily by lunchtime. I called on husband David and he brought me lunch, and I happily munched away as I continued to walk – it was rather too soggy to stop, plus I was concerned that if I stopped for too long, I would find it very difficult to start again! Though I did have brief pauses in between sections – and took my boots and socks off a couple of times, as advised!


The rain didn’t last for too long, and I was glad that the section across the fields to Hampton Poyle wasn’t impassable – a bit muddy, but OK.


Then back to the final section, through North Kidlington. The skies cleared, the sun came out, and I wasn’t in the best state of mind and body to fully appreciate it – I’d slowed down quite a bit and my legs were struggling. David came to supply emergency cereal bar rations, and lighten my load by taking my waterproof coat. Finally, I only had the home straight to walk – about one and quarter miles down the Banbury/Oxford Road.

It was so lovely to turn the final corner and wonderful to see a welcoming party in the church car park. I had done it! 25 miles in 9 hours 40 minutes. Gifts of soothing and energising bath bubbles were very gratefully received, and I staggered home to bathe my feet. Which were in pretty good condition – no blisters!


Even better news came a day or so later, as it became clear that the walk will raise over £1000 for St John’s Renovation Project.

So what now? Well, I’m still enjoying the more relaxing aftermath of not preparing for Hilary’s Hike, of not feeling I need to spend most of my days walking, of not worrying about whether I will make it or not. It’s a good feeling – and better for gratefully being aware of the many different people who were part of the effort, who had helped me in a variety of ways, including keeping me in their thoughts, and for knowing that ‘just’ putting one foot in front of another will hopefully make a difference to a good cause.



13th July 2012


I’ve had a fair bit of advice about the walk I’m proposing – sorry, Freudian slip – that I am doing tomorrow!

When I bought some boots a few months back I was told to take off my boots and socks every 5 miles of the walk to avoid blisters. Not sure how the population of Kidlington will take to that.

Last week the manager of the local Chinese take-away (who was regaling us about the numerous long distance runs he has done) advised me to fill up on carbohydrates the day before. He suggested having plain boiled rice. I’ve opted for pasta instead and some porridge tomorrow for breakfast.

So what advice can I actually take on board before the day dawns and I have to do it? One of the hardest challenges for me is to try and travel light. Already my list of ‘essentials’ to take along is quite a long one: drink, cereal bars, Kendal mint cake, lip balm, phone, sunglasses, map and directions… Some lovely folk are happy for me to knock on their doors for ‘pit-stops’, my other half will bring lunch to me when I need it, and here’s hoping I make it and even enjoy some of it – and don’t get too soggy! Maybe there will be some more amazing skies.


And here’s to St John’s Hall Church Kidlington, which is what it’s all about – not a pretty building maybe, but a building for the community, and with a very special, committed church community keen to see it continue to be used to its full potential.