A highlight of this month’s Canterbury Pilgrims Festival was hearing author and walker Cecilia Baker speak about how she became a pilgrim.
She told of arriving at Canterbury Welcome Centre having walked without any guidebook or even leaflet along the rough route of the Pilgrims’ Way.
“Are you a pilgrim?” asked the person on duty.
“Well, yes, I suppose I am,” replied Cecilia after a pause.
Since that life changing moment Cecilia has walked many more routes as she recounts in Walking with the Saints: Footsteps on ancient paths.
After hearing her considered and original answers to questions during the Pilgrims Festival workshop it was time to read the book.
Her description of walking the Pilgrims Way before the guidebook was available is especially interesting and even inspiring.
The St Swithun’s Way and North Downs were Cecilia’s guideline to follow the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury.
Her description of familiar places, how an early stretch was overgrown (not now), the beach experience near Guildford, flooded stepping stones, a deserted station, bad weather and relief at arriving at key stages will resonate with readers familiar with the way.
The book also includes following St Augustine in Kent and St Hilda in Yorkshire. A good starter pilgrimage is the very short but so rich in faith and heritage Walsingham pilgrim path involving an old railway line.
The final chapter takes us back to the Pilgrims’ Way to recognise that Southwark next to London Bridge to Otford via the delightful Darenth Valley is also the ancient road to Canterbury.
Cecilia is a trustee of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome.