The long way
What makes a pilgrimage? Dixe Wills goes on an unusual one – to his sister’s house
It was a single sentence, spoken in a small and somewhat obscure pub in south Essex, that made me realise that this was going to be a memorable pilgrimage. The selflessness of the offer it conveyed, and the unhesitating way in which it was delivered, gave the moment a sense of unreality. It was as if, by crossing the pub’s threshold, I had left my real life behind and had entered some sort of dream world, or perhaps one of the lesser-known Richard Curtis films. But just then, it was exactly what this pilgrim needed: the dragon of impending disaster slain in a dozen words by an elderly man in a cardigan.
I confess I had had one or two doubts about my pilgrimage up until then, despite the fact that the idea behind it had been maturing in my mind for several years. Nearly a decade ago, my sister and her husband moved to a hamlet in Suffolk, and on one of my early visits I took it into my head that some day, rather than taking the train, I would walk there. I live about 120 miles away as the crow flies, or about 140 as the human ambles, which on reflection seemed quite a long way, so I determined that I would undertake the hike as if it were a pilgrimage.
But then it occurred to me that it could actually be a pilgrimage. After all, is there really a hard and fast rule that says every such journey must end in Canterbury, Lourdes, Santiago de Compostela or similar? If the true pilgrimage has to do with the journey itself and the intention of the individual taking it, then what was stopping me from building one into my everyday life? It would take a lot less planning than a more orthodox pilgrimage further afield, and, in these days of rampant climate change, I reasoned that the parochial pilgrim’s foot would land more lightly on the earth to boot. So it was that on a Monday afternoon, with my camping gear stowed in my rucksack, I set off from my bijou flat in east London, poised for five days of quiet reflection. …
This is an extract from an article that was published in the September 2017 edition of Reform