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Women's pilgrimage - London to Canterbury, Days 2-4

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Date: 
Mon, 25/03/2013

Day 2. TOUGH! We were joined in the morning at the Mary Rose Inn, St Mary Cray by some local Sevenoaks & Tonbridge lasses. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be but a little lost time due to unclear paths/maps meant we were late getting off. However there was a glorious moment when we entered our first proper field and could celebrate the fact we had 'walked out of London'. My inexperience in plotting maps was hugely assisted by Ali Pretty 's more experienced eye and map reading skills - by her own admission she 'likes a job' and she has really helped by setting a pace. It was a bit of a mixed groups, at one end people in need of pace to press on, at the other people wanting more time to enjoy the wandering. And in our midst a woman suffering from badly blistered feet. The terrain was muddy, nerves frayed as the destination seemed so far off all day. Its so hard to know your limits, especially if you are not experienced. How far you can walk, what will happen along the way to impede progress and how you'll get on with fellow travellers? Just as in the Canterbury Tales there was a little tension and the mood got gloomy from lack of an adequate breakfast (long story for another time). We pushed on and got to Tonbridge for 8pm - having walked over 20 miles. Some night road walking to just get to the end of the day was required. My lurgy is still with me and as the night air caught my throat the coughing got a lot worse. I had to admit defeat four miles from our sleep stop as the spasms were just too overwhelming. Body aching I can deal with and a feeling that 'I can't go' on is normal - but ill, that's something worse.   The others all made it except our dear friend Maria whose feet were so blistered she had to go home after lunch. I'm concerned she felt failure when she did so well to get so far in so much pain - every step agony for about 8 miles. Everyone came to our house for food, the kids so excited to greet weary travellers and Emma Henry (dubbed the armchair pilgrim) came in to offer local support with a fabulous cake. I will go back and walk those lost four miles next week. Thanks to Mike Roberts for amazing cooking and hosting. To sleep now so I will be ready and able for tomorrow's challenges. I will, I can, I must... Sweet dreams walkers

 Day 3. Words cannot decribe the shock of death, (not to any of the walkers), but a friend-family member. That meant I was recalled at 2miles this morning in the snow. The others soldiered on, new energy supplied from the London branch of the Long Distance Walkers Association. Fine capable women! They walked 17miles together and only Ali managed the last 8 miles, in the dark. I was fielding calls and spilling over with tears, looking after our kids and generally unable to comprehend - what the fuck?... it stops us in our tracks. 

So no stories from today. There are four of us who started at Big Ben on Thursday who will be there at the end in Canterbury tomorrow. We may not have all walked the whole way but we have been on an immense journey. More tomorrow when I can stop for breath and tell you...

Day 3 (continued). Everyone except Ali Pretty stopped at Sutton Valance (where I had considered making the sleep stop - should have perhaps..). By all accounts it had been a hard day's slog, mud everywhere with the added pressure of trying to place each foot and not slip over. There was a lovely story about maps - essential to the walking process. I was carrying them at the start of the day and given them to Ali when I was called away. During the course of the journey, one of the day walkers (Claire) had taken the maps and when they parted company she realised, while waiting at a bus stop, she still had them in her backpack. Ali was a couple of miles ahead and couldn't face going back so called Cathi Baker - still in the pub, to go and collect them from the bus stop. Claire had to leave the maps on the seat because she had to get on the bus. Thankfully no-one stole them, they were there waiting. 

Some family and partners joined the walkers resting up at The Dog & Bear, Lenham where I rejoined the group. Late into the night talk inevitably turned to death because my news had shocked through the group during the day, even though most didn't know Graeme. Kristin & I both were young when we experienced the loss of a parent, so entered the sea of loss at a young age. Others told their stories of loss, including another suicide. We also talked about how to make the most from the short life we have. The Dog & Bear was a lovely stop, a bit of luxury towards the end of the journey that was most welcome.

Day 4. The last push to Canterbury. Snow lightly covered the ground this morning as six of us left the B&B. It was bitterly cold. The wind chill felt about -3 and we braced it with determination. My overall planning was not as detailed as it should have been, due to illness and inexperience. I have learnt so much. This meant each days mileage had not been accurately plotted, I had factored in more road walking (to shorten the distances) than was desirable and we still had a destination to reach each day. Initially I had considered the walk taking 5 days but was worried no-one would be able to take that time from their lives. We are plagued by busyness. Full of optimism I hoped to 'make it up' each day - ground as well as plans. From Lenham, through the chill Ali told me a story that she wants to make into a film, a wonderful tale of women's adventure over generations. I hope she will. At Charing, 3 miles from Lenham, we could have continued on the North Downs Way - a circuitous route 20miles to Canturbury OR walk up the A252 to Chilham and cut about 8 miles off the journey. Family and Friends were joining us at Chartham at 3pm for the last stretch. With a sense of responsibility to meet them on time and need to lighten the day's load - five of us took the rather unattractive road walk and caught a lift for 4 miles. It felt like cheating but we'd lost all feeling in our toes and phone batteries due to the cold. (Thanks to Michael Wilcox for the lift, it was hugely appreciated). The indomitable Ali Pretty set off alone, determined to walk every step on the North Downs Way. Respect. From Chilham we walked past fisheries, swans feeding in rape fields and found our way to Chartham and the Articoke Inn in time for food before the last 3.5mile trek. It was wonderful to have Cathi Baker's kids join her and Joanna Mcloughlin rejoined us with her family - having started the journey at Westminister on Thursday. Funny how elastic time can be, that seemed a lifetime ago. The last few miles along the stour valley walk went easily enough. The wind blew freezing in our faces and we were delighted to finally reach the west gate and enter the city of Canterbury. Five of us that started, ended the walk. Kristin Fredricksson & Cathi Baker did almost all, I missed a day and star Ali Pretty walked every step. She arrived at the pub an hour later. Superwoman! 

 

 

It was a hard road these four days, conditions were challenging and we all leant much about ourselves and each other. I am so greatful to my fellow travellers for sharing the journey and 'making it up' together, great strength through a difficult set of circumstances and such wonderful women. THanks to the day trippers including Liz Butler, Louise Newton-Clare, Lucy Red Shoes, Emma Wilcox. It was also encouraging to have a couple of blokes walk with us for the last day where divisions of labour and childcare came into the talks. We gals can't (and don't want to) make needed changes alone. A more balanced future is something men and women must construct together.

I think I want to slow my next walk and focus more on interaction. For me that's the pleasure, bringing people together from all walks of life and not setting such an ambitious pace, allowing more time for the view and the stories. There is some idea to take walking to Edinburgh during the Fringe so I can practice more. Thanks too to all for the support offered via fb, text and email. There has been a lot of love, something we all need in abundance. As for poor Graeme, who took his own life on Saturday morning, I hope he rests in peace. We women walked towards something better and even in grief, I am full of hope.