The eight women who were “guinea pigs” in August 2014 have all offered their thoughts, in the hope that might help others who may be considering joining a future pilgrimage.
Pictured here approaching Dunstanburgh Castle: Kathleen Pearson, Gill Mackenzie, Gail Balfour, Allison Hadwin, Sue Le Page, Katherine Holden and Gillian Womersley.
Gillian Womersley (57):
The theme of our 2014 Swanwick weekend was ‘Why bother..?’ during which we thought about why we bothered with caring for the poor, the outcaste, the environment etc. So ‘why bother with a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne?’ Because it a fantastic experience. It is a challenge to walk the distance whilst also carrying all your material needs on your back (including a hairdryer and straighteners in some cases!). However the plusses are so much more. The scenery is stunning, the sense of achievement is intoxicating, but the pinnacle is the opportunity to share a spiritual journey with a group of like minded women and to have time to worship, reflect and just be still. Priceless!
I am a reasonably fit 57 year old and I found the distances we walked each day and the terrain fairly straightforward. The main difficulty is carrying the weight. My rucksack was a 30 litre size and probably about right. With some initial advice about the correct way to carry our rucksacks, ie ensuring that it sits on your hips and doesn’t pull on your shoulders, I had very little trouble. Please note though that you do not need to carry a hairdryer as these were provided at every place we stayed!
Katherine Holden (55):
I think I would describe myself as a Christian who is struggling with issues of faith and worship. My sister asked me if I fancied going on a pilgrimage!! At first it sounded too “churchy” for me but I said yes. And I am so pleased that I did. I soon got over the concerns of carrying a rucksack with all my stuff in, of walking 10 + miles a day with people I didn’t know, who were probably much more Christian than me!! We met in a Cathedral and departed from a railway station and in between I had the most fantastic experience.
The organisation, from the hotels to the route we walked, was so well thought out. The scenery of those endless wide stretches of sand, blue skies, lapping seas, walked in the shadow of the imposing castles were breathtaking. The company of my other fellow pilgrims was probably the most rewarding part of the holiday. The talks we had, the concerns we shared, the encouragement we gave each other and the thrill of seeing the effect the experience had on each other was a privilege to be part of. The silent walk across to Holy Island following the Pilgrim posts took you back to the basics of faith and belief as you contemplated how many pilgrims over the years had done the same thing. At the end we went our separate ways, back to our everyday lives, but I am sure we would all agree that we had been changed by this shared journey.
I can’t recommend this pilgrimage highly enough. I am so glad that I overcame any concerns about the trip and I thank all my fellow pilgrims for making this an experience I will never forget.
Gill Mackenzie (60):
An amazing experience. We were blessed beyond blessing with the weather and in many, many ways; Seahouses Methodist Church; for the people who looked after us on the way; for each other; for new friendships. The long walks for three days find all the tender places, and those may very well be in your emotions, as well as in your feet…
Lindisfarne: I was surprised that there were so many people! I loved the village, and found some peace and quiet in the various services I attended. Our walk on Friday took rather longer than expected.
Feet: If a prospective pilgrim has any niggles with her feet, she needs to address them well in advance. It is worth spending on footwear, and buying from an outdoor shop which has staff trained to advise. I would also invest in proper walking socks to avoid blisters.
Backpack: Mine weighed about 7 kilos. It doesn’t sound much, but it felt it. I had packed clothing with the intention of discarding it as we progressed, figuratively divesting myself of aspects of myself, so that I knew the carrying would become easier.
Pace: The group will find its own pace which of necessity will suit those who need a slower pace and more rest. I say this because experienced walkers may be surprised.
Accommodation: I am not used to sharing a room with a stranger and found this to be a challenge and was worried about my snoring.
Kathleen Pearson (63):
The invitation to join others on Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne was both thrilling and challenging. It seemed right to take time out to consider the personal journey I have been on over the past three years. For the very first time I found myself being the oldest member of the group. Was this thrilling or challenging? It was both.
I was challenged by the pace that we walked; I was challenged by the heat: I was challenged by weight of my pack on my back for several hours at a time. I was challenged by the way God showed me ways of overcoming difficulties by accepting the help of fellow-Pilgrims.
I was thrilled to finish the distance each day; I was thrilled by the beautiful vista we enjoyed as we walked the Northumbrian coastline; I was thrilled to share in conversation with those I now count as friends: I was thrilled to sense the presence of God from whom I drew strength as I struggled on the journey and at the end of the day to know His peace and His rest in His promise of renewed strength for the next part of the Pilgrimage: I was thrilled to share in worship with the people at Seahouses and the wonderful blessing that we were encouraged to share with one another in the words and actions of the Celtic blessing; May the Road Rise up to Meet You..
I was thrilled to be in Durham Cathedral on the 11 August, the anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone in 1093. I was thrilled to join in Evening Prayers at the Cathedral: I was thrilled to share in Morning Prayers at St Cuthbert’s Centre on Lindisfarne taking time to look at the exhibition there “Illuminating the Shadows; Grief from Within” Ruth Sprague’s personal journey through grief. I was thrilled to share morning and evening prayers with my fellow Pilgrims as we considered the journey of the Saints who travelled and worked around Northumberland and of course our own journey. There was much to thank God for during that week of Pilgrimage.
Like any journey, I experienced tiredness, pain, frustration and pressure to keep up with the others. But I found that as I looked back on each day I had much more to be thankful for. The company of friends, the beautiful scenes that met us around every corner, the food that sustained us, the warm water that eased aching limbs, the ever-loving presence of our Everyday God whose company was evident in our walking and in our resting.
Allison Hadwin (49):
With a sense of elation at leaving behind my normal responsibilities of parenting, household and work, I journeyed to Durham to spend 6 days with a small group of women walking to Lindisfarne. Knowing the leader, I knew that all
I needed to concentrate on was minimalist packing and being in the right place at the right time. In my head I had thought that the accommodation was likely to be quite ‘monastic’ but it was anything but and a modest amount of luxury and a good meal at the end of each day was very reviving. This being the North East coast I had also expected inclement weather, but it was beautiful and so our walks along the various beaches and coastal paths were often breathtaking. Our days began and ended with a short time of reflection and as the days passed this became evermore special moments. The highlight for me was walking by the pilgrim poles over to Lindisfarne with our own thoughts, followed by the tranquillity of the island when the tide sent the day visitors back to the mainland.
I would recommend it to anyone who needs a time of refreshment and can brave sharing a room with an unknown quantity. You need to have moderate fitness, be able to travel light and have comfortable shoes! (Allison, 49, attempts to stay moderately fit, quite a light pack).
Gail Balfour (53):
The opportunity to take part in the Lindisfarne Pilgrimage came my way quite out of the blue. When the suggestion was made to me I jumped at the chance.
Durham Cathedral was wonderful. On meeting some of my fellow pilgrims for the first time, I didn’t feel that we were strangers and this was something which appealed to me, as did discovering that the foundation stone of the cathedral had been laid on 11 August 1093 and here we were starting our pilgrimage on 11 August 2014. All that history which had taken place during those years.
I loved my wee bedroom at the university; I enjoyed everyone’s chat as we walked along getting to know one another more each day; I was aware of the different terrains along the way, pebbles, rocks, sand, grass, dunes, and felt at one point that we were in the jungle as we climbed steps amongst the ferns. I really appreciated the spectacular scenery and was thankful that the weather was kind to us and that the sun seemed to follow us.
I was moved as we shared in worship and communion with the congregation at Seahouses Methodist Church, especially during the blessing when we sang, “May the road rise up to meet you…”
The walk across the sand during low tide to Lindisfarne was very special and humbling as we walked barefoot and when we stopped to sing “Brother, sister, let me serve you”, I was again moved to tears. I thought I would never be able to walk the distance with no support for my very sore feet, however the peacefulness and brightness of the day, and focusing on the moment and what I was actually doing, made all the difference and it was a good feeling to arrive on Lindisfarne on such a beautiful sunny afternoon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the companionship and fellowship of the pilgrims who were by now good friends, the sharing in meals together and our worship times when we shared the discoveries we had made during the day. When I laid down my stone on the worship centre I said that I wanted to stop looking down and start looking up and this is my prayer – after all I looked up once and saw with my own eyes that the world is indeed round! How much more may there be to discover!
I struggled with the pace on occasion and felt that I was always trying to catch up; my backpack I guess could have been lighter and I had sore feet much of the time but was grateful that after a night’s rest they were refreshed and ready to walk again next day. Given the chance though I would do it all again. Gail Balfour, age 53. Reasonably fit – apart from the sore feet!
Sue le Page: (60):
You may wonder if the walking is for you. I’m 60 and I had done some practice walks for up to five miles wearing my pack not fully laden, and physically the actual pilgrimage was fine. I did have a modern pack with a lightweight frame and just 25 litre basic capacity to ensure I did not carry too much. My walking shoes, although waterproof, were not too heavy and socks the right thickness. I think being a ladies only group was an advantage as we had a common pace. I found God in the beauty of the changing landscape, the rhythm of the prayers and walking, and the companionship of my fellow pilgrims. I would encourage others to experience this too if they can.
For many of us, it was the quiet, barefoot crossing of the ancient Pilgrim Path to Holy Island, in lovely sunshine, which was the highlight of the walk.
Jill Baker (leader, 54):
Because I was due to lead the pilot pilgrimage to Lindisfarne, I tried out the route earlier in the year. On that occasion I wore heavy walking boots but found they tired my legs. I was also carrying a little too much weight for comfort, both on my back and round my waist! So for the August adventure I scaled everything down, wore strong (“Hotter”) walking shoes which were perfectly adequate, and reduced the contents of my pack to a total weight of only 14lbs. This I found perfectly manageable. I hadn’t managed to lose any weight myself, but do keep reasonably fit through walking and exercise. The terrain is not challenging and there is plenty of time to cover the distance each day, but a heavy pack impacts on the whole body, not just the shoulders; blisters or sore feet and aching legs will be considerably worse if too much weight is being carried. See my pack list for details!
For me, the week was a tremendous experience. The group were brilliant and remained cheerful despite blisters and burdens. We were lucky with the weather – the North East coast is usually windy and we had our share of that, but very little rain and a great deal of sunshine, especially during our time on Lindisfarne itself. The barefoot crossing via the Pilgrim poles was certainly the highlight for me, but the sense of achievement in finding the way and managing the walk was also great. My preparatory reading about pilgrimage had opened my eyes to the important role of serendipity; whilst careful planning is needed, there must also be space for the unexpected. Our pilgrimage both began and ended with features I had not planned. As we gathered in Durham Cathedral on 11th August, members of the group discovered that the foundation stone of that massive and majestic building was laid exactly 1093 years before, on the same date. It seemed like a good sign! Then, on our final full day, we discovered an exhibition in the URC St. Cuthbert’s Centre on the island called “Illuminating Grief”. It was a beautiful, honest, powerful installation of textile art and poetry by Ruth Sprague, a Methodist woman from Birmingham who, since her husband’s death, has explored and expressed her journey of grief in these two media. For me, still grieving the death of my son, Peter, in 2012, it was a most helpful and timely encounter.
I am looking forward immensely to leading groups again in March and August 2015 – do consider who you might encourage to come along. We are open to any women in sympathy with Christian spirituality; it is not necessary to belong to a church or women’s group, only to be keen to journey together in this way.
Pack list – Jill, August 2014
- Footwear: “Hotter” walking shoes which I wore to walk and carried strong “Hotter” sandals (I’m not on commission!) In August we crossed barefoot, which was very special. The mud was deep in March and any trainers or footwear would have been very muddy afterwards, so some sort of lightweight second pair of shoes is essential. We will have to make the final decision about the crossing at the time, so I can only advise being prepared for anything!
- 1 pair warm leggings
- 1 pair thinner, ¾ length leggings
- Walking skirt (available from Cotswold and other manufacturers of walking clothing)
- Indian cotton skirt which rolled up without creasing and was useful in the evenings
- 1 polo shirt – mainly for evenings & journeys there and back, although I did walk in it one day
- 2 walking T-shirts in breathable fabric (1 was never worn, but might have been needed if we had had wetter weather)
- 1 short sleeved walking shirt in breathable fabric – a useful extra layer for in between temperatures
- 1 fleece
- 1 cagoule – not particularly heavyweight
- 1 cotton nightie
- Minimal underwear – it can always be washed out in the evenings!
- Minimal toiletries (small, holiday toiletries can be bought from Boots, but all accommodation provides soap, some also provide shampoo & shower gel, so only tiny quantities are needed)
- First Aid kit including plasters, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, painkillers, a bandage, sterile wipes and small scissors.
- Notebook (v small) & pen plus the maps & papers I needed as walk leader
- One slim novel, which I didn’t read until the journey home!
- “Proper” walking clothes from various manufacturers, although more expensive, do have the advantage of being lightweight and of drying easily if we have rain, or if things have to be washed in the evenings.
- Several hotels had bibles in the rooms; passages which were needed for our devotions were printed out, so a bible is not essential (some, of course, carried Kindles which included a bible).
- Most, if not quite all, accommodation provides hairdryers, and with NE winds being a feature, I would strongly advise against carrying either hairdryers or curling tongs. A headscarf is lighter!
- In March I would also take full body thermal base layers, waterproof trousers, scarf, gloves and warm hat; replace the short sleeved shirt and one short sleeved T-shirt with a thin polo necked jumper and a long sleeved walking shirt and probably dispense with the walking skirt in favour of another pair of warm leggings!