Sunday, 25 March 2012

"Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim" will be, by its very nature, spiritual, but in a considered manner, not to alienate the secular. It would be difficult to embark on such a solitary expedition without a degree of introspection even if only through experience endured along the way. This will be a blog full of charm, humour and sentiment that will lead you from the heart of London across France, over the Alps and down the spine of Italy to St Peter's in Rome – allowing you to be part of the tremendous highs and the terrible lows that are bound to occur; there will, in the process, be an inevitable degree of personal wrangling and baring of the soul, I am confident.

Sleeping rough, staying in homes, hotels, monasteries, chateaux and palazzi, I intend to walk the entire way, but should I not, should the boredom and fatigue become so defeating that I opt for faster, modern, means, I want you to be with me as I go through the heartache, the pain and ultimately the relief of that decision.

Quite how the blog will end, I cannot forecast - I can only hint, from my research, at what may lie ahead. I have no idea the effect the Via may, or may not, have on me. I am not, however, planning or envisaging a Damascine experience but I do want you to share in the adventures that I feel sure lie ahead.

And then there is the nature of the journey, for this is no ordinary endeavour, this is a pilgrimage; a momentous event in life, a powerful all-pervading beast of travel, the familiar being exchanged for the unfamiliar; almost monastic in execution. The preparation and nature of which, I am fast learning, is just the same now as it was in the Middle Ages or earlier and no less hazardous – my life paring down to a time liberated and materially limited existence as I rid myself of flat, job, dog and personal possessions enabling me to embark as unencumbered by the trappings of the everyday as possible, free to wander, free to wonder and free to muse, for, as Coelho wrote in The Pilgrimage, “It is the road that teaches us … and the road that enriches us”.

"Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim"

The Via Francigena, or the Frankish Way, is the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to St Peter’s. "Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim" will be my account of the 1300 mile journey; setting off from St Paul’s Cathedral early in the morning on 7th May. I should arrive in Rome by early to mid-August, approximately 100 days later.

"Good to go..."

My dentist, the tooth fairy, looked at me askance and in his direct manner pronounced that my teeth were “good for a man of your age” and as long as I remembered to floss the ones I wanted to keep, unlike his Mark, the receding gums should be just fine. He then produced a bill which was large enough to secure him the best table at Le Caprice and guaranteeing him the finest wines to boot, before opening the surgery door and with a tinkle of a bell shooing me out into Covent Garden.

My doctor, Graeme, on the other hand, was more matter of fact; after much prodding, poking of quite a personal nature, some feeling up and down, a couple of gag inducing “ahhs” with an ice cream stick and those statutory tappings across my back he declared a prognosis, in his soft Australian accent, like a less than impressed veterinarian asked to pronounce on an ageing race horse: bunion left foot (from my mother), bunion right foot (from my father), varicose vein left leg (Trooping the Colour), varicose vein right leg (State Opening of Parliament), scarring right thigh, buttock and inner groin (unfortunate “incident” involving the spikes of a church fence late of a night and a lot of rain, Northern Ireland), eyesight 20/20, hearing right ear good, hearing left ear – not so good (Serb shells, any shells for that matter, are loud), blood pressure of a marathon runner, weight 81 kilos (surprising given a weakness for lunching) and the hair loss, well, what did I expect at 46? I stared back at him, did he have highlights in his cruel and unruly mop of strawberry blonde thatch? “Good to go young man!” and with a patronizing but not unfriendly pat on the shoulder indicated the rather personal interview was over. I was fit and off to Rome … on foot.