Friday, 2 September 2011

Ely-Walsingham: Day 2


Day 2

This morning began with the luxurious lie-in granted us by Smeaton the Grey - we got up at 0545hrs rather than 0515hrs. And I'm not exaggerating when I call this a luxury. I mentioned in my post for Day I that Bones and I could not be bothered to put up a tent, and that this proved to be fortuitous. I shall now tell you why. As I lay in my cocoon, listening to the irritated sounds of male pilgrims dismantling their tents, a number of ideas presented themselves to my mind:
  1. I don't have a tent to dismantle.
  2. All these guys have tents to dismantle.
  3. The shower is probably free.
Rather than demonstrating some fraternal charity (as I now realise I should have done), I allowed my cocoon to spew me forth, and I hurled myself into the shower. This meant that I was able to begin the day clean - something one expects at home, but unspeakably brilliant when on pilgrimage. Having exhibited my gratuitous selfishness, we proved our modernist credentials by failing to fast from midnight, and got to work on eating breakfast and making coffee. No teapots were available, so I was only able to make a very gritty cuppa. Still, needs must. Some point around now or last night, I discovered that my feet - which had been in a state for at least a year - seemed to be miraculously cured. After packing away, we assembled outside and prepared to set off to Oxburgh Hall for Mass.


We set off singing the Great Litany, the Litany of the Saints, in the language it was intended to be sung in. The sun was rising, the sky was clear(ing, -ish), and so Bones decided to furnish me with the most memorable part of the pilgrimage by sidling up to me, and singing the first four lines of this in my face:

Awful - just awful. Also, copyright won't let it play on this blog.

On our way, I remarked to Bones that as Oxburgh Hall was a National Trust property, we might be able to get a cream tea there. It was quite something to be walking in the early morning, I love the shadows in this picture:


We arrived at Oxburgh Hall. I was wearing shorts, and as I learnt from this guy on Bones' blog, this made me a dud. Also, shorts at Mass are not cool. Luckily I had my dad's waterproof trousers to hand, so I popped them on. We stood around admiring Oxburgh Hall for a while, it was a pretty nice house - but not as big as mine (cough).


Holy Mass, offered again by Fr Rowe, was stunning.

However, something very unpleasant happened during Mass. Just after the Gospel, I put my hands into the pocket of my raincoat, and felt something cold, wet and slimy in the left pocket. I drew my hand out in horror. 'A slug', I thought. I tested it by putting two fingers on it from the outside of the jacket, and to see if it moved. I thought that it did. My skin was crawling. As this was happening, Fr Rowe was preaching. Poignantly, he observed that it was the second day of the pilgrimage, and we were walking without the spring in our step that we had yesterday. He preached on powerfully on the need to know ourselves, to see ourselves as we were before Almighty God. He told us that we should not think about how our feet were sore etc. However, I had a slug in my pocket. Even when Fr Rowe struck threatening poses like the one below, I found it very hard to forget the fact that I HAD A SLUG IN MY POCKET.


"If you don't stop thinking about the slug in your pocket, I shall squeeze your head like this."

Luckily during the Canon and the distribution of Holy Communion I was able to put my unwanted pocket-hitcher out of my mind, though at the end of Mass I turned around and whispered to Bones: "Laurence. I have a slug in my pocket." Bones looked surprised and disgusted. We made our thanksgiving and retreated from the holy chapel (and what a chapel! Set to be January on the LMS calendar again this year?). Outside I turned on my mobile phone, and used the torch to peer inside the crevices of my pocket at the infernal and molluscous nemesis that had been plaguing my recollection throughout Mass.

The 'slug' was actually a Haribo left over from yesterday (I told you I would regret it).

Yesterday, after I had finished the packet, Bones had asked for one. I told him I had finished them. When I told him today what it was, he said "That's mine you know, seeing as you finished them off yesterday". It was covered in pocket grit and was gross, so I told him he was welcome to it, I handed it to him and ran off to climb out of the waterproof trousers. The Bloody Baron of Winslow greeted me and informed me that my walking staff was a bit like a Bishop's crozier, and that I could be a certain Bishop of the SSPX. I thanked him but politely declined the honour. I went in search of cream tea, but found that the cafe wouldn't open until 11am (it was 1030hrs or something). However, Mr and Mrs Beddingfield (the Lord and Lady of the manor?) very kindly invited us all into a private part of the house for tea, instant coffee (thank you, I'll have tea please), ginger cake and biscuits. It was splendid, just the ticket.

Bones looking happy there.

After this we were escorted up to the Oxburgh Priest-Hole. Here is Fr Rowe, where he belongs:


It's quite special really, seeing a priest in a priest-hole. That indelible sacramental character on his soul is the very same that was on his brother priests that once sought refuge there. I'm sure he had a very profound experience being there, one that we laity can only imagine.

Lucy (The Girl Who Wasn't From Liverpool) pinched my stick and hid it around the corner from where I left it, which caused about 20 seconds of panic and could have resulted in a dangerous strop if John, (The Boy Who Wasn't From Liverpool), hadn't shown me where she'd hidden it. Once I had my stick, and Eve's attempt at kidnapping Baby Margaret had been foiled, we were off and back on the road. However, two dark pillars of smoke were rising from Smeaton the Grey's ears: we were about 30 minutes behind schedule. This delay would come back to haunt us down the road...


We plodded along down the road, singing our Rosaries and sweet hymns to the Holy and Immaculate Mother of God and her Divine Son. The sky was intermittently smiling and flobbing at us, and at some point we saw a rainbow. I'm afraid that my memories of this stretch of the journey are sketchy. Smeaton the Grey had decided that, because we had spent longer at Oxburgh, we didn't deserve a morning break. However - he neglected to inform us of that. Trailing along at the back, I eventually caught up with the rest of the Company, where there was a mutinous exchange:
"When are we stopping for lunch?"
"Half an hour," said Smeaton the Grey. The Company erupted.
"Half an hour?!" The younger members of the Company looked very distressed. 
I was also distressed, because along this stretch - whilst discussing Archbishop Peter Smith's 'greatest achievement', Smeaton the Grey informed me that the little patch by the road that we had just passed was where he'd intended us to have our break. He proved himself to be a cruel man when he ordered me to lag behind and to take the wretched Vatican flag, or whatever it was, and to wait for the others to catch up. He very kindly took my staff - an amazing thing, tall, sturdy and light that Bones had found for me (in one of the pictures above) - and on the way he cast it onto the road. Apparently that was for me to pick up if I still wanted it when I reached it. But how on earth would I be able to understand that that was what he was saying when he was shouting it from about a mile ahead?! We entered a forest road, and we trudged and we trudged, and we failed to bear our crosses graciously. "This mustn't happen next year". "No, never again". I understood the words of my nick-namesake:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet.
After 10 miles from Oxburgh Hall, at around 1400hrs or 1500hrs (or perhaps even later), we emerged from the forest road into a small town, and finally took our rest and luncheon. We were seated on a little verge by the bus-stop. Though fuming with anger against that wretched man Smeaton, all was forgiven when I saw, in the middle of the circle of seated pilgrims, like some ancient idol, a crate of Fosters and Carlsberg. This was, as they say, "Just what the doctor ordered".


Over my, frankly incredible, lunch of an all-day-breakfast sandwich and a can of Fosters, I had a pleasant conversation with a friend from my old university and two young homeschooled ladies from Oxford. I hear that one was having a particularly hard time with the walk, but I don't think she got any of the support vehicles at all - respect. Fr Bede blessed my lunch for me (I arrived late) but apparently made a mental reservation such that my beer wasn't blessed. I was distressed to find that I'd bought pickled onion Monster Munch rather than Flamin' Hot, but food is food. If there's one thing I've learnt on the pilgrimage (and quickly forgotten), it's that food is food.

Smeaton and Bones at the ruined priory, preparing to intercede for the Holy Souls.

Waking up the sleeping Nonso, we set off again, this time heading to the site of a pre-Reformation priory where lots of dead religious would be buried. There we sang the Dies Irae and said prayers for their souls, and for the souls of all of the faithful departed. From the Priory we trudged along and I decided to take Smeaton the Grey's advice and go to Confession again. Fr Rowe also agreed, that daily confession on pilgrimage or retreat was a good idea. I'm sold on the idea, I went again on Day 3 and will continue that practice next time I'm on something like this. Fr Rowe's theme throughout was knowledge of self, and in this sort of environment it's very hard not to be confronted with a shocking, and often quite ugly, realisation of who we are and what we can do without grace. Rebuked, exhorted, encouraged and absolved in my sacramental encounter with Our Lord through my ghoostly Father, I picked myself up again and got on with the business of walking.

We found ourselves in some remarkably idyllic little villages, like Little Massingham (or something). Here, the village greens were very green. The inhabitants were twitching their net curtains and a couple were out, peering at us and probably thinking what a set of, as my Irish grandmother would say, 'queerhawks' we all were. Through this stretch, Bones and I got talking to the eldest of the homeschooled ladies mentioned earlier, and we got a fascinating insight into the life of the large, homeschooled traddie families. These days, the pew taken up by a single home-schooled family who arrive in a mini-bus is an iconic sight in certain parts of the Catholic world, and getting the 'inside' look at it helped me understand and appreciate with greater clarity what this was all about. However, our erudite and interesting conversation was interrupted when we saw this sign, and had to get a picture with it:

The Catholic Youth joined us, and the four of us passed a pair of dolled-up couples, evidently on their way out for a fun Saturday night. You noticed odd things when this happens on pilgrimage, like the fact that they were wearing perfume and cologne. These were normal people, living in the normal world. They received post that morning. For a time, for the brief time that we were on pilgrimage, we were in a different world: a twilight world that yet was more real than the one that we had left and to which we must, however painful it would be, return. The four of us trailed along behind the rest of the company o'er moor and fen, and crag and torrent 'til Smeaton the Grey gave us another break. Here he is with the King of the (UK) Traddies.


I think Smeaton is angling for the position as 'heir apparent', especially when considered in light of the similarities with other historical photos:

I took a seat in the mini-bus to let my legs relax, and Fr Rowe furnished me with 2 or 3 energy tablets. After another, harrowing stretch, we emerged singing a droned Orbis Factor to the town of [unknown] where we were camping for the night. We were staying at a town hall: we were all eating inside, and then the lads were camping outside with the girls inside. The Bloody Baron, equality-minded as ever, was unimpressed with this arrangement - but I think he slept in the Tower of Winslow anyway. I took off my boots to be greeted again by the pair of old squid. Eve was disgusted, both by the sight and the smell, and so I was sent to the little boys room to clean them up. Still, my feet weren't as bad as Eldest Homeschooled Girl, who I spotted having to have one of the Company pierce her blisters. I was shamed inspired: if a pair of young girls could keep going without moaning too much, couldn't a big man like me? I needed to man up!

Supper was delicious - some nice ladies had cooked us Shepherd's Pie. Mrs Shaw scored a hat-trick by proving her mulier fortis credentials for a third time, having made ravioli for the vegetarians. Unfortunately, I'm not a vegetarian and hadn't requested it, so I didn't see any of it. 

I wanted a coffee, so I went poking around in the kitchen to see if I could find a teapot for some make-shift realcoffee. To my joy, I found a filter machine! I couldn't believe my eyes. It was in a bit of a state, so I cleaned it up, set it going and made this joyous news known to those I knew would appreciate it. We made a load of fine-tasting coffee and we all felt great for it.

However, 20 miles is quite far, and as the Company was made up mainly of big grown men and hungry hobbits, we were still hungry after supper. Smeaton the Grey hobbled over to the pub opposite and arranged for a vittleor top-up. He announced the news, and so we proceeded to wash up. Fr Rowe announced that, as we had not completed our Rosary that day, that we would set up the hall in such a way that we could pray the last set of mysteries before the Relic of the True Cross that had found its way onto the pilgrimage. Following the mysteries, we had a chance to venerate the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world. I think quite a few tears were shed.


Second supper took the welcome form of fish and chips. Ian, the pub manager, was very gracious. Things rapidly dissolved after this. The more sensible members of the Company departed, leaving only us stupid idiots behind. This turned into a sing-song: Bones got his guitar and performed a whole bunch of songs (including one of his own), and others sang unaccompanied. I performed a rendition of Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'. Here is one of the Company singing:

More and more of the Company fell in battle, eventually leaving only myself, Bones, Smeaton the Grey and Doug. After the final round of nightcaps of Brandy (no Port available) it became clear to all of us that we needed to turn in. We'd been making a lot of noise, and Mrs Ian the Pub Manager was concerned we'd wake her kids up. We retired to our tents, and as I lay dozing off, knowing that the majority of the pilgrimage was complete, I felt a peace and a happiness in my soul that had been blossoming throughout the pilgrimage. It was hard, there was no doubt about that, but walking for Our Lady and her August Son was an honour, a privilege and a blessing. The peace that Our Lord was giving us through walking was not a peace recognised or understood by the world, but rather a peace and unity agreeable to his will.