Saturday, 27 June 2009

One year ago - Gareth Thomas

Last year pilgrim Gareth Thomas walked from Worcester Cathedral to Santiago. He retraced his steps from earlier in his life. This is his reflection.

A year ago I was making my plans for the longest journey I have ever made: a pilgrimage from Worcester to Compostela on foot. When I finally set out in May, I remember feeling oddly afraid at the magnitude of the task ahead: to put one foot in front of the other continuously for three months. Now that the pilgrimage is successfully completed, I look back on a very satisfying once-in-a-lifetime event and see that the fears were realistic. It was very hard at times, and tempting to give up at some points; but I am so glad I kept going to the destination and I look back at the 1200-mile walk as a defining event in my life.
My long association with the Camino began in the 1960s at the age of fourteen, wearing the blue-shirt and red beret of a certain Spanish youth organisation. Our moustachioed and uniformed leader, a retired Civil War army officer and school history teacher, Capitan Nuñez, marched us down the Camino during our summer camp. He was the Spanish equivalent of Dad’s Army Captain Mainwaring. It was he who taught us how to load and fire the antique Martini rifles on Saturday morning drill sessions on a remote beach, for he was convinced we could repel the communist invasion he seemed to expect at any moment. We were pleased he put his trust in us, though we had no idea of the particular advantage of his strategy or indeed any interest whatsoever in politics.
Marching to Compostela for the glory of the Patria and its national patron saint was the curious way in which I first walked on what we now call the Camino Francés, but in those days they didn’t call it that. It was simply a dusty route-march for uniformed youth that the old Spanish officer class and clerical old guard saw as the guarantee of Spain’s future. There was no welcoming hospitalero or menu peregrino for us: we camped out on the hillside or slept on the bare floors of parish halls. A bottle of Coca Cola cost five pesetas. We bought bubble gum and collected the cronos: picture cards of the aircraft of the Spanish Civil War, but the Fiat CR32 biplane always eluded us and we concluded that the card didn’t exist. It was just a ploy to make us buy more bubble gum.
The main things I remember about the route are the overwhelming smell of primitive toilet arrangements and the unsightly piles of refuse that you found in every village in those days. And there was one other thing: the sadness and the poverty: the ever-present amputees, and the general brokenness of most people you met in that land.
Not long after, I returned to England with my family and it was twenty years later before I explored the Camino again. In the 1980s, as an Anglican Franciscan friar, I hitch-hiked in habit from England and walked part of the Camino over a two-week period. It had then begun to gain some popularity: there was a new awareness of the Camino and the priests I stayed with on my journey were convinced the pilgrimage would be reborn. They were right, but it was not quite the future they imagined, for the Camino took on its own life independently of them.
I remember standing in the rain looking down from Monte Gozo – which in those days was an empty hill – in my soaking wet Franciscan habit, and wondered what emotion a medieval pilgrim might have felt, arriving at that point after walking from England. I suppose it was then that the idea was born to walk all the way from England, but the practical expression lay dormant for another twenty years. I built up to it gradually. I arrived in Compostela by bike from Canterbury; then from St Jean-Pied-de-Port on foot; I walked in the winter snows from O Cebreiro. And then I finally did it: I walked from Worcester to Compostela, and I still have sore toes.
The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, in a book about marathon running quotes this runners’ mantra: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” He explains, “The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not he can stand any more is up to the runner himself.” (H. Murakami: What I think About When I think About Running.) There is truth in this. When you first begin a long physical journey, travelling under your own steam, just as with starting at a gym or going for a keep-fit run around the block, it will hurt; and that is unavoidable. The Jesuit priest Gerard Hughes wrote a book about his one thousand mile walk to Rome (G. Hughes: In Search of a Way), and he explains how he had worked out a 100-degree pain scale on an earlier walk. When he was only a short distance along the road on the day he set off, he felt a pain in the knee which “only merited 20 degrees, so I attributed the pain to psychosomatic anticipation and limped on.” In his account, the physical hardships of the road gradually diminish as he becomes accustomed to the walk, but he soon learns that undertaking a long-distance walk requires psychological strategies too.
Hughes explains how he disliked using the rosary as a child and “used to try to speed up the prayers to have them over and done with” He never overcame that boredom and eventually abandoned the rosary; but while walking to Rome he rediscovered it: “It is a rhythmic prayer and I could vary the rhythm, sometimes a few steps to one syllable. I could pray almost effortlessly for an hour in this way.”
In the anonymous Russian Orthodox classic, The Way of a Pilgrim (trs. R.M.French), the pilgrim – a seeker of true prayer - travels hundreds of miles on foot. His object is not to arrive anywhere in particular, but to learn how to “pray constantly”. I have found that the Jesus prayer is very well suited to praying the road. Breathing in, while stepping forward a few paces, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…”; and then exhaling on the next steps, “…have mercy on me a sinner.” Hundreds of repeated prayers become thousands, and eventually the rhythm becomes the prayer.
It was certainly a hard journey, walking to Compostela, particularly in the day after day of unrelenting rain across France in May. Yet, the trials of the journey became the point of the journey. I was mentally engaged with the Jesus prayer and I was undertaking a significant journey of transition, from one life to another.
The individual effort was only part of the story: the reality was broader than that. All the way along I was part of a community – even when I felt most alone – and that sense of belonging to a wider community made the journey possible. The three-month pilgrimage involved contact with hundreds of people, all of them playing some part in getting me to the destination. And now, in my prayer times in the seminary, I often reflect on that journey. I pray the road, mentally revisit the people I met on the way and pray for them, and I pray for those on the road now.
When I arrived at Monte Gozo I finally knew the answer to the question I had wondered about twenty years earlier: what does a pilgrim feel after walking all the way from England? I felt numb. All who arrive in the Pilgrim Office in Santiago receive the same certificate – and rightly so – whether they have walked from Worcester or Sarria. The printed piece of paper is a charming souvenir, but what is imprinted on your heart and on your soul is the great gift that you carry home. It has taken me a long time to absorb the experience and it will take me longer yet. Perhaps one day, in my last conscious moment in this life, I shall recall the sound of the breeze in the tall spiky plants on that steep descent in the Meseta towards Hornillos del Camino, the ribbon of white Camino stretching out ahead. And I will give thanks for the experience. ___________________________________________

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Camino People - Rebekah Scott - The House of Welcome Moratinos

A life in the day of Rebekah Scott - The House of Welcome, Moratinos

Every year over 100,000 pilgrims walk to Santiago along one the many Camino routes. They experience a simpler way of life. Everything they need is on their backs. They carry few clothes and no luxuries. At the end of each day they enjoy simple, hearty meals often in the company of others they have met along the way. The Camino is time out of regular life into a world where needs are separated from wants by the weight in their rucksack.
In addition to hotels and hostals, pilgrims are supported by a network of albergues, which provide a bed and washing facilities. Many only ask for a donation, a donativo, or a small charge of a 3 euros. They are staffed by people who welcome and care for pilgrims. They are volunteers called hospitaleros.
Many pilgrims are envious of their way of life, living in Spain, working with and for pilgrims, doing something worthwhile.
I have yet to meet a pilgrim who hasn’t fantasised about giving it all up to move to Spain to live permanently and run an albergue.

Most don’t, but that’s exactly what Rebekah Scott and her husband Patrick did.

What's the story? Here are her answers to my questions:

Rebekah, how did you two meet? Where did the idea of living Spain come from? How did you do it?”

We both worked at The Toledo Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, USA. Paddy and I both enjoyed Spain greatly, started keeping company, and vacationed in Spain together a time or two. When I made my camino in 2001, he stayed at my house and watched my then-teenage children. He saw the effect the Camino had on me, and went and walked it himself in 2002. In years since we became hospitaleros, and kicked around the idea of retiring to Spain someday... and after Patrick retired officially in 2003, (and we were married), we thought we´d look seriously at retiring to someplace on the Camino. The actual move took LOTS of courage, and years of planning, saving, and stripping away all the worldly goods accumulated over many years. In retrospect it was a perfect moment to retire from newspapers and the American economy in general! We sold the house in 2006, gave away almost everything, and came to Spain in June to start looking for a new place to be whilst hospitalero-ing in promising sites all over the caminos.

We found Moratinos via an Irish couple who were hoping to open an albergue here. We came to visit them that summer, but they weren´t home. The townspeople were still very welcoming, and invited us to their fiesta the following month... We came. And that´s when one of the families said they had a finca for sale on the edge of town. And Et Voila!

It took almost two years, a million tears and gray hairs, and many thousands of Euros to make the place into what we (thought we) wanted. It was basically a barn and sheep-fold compound that hadn´t been lived-in for two decades. Now it´s a nice, almost-American style house with room for six guests and two hermits.

How did the villagers react to you two? Was "integration" a slow process? How long will you be "outsiders"?

We were welcomed wonderfully from our first day visiting here. The story is long and touching, and I hope to write it into a book sometime soon... We continue to integrate, and are now listed as one of the town´s eight “households,” and as such have responsibilities and rights and a voice in town meetings. We provide needed services in the town, (including plenty of comic relief!), we party and are invited to parties, we are seen working hard around the place and we have a wifi access open to all. We will always be “outsiders” in some peoples´eyes. A woman from the next village who called us “foresteros” was corrected immediately, told that “no estan foresteros... ellos son vecinos!”

Could you say a little bit more about your vision for the place? If it isn't an albergue how do people get there?

Our house (aka “Peaceable Kingdom”) is NOT a pilgrim albergue. It is our home. It´s not open to the public on a daily basis, but we do have a word-of-mouth and internet-buzz presence. In Camino parlance we´re a “casa de acogida,” a “house of welcome.” Pilgrims who are worn-out, injured, hurt, lonesome, or otherwise need of a break can stop in here and stay a while. Most only have a cup of coffee and a sello. Some take a nap, or a shower. Others stay overnight. A few, usually skilled laborers in need of work, or seekers in need of stationary solitude, stay for days or even weeks! We´re donativo all the way, but we are still working out how to balance that with our limited resources. (As Paddy says, “I´m not here to subsidize European middle-class freeloaders.”)
We don´t advertise our presence beyond the listings in CSJ and Paderborn Guides, our blogs, and a sign on the church porch telling pilgrims we are here. (The neighbors send anyone to us who doesn´t speak Spanish!) So far, it´s working. We go for days without having guests, and then will have a full house for a week... pilgrims seem to come in waves. It evens out.
As for the future, we are letting the place evolve as needs arise and funds are found to meet them.

What happens on a typical day?

The time I get up varies wildly. Depends on the season, weather, noise level, who else is in the house, and how late I stayed up the night before. There are no routines around here. Every day is different. The only constant is a good long walk for Una and Tim, the dogs. And coffee.

Do you have lots of pets?

Una and Tim, said dogs; a cat named John Murphy; a canary named Bob; and five red hens. We´re now considering a goat.
What are your hobbies?
Trying to make vegetables grow; cooking ethnic meals; local history; blogging; reading Tarot; writing; horse riding; Spanish wine (we have a bodega cave!); long-distance walking; traveling around Spain; editing camino trail guides and other publications; trying to improve my spoken Spanish.
Is that all?
I've also been a hospitalera since 2003, most recently at the CSJ refuge in Miraz, but over the ages also in Rabanal, Eunate, Fuenterroble, Ourense, Ponferrada, Salamanca, and the Benedictine monastery in Sahagún. Been training new hospitaleros since last year via the Canadian Company training program.

What do you usually do in the afternoon?

Plan dinner, hoe the garden, meditate, take a siesta. I am a night person, and do most of my productive work after 9 p.m.

Tell us about a memorable dinner with pilgrims as guests - what was on the menu, who was there, why was it memorable?

One balmy evening last year I had a lovely great gang of young men stop in and decide to stay over. They´d walked from Carrion de los Condes, almost 40 km., but still had energy enough to chop a great pile of wood and move some heavy timbers for us. We then fixed a huge meal of gazpacho, fettuccini alfredo, fruit salad and yogurt (a couple of them were vegetarian, one was a Buddhist monk); much wine was taken, songs sung, etc.
They traveled together and helped one another. They were from Germany, South Africa, Australia, Italy, and USA. And as the South African was Jewish, and the following day was Yom Kippur, we all agreed to join him in his daylong fast. They spent the morning here. We sat in meditation, talked about atonement, judgment, and grace, and the Kol Nidre was sung. I blessed them all the Anglican way when they left the house. Lovely. And with fasting pilgrims, there are no dishes to wash! I felt like a part of something wonderfully international and interfaith.

And recently had a visit from your mum. What does she really think of the whole adventure?

No one knows what my mom really thinks. But after an itinerant childhood, following my dad from one military posting to another, I guess the traveling got into my blood. Mom was upset when I first told her I was moving so far away. “I realised, though, I was being selfish, I just wanted you near for my own sake,” she said. “But you have to go and follow your dream. You´re just being the child I raised.”

Rebekah's Blog

Read stories of Rebekah's life and adventures in Spain on her fabulous and popular blog:
Big Fun in a Tiny Pueblo -

Saturday, 13 June 2009

What about the God bit?

My passion about the Camino is relatively recent in my life. My passion about playing the church organ is much older – 44 years older to be precise! Yes, I started young.

In these last few weeks I’ve been in Church more than many priests and ministers. It is the season of the great feasts, Pentecost, Trinity, Corpus Christi plus 2 Sundays of First Communions and a Friday complete with Bishop for Confirmations. It is also about to get considerably busier when on 19th June I embark on playing for an annual festival which comprises 36 services in 9 days. Future postings will be the evidence I have survived.
Some people assume that organists are holy people, firm believers, devout. I suppose because of the amount of time we spend in Church. To be honest I’ve always been secretly jealous of those who are able to say “I definitely believe in God.” Or “I’m a confirmed atheist”. I’ve always been much more uncertain and for me a prayer I learned many years ago is appropriate: “ Oh God, if there is a God, save my soul if I’ve got one.”
As a young philosophy graduate I would challenge and bate priests. Then I realised that I was the only one getting angry. I visited Rome and was awestruck by the Vatican and horrified and ashamed at the blatant display of class distinction, authority and power of a church of which I am a baptised member. I love the music and the liturgy. I try to pray. But not only do I disagree in whole or in part with many of the Church’s teachings I also hate the misogyny and obsession with sex. Maybe it is because my mum was staunchly Presbyterian and my dad fiercely Catholic that I was brought up to believe in “live and let live”.

For along time I didn’t know that there is a world of pilgrimage where I’ve discovered many people like me struggling with belief, at odds with established churches but compelled to search, sometimes even without realising it.

Before I discovered the pilgrimage routes in Spain to Santiago de Compostela, I thought “pilgrimage” was something which the older ladies in parishes did when they went on a bus to Lourdes with their rosary beads. Then as I prepared for my own first pilgrimage I discovered what seemed like a parallel universe of thousands of people walking to holy places in many countries. Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Knock in Ireland, Iona in Scotland, St David’s in Wales, Canterbury in England, Rome and of course Jerusalem to mention but a few.

As I read I discovered that the history of pilgrimage has deep roots in many world religions as well as Christianity. The Muslim famous Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The Jewish people are drawn to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall. In India many millions of Hindus make their way to the River Ganges to bathe to wash their sins. For Sikhs the journey is to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple.

Whilst the Camino to Santiago is essentially a Catholic pilgrimage to the shrine said to contain the bones of one of the apostles another thing I discovered is that there is no right or wrong way to travel the Camino to Santiago. It isn’t just for holy people, or those who go to Church or people of faith. It is for everyone. But is it a spiritual experience? “What about the God bit?”

Over the last few days as I’ve thought about that question and how to answer people who ask it, I’ve been drawn to notes on my real experiences of pilgrimage. They describe for me real encounters with kindness, love, tolerance, respect, understanding. Maybe they are the ”God bit”?

Alto de Perdón

On the way up to Alto de Perdón I encountered a red faced pilgrim with a gigantic rucksack lying flat on his back by the side of the path. I stopped to ask if he was ok. He said yes and urged me to keep going. When I got to the top I met two girls one from Sweden and the other from France. It was windy and I sat down beside them sheltered a little. As we each took out our packed lunch it was the most natural thing in the world to turn it into a picnic each sharing what we had. When the pilgrim I’d met earlier appeared, even more red faced, we called him over and asked him to join us. He explained he was having a few problems. His pack was far too heavy and he already had blisters although he had brought two pairs of boots to try out! He set off slowly and stiffly down the rock path on the other side. When I caught up with him he asked me if I’d left my friends behind. I could see the surprise when I explained I’d only met my picnic partners 15 mins before he arrived! We met again the next day. His name was Hans. He explained that he’d left some things behind that morning: One pair of boots, three quarters of a first aid kit, his spare torch and box of batteries, two t shirts leaving three… He shared that he was a successful restaurateur but he’d become divorced had been boozing too much and had developed an over reliance to cocaine. As the words came tumbling out he said he’d kept it all a secret. No one knew. He knew he needed to leave all that behind too…

Via de la Plata
On this route from Seville there are many isolated long stretches. I walked alone and on some stages rarely met anyone else. Occasionally I would see a shepherd and his flock high on the hill. Birds of a feather perhaps, alone, carrying what we needed, often my wave would be returned by an encouraging hand held high.
But not every day is a good day. One day I woke feeling dejected. New to the pilgrimage walking had brought me painful blisters, painful memories and a morning of driving rain. I remember that day well because I wrote in my note book: “This is the day when even the shepherds didn’t wave back”.

A few hours later I was starving and stopped in a little bar in Villanueva de Campeán. I asked the elderly woman behind the bar if she had any food. “We don’t do food” she replied. I sat at a table with a coffee feeling very sorry for myself. The woman approached, “Señor,” she said, “ If you wish you may have some of the soup I have made for my family. I’m afraid it is only fish soup.”

My favourite.

The Rio Esla
“Can something this beautiful just be an accident?” was a question I decided not to try and answer whilst sitting on the banks of the river in total stillness. Some things just have to be enjoyed.
I recently visited Wittem in Holland where the Redemptorist Order run a pilgrimage shrine in honour of St Gerard. Almost 200,000 people travel there every year. The Redemptorists have staffed the Church where I play the organ for 150 years. They are now looking at how to reshape their ministry for the future. One of the things they are looking at is building up the work they do with homeless and friendless people. On our way to Wittem we stopped in Dusseldorf to visit a project for just such people. Our German is poor so we took a translator.

We were shown into a room at the Centre and the man in charge was introduced through the translator. “What can I do for you?” he asked. “Could you tell us, please, what this Centre is all about? What do you do here? “ was the translated reply.
He sat perfectly still for a moment, deep in thought. Then he crossed the room and from a drawer brought a candle held by the wick. We could see it was completely broken. He suspended it in front of us. “Would you like to buy this candle to help us with our funds?” He asked. “How much?” one of us enquired. “as much as you care to give. Don’t you think it is worth it? Be honest now.” He stood patiently holding the broken candle in front of us. By the time it took to translate all of this into English I could see that like me my companions wondered whether he was mad. This was confirmed when he dangled the candle in front of me. “Don’t you agree this is a perfectly good candle and worth a lot?” he said directly to me. “Errrrr, I’m afraid I don’t actually” I said.

He gave a satisfied smile. We hadn’t got the point.

From a cabinet he produced a plant pot filled with sand and he pushed the candle in. He lit it.

“With some support”, he said, “This candle can become whole again. Look at the flame alive in it. Strong. Warm. It lights the room. It is beautiful again. That’s what we do here.”

And maybe that’s what the pilgrimage to Santiago does for many of us.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Pilgrim People Series - Marion Marples

A day in the life of Marion Marples, Secretary of the Confraternity of St James
The more I’ve got to know Marion Marples the more titles I give her in my head: Mum, Wife, Pilgrim, Administrator, Newspaper publisher, social entrepreneur, Pastoral Auxiliary, Singer, Editor, Writer, Lover of early music – click here for her favourite. Most of all, The Boss.
So many talents in one person. Formidable.

Marion’s journey to the CSJ office is short as she lives just across the road from where it is located at the back of Christchurch in Blackfriars. This is in the district with the postcode SE1 and Marion with her husband and son also run a social enterprise publishing a successful local magazine and website called, funnily enough, inSE1.
SE1 is in the Anglican Diocese of Southwark with its beautiful Cathedral. Marion is a Pastoral Auxiliary there. This is a kind of lay ministry where her job is to make links out into the local community. For example she organises volunteers to help in the Cathedral junior school and to visit the older residents who live locally in sheltered housing. She has also been working with a number of local churches to set up facilities for homeless people in the coldest months of the year. At that point in our conversation she says, “ I want to talk to you about that project”. I realise that whatever she asks I’ll probably agree. That’s Marion.

Marion has been the Secretary of the CSJ “for about 15 years, if not more”. She doesn’t seem to care exactly how long it is because it is clear this is more a way of life than a job. Her interest in the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela started when she was at university and attended some lectures on Gothic architecture and pilgrimage. In 1972 she and a friend got a grant to make the pilgrimage. She says with a laugh,” Unfortunately we had no concept of the distances involved, there were no guide books and we just had one book, Great Pilgrimages of the Middle Ages by Hell and Hell! It had wonderful photographs and told us the names of the places we had to pass through but gave no information on how to get there.”
Marion and her friend set off with their tent from Poitiers in France (above). They managed to walk for two days before realising the tent was too heavy, so they started going forward to the places in the book by bus and train and occasionally hitchhiking. After three weeks they got to St Jean de Pied Port which is now the traditional starting point of the Camino Francés. Alas they had completely run out of money so Marion decided to phone home. In those days it took two hours to book an international phone call back to England so they decided to send a telegram. Eventually Marion’s mum sent them £5 which enabled them to get to Pamplona and then Santander where they used their tickets to come home. They never got to Santiago but if they had they would have been pilgrims 7 and 8 because only 6 Compostelas were issued that year.

Whilst the journey to Santiago was not complete, the experience inspired what has become a life long passion for the pilgrimage routes to Compostela. Some years later in 1983 her husband noticed an advertisement in a newspaper calling a meeting of people interested in the Pilgrimage to Santiago. There was a telephone number given and it belonged to Dr Mary Remnant, historian and musician who had organised the first meeting in St James’ Church, Picadilly, London. The Confraternity of St James in the UK was founded at that meeting.

By this time Marion and her husband had a child named James. Marion didn’t work then and used to telephone Pat Quaiffe who was then secretary of the CSJ to plan the many activities of the fledgling organisation.

As baby James grew so did the organisation and time passed. In 1996 Marion managed to have the time to walk with a French group from Bayonne to Pamplona and then in 1996 the rest of the Camino Francés from Pamplona. Gripped by the whole thing Marion then took 10 years to fill in all of the other stages from her home in London to Bayonne. During this time she also walked other routes such as the Camino Inglés. She is now considering what to do next!

While she thinks about it the daily routine of running the CSJ continues. Breakfast is with the family. Marion leaves for the CSJ office to arrive at 9.30. Son James and his Dad work together running the magazine.

Once in the office Marion deals with a constant stream of e mails and telephone enquiries. Most are from people who have been thinking about the pilgrimage for a long time and are now in a position to make real plans. The most common question is “where do I start” and that’s not always a place! Marion thinks that people who contact the CSJ are changing. Previously there were people who had heard a little about the pilgrimage, packed a rucksack and set off. Nowadays people seem to have thought about it for a long time. The most common question is: “How do I get to St Jean de Pied Port?” Also most pilgrims have no knowledge of Spanish.

Then most common piece of advice Marion gives people is to travel light.

A lot of the time Marion helps people prioritise their questions – how long do they have? Do they want to get to Santiago in the time they have available or are they happy to do it in stages? Then they can work back to choose a route and a starting point.
As well as all of this Marion runs the organisation of the CSJ. Much of its work is done in Committees such as the Publications Committee (above) or those which organise and run the two Albergues the CSJ provides at Rabanal del Camino on the Camino Francés and at Miraz on the Northern route.

Nowadays the membership is spread across the world with about 1400 being in the UK and approximately 400 in Europe and the rest of the world. A major task is preparing the quarterly monthly bulletin which is posted out to all members.

The best bit of the job is listening to pilgrims talk about why they want to do it. There is no single reason but people do realise it is a special time out of their daily lives. Some describe this in the language of religion many don’t. Often people ask, “How do I become a pilgrim?” and find it hard to believe when Marion answers, “Pack your rucksack, get to your starting point, and just walk following the yellow arrows.”

Marion has a sandwich lunch at her desk usually but on Thursday there is an open day and the number who can call in demanding attention is unpredictable. Some ask general questions and others are looking for very detailed answers about particular routes. Marion is modest about her ability to answer all of these but in fact her knowledge is pretty encyclopaedic. And if she doesn’t know the answer she always knows someone who does.

She also organises the CSJ’s famous and invaluable Practical Pilgrims Days around the UK. These are sessions which explain the preparation and equipment needed and provide talks about the routes. Ideal for beginners. Marion also spend time linking pilgrims with each other.

Landscape photograph of the Valée d’Aspe on the Arles Route through France - taken by Howard Nelson of the CSJ

Whilst Marion can recount visitors to the office who have been very difficult she doesn’t dwell on that. She’d rather talk about that moment on a route in France, early in the morning, alone, experiencing an immense sense of peace and joy.

Pilgrims know exactly what she is talking about.

On behalf of pilgrims every where – Thanks for all of your work Marion.