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From shore to shore, from sea to sea

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fr Richard Finn reports on the recent coast-to-coast sponsored walk he made with three other friars, trekking 190 miles across the north of England to raise around £24,000 for the pre-ordination training of new brothers.

'I'm sorry, but there's no café, no pub, in the village, but if you go to No. 9 and say that Marian and the dog have sent you, my husband will give you a cup of tea.' Moses struck water from the rock for the thirsty Israelites in the desert, but in Cumbria the goodness of God took the form of tea and flapjack! It had been a long hot day up from Patterdale to Angle tarn, up again by the Knott to Pidsty with its breath-taking views, and then the steep descent to Haweswater and the drawn-out walk through tall bracken along the length of the lake. Time and again, our Coast to Coast adventure was a wonderful combination of stunning landscapes and the sheer kindness, the generosity, of the people whom we met and who gave us hospitality.

For some of our hosts in the eleven parishes where we stayed along the way, it was an opportunity to recall their own crossing of England on foot many years earlier. Others shared with us the sometimes secret history of Catholicism in places scarcely touched by the Reformation – washing hung out on the line could signal to neighbours that a Mass was about to be celebrated in a Yorkshire farmhouse. High on the hillside above Osmotherley we said the rosary at the simple shrine of Our Lady of Mount Grace as pilgrims have done for centuries. Most evenings there were Dominican habits soaked with sweat and dirty from the peat bogs to be cleaned and dried while four, somewhat weary, friars were fed and watered. Walkers and their hosts sat down to sing evening prayer at a campsite table, or celebrated Mass in the parish church.

Each day the support crew, John, Sue, and Andrew, would see to our luggage, get us back to where we had stopped the night before, and re-stock the day-packs with fresh fruit and raisins, energy bars, nuts, and Kendal mint cake to keep us buoyed up. Prescient to an astounding degree, they came to know when we would get somewhere better than we did, and when to appear with new boots for old at the side of the road. Each day we would say the four sets of mysteries of the Rosary, two in the morning, and two in the afternoon, offering each decade for the intentions of our benefactors, for those who were sponsoring us, and those who were helping us on the walk. We tried to find flat stretches for these prayers, because it's hard to say anything, let alone the 'Hail, Holy Queen' when you are panting up the steepest parts of the Lake District or the Cleveland hills.

It took us twelve days and it rained heavily – very heavily – on only one, as we crossed the vale of Mowbray from Catterick Garrison. Of the three friends who walked with us for part of the way, Mary, Graham, and Michael, it was Graham who endured the torrential downpour, but who luckily had the next day’s sunshine as well. The last day of walking resembled the first with a good stretch along the coastline, mirror images to frame our pilgrimage. Stones picked up at St Bees were cast into the water at Robin Hood’s Bay. The memories of a joyous pilgrimage from Whitehaven to Whitby stayed with us, and our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who made it possible!

You can read more about it and see many pictures on: friarswalk.wordpress.com

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