84 miles, about 240,000 steps (thanks Fitbit!), nine days, sixteen walking companions (plus a dog), through marsh and valley, along road and river, over hill and stile, in city and country, town and village … to end at the appropriately named Wallsend around 2pm this afternoon!
It is finished.
My feet were particularly sore after a lot of pavement pounding today along very ordinary streets and paths through Newcastle. That’s not to say there weren’t some glory moments, such as the Swedish deli we came across, the views of the Tyne, the fisherman who caught a crab as we passed and the Quayside where we timed it just right to see the Millennium Bridge in action! But after all I’ve seen over the past nine days, the end of the walk4andy felt very … well, ordinary. The pathways and pavements could easily have been in Leicester and looked very similar to the ones I walked just two weeks ago to get to Mountsorrel in fact.
There was something very ordinary about walking that last section with just my family too, with Wendy my wife, and my two daughters Erica and Hilary. All of us found it a bit wearing and hard-going on the feet and there were the usual family arguments as we began to rub each other up the wrong way. All very ordinary.
We arrived at Segedunum to see where the Wall ended and the fort has been partly excavated and we wandered round the excellent exhibition there. Again it all felt like a very ordinary family day out. And yet it was anything but. I had just walked 84 miles across the country from one coast to the other, in memory of Andy and raising awareness (I hope) and money (about £2500 I think now) for VHL.
Then after waving goodbye to Wendy and Erica at Newcastle station, Hilary and I went to evening prayer at St Nicholas’ Cathedral, again the routine ordinary prayers said day in day out by Anglicans all over the place.
But in its very ordinariness I think there was something quite extraordinary going on. I have said how much I don’t want this journey to end, and the challenge with these sorts of experiences is always how to carry them back into ‘ordinary life’. Here today I found the ordinary right here in the extraordinary journey and when I let go of my anxiety for some amazing bolt-of-lightning revelation of what this has all been about, I saw the beauty in the ordinariness and felt the peace that came from it.
Towards the end of Andy’s life, it was the very ordinary things that made him happy – the bacon sandwich, a visit from a friend, the trip out to do a bit of shopping, the Earl Grey tea and proper coffee.
It is not for nothing that George Herbert, another of my favourite poets, described prayer as ‘heaven in ordinary’. This whole walk4andy has been one long prayer, a prayer for my family and for all those struggling with VHL, a prayer for myself and my struggles with grief, a prayer for the church and the churches I have had contact with en route, a prayer for God’s kingdom to come – in me, in us and in our broken world. #thykingdomcome
May that prayer continue to grow and bear fruit as I return home, the kind of prayer George Herbert also called ‘The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage’ and yes, ‘heaven in ordinary’.