I’ve asked myself this question multiple times during the 371 days in between the Big Walk 2015 and Big Walk 2016. Enough time to remind myself of how heavy the water, snacks, and dry clothes filled backpack felt while walking uphill. Remembering how much of a struggle it was to hike with, what felt like, the worst flu known to human kind… There we were, myself and the rest of the Castlerigg team, patiently waiting at Castlerigg Manor for the other pilgrims to arrive.
A very strange phenomenon, isn’t it? To start a pilgrimage, we first have to gather together in one place, which is kind of a pilgrimage itself. Our group of 27 (including Bosco, Fr Phil’s Border collie) joined together on the Friday evening at Castlerigg Manor. We spent an evening socialising, praying together in the chapel, drinking plenty of hot chocolate and showing off our fancy new walking socks. After that it was straight to bed to get the rest needed before the walk.
The morning started in the best way possible – Mass in the chapel to feed our souls, and a carbs-packed breakfast, to feed our bodies. From there it was only a short bus ride to Honister where we started our hike up Haystacks, after a cup of tea at the café of course. This is also where we split into two smaller groups. Easier to notice if someone goes missing. Also to keep an eye on our energetic four-legged friend Bosco, who seemed to be the happiest whilst running up the hill in between the two groups, making us look even slower than we really were.
The walk was excellent. We were given an opportunity to talk, to spend quality time with each other and pray the most Holy Rosary as we went. Just what we all needed! All of that on our way down into the Ennerdale Valley and Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre, where we had our meal prepared by the good people of Cleator followed by a pub quiz. Some people got quite competitive; others took a chance to be rather creative with their answers. An evening of laughter was finished with calming night prayer and a good night’s sleep.
Morning day two, rather calm and toned down. Us lot of slightly aching pilgrims, slowly waking up, stretching muscles as making our way for breakfast. Some were skipping it to say the last goodbyes to the proudly prowling six days old kittens at home in the centre. And off we went, heading to Ennerdale Water, chatting and praying, getting to know each other as a group or in pairs, as we were doing an Emmaus walk, sharing our faith journey and life experience. Truly amazing how randomly paired up people find their way to God through speaking about Him.
Getting closer to our destination we did not forget about small joys of life – we were picking blackberries, having a laugh, encouraging others to go that extra mile, eating cheeky ice cream. Some were even sharing food with horses! Not the ice cream though.
The road turned from field path to asphalt, the sign to put on our matching polo-shirts, as we were getting closer and closer to Cleator. The walk into the church was just amazing – going through the whole building with the cross, people cheering and clapping, Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael seen by us from the altar server’s perspective, joined in prayer with many others from around the whole Diocese of Lancaster – a once in a lifetime experience!
Why do we take up the journey then you might ask? Why coming from all over Europe and the UK just for those couple of days? To prove ourselves wrong along the way (a two-day hike with no previous training, easy-peasy.) To eliminate all the distractions and take a deep breath before the start of a new school year – going back to work or starting uni. To make an effort and meet God once again, surrounded by his beautiful creation. And so we will meet next year, ready to share this time with each other again.
Alex, 20, Keswick