Last weekend was a big moment for the Lancaster Diocese...the moment lasted over Saturday and Sunday, involved 20 miles of land being covered and even an overnight stay at Gillerthwaite. It was in fact THE BIG WALK.

24 of us gathered on Friday night to start the journey off. We played ‘the sun shines on’ amongst other games in order to get to know each other better! Our energy was filled by plenty of doughnuts and cake slices, which I think the eating of everyone will agree was necessary in preparing for the walk ahead!

The next morning, we piled our overnight luggage in to the various cars and generally rushed around hoping we had everything ready! We finally left and arrived at Honister Slate Mine. There, we ate more necessary cake and didn’t forget to hydrate ourselves with coffee and hot chocolates. We also had a go on the virtual reality at the café, exploring some of the Lake Districts finest hidden sights and gently power gliding over amongst the mountains too.

Finally, we set off walking this time and had the hill to tackle first to get to Haystacks. After a couple of steep rocks to clamber over, we eventually got to the top and stopped for lunch next to a lovely stream. We had the leftovers of Christian’s 21st birthday cake in our packed bags, so all was good on the cake front then too.

Before setting off again, we gathered to pray a decade of the Rosary. This was done at various points throughout the day and allowed us to be reminded of how present Our Lady was amongst the tranquillity of the hills and in our moments of worry too. Our community and team spirit became stronger in these reflective moments of quiet as we continued the journey to Cleator. From then on, it was bright blue skies, sunburn and all hands-on deck at stream crossings to ensure everyone stepped on the safe stones...

At the final downwards part of the walk, we stopped again to begin another reflective moment. Father John pointed out that for many, the enjoyment in walking comes from simply being in the hills. Being amongst the rocks, grass, heathers, soil and mountain air. So, the next 15 minutes of the walk involved simply taking this in. Taking the chance to recognise the beautiful nature surrounding us, taking in God’s magnificent creation.

Once we had all wandered down the hill, enjoying the quiet of it, we set off once again, but this time...on a flat road!! Noticing the elegance of God’s world did not end there, however. Under our feet may have been simple stones, but above our heads were towering evergreen trees. This amongst bumping into Trish, Liam and Bosco – the adopted member of Castlerigg’s back office team for the past 2 weeks - was enough entertainment to last until we arrived at Gillerthwaite centre!

There, we were welcomed by Josie and Anne with cups of tea and dinner in the evening! We then went on to play a quiz, made up of many different categories...the important thing was that we all shared the box of heroes at the end, almost completely forgetting who won and who lost! Following that, we thought we would make the most of the clear night sky amongst the lack of streetlamps and gaze at the stars before heading to bed.

The next morning, we set off bright and early on pretty much a flat path to St. Mary’s in Cleator. Although the walk was flatter, the second day of walking was not without highlights! One in particular was stopping to be paired up with each other and given three things to discuss for the next 10 minutes. The first was: What brings joy to your life? The second: Where is your faith at now? Finally: What has been a favourite moment of the walk so far?

This allowed for an exciting but also deep conversation to take place amongst the pairs, and for people to get to know each other more. Personally, for me, an overall highlight of the walk was whenever I had a one-to-one conversation with someone. The element of simply giving each other the time of day to listen and respect what is being said, as well as share moments of laughter is what made the walk a community walk with God. I was very much reminded of how magnified the presence of God is in others over the weekend of the big walk. A key moment of this was when we finally arrived at Cleator and were met by many many welcoming and friendly faces belonging to St. Mary’s Church and elsewhere.

Complete strangers as well as old friends were all brought together to celebrate mass. This was a surreal moment for those who had not visited the grotto before. Immediately, I felt reassured and welcomed again in the presence of Our Lady, as we sat down for Mass outside by the Grotto. What followed was a slightly cold experience of Mass for those of us given the Big Walk T-shirts to wear, but nonetheless a very inspiring Mass as well. Something that has stuck with me is the sermon that Bishop Paul gave. He reminded us that the pressure be it to find our path and do it perfectly or something else we feel anxious about, is not on us. The pressure is on God. And God is good at pressure. In moments of struggle, we must only find the strength to give the struggles to God, not to battle alone.

The journey of the BIG WALK, conquering those hills and minding our feet down the hills amongst the rocks was definitely made more enjoyable but also possible as a community! Hopefully next year will bring out the same appreciation for facing challenging and exciting moments in life with others, recognising God in these times!