For this year's reunion we were once again the guests of the Redhill Area Pilgrims: Pat and Keith, Joan, Milly, Mary and Maurice, and as ever we treated royally.
Friday evening we all gathered, laid out our beds, and chatted over a glass or two in the parish bar, with warming soup for those who needed sustenance, followed by trays of pizza etc. Reminiscences of a summer without pilgrimage (or at least, without our pilgrimage) were shared. At the far end of the bar the hooligan element got it out of their system over a few games of table football. Gradually we drifted off to bed, ready for the morrow.
Saturday morning dawned, and (apart from John and Lesley in the honeymoon suite upstairs) everyone was up and about bright and early to enjoy a splendid cooked breakfast, before joining St Joseph's parish for their Saturday morning Mass where, inter alia, we prayed for the victims of the recent terrorist outrages in America, the feast appropriately being Our Lady of Sorrows.
As the appointed hour of departure approached, our numbers were swelled with more pilgrims, and we duly set out north. For "Jules the Steam" it was heaven, crossing back and forth over the London to Brighton lines, the high point being a class 66 hauling a fully laden freightliner service through Merstham station: if only he'd had his camera ready...
As we walked through Merstham the view back was a typical pilgrim straggle, small groups in conversation, individuals with their own thoughts, but all one pilgrim family.
Climbing west across Merstham Golf Course, we got close to Maurice and John, our front markers, we paused, the serenity of the countryside to the south compromised by the M25 to the north, a constant source of noise (you can see the Merstham interchange, junction 7, in the top left of the picture).
From here we tracked along to the south of the motorway, climbing gradually up towards the top of the North Downs, and reaching the viewpoint and car park at Reigate Hill. Julian was clearly disappointed by the weightist signposting:
The other pilgrims were unmoved, and simply hurried to the coffee shop for refreshments
We then followed the North Downs Way across the A217 and west, gaining excellent views south and west over the Surrey countryside (even as a native of Surrey, I am continually surprised at the beauty and extent of the countryside in this "suburban" county). And then, over the motorway, away from the noise, to the Sportsman Inn at Mogador for lunch.
Front and back markers together...
while others enjoyed the garden
Even the leader was happy (not his responsibility, a reunion!), and Monica's got hair AND CURLS!
And newsletter-editor elect Geoffrey enjoyed his first pilgrimage walk
Joan was happy, despite being unable to walk thanks to kitchen duties
Even I was happy! (Thanks Jules)
The lovers were ecstatic
And Lauren had to be dragged from the pub
So, back to walking... We retraced our steps over the motorway and along the downs to Reigate Hill, from where we took the short descent. Unfortunately Harriet tried a quicker descent than intended and suffered the day's only serious injury, a twisted ankle. After being strapped up by Patrick, she bravely walked the remaining 3 miles, (walking being considerably less painful than the prospect of being carried by Patrick, although Lauren took the risk, which says lots for her judgement).
Back in the hall for tea and cakes, a slideshow of three (fairly) recent pilgrimage weddings, and preparation of the liturgy for our eucharistic meal.
Traditionally the first Eucharist of the pilgrimage is in memory of deceased pilgrims but, with no pilgrimage, we had been unable to celebrate this. So this Eucharist was for that intention, but especially for Brenda Dillon and Jim Casey who died recently, and Jim's family were able to join us for the service. In the light of the horrific events in America in recent days, we also remembered all those killed and bereaved there.
A table was set out with memories of Brenda and Jim
We celebrated the Eucharist sat around the tables we would eat dinner off
and Keith read his excellent reflection on pilgrimage
while Father David led the service
After a moving celebration we were served a splendid dinner, eaten in leisurely fashion - there was no entertainment booked to move out of the way for - before we retired to the bar for a sing song into the small hours....
And so, Sunday morning... Up and packed; some joining local communities for 8 a.m. Eucharists, then another cooked breakfast (and we're not even walking), before clearing the hall and preparing for the AGM.
The AGM will be documented elsewhere, but was unusual in that we had no "recent pilgrimage" to give a post mortem, and no major decisions to make about next year's route. We did decide to hold another extraordinary reunion next Spring, probably 26-28 April, offering it as a "sampler" weekend for new pilgrims. Venue and dates to be confirmed.
And then, lunch for some, home for others. A lovely weekend with such special friends. A huge vote of thanks to the organisers, who can organise another reunion whenever they want!