2003 Pilgrimage Reunion at Willingdon Community School

Our 2003 reunion was at Willingdon Community School, north of Eastbourne, where we stayed a night in the summer, hosted by Mary, David, Pauline and Martin.

Pilgrims from near and far gathered on Friday evening - a trickle until very late, as this corner of Sussex doesn't have the greatest road links. Over soup and rolls, tea and coffee, or a glass of something stronger, pilgrims reflected on the summer's pilgrimage, browsing photo albums, comparing notes, catching up. Gradually people drifted off to bed, realising that we had to be up ready to walk next morning.

Saturday morning, after a chilly night, pilgrims were up and about in good time; others appeared to join us for the day's walk, fortified by a decent breakfast.

David had the walk organised, middle and back markers appointed the night before, and led the way on schedule across the road to St Wilfrid's Church.

Pilgrims being well trained, they waited to let the front markers get ahead, blissfully unaware of their appointment! But the backmarkers soon saw to that...

In the church Bruce led a reflection on themes for the coming year's pilgrimage, before we joined the parishioners for a coffee morning -  boosting their numbers, and taking advantage of their car-washing service.

The walk took us in a loop through Polegate's residential areas on some well-defined paths (part of the National Cycleway) amid stunning autumn colours.

We then crossed the A27 and A22 by bridges and underpass - it's nice to see the organisers so relaxed about the arrangements that they can all join the walk.

And so into Abbot's Wood - some genuine pilgrim mud, and warnings about Adders (not the risk of being bitten so much as the fine if you were unwise enough to harm this protected and threatened species).

We were lucky to enjoy a dry day - not guaranteed in November - though the skies were heavy: this shot was taken at midday looking south towards Windover Hill (home of the Long Man of Wilmington, featured on the school coat of arms).

And so we reached the Yew Tree at Arlington, where we were welcomed - reserved tables and all - and enjoyed a relaxed lunch. But the time came to move on the the nearby Church of St Pancras...

Here a churchwarden welcomed us, telling us a little of St Pancras, before John Lamb led a moving reflection on persecution with a heart rending series of letters from a friend in Burma.

Outside the church we were met by Lesley and little Joseph as we headed on our way again.

The route involved crossing the railway line from Lewes to Eastbourne - good visibility, and with this sight you knew you had to wait!

(Julian tells me it's a brand new Class 377 "Electrostar", built and /or assembled by Bombardier/Adtranz at Derby.  They have transformed travel on the Sussex Coast lines to a level not seen for some while.. very comfortable trains.. but not so good in leaf fall season)

A more challenging crossing of the A27 followed - the motorists largely showing no comprehension of the 40mph limit - before we reached Wilmington Village Hall, used as the place of worship following a serious arson attack on the church over a year ago. The churchwarden welcomed us, and told us they hoped to be back in the church for Advent Sunday, before Jack led our prayers.

The walk back to Willingdon involved most of the day's climbing, skirting round the base of Windover Hill, and took us back to the school before the light failed. On return, some still had energy to play badminton!

Back at the hall we had a chance to freshen up before David's slide show, followed by a tasty dinner, in turn followed by music from Gennaro (with percussion and dancing from pilgrims) well into the night. The pictures from Stephen don't need a commentary!

Sunday morning ... David masterminding the cooked breakfast, some off the RC Mass at Polegate, some to the Communion service at St Wilfrid's, others getting away for a longer journey home, all remembering an excellent reunion and a brief refresher on "the pilgrim life".

Until next year...