30 Year Reunion at Alresford
On 1st April 2005, pilgrims gathered at Perins School in Alresford, Hampshire, to celebrate 30 years since the first Diocesan Walking Pilgrimage, beating the bounds of Arundel & Brighton Diocese after Easter 1975.
Gradually pilgrims of varying vintages arrived, some heading off to the pub in search of food, others bringing in a takeaway, until we sat in a group around a table, chatting, drinking, looking at old photos, and generally reliving old times.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early - just as well as it took us a while to work out why the ovens wouldn't work - breakfasted and ready for the walk in time for some to join the parish of St Gregory's for Mass. Then the A-team (Aid, Ant & 'Ark) led off through the quiet residential roads of Alresford.
Approaching St Nicholas' Church at Bishop Sutton, we had to cross through a field of very friendly Friesian cattle. The sun shone and highlighted the steam from the trains running "Days Out with Thomas" on the Watercress Line.
The cattle parted like the Red Sea to let the Pilgrims pass - fortunately there were no Egyptians following us as they closed back in...
Ant is always keen to meet an arrowing challenge
After prayers at St Nicholas' we headed round the north of the village - it always seems incongruous that this is part of "Winchester City"
After a rural loop we came to Ropley for another prayer stop at St Peter's. Patrick led us in a reflection on pilgrims reaching the end of their pilgrimage - deceased pilgrims, and the Holy Father close to death. After the service in the church we laid a wreath on the grave of pilgrim Mike Simons, and prayed in turn for each of the deceased pilgrims.
A short walk across the fields took us to lunch, with a good photo opportunity on the way
Bill and Kate followed the new generation of pilgrims
Anyone need a guide dog?
Lunch was at the Chequers in Ropley - so warm we could easily sit outside - hope the arrows didn't confuse passing motorists, as they are all pointing AWAY from Winchester!
At the pub we were met by the Brennan family, and Pat was keen to hold the baby!
After lunch we crossed over the Watercress Line - a chance for a closer look at Thomas and friends.
Our route through Bighton found what must be the muddiest track around. Mark was keen to give the back markers a challenge...
... which made them stop and think
Back in Alresford, we had time for a freshen up and cup of tea before making our way to St Gregory's for a special celebration service. This started with a procession bringing the crosses from each pilgrimage and placing it on the altar. But, although some crosses were brought up by pilgrims for whom they had a special significance, this wasn't a case of pilgrimage one-upmanship: here Maxine, who has yet to join us on a pilgrimage and was here for a "taster" brings up a cross from the 1980s.
For 2005 we used the arrow on one of the sweatshirts...
Having reminded ourselves how many pilgrimages we've made, we continued in prayer and song. Peter gave an excellent homily before we linked hands for the Lord's Prayer and raised the roof with our final hymn.
Back at the hall, pilgrims gathered to watch a slideshow of 30 years of pilgrimage - a brief reminder of each, a mix of familiar faces and places and others that were almost forgotten.
Imelda and her sisters had prepared a celebration meal worthy of the occasion, starting with Alresford Watercress Soup and ending with Sticky Toffee Pudding - rather too sticky, as Patrick decided they could be upside-down puddings with no risk of them becoming detached from the tray!
During the meal, Father David announced that the Holy Father had just died. We stopped immediately and prayed for the repose of his soul. It seemed so appropriate that we should be together to hear this news.
After the meal we presented newly-weds Sue and Fred with a framed print signed by the pilgrims to wish them well in their married life together.
Poor old William volunteered to help with the washing up - bet he regretted that one!
Meanwhile Patrick and the other musicians led the traditional singing - this is where it all gets a bit hazy
Before the cooks were allowed to retreat to their beds (beds? yes, they went home to BED!) they were required to join in with a rendition of Father Abraham. It's a while since I remember doing this on the pilgrimage, but everyone was up and joining in.
By the left, by the right, turn around ... I'm getting dizzy ...
And so, to bed.
Sunday morning, not quite up with the lark, but up early enough for a leisurely breakfast before cleaning up the hall and then joining the congregation at St Gregory's for Mass, where we had been invited to lead the music. We'd chosen pilgrim favourites on the resurrection theme, and were a little worried that people would think it a bit jolly for the morning after the pope's death, but on the contrary this theme seemed just right to celebrate the completion of his earthly pilgrimage.
Photo Credits: Aidan Simons, Imelda Simons, Stephen Smith