EASTBOURNE REUNION REPORT
A total of 19 pilgrims took part in some or all of of the reunion, and I think all had an enjoyable time despite the weather!
Four years had passed since our last traditional Autumn reunion involving overnight stays in a hall. I had doubted whether there would still be sufficient demand for the reunion to be viable in our post-covid world, but I was delighted to see my doubts were misplaced.
See https://www.thepilgrims.org.uk/2023/reunion.php for the web photo-diary.
John Carmody and Gary O’Brien were the organisers of the reunion and the venue was the hall of Christ the King RC Church in the district of Langney in the eastern outskirts of Eastbourne. We were welcomed with the traditional soup and rolls at 7pm on the Friday evening. There was no pub close by, and so we were content to remain in the hall and chat. Some pilgrimage business took place, as hall bookers were assigned to halls and chief route planner Aidan began to seek day planners.
The Saturday walk was based on one that Maurice has led for the St Francis Ramblers on more than one occasion; one that starts and finishes at Eastbourne Station, which is 2.5 miles away from Langney. Accordingly after breakfast the pilgrims caught a bus from the hall to the station for a 9.30. start and were joined by 3 further pilgrims. The start was much earlier than on Maurice’s previous walks, so to avoid getting to lunch much too soon, we did his walk in reverse. John had recce’d the walk in this direction and led us, helped by Gary. Our walk was over Beachy Head and the weather forecast was for frequent showers and strong gusts, so it was with some trepidation that we set off into the wind and rain. Some of our regular pilgrimage support team took the opportunity to walk with us for once.
Walking as one group without arrows, we headed through the streets of Eastbourne to the point where the South Downs Way begins, heading steeply up into the downs. As we were aware, on this day, this was the location of the start/finish point of the Beachy Head marathon (and shorter distance races too), so this was a busy spot with runners coming and spectators cheering. To avoid the runners’ route, we headed along the road inland and took the next path on the left that climbed steeply on a parallel route. Up and up we went. It rained about half the time and in the dry interludes there was a very effective drying wind, so we didn’t get really soaked. The visibility remained good despite the rain, so we took in the spectacular coastal views and our morale remained high. Meanwhile runners passed heading in the opposite direction. Perhaps having the wind behind them helped their times.
We paused at the various memorials on the top of Beachy Head, and John led us in prayer. In the section from Beachy Head along the cliffs we encountered the strongest gusts of wind of the day which stopped us in our tracks, or even blew us backwards or sideways. Pilgrims helped each other to stay on their feet. The gusts were never towards the cliffs so it was exhilarating without being too scary. After passing the Belle Tout lighthouse, we descended to the Birling Gap, where some found refreshment and my ice cream found a puddle; see the web diary.
From the Birling Gap, we headed up again and along the cliffs for a short distance, but turned inland before reaching the Seven Sisters, to reach East Dean for lunch. Some pilgrims with long memories will recall sitting on the green outside the delightful Tiger Inn basking in the August sunshine, but on this occasion it was a damp day and standing room only in the pub. After rapid pints for some, we regathered in the adjacent Hikers Rest cafe to sit down and eat some lunch.
The 3 non-walkers and 7 of the morning walkers returned to the hall by bus, leaving 9 of us to continue the walk, returning to Eastbourne Station via an inland, more sheltered, route. Again there were showers but the dry interludes were longer. Some pilgrims went to the 5pm Vigil Mass at Christ the King. Aidan went for a run.
For our dinner we had fish and chips from a local shop, followed by Clare’s home made apple pie, and again we stayed in the hall and chatted over beer or wine. On the Sunday morning we went our separate ways after breakfast.
It was by no means a given that the reunion would take place at all this year. Just like the pilgrimage, it needs volunteers to organise it, so we are most grateful to John and Gary who provided the necessary initiative, drive and enthusiasm. A good time was had by all. The fun and fellowship of the pilgrimage lives on.