For me this was a pilgrimage – and though boots, legs and feet held up well along the way, also still a challenge.
Perhaps my first surprise was to find that only one other of the party had researched Cuthbert, or seemed to see the walk as in any sense a pilgrimage. She gave thanks at St Mary’s on Holy Island for our safe arrival. The rest of the group, as their interests unfolded, were keen walkers, The talk was of walking, and skiing, of ways to deal with ticks (one bit a member of the group) and of the views.
There was I found something positive in being somewhat slower, and therefore often either in the middle (on the flat) or at the back (on hills – sorry, Mark would call them inclines!) as it afforded space for thought, for prayer and contemplation.
I imagine that Cuthbert often walked on his own, turning over the psalms and readings of the day, looking at the scenery around him and giving thanks for it... Of course, we were blessed with excellent weather – and I’m sure that Cuthbert – and we – might have had (very) different experiences in the rain, particularly on some of the downhill stretches.
I also mused quite a bit on sheep and shepherds – partly as the company with which we travelled was called Shepherds Walks – because its MD had spent some years shepherding and had wanted to share some of the amazing scenery he worked in with others. Partly because Cuthbert himself was at one point a shepherd, before he followed his vocation to be a monk – and of course as Bishop of Lindisfarne, he was a shepherd to the Northumbrian people. Partly because shepherds feature quite a bit in the bible.
And partly because Mark, our guide, was very much a shepherd for us all. He told us the plan, and willingly made amendments like an extra 15 minutes before starting one day when we were all tired... He told us snippets of history to help us envisage the people of this landscape over many centuries. He tirelessly checked that we were all OK, walking sometimes at the front, other times at the back, particularly on steep or treacherous parts of the route. He opened gates, or gave a hand to help over stiles. He had a ready supply of jelly babies or mint imperials – small sugar treats to keep our tired feet moving. He had a first aid kit and tick forceps. Throughout the trip he made sure that everyone’s needs were met whether in relation to dietary idiosyncrasies or heavy luggage before retiring to his own rest. A good shepherd.
Were we good sheep? I hope so.