The first annual charity walk on the UK section of the VF, Canterbury to Dover, held on 16 April, was a great success. I have never organised an event like this before and was very lucky to have received the help and support of Martina Gannon, who walked the last 100 KM of the VF to Rome with me in 2015. 44 individuals walked the full 20 miles, raising £2,100 for the charity Save the Children. Participants included Brian Mooney, Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome Chairman, several members of the Confraternity, Velia Coffey, Vice-President of the European Association of the Vie Francigene, staff and students of the University of Kent and members of the public. The event received support from: the University of Kent, who provided personalized t-shirts and sponsored ten Kent students; the Canterbury Cathedral, who supplied pilgrim credentials and a blessing to the pilgrims by Canon Irvine, and the churches of Patrixbourne and Womenswold who provided tea, coffee, cake and a short talk on the history and architecture of the churches.
Despite a cold and windy start at 7.45 at the Cathedral, there was a high level of enthusiasm as the group walked out of Canterbury and into the countryside. The first stop was at the church of Patrixbourne after 3 miles, where the group was graciously welcomed by volunteers from the parish, who handed out cups of tea and coffee to the eager pilgrims. Participants lined up to get their credentials stamped before heading back into the damp morning, across muddy fields to Womenswold. Muddy boots were left at the door as the walkers piled into the church for another tea break and some delicious homemade cake. The group reached the Bell pub in Shepherdswell, ahead of schedule, for a one-hour lunch break. A delightful walk across the fields of Waldershare House and a stop at the Church of All Saints ensured spirits remained high in the afternoon, even if energy levels were starting to fall. A diversion from the official route to avoid flooding brought the group through the village of Guston, turning back onto the VF after crossing the A2. The finish line was at the Red Lion pub, where a buffet had been laid out for the tired but happy pilgrims.
Due to the success of this event, I plan to organize another charity walk next year, which has tentatively been set for 7 May, 2017. Positive impacts on the development of the VF in the UK as a result of the walk include: increased local awareness of the VF, an expression of interest in the churches to provide better facilities for the pilgrims, including obtaining an official stamp and the future possibility of organizing champing (camping in a church) to accommodate pilgrims, and most importantly, bringing the problems of inadequate signage and impassable sections of the route to the attention of local authorities.
Thank you to all who donated to this amazing cause and to all those who participated. A special thank you to Martina Gannon and Joanna Maskens, who helped to ensure the event ran smoothly, and Chris Burn for capturing such lovely photographs.