‘Go the extra mile for children’ – reflections on the second charity walk on the Via Francigena

Ready to set out on the Via Francigena from the Canterbury Cathedral

On 7 October, 2017 the second charity walk in aid of Save the Children took place on the Via Francigena UK (Canterbury to Dover).  The event raised £770 with gift aid for Save the Children, supporting their important work in providing essentials such as food and clothing, as well as education, for many vulnerable children across the world. 

Pilgrims arrived at Canterbury Cathedral at 7.45 am where we were given a wonderful send off by the Lord Mayor of Canterbury, Rosemary Doyle.  The Lord Mayor expressed her particular interest in the event, as she been involved in the development of the Via Francigena and its promotion over 10 years ago when the zero kilometre stone of the Via Francigena was placed within the Cathedral Precincts, marking the official starting point of the route to Rome.  Velia Coffey of the Canterbury Council and Vice-President of the European Via Francigena Association, who has twice cycled to Rome, also came to wish the group well.  Luca Faravelli of the Via Francigena Association had travelled from the Association’s headquarters in Fidenza, Italy, as a representative and to experience the UK section of the Via Francigena for himself.  After an inspirational blessing by Canon Clare at the Zero Kilometre stone, the group of 20 pilgrims set off on the Via Francigena, just as Archbishop Sigeric would have done in 990 AD as he began his long journey to Rome.  All archbishops of the Catholic church made this journey, but it is only from Sigeric that we have a record of the stops that he made along the way.  The revived route, which pilgrims travel today, tries as faithfully as possible to follow the way of Sigeric.       

The charity walk aimed to give pilgrims an immersive experience of pilgrimage and so, included a visit to each of the churches the route passes on the way to Dover.  The first stop was at St. Martin’s church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the first Christian church in the English speaking world.  This delightful church was first the site of a Roman building, and the Roman red tiles and bricks can still be seen embedded within its walls.  After stamping their pilgrim credentials and listening to an engaging talk on the history of the church by a knowledgeable parishioner, we began the next stage of our journey.  Waiting for us in Patrixbourne was tea, coffee and a big slab of cake,  which we enjoyed while learning about the striking Normal wheel window and other architectural features of the lovely St. Mary’s.  The route was dry from Patrixbourne to Womenswold, but the weather turned to misty rain as we approached our next stop of St. Margaret’s.  Upon walking through the door we discovered the church wardens had prepared us three types of piping hot soup.  We soon felt warm and comfortable as we sat sipping soup and chatting with our fellow pilgrims.  The last 10 miles became increasingly challenging, but coffee breaks at St. Andrew’s church, Shepherdswell, and St. Peter’s, Whitfield, gave us the energy we needed to walk the final stretch of the route along the Roman road into Dover.  Our last visit was to the delightful chapel of St. Edmund’s in Dover.  This small chapel, which was lovingly restored in the 1960s to  its 13th century glory, was the perfect place to find some rest and tranquillity to reflect on the physical, mental and spiritual journey of the day. 

The Francigena is always a different experience.  No matter how many times I walk the route I always discover something new, from friendships to insights.  Looking forward to what I will discover on the route next year for the charity walk of 2018!

Outside of St. Mary’s, Patrixbourne

Thanks go out  to the following individuals and organisations, without whose support this event would not have been possible:

  • The Canterbury Cathedral
  • The Lord Mayor of Canterbury
  • Velia Coffey, Canterbury Council and Vice-President of EAVF
  • The European Via Francigena Association and representative Luca Favavelli
  • The churches of St. Martin’s, St. Mary’s (Patrixbourne), St. Margaret’s (Womenswold), St. Andrew’s (Shepherdswell), St. Peter’s (Whitfield) and Dover Greeters for opening the doors of their historic buildings and for offering us such wonderful hospitality. 
  • Finally thank you to Karl Goodwin and Carrie Eeles who helped lead the walk – your stamina and positivity is inspirational!

St. Martin’s Church, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canterbury

Norman wheel window, St. Marys, Patrixbourne

All Saint‘s cemetery, Waldershare

All Saint‘s church, Waldershare

St. Edmund‘s chapel, Dover


17 April, 2016

First Annual Via Francigena Fundraiser a Great Success!

Event held on 16 April, 2016 to raise funds for the Charity Save the Children.  Over £2,000 raised by 44 participants walking the 20 mile UK section of the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Dover.  Read all about it below!

group walking

Pilgrims on the Way!

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.

three gals

Happy Pilgrims on the Roman Road

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.

group with banner

Group photo before we set out from the Cathedral


Womenswold Church


This way!