In Canterbury, England, I commenced my journey to Rome. I am hiking the Via Francigena, an ancient route originally traversed by Pilgrims seeking to visit the Holy Land, visiting Rome before continuing to the south, as most ports were located in Apulia, the heel of Italy.

As a quick clarification, I am not religious myself, nor agnostic, but I do appreciate the culture behind the Roman Church and acknowledge its influence on history and the current world stage while disagreeing with most of its dogma’s. (Do not get me started on the protestants though).

For me; this pilgrimage starts out as a test of physical and mental endurance, and a reprieve from the constant agitations of modern society. No more notifications or popups for a while. As I am writing this, I have already finished the first 350 kilometers of the 2500 kilometer journey, and thus have been able to reflect over some of my expectations.

The march from Canterbury to Dover was a relatively long one, recommended to be traversed in two days. Being a bit bull-headed, I decided to do it in a single day, in order to make the night ferry to Calais. I was promptly punished with a mild case of bursitis in my left knee. I will later on get some walking sticks to remedy that.

In Canterbury, I received a blessing in the Cathedral for good luck. Not being religious, I thought I might as well cover all my bases, as I have already been blessed by Buddhist monks and a Hindi Elephant.

So far I know that at least 15 pilgrims are ahead of me, and more are on my tail. The Via Francigena is not as developed as the Camino de Santiago, so the likelihood of me meeting other pilgrims is relatively low. Even then, as encountering another person with the same walking speed is slim, so I expect to spend most of my hiking days alone. There is a nice serenity in just marching, worrying only about water, food and where I will sleep next.

It seems appropriate to end my first post with the pilgrim’s blessing:

May flowers spring up
where your feet touch the earth.

May the feet that walked before you,
bless your every step.

May the weather that’s important
be the weather of your heart.

May all your intentions
find their way into the heart of God.

May your prayers be like flowers,
strewn for other pilgrims.

May your heart find meaning
in unexpected events.

May friends who are praying for you,
carry you along the way

May the circle of life,
encircle you along the way.

May the broken world
ride on your shoulders

May you carry your joy and your grief,
in the backpack of your soul.

May you remember all the circles of prayer,
throughout the world.

Macrina Wiederkehr