Hospitality and vulnerability

We’re a few days into the pilgrimage, and things are going well. We seem to be having a good journey, and our various host churches seem to appreciate what we have to offer.

Not all is straightforward, though: it never is with a project of this sort. A knee injury in the week before departure has slowed me down, and even resulted in some train journeys. My saddle clamp failed on the first day, too. Some of the scheduling has been a bit last-minute too (my fault). One of our number has had such difficulty preparing his own bicycle for the journey that he has not yet, in fact, joined us.

I love the feeling of freedom, of independence and supposed self-reliance, when riding along a quieter country road or a towpath. That becomes rather less comfortable when there is a Time By Which We Must Arrive, when the B roads start to get busy or we’ve no choice but to take an A-road, and a headwind and hills combine to make the going stressful and slow. So far we haven’t encountered serious rain. In truth we are always vulnerable to circumstances. I write this while on a train having decided, with reluctance, to err on the side of caution yesterday, and that too bears costs, vulnerabilities: my co-pilgrims and I are separated for a time, and face greater risks travelling separately.

We are vulnerable to error. Following the National Cycle Network routes where we can, little things like a signpost hidden behind foliage (or on one occasion, more signage intended for motorists) can throw us off course and result in substantial time spent poring over maps instead of pouring energy into pedalling. Our own errors are also an issue, Clive and I the other night were initially perplexed by the lack of house number 110 where we thought we were spending the night but it turns out that we ought to have been looking for number 26.

When we arrive at our host churches we face another sort of vulnerability. Tired and dusty we do our best to sing well, to take our audience on a sort of musical pilgrimage. There are three of us performing, each one to a part, which doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error. But here, the vulnerability is shared by our hosts, most of whom have never heard any of us sing or play before and have still gone to the trouble of organising a concert.

Likewise the vulnerability of our accommodation is shared by the people who are having us stay with them. Staying with someone you’ve never met before has potential to be a bit odd, but we’ve been made very welcome everywhere so far. Without that welcome the pilgrimage certainly wouldn’t be viable. But just as we are staying with strangers, so our hosts are inviting strangers into their homes, disrupting meals, routines and even sleeping arrangements.

But because people involved in this pilgrimage accept our vulnerability to circumstances, the elements, and most importantly one another, good things have happened. For me the highlights have included Morning Prayer in the garden after a hastily-arranged first night, people who have never been to sung Compline thanking us for it, a comedy moment with the tremulant at St Bene’t’s, riding alongside fields of ripening grain with wildflowers at the edges, and stopping to pick some cherry plums overhanging a path.

I hope in the next few days to be able to stop more frequently, take more pictures, and perhaps record some of our performances.

Happy trails,

Kathryn

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