As I Walk Out One Midsummer Morning… The Via Francigena to Rome (See you in September)

“Well when I write my book, and tell the tale of my adventures – all these little stars that shake out of my cloak – I must save those to use for asterisks!”
― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac

In 1352 a wealthy London merchant paid a man twenty pounds to go on a pilgrimage in his stead. So, complete with a small fortune, off the medieval equivalent, not perhaps of a body, but surely a soul double, set. His destination; Mount Sinai…

In 2017, having postponed for many years, and for many reasons, I have no desire to pay anyone to walk for me. My destination; Rome, and each and everyone of the intervening 1900 kilometres from Canterbury along the ancient Via Francigena. The time has finally come for me to do this. And to do it alone. Two months, 31 kilometres per day (I think), one tent, one backpack, one heavy heart, one confused mind, two feet.

I am not bringing anything with me. Anything technological that is; no wifi, no phone, no email, camera, nothing. Just a guide book and a compass. Oh and pen and paper of course.

This therefore is my farewell


I could not be writing in greater contrast to what lies ahead, typing these words as I am in the simply sumptuous, splendid Hotel Danieli in Venice. But come Friday luxury ends…

Lubricating my thoughts, as I write, is a double figured prosecco (the price, not the quantity I hasten to add) sipped in luxurious medieval surroundings. Medieval, but complete with the most civilised of nods to the 21st century, air conditioning – keeping at bay the plus 30 degrees that await outside. Here the olde worlde revolving doors separate the exclusive from the mass.

Speaking of revolving doors, I once read that the definition of a parasite is someone who walks through such a set of doors on someone else’s push. If I make it across the channel, down through France, Switzerland, across the Alps and down the spine of Italy to St Peters in Rome, it will be entirely off my own push. My own, and that of the ‘push’ of life.


Once when I was a younger guide than I am today, I lead tours to Vezelay Cathedral in Burgundy France. I used to tell my guests that from below its imposing walls, here the first crusade was preached. What followed were centuries of pilgrimages. From somewhere (no google or wikipedia back then) I had even dug up the fact which I eagerly shared that even murderers would set off for the the Holy Land, as by completing their journey in chains, even they could be forgiven.

Why am I doing this? Forgiveness comes into it. In fact forgiveness, is a big big part of it. Religion does not (yet). Time to think, to escape, the physical challenge, meditation, sore feet, the nature – yes, surely the nature and the hours and hours of solitude that awaits on the paths of Europe. But the world has changed and these days do a little research into modern pilgrimages and you’ll likely come across references to people walking in order to forgive others, rather than themselves being forgiven.


I planned this walk, following in the hoof steps (he did not walk) of Sigeric, archbishop of Canterbury who kept a journal, recording where he stopped, in AD 990. As I did so a few years ago it was merely with the purpose of this forming first hand experience for my historical novel about Medieval pilgrimages. If you are going to write about it, you must do it. But today, I acknowledge that, from somewhere, this early memory from Vezelay and its link to forgiveness has stayed with me. There is nothing hypothetical in something as wrenchingly difficult as forgiveness, and the, albeit medieval, idea that one can actually do something – one can act, change ones fate, destiny and, even if I don’t believe in the heavenly, then at least the earthly, possibility of forgiveness through a jolly long walk is a notion that inspires me to act, to walk.

In answer to the question I have been asked most frequently, when explaining my journey to people, close to 200.000 people a year walk the ‘Camino’ through Spain. Two hundred thousand.  And that’s why I am not. In a ‘good’ year around 1000 walk the Via Francigena – and indeed most of those, only stages. I hope to be as alone as possible.

People set off for so many reasons. All are by definition walkers, but could it be that though I too will set off as a walker, I might arrive as a pilgrim?



Recent events have left me more confused and hurt than ever by my fellow human beings. It is fair to say, however dramatic it may sound, that I feel with every day that passes I feel literally less and less ‘good’ at living. At life. ‘This life, well it’s slipping right through my hands. These days turned out nothing like I had planned…’ I have added at the end the song that will accompany on my walk (I have bought a small mouth harmonica for company) – it says, better than any others I know, how I feel. And though the troubles and accusations that have now been aimed at me, will still lie waiting for me upon the conclusion of this walk, I hope, somewhere along the paths I will tread, I will find the strength and wisdom to face them. To understand how one is supposed to live.

As a priest once told me, just to want to forgive is a great beginning. Today I received today an email from another priest. It read as follows:

We will be delighted to welcome you to Canterbury Cathedral on Friday. They will be expecting you at Christchurch Gate. Just tell them you are coming to collect a pilgrim’s passport. If you would like to meet our chaplain and perhaps have a blessing please do ask when you collect your passport.

I would like to and I will ask at the time of collecting my passport. I’ll take the blessing, any blessing.

It’s time to go. On Friday I finally set off. What awaits I have no idea, but as the wonderful Laurie Lee said;

‘As I walked out one Midsummer morning…’

(…to be continued…. insha’Allah)


~ by Support on July 3, 2017.

54 Responses to “As I Walk Out One Midsummer Morning… The Via Francigena to Rome (See you in September)”

  1. A presto?

    • I will be walking through Aulla 😉 Will you be around? x

      • Il mio manico di scopa sara parcheggiato qua nel palazzo fin a ottobre.Ci vedremo ,spero.Sono passati anni e la Strega Bianca di Soliera e tanto invecchiata .Sulla tua camminata sentirei la mia presenza ,come sempre.Ti auguro tante belle cose e ti mando forza e pazienza. Tanti cari

  2. Buon viaggio and remember, thousands of pilgrims did it AND arrived in Rome safely. What fun. What merit gained!

    • Dear Frances – SO nice to hear from you… Thanks for your encouraging words… Tanti baci

  3. Safe and wondrous travels. Will you be a bearded wonder when the walk is over?

    • Thanks you two – not yet decided on razor yes or razor no 😉

  4. Thomas, sending you abundant blessings from North Idaho. You give so much of yourself to others, I hope you will find it returned to you tenfold on your journey while finding the answers that you seek. On practical matters (could I be other than practical?), stretch, stretch, stretch – every AM and PM. Do your whole lower posterior chain whether you think you need to or not.

    • Pam ‘The Vegan’ – how wonderful to hear from you. And THANK YOU – for the practical advice… I really appreciate that and shall now think of you every a.m and p.m…. Thanks also for your very kind words… really. Big hug

  5. Bon voyage! Luton will be on the equally long road to promotion when you finish!

  6. Have a safe journey. I think you are very brave to do this.

    • Thanks mum… not sure it is particularly brave – more like running away 😉

  7. Thomas, I hope you find peace in nature and solitude. You give so much to others, now it is time to do something for yourself that brings you joy. Please be safe and stay healthy. I look forward to hearing many stories of your long journey. And a big hug from me, too.

    • Dear Ilene, thank you so much for reading and your encouraging words. You know I love my job, but it does sometimes feel like it is the only thing I am any good at, so hopefully all these miles will bring joy as well as answers… hugs from close to Canterbury.

  8. Thomas, Sissy Ashby here. Charlie and I traveled with you up the Marne on the Raymonde a few years ago, a wonderful trip, and you were a great part of the enjoyment.
    I hope this walk will help you lift what sounds like a heavy burden. Play your harmonica and sing as you go. Hope to see you on another RS trip in 2018.
    Sissy and Charlie Ashby
    Raleigh, NC

    • Ohh I DO remember you indeed. Such a great boat and trip. It would be wonderful to travel with you two again – come on the across the Pyrenees trip – or Brittany – I think you two would love them. Thanks so much for remembering, reading and writing… Take care, until 2018 😉

  9. Hope your journey is all you expect and I hope you find your answers.

    • Thank you Diana… it already means a lot how many people are wishing me well… Thanks for reading.

  10. Thomas. You will be in my thoughts. I wish you good fortune in finding the peace you seek. Fondly. Susan Fuller

    • Dear Susan, It would be fun if you were along to illustrate the walk… thanks for your well wishes. Hugs

      • You should include a little sketch book in your kit!

  11. Thomas, hope you find clarity and strength in this pilgrimage,. Safe journey. Edith Nardone

    • Thank you Edith… I really need this. I am sure to return both stronger and I hope, clearer. Many hugs

  12. I wish you a safe adventure full of things that will leave you more connected to yourself and your life.

    • Dear Lynette – thanks for your kind words. I just think it HAS to do that, right? A long time to walk and think, can only help. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  13. Good luck and good fortune Thomas. The beard suits you well by the way!

    • Ah ah, I never feel I can let it grow when I work, but as a pilgrim – it seems the thing to do 😉 Thanks for your words of support…

  14. Many blessings, Thomas.
    Thinking kind thoughts of you.
    One of you tourists in Brittany last year, Lin

    • Dear Lin, It was also the constant talks of pilgrimages around Brittany – the famous 7777 saints that inspired me to do my own. Thanks for your blessings – that means a lot.

  15. All the best Thomas! Maybe catch up when you return. Steve.

    • Hey Steve – how nice to hear from you. Thanks for your kinds words. I’ll post something here when I return – would be fun to meet up again… happy travels as I am sure yours will be equally, if not much more exciting…

  16. Sounds amazing! But no phone?? What about an emergency? S

    • 😉 No phone, indeed. I need it to be that way. Hopefully in such a case, there will be some good samaritans along the way. See you in GA – watch out for those pool parties… 😉

  17. Thomas,
    Hope you saw my email. Wishing you safe travels and many blessings.

    • Dear Nancy, thanks for your well wishes and indeed your email with it’s blessings. It’s really kind of you to think of me and write. I hope to travel with you again sometime. Please give my best to Laverne… Hugs

  18. I wish you well on your journeys Thomas, take time out from your research and reflections occasionally to stop and smell the flowers – there’s a beautiful world out there. BW Janet T.

    • Ah, yes I will… this started out all about research but has evolved into so much more than that. I am rubbish at flowers, but I do love looking at them and indeed smelling them… Thanks so much for reading. Many hugs

  19. I hope that you find peace. I remember your sensitivity and understanding when I wanted peace and isolation for a short time on the anniversary of my husband’s death in Venice several years ago. I appreciated that then and still do.

    • Dear Marian – I am very touched by your words and that such a moment has stuck with you all these years. Thank you so much for letting me know. I hope you are well and wish you all the best… hugs 😉

  20. I’m so impressed with your journey. My trip in Andalusia with you was truly memorable. I hope to travel with you again. Sheila Rosenthal

    • It would be great to travel again – come on the trip that starts in South of France and finishes in Barcelona – that’s such a great one. Until we meet again, thanks so much for reading and happy travels…

  21. As always, I find great comfort in your words. I, too, find myself in a similar state. I just came back from a week long solo trip to Paris, where I walked the streets for hours, not really sure where I was or how I got there. I told myself I’d do the Camino Portuges in 2018, but who am I kidding? I wish you well. Just know I’m sending you so much love and light and blessings and all great intentions. You will have a cooperative body, cooperative weather and may you meet others along the way, if only for an instance, that will illuminate your journey. I selfishly await for the tale of your journey. Go well!! All my best! Erikka

    • Dearest Erikka – who are you kidding indeed – if ANYONE is likely to actually do that it is you! What’s to stop you? At least start – every journey with the first step right? I know how much you love Paris and I am happy to hear you were back there – sometimes there is a lot of wisdom to be found on wandering streets. I often think of you and how you rediscovered travel. I am so happy each time I hear you’ve been somewhere – new or old. I shall send my tales upon my return, and if I can do this, then you can do the Portuges – go for it!!! Many many hugs sweetheart…

  22. Thomas, here’s hoping you find what you are looking for along the way. As you know quite well, I’m sure, life is about the journey, not the destination. Regards from the USA

    • Hi Jeff, I will be trying to truly experience each and every one of the kilometres along the way (as will my feet I am sure), but indeed you are right. Thank you so much. Take care

  23. Dear Thomas- Depending on when you read this- have a great journey or welcome back. Either way, I look forward to seeing you in September and hearing all about it. Love to you. Peggy DeMarsh

    • Just caught it 😉 Thanks Peggy. I will see you indeed in Montpellier… might make for one or two tales this… Thank you for your encouragement. Much love T

  24. Dear Thomas, please stay safe! I’m counting on you, a writer of fairy
    tales, to give me some feedback on my almost completed children’s story for Emma when you get back. Your are in my thoughts…Karleen Erhardt

    • Ohhh – I very much look forward to that. Please, please do send when you are ready. I LOVE fairytales – as you know. Thank you so much for reading and for wanting to share that with me. Many hugs… 😉

  25. Dear Thomas, I wish you only peace and blessings throughout your journey. And I hope that you return with a much lighter heart, a clearer mind, and of course (still) two good feet. Perhaps this will catch you in time as you set out. If not, you’ll be able to tell me the answers at the other end. Hugs to you! Laverne

  26. Sending best wishes for your travels and thanks for letting us know what you plan to do. Hope you will report about what you experienced when you are done and would love to see a picture of you again. White light for your safety. Martie

  27. I don’t know about a blessing, but maybe a psychological examination is more called for LOL. Whatever lies ahead, I wish you much success my friend. Life is strange, one minute you are down the next….??? your fortune takes a turn for the better…..or sometimes you go off on a bit of a tangent. Stay true and believe… what? Yourself, always yourself. I would say call me if you need anything, but as you have no electronics…perhaps send a letter (address below), it would be nice to read. AS I know that you are multilingual…I am not (your best queens english please).

    Have a great time, your feet will not forgive you!

  28. Hey Thomas, I know you might not be reading this but hey.. Happy birthday first of all! Then, I don’t know if you’ve walked past Ivrea yet but if you haven’t, and by any chance you’re getting a few minutes of wi-fi, you can stay at mine. I’ve got a house in a tiny village called Bollengo, 5km east of Ivrea. It’s en route. My mother lives there, by the car wash 🙂


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