Pilgrim set for epic 2,000km walk from Canterbury to Rome

Mary Kirk is walking 2000km from Canterbury to Rome.She is doing it as a spiritual pilgrimage raisin

Mary Kirk is walking 2000km from Canterbury to Rome.She is doing it as a spiritual pilgrimage raising money for Shelter and Refugee Action,Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

A pilgrim is taking on an enormous challenge by walking from Canterbury to Rome - the equivalent distance of roughly 47 marathons.

Mary Kirk, 69, sets off on her journey on Sunday, and says it will take her up to three months to complete the 2,000km trek.

She is walking in support of refugees who are travelling north through Europe to escape war, and for homeless people in the UK.

Mrs Kirk, who lives near Halesworth, has done several pilgrimages before, but this journey will be her most challenging trek yet, walking through France, Switzerland and Italy before finishing at the Vatican City.

She said: “Pilgrimage to me is very important, not so much for going to a holy place, but I think it’s an internal journey, you find out a great deal about yourself and how to address the issues that come up.”

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Mrs Kirk, who worships at the Catholic Parish of St Edmund, which covers Bungay and Harleston, will be averaging about 30km to 32km a day. She will be spending the night at various hostels, camp sites and convents along the way, which is based on a 10th century route the then Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric the Serious took to the Vatican.

“I live a very privileged life really,” said Mrs Kirk. “I have everything I need, and it gives you a tiny insight into the life of people who don’t necessarily have somewhere to sleep every night and have to carry all their things in a bag.

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“I do feel slightly uncomfortable about the morality, or otherwise, of walking south with my nice rucksack and new boots, when so many are struggling in desperation to come north from the horrors of war and starvation.

“We don’t have any concept of what places like Syria are like.”

Mrs Kirk will be accompanied by her daughter for the first leg of the journey from Canterbury Cathedral to Dover, but from then she will be walking alone.

“It gives me a lot of space and liberty,” she said. “For me, as well as enjoying the spiritual aspect, I think whatever your beliefs, or if you have none, everyone finds something in a pilgrimage.

“It’s the encounters with people along the way and their kindness which make it special, you’re depending on the kindness of other people and it’s amazing.

“There is something about the steady daily plod, the rhythm of walk, eat, sleep, walk, eat, sleep that teaches a type of mindfulness, a living within the moment.

“There is space to think, or space to empty your head, time to pray and freedom to just be.”

The first few weeks of her journey will take Mrs Kirk through some of the First World War battlefields in France, which she said would be particularly poignant during a year of 100th anniversary commemorations of the war.

Beyond that, she intends to stop off at places she finds particularly interesting, and is expecting some last minute changes of plan.

Mrs Kirk, who worships at the Catholic Parish of St Edmund, which covers areas around Bungay and Harleston, said: You can’t predict the unexpected, sometimes you get held up.

“At the moment I’m very daunted but I’ll feel better once I’m on the road.

“What will be hard is just the sheer day in, day out walking, and in some of the places I’m staying won’t even have a shower.

“People tell me I’m hard on myself but I don’t think so. I think the things you do make you stronger.”

She will be writing a blog along the way, which you can follow at http://quovadis-walkingtorome.uk/

To donate to Refugee Action, visit www.justgiving.com/Mary-Kirk2 or to donate to Shelter, visit www.justgiving.com/Mary-Kirk3.

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