Derby to Alfreton – Martin of Tours Church
I got up feeling refreshed and surprisingly well given my limping the day before. My legs felt a lot better. To explain I had a serious car accident in 2015 where a lady impacted my stationary car at around 70mph. Subsequently being thrown into the controls tore ligaments in my wrists, behind my knees and my ankles. On a good day I normally wake up and have to hobble for a while until things stretch into shape. It has adversely affected my main business as I can’t drive for more than an hour as the resulting agony is excruciating. Medical opinion has been that I’m not likely to improve much more and part of my struggle with this walk has been to overcome the constant pain of walking. So whilst everything still ached I was a little surprised that my normal hobble seemed to have improved a little. My mind fluttered over Andrews prayer yesterday but miracles don’t really happen, or do they? Enough said, I was still limping enough to make it look manly and so I made my way across to the lock up to retrieve the cross. It was a little after 06:30 and the unit is next to a homeless shelter.
As I walked up there were a group of men sat talking, obviously in need but doing no harm. My mind wandered over how lucky we are when it is so easy to end up on the street like these guys. There was a little friendly banter and I went in to retrieve my cross, no longer all terrain given it had a flat tyre! As I was manoeuvring it out taking care not to damage the paintwork, I heard a minor argument commence outside. One of the guys, obviously with mental health issues, was getting upset. Two of the guys there started to separate themselves from the group and it was clear it was getting heated. I assumed they thought it wise to move away. At the same time the chap who was upset started to say he would go into the kitchen, retrieve a knife and stab the other chap through the heart. I suspected it was probably just talk, after all, pre-warned, by the time he had gone to get the knife any sensible soul would be running out of sight. However, although this was my route, I decided it was probably not the right time to be trundling a 12ft cross past and so took the decision to turn left and take a slightly longer route out of Derby. I felt bad doing this, it might be common sense at play but I felt like I was avoiding something due to being pre-judgemental. It was as though God was saying, ‘These are my Children too’.
I ignored God and my conscience and turned left. As I turned the corner two other guys, obviously also homeless, asked what I was doing? I stopped and explained about Lent, bit about last year and how it was a time to think about declaring faith. When they heard we were doing this over 200 miles they seemed impressed. One of them starting fishing in his pockets, pulling out bits of dirty paper, the odd penny, five pence etc, a lot of it dirty and congealed. Having emptied his pockets he proceeded to offer it to me for a coffee. It was every penny he had. I politely thanked him but declined it but what an amazing gesture from somebody who had nothing! I took a picture of the guys as a thank you and post it here with true gratitude. I think it will be hard for you two not to be top of mind every time I think of this walk, I hope God holds you and you find the reward you so justly deserve. We chatted for a moment and then I turned the corner and continued on my way. A uniformed security lady watched me and it was clear she and the person she was talking to were mocking. I then turned the corner to a queue of business people, people like myself whom I may have employed in the past or worked alongside. They looked away. They put their headphones or earphones in and looked up. Some just stared with utter disgust. None of them were talking to each other. In that moment I saw clearly through our society and where the Love is and where it is not. In terms of companionship I’d prefer to be with the two guys from the homeless shelter than sitting in Starbucks or Costa, with the thin of thin things!
I carried on towards Alfreton, noticing that my legs seemed to be getting better. It became very apparent that lorry drivers had somehow become aware of what we were doing. Nearly every lorry came past blasting its horn and waving, such a blessing. It made me think of the Celtic saints and a little snippet from the Christian historian Tertullian who noted circa 210AD that the spread of the faith in the British isles was through the areas outside Roman control. This is in opposition to conventional church history which has it being spread by the Romans, under Roman occupation.
Whilst the latter is certainly true, the vast trading nature of the Celts and the wave of evangelisation that occurred after Rome left, points to the non Romanised areas as having a high degree of contact through trade. Every time I see a lorry and its driver, I think of that, of the chat in some truck stop somewhere and the possibility of drivers swopping stories of seeing that nut case with that large cross. Lorry drivers, by the very nature of their role, need things that are stable to hang onto. A home life, normality and of course faith offers a comfort in strange places, far from that normality. God bless our lorry drivers, every single one of you and thank you for the horn blasts, they have been awesome.
I was on the road to Alfreton and had seen a lot of Derbyshire police cars. On the whole most of the police have been very friendly and supportive. I haven’t been arrested, which is always a good place to be, and a friendly wave has mostly been returned. Hence on seeing a police car pull out onto the main road I automatically waved. I’m guessing the officer hadn’t noticed me immediately and so in doing a rapid double take, trying to turn and also returning my wave, he stalled in the middle of the road. What followed was worthy of a comedy show. He was embarrassed but also under pressure to move. So bright red he tried to start the car but in gear and obviously it stuttered forward at which point he was obviously swearing either at his own error or at the car itself. Of course I am still stood there so our eyes locked, we both understood both his predicament, the error and the language being employed, which to be fair was more my fault than his. He laughed, bright red, waved, the car started and he disappeared promptly before some rascal put it in social media. Fortunately my go-pro was removed early on and so he can rest assured no video is ever likely to appear!
As I neared Alfreton a change came over the car drivers. They also started to sound horns and wave. As I struggled up the hill in the high street a lady waved from her car, in tears, blowing me a kiss. She obviously felt blessed by seeing the cross and I felt blessed by her reaction. I found the vicar, Father Mark Taylor who calmly arranged to put the cross in his garden and then undertook a quick tour of the amazing church of Martin of Tours. It really is worth visiting, not just due to its history but also for the feeling around it. As Mark said in his first words to me, ‘Welcome, this is a very thin place’ and I believe he was right to say that. Mark had to go so I was left to be shown around by the lovely church warden, Kay Booth. The church has a long and interesting history but is also, a bit like St Davids Cathedral, an enigma. When one looks from the altar it is of a certain size and then, like the Tardis, it changes as you walk down, opening out to be at least as wide, if not wider, as it is long. Not expecting this I almost jumped as I followed Kay and I hope I haven’t ruined a visit for someone else by noting it.
That evening I found the local weatherspoons, watched England win their game and fell into conversation with a great chap called Keith. Like myself he prefers rugby and we had a wide ranging conversation covering rugby, politics, faith and spirituality. If time allows Keith has said he will come to York for the blessing on the 13th April at 15:00. It will be great to see him.