Burton on Trent to Derby
I had to minimise my effort on rising. Everything hurt and with nearly two miles from the hotel to St Marys to pick up the cross I had to book a taxi. The night porter started my day off so well, I am so grateful to Three Queens Hotel in Burton for the care they offered me. He was waiting at 06:20 with a double round of bacon sandwiches carefully wrapped in silver foil. Kaz had given me the code to get into the church hall and it seemed like some sort of miracle when I found myself, alone with the cross and ready to go a short time later. My route took me onto a canal path and with my sore feet it felt blessed. The soft mud and grass acted as a natural cushion and I was making excellent time, other than under bridges which had to be almost undertaken on my knees, balancing the cross to prevent it falling into the water. The sun was up, the birds were singing, I was genuinely alone and I felt good.
Suddenly this changed. I came to a point where the canal narrowed and I’d guess the gap across it was down to about eight feet, although it suddenly seemed a lot less. Two very large Rottweiler guard dogs suddenly appeared at full charge. They snarled and it took a split second for me to realise that I was likely to be getting much closer to God than I’d intended. They were slightly ahead and the other side and there was no question they were big enough to either simply leap most of the gap between us or to swim the shallow canal to come to where I was. Subconsciously I realised there was no possibility of me winning an encounter with these two. Against one I might have had a chance but not with two, especially as these looked to be about some 150lbs each, most of which was rippling muscle. My mind went into overdrive and the best option I had was maybe the bacon sandwich. I could throw it in two directions as they crossed and hope to make the bridge behind me. They might tear into my legs but I could probably keep kicking at them until help arrived. Suddenly I felt it would be ok. This all happened in a matter of about three or four seconds. The dogs kept snarling and barking but I walked past them and they didn’t leap. Was this due to a territorial need they had or was it God? Truly I cannot say, but it felt like the latter and as I write this, I am still very pleased they stayed put.
As I walked towards Derby, with the strain showing from my walk the previous day, it started to get really quite challenging. I reached a point where pain really wasn’t the problem, it was just my ability to keep moving my legs which was the issue. The pain simply no longer prevented the movement, it was the physical restrictions causing the pain which presented the barrier. I started thinking of a builders van stopping Something I could put the cross onto which would just take it the last few miles. One passed, I resisted the temptation to flag it down. The dream got stronger and then I came across it again, the driver parked on a drive. All I had to do was walk over, offer to pay his fuel, I could be at Derby Vineyard church in a moment. I walked on, determined to see at least this day to the end. It was only two miles, I could make it. I passed a meeting I remain unsure of exactly what it was. There were some young guys of asian descent outside obviously looking to meet and greet. A sign said it was about the science of the soul. I think they were muslim but I am not 100% sure. Nobody said anything as I passed, my grimace the best attempt I could make at a smile. As I came towards a cemetery about five minutes later a car came past, did a ‘U’ turn in front of me and drew alongside the pavement. ‘What to expect’? I had no idea. Inside the car was a young guy, smartly dressed, who would down his passenger side window and hailed me.
‘We respect you. We respect what you are doing for your faith. We’d like to give something!’
He proceeded to fish around for some change and offered it to me. I took it with gratitude and thanked him, saying ‘may God bless you’. He smiled, waved and drove off back towards the centre I’d passed.
I dragged myself into Derby centre, past some lads, astounded they were drinking that early on a Sunday. They stopped yelling abuse at a young lady passing and focused it on me instead. I felt like my presence had done some good at that moment. Other people passed, pointing laughing and one or two nodded or smiled. Traffic passing though was a different matter. Of the thousands of cars I saw and especially the lorry drivers, many honked their horns or waved. It is uplifting being acknowledged and mentally I grabbed this, clung to it and kept moving. Finally I reached the college where Derby Vineyard meet and with the help of some passers by managed to manoeuvre the cross across the busy road. Only a few hundred yards to go, I could see people entering the building but the gate was padlocked. I contemplated pushing the cross over the top to save having to carry it around but knew this wasn’t the right solution. Deep breath, turn around, walk around. It wasn’t far but to me it seemed like a hundred miles ahead of me. As I came around the corner a chap and his little girl saw me and stopped me to ask what I was doing.I explained and then had to explain about Lent and Jesus. He fished out some money and gave it to his daughter to give to me. As she offered it, hesitantly smiling at this strange man, I said to them , ‘thank you. God bless you’. It was an awkward moment and totally unexpected. It was immediately obvious, with hind sight should have been I guess, that he didn’t know how to respond. There was this kindly man offering me charity in front of his daughter and I had used language he wasn’t familiar with. I smiled, ‘thank you, it is really kind of you’. He smiled back and they hurried off.
Soon, Cross safely stowed in the lobby I was sitting with my feet well off the floor at the back of Derby Vineyards Sunday service. What lovely people, I was made really welcome and it was a blessing to be there. Jane, Andrew, Ian and Peter held a really cheerful and family orientated service and there was lots of water, not much more a cross walker could ask for really! After the service, Andrew kindly put the cross on top of his trailer and took both of us to the Churches storage building so it could be stowed safely. As we put it away we realised it had a flat tyre and part of my difficulty had been due to having been semi dragging it today without realising it. It wasn’t obvious where the valve was as it had disappeared inside so it was left for another time. Just before he dropped me off at my hotel, Andrew and I prayed together and he prayed over my legs.
It didn’t seem to do much but I will revisit this in tomorrows story.
At the bar, having got some dinner, I fell into conversation with a lovely couple called Brian and Liz from Carlise. They were combining celebrating their wedding aniversary with seeing their new grandson. It is difficult to describe walking a 12ft cross during the day without the conversation turning to faith and spirituality. I think there is a lesson there somewhere. If our faith is so much part of who we are and what we do, talking about it becomes second nature. It doesn’t matter if other folk don’t share a belief, nor does any conversation need to be about convincing somebody. If we truly believe in a meta physical God, who passes beyond all human understanding, then we just need to witness, to be the sign posts. God does all the hard work and that certainly makes it far easier for conversations to flow and be enjoyed.
I retired to bed and a welcome sleep knowing I would be walking to Alfreton in the morning. It is of note that all the dogs we’ve seen to date have been very friendly, tail wagging and inquisitive. I went to bed thinking about this and the nature of the two dogs I met that morning.
Big thank you to Jane, Andrew, Peter, Ian and everyone I met at Derby Vineyard Church – a real blessing. Another piece of 1 degree of seperation occured in that our new Vicar, Oliver Ross, commenced at Malmesbury Abbey in September last year. We were very grateful to Derby Vineyard as other churches we asked had turned us down, all for good reason. It felt like we were supposed to go there. Andrew, on checking our web site, noted that Oliver had been the curate who had led him to faith and also conducted his confirmation. Chance is such a funny old thing for those who don’t see God’s hand at work or play. In the same service some folk visiting had come from Alfreton where I am due to walk tomorrow. It transpired that Mark, the chap I spoke to, was the son od David Skelton, a former preacher at Kings church in Malmesbury, where I departed from.