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Susan's Blog

Walking as Memorial Ritual: Pilgrimage to the Past

Here is my dad walking along the Pilgrims' Way by a church in southern England.

My article, Walking as Memorial Ritual: Pilgrimage to the Past, braids life-writing with the practice of pilgrimage. Here's part of the article:

 

"In 1966, my parents took my two older brothers and me on the Pilgrims' Way—not the route from London to Canterbury that Chaucer's pilgrims would have taken starting south of London in Southwark, rather the ancient trek from Winchester to Canterbury, famously chronicled in The Old Road by Hilaire Belloc. The route follows along the south side of the Downs, where the muddy path was dried by what sun there was.  My parents first undertook the walk in the early 1950s. Slides from that pilgrimage depict my mother, voluptuous in her cashmere twinset and tweed skirt, as my father crosses a stile. My parents, inspired by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, decided to walk along the traditional Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury. Story intersects with material traversal over earth on dirt-laden paths.

 

By the time we children came along, the memories of that earlier pilgrimage resonated with my parents, inspiring them to take us on the same journey. We all carried our own rucksacks and walked five or six miles a day. Concerning our pilgrimage when I was seven, my mother wrote in her diary:

 

As good pilgrims should, we've been telling tales along the way. Yesterday Jimmy told the whole (detailed) story of That Darn Cat, a Disney movie. Today I told about Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey, which first inspired me to think of walking trips and everyone noted the resemblance between Stevenson's lovable, but balky, donkey and our sweet Sue. (We hadn't planned to tell tales, but they just happened along the way.)"

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