Yesterday I presented my pilgrimage project to Lamar University. It was truly a pleasure to share the great experience I had. I tried to focus on comparing medieval pilgrims to modern ones. I’m thankful that I was selected as a Beck Fellow, and I wish all the best to the 2013 Beck Fellows as well.
Trail Mix Pix 7
Sevenoaks to Wrotham
Basically at my halfway point.
Trail Mix Pix 6
Westerham to Sevenoaks
I was captivated by the horses…
On the Sacred
While my main focus on Saturday was going to St. Martha’s Hill, I ended up seeing several beautiful churches, such as St. James in Shere and St. Martin’s in Dorking. I didn’t plan on my day revolving around the religious centers but nevertheless they took center stage.
My thoughts drifted around, but the nature of my surroundings dictated some of my mind’s wanderings. I found it interesting how these historic buildings and sites can take on such different roles. For instance, St. Martha’s church is a large tourist site isolated on a lofty hill while the other two churches (St. James and St. Martin’s) both prominently appear in their towns/villages.
Even so, the two churches in quite reachable locations don’t receive nearly the amount of tourism that St. Martha’s does. They are still in use, and so they do have people herding in and out of their doors but they seem to be less admired than the lone St. Martha’s.
St. Martha’s, on the other hand, receives people far and wide. And for what? How many come to say a prayer or to dwell on the sacred ground? How many are there simply for the view and the ascent up the hill? It is a combination of those hikers and holy-rollers (no offense meant here, I just like the alliteration) that appear here.
What makes one site more glorious or meaningful than the other? Is there anything that makes it so?
Another thought struck me. People either notice their surroundings or they don’t. I know that I’ve touched on this matter before, but I can’t help but turn back to it. Why is it the tourists that see foreign lands for their beauty? Do not the locals notice their surroundings?
I spent over an hour sitting outside St. Martin’s, reading on my nook and writing in my journal. People passed. A young girl heading home from work. A man going to grab food on his lunch hour. They both had phones pressed tightly against their ears. They didn’t even glance at the church. I will add that there was another girl sitting on a bench opposite me. She was enjoying the day’s weather and reading and eating outside. And she was a local.
So I don’t know. I don’t have answers for my questions. But I ask them just the same.
Trail Mix Pix #2. Heading up to St. Martha’s Hill.
Since the weather was bad (again) on Thursday, I ended up waiting a bit then backtracking on Pilgrim’s Way to St. Martha’s Hill.
According to my guidebook, this site was supposed sacred to Bronze Age settlers. Parts of the church date way back to the 13th century. Even so, the first Christian chapel to stand in this location was built two hundred years prior to that.
This wasn’t a super easy climb but the good company and glorious weather made it worthwhile. Not to mention the spectacular view!
The Compasses Inn.
My first stop in Gomshall.
I met some awesome people and ended up coming back for a little show.
I’m getting a bit out of order with my posts but this one concerns my trip on Monday. I didn’t have a busy schedule, so after walking around Farnham a bit and finding where the actual North Downs trail began, I took the short train trip to Alton. Now from Alton, it’s only about two miles to Chawton. For those of you who don’t recognize this little village, let me say the beloved Jane Austen lived here for the last eight years of her life. Not only did she revise Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey here, she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion at this location.
Let me preface this by saying I’m not much of a crier. Even in situations where tears are probably appropriate, my tear ducts like to refuse to cooperate. But walking into this house, I couldn’t help but feel my eyes water. Jane Austen and her stories have always been close to my heart. When I was just a little kid, my mother would read to me at night, and usually the choice was Pride and Prejudice. As I got older, the position reversed, and I practiced reading the book to her.
In one of my interviews discussing my proposal for the Beck fellowship, I talked about Austen as one of my main influences and reasons for loving literature. The fact that Jane Austen not only wrote on the social issues of her time, addressing the expectations of women, but she created characters who opposed these misogynistic views.
And I’m not alone in my admiration of this exceptional woman. While walking through the house museum in Chawton, I came across a notebook where people could jot their thoughts down about P & P. Here were some of the thoughts I read:
“Pride and Prejudice renews my faith in humanity.”
"True love conquers all"
"My favorite character is Charlotte. My daughter is named after her!"
"I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet"
Others commented on the social insight of the tale.
One person said the poetic nature of Austen’s prose made the novel a “go-to” book when she was upset.
Everyone has their own reason for liking the work but the point is they can relate to it. Something in the novel reaches out and touches their soul. And that’s what matters.
Now my “trail mix” is going to cover a little bit of everything. (Shocking, right?) I will comment on the actual trail as well as my experience with the walkers and people I met along the path.
For my first day on the trail, Tuesday, I walked the lengthy portion from Farnham to Guildford. I’m going to start out by remarking how much modern society has affected this sort of thing. I mean the National Trail begins not out away in nature but alongside a major street (A31). It doesn’t exactly push you into reflection of the good kind but more about how modernized life has deteriorated some of the wonders of travel, especially by trail.
I became more cheerful attitude in a little bit, and the trail veered away from the highway and into a more scenic route along the Wey River. Here the noise was of pleasant birds and flowing waters, not the hustle and bustle of the traffic scene. Contemplation was afoot (pun intended) and I found myself wondering why I had never really pursued any trails before. I counted myself lucky, it was supposed to rain all day, but I found the morning weather easy with only slightly ominous clouds in the sky and a wind that suggestive of rain for later in the day. When I had a few miles to go, it did start to rain, but I was prepared with my poncho, umbrella, and backpack waterproof cover when it did.
The topics varied frequently throughout the walk. I generally gave my spill about what brought me to England and my pursuits as an English major, then we would talk about other topics. One lady I met was originally from New Zealand (Middle Earth!!) and that sparked a conversation about her job back there. Apparently she worked in a film studio where Peter Jackson had worked on BrainDead. While she didn’t work close to him (she was an accountant), she said some of his early stuff showed his interest in special effects. Sweet!
While passing a field along a woodland, we encountered a man riding bikes with his two kids. We stopped to chat for a moment, and he pointed out the significance of the field. It had just been used most recently for the latest Robin Hood film (the one with Russell Crowe, he specified). Now the field was pretty as it was, but it was neat to be able to put a story next to it. And on doing some research later, this area had been used for the filming of several popular movies, such as Gladiator, two of the Harry Potter films, and Captain America. Neat, huh?
I must say Puttenham is my new favorite place. I ended staying about an hour and a half in The Good Intent, a local pub (my first pub ever by the way). I was invited to sit with some locals, and I laughed so hard my sides hurt. They had awoken with hungry stomachs, due to the beer festival that had been going on all weekend in celebration of Queen’s Jubilee. They pointed out that British don’t drink that often. Not only did I get some good laughs here, I also ate some tasty chips and learn that Cockney Rhyming Slang. After leaving the pub, I eventually passed next to a golf course, where I encounter some slightly (?) intoxicated individuals who had set up a tent. One lady was apologetic of the group, repeatedly saying they were just being funny and that they aren’t usually like this. (I’m guessing this country doesn’t drink much, or at least doesn’t like to claim that they do. I was amused.)
Overall this part of the trip was an exhausting one. I felt physically drained upon reaching my B&B, and my feet were not too happy with me. But it was interesting to see what conversations struck up on my way. And despite the differences between me and the people I encountered, we still found common interests that allowed us to share and enjoy the trip. (Another indication that society still can relate, despite varying histories and boundaries! Whoop!)
Farnham to Guildford:
Toward the last few miles, it started to rain.
And that wasn’t too much fun but we survived all right.
I guess I’ll start today’s thoughts with some observations on public transportation. Now clearly I’m located outside of London, but I have yet to fully cover my thoughts on its public transport system. I might add that I wasn’t too eager to take London’s tube. I was skeptical of the environment and the experience. How safe is it to travel that fast anyway?? Despite my hesitation, I left the airport on the tube. This encounter with the public system and the several that followed it made me think about the pros and cons of such a system.
As society’s pace seems to quicken, we have sought out faster and more efficient ways to travel. With the tube and train, we gain faster access to our destination. They are reasonably cheap options and are well thought-out , giving us further initiative to select these choices. I was a novice on public transportation until my arrive in London, but after a go at it, I found myself not only comfortable with the system but entertained by it.
This modern mode of transport seems like it could encourage public interaction. After all, we are not the ones driving the vehicle, so less focus can be on the road and more can be on the people surrounding you. Of course, just because you are on a train with strangers doesn’t actually mean you will speak with them. In fact, more people seemed isolated, oddly enough. They were shoved together, but even the close proximity didn’t necessarily prompt or generate conversation. You could tell who know whom; those people spoke freely and emphatically. It was the strangers that stood alone who didn’t have the desire to communicate.
I have to step back for a moment. True I don’t commute daily on the tube. I can’t say I would be social every time I was taking it either. Then again, knowing my demeanor I’d probably say something or another. The fact I was carrying an extra large hiking backpack and staring into a map obviously showed I wasn’t from the area, which is why some people spoke to me. When I wasn’t carrying the backpack and was just sitting in my seat, no one felt the need to talk to me. So what is it then? That conversation is only used on the public system when the stranger seems strange? But of course, not too strange. Then they’d be left alone.
I diverge. I guess I found it sad that the Londoners were too engaged in their technology—their phones, computers, ipods— to interact with the people around them. There must be some irony in the fact that people are so absorbed in their social networking online that they have forgotten how to interact face-to-face. Are we truly that isolated in society? I’m not sure where I’m going with this but it sort of feels like a rant about the problems of modern technology. But don’t mistake my frustration as condemnation on the entire system. I still find the tube fascinating (there’s poetry on the walls!!).
We wanted a newer, faster system, and that’s what we got. But where is the line with the increase? When does it become too much? I’m losing focus here.. So I’ll leave you with this picture, which I find thought-provoking, but hey, it could just be me.
Today was a day to remember. Originally I planned my pilgrimage trip to begin on June 1st because I thought it was a clear easy date. I would later learn the importance of the weekend I chose.
Today marks the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen’s reign. She has led England for sixty years! The weekend is packed with events in honor and dedication to her accomplishments, but the crème de la crème had to be the Thames River Pageant. The vid above gives but a glimpse of the immensity of the celebration, despite the downpour of rain today.
More information about the Jubilee and the Queen can be found at http://www.thediamondjubilee.org/60-facts-about-queen
First real London experience was taking the tube (or the underground transport system). The tube and train system is insanely organized, I might add. It wasn’t difficult at all to figure out which ones I needed to take. I took Heathrow to Picadilly Circus to Canada Water, then walked the remaining distance to my hostel. Which was in itself an experience.
Now this is going to be a short post since I’m boarding my plane to London. But I have to reiterate how excited I am! I am beyond thrilled to take this trip. It’s going to be a spectacular month! However this is going to be one long flight. Luckily I have my nook, music, laptop, and good old conversation to entertain. I’ll see you on the flip side, everyone!