A Canterbury Tale
At the end of The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage, the countertenor, hardy walker and unexpectedly dressed Ian Aitkenhead reflects on the 110-mile walk
As conductor Harry Christophers led his intrepid pilgrims through the gates of Canterbury Cathedral, people stopped and stared.
Some took photographs, some just watched us pass, open-mouthed. Maybe news of our nine-day, 110-mile trek from Guildford along the North Downs Way, raising money for World Vision International and The Canterbury Gift, had spread; maybe the BBC’s Sacred Music series had made us all instantly recognisable… or maybe it was the fact that I was dressed as the Wife of Bath, red stockings and all.
Six hardy pilgrims walked the whole way – Harry Christophers, his wife Lonnie, countertenor Chris Royall, soprano Lynda Russell, Tim Royall (Chris’s brother) and me. For the latter half of the week, our party swelled to eight as countertenor David Clegg and good friend Harriet Purvis joined our happy throng.
Each day we were joined by our ‘new friends’ (too many to name, but they know who they are and how much we enjoyed meeting them) – people who had heard about the walk on the radio, or seen it on The Sixteen’s website, and wanted to spend a day walking with us.
The bonhomie, the laughter and the chat never stopped. Actually, that’s not strictly true – the pilgrim choir fell eerily silent whenever we hit a steep slope… probably a coincidence.
From the very first day, when, far from civilisation, passing a dozen World War II pillboxes in the Surrey hills, we looked up and saw a Wellington bomber in the sky, to the last, finishing the pilgrimage at the shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, every day had its own new Canterbury tale.
There was Mungo, the ice-cream-eating dog. A countertenor quartet at the grave of Alfred Deller (if you listened carefully, you could hear him turning in it). Cleggy's terror on realising that, to get to the next gate, we had to go through a herd of cows. Memories that will stay with us all (aided, no doubt, by the limericks we composed about various incidents along the way, almost none of which is suitable for public consumption!).
We ate – well. We drank – well, we didn’t want to be dehydrated. We laughed – endlessly. And we raised money for two worthy causes (you can still donate to World Vision here and the Save Canterbury Cathedral appeal here).