Starting on 15th February 2020, Tom and Julie set off on pilgrimage from Salisbury to Rome on foot. The route was to take them via the Clarendon Way to Winchester; thereafter the St Swithun’s Way and Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury. From Canterbury they intended to cross the channel by boat via Dover and follow the ancient Via Francigena down through the Pas de Calais, Picardy, Champagne and Franche Compté; crossing into Switzerland at Pontarlier. They were then to head for Lausanne passing eastward around Lake Geneva; up and over the Alps by the St Bernard Pass and down into Italy by the Valle d’Aosta. It’s then across the Po Valley, avoiding the heat of the summer, over the Apennines to the coast, and then on to Rome via Siena. The total distance to cover is around 2500 km.
The pilgrimage is to be undertaken in stages, leaving time for respite and recuperation in between, but the hope was to reach St Peter’s in Rome by the end of 2020, which of course was the 800th anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral.
However, as they approached Canterbury the Covid Pandemic began to close in around them and on 23rd March 2020 France went into lockdown closely followed by the UK, stopping them in their tracks. They were then, metaphorically speaking, stranded in Bearsted in mid-Kent for two years.
With the easing of the pandemic and lifting of restrictions on movement they resumed their walk in March 2022, almost exactly two years later.
Despite the difficulties with P&O Ferries (the only company to accept foot passengers), they managed to get across the Channel, thanks to the kindness of old friends. They then made their way down through Pas de Calais and the northern Coal Basin. Thereafter they followed much of the WW1 Western Front down into the Champagne vineyards.
At Bar-sur-Aube they stopped for a few weeks’ R&R at home, returning to resume in mid June. They reached Besancon on 26 June 2022, and crossed the border into Switzerland a few days later: two countries done, two to go! Blessed with good weather and wonderful views, they walked down the eastern side of Lac Leman/Lake Geneva and up the Rhone valley, ascending into the Alps and arriving at the Col du Grand Saint Bernard on 12 July 2022. They walked into Italy the next day, and began with a steep descent of the Val d’Aosta. With blazing hot weather they paused at Pont Saint Martin, towards the bottom of the Aosta valley, and returned home again for another period of R&R before tackling the Po valley – which all advice says is to be avoided at the height of summer.
Returning to Pont Saint Martin in late October they walked on through Aosta valley vineyards and northern lakes, across the Po valley and its extensive rice paddies, up into the Apennines now in glorious autumn colours. It was then down onto the western coastal plain to dip a toe in the Mediterranean near Luni Mare, the ancient port used by Medieval pilgrims heading for Santiago di Compostella, stopping at the walled city of Lucca for another period of R&R.
In late February 2023 Julie and Tom returned to Lucca to complete the final stage of their long journey to Rome, passing through hilltop towns in Tuscany and taking a day off in Siena. Arriving in Rome on Monday 27 March 2023 – just as a thunderstorm and hailstorm struck, clearing St Peter’s Square – they were able to get photographs taken by kind bystanders to record their arrival. Tom and Julie have covered a total of 2,410kms since they started out from Salisbury just over three years ago, before Covid and Brexit made travelling through Europe so much more difficult and complicated. They have gained the utmost respect for the medieval pilgrims who undertook such a long journey without the benefits of the internet, and modern footwear and clothing. Further and deeper reflections on the whole experience will take more time to process.
Although their pilgrimage has been for personal and spiritual reasons, Tom and Julie wanted to use it as an opportunity to raise money for three Salisbury based charities, with which they have a connection. These are:
The Stars Appeal – for the Salisbury District Hospital from which Julie has recently retired.
The Salisbury Cathedral Choral Foundation – which supports music in the Cathedral and helps fund places for young choristers at the Cathedral School.
The Wessex Rivers Trust (formerly the Wessex Chalk Stream & Rivers Trust) – an environmental charity which Tom set up and ran after he left Rio Tinto, which works to conserve and protect the precious river habitats of the region.
Please consider supporting them in this venture by giving as generously as you can.
Someone once asked them whether they are intending to walk home again afterwards. They didn’t seem to have an answer!