We rose early on Saturday morning as Fr Michael had invited us to join him in celebrating mass at 7:30am in the Milton Church. It was just the four of us, and we incorporated Morning Prayer in the service. Fr Michael celebrated the mass in a peaceful way and invited us to join in the reflections on the readings and in praying at the point where we would normally have the prayers of the faithful.
He actually gave us a little bit of admonition about the way we talked about our journey to others – to have the humility to remember that many of the people with whom we are so excitedly sharing the joys and hardships of pilgrimage don’t have the time or financial freedom to be able to undertake such a venture. This was fair enough – although pilgrimage does not have to be on the scale that Josh, Sean and I are doing it, just as you don’t have to take two months long service leave to go to Santiago in Spain. If a person has the determination and devotion to undertake some kind of pilgrimage, God will, I believe, give the opportunity. I’ve done all sorts of pilgrimages: I’ve flown to St Peter’s in Rome, and flown and bussed to Jerusalem. I’ve walked a week pilgrimage to Penola from Portland with the supported Aussie Camino, and I’ve done one-day walks on foot from my parish Church in Boronia to our St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. Heck, just going from your front door to your parish church can become a pilgrimage if you undertake it in the right spirit!
But I had a realisation of my own during the mass. In the prayers, Fr Michael prayed for us to have courage to complete our journey – and I suddenly realised that what I really needed here and now was not the courage to continue the walk but the courage to return home and face my daily life and work again. Don’t get me wrong – I dearly love my family and my job at the Archdiocese – but there are so many many things in daily life that demand one’s attention and which can become sources of anxiety and fear, that I know I will truly miss the simplicity of the straightforward challenge of walking 30km each day. That, more than anything else, is the real attraction for me in pilgrimage: the simplicity of it all. At this point, I might just throw in a book recommendation – in fact, I think I have already mentioned it in my report of the first day of this section: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce (2012). It is a novel about a man who undertakes a walk from one end of England to the other to “save” a friend dying of cancer. At one point on his walk, Harold muses on the the “simplicity of it all”. And he is right: if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get there. As Michael Leunig added in one of his cartoons, you might want to sit down and have a little rest every now and again, but just keep on heading toward the horizon. “That’s how you get there.” I am glad that our return journey will take a full two days. I need the time to process my return.
That was made somewhat easier by the fact that our whole journey today was literally going backwards, including the strange case of the only 7kms on this pilgrimage that we have covered in the wrong direction: from Milton back to Ulladulla. The issue here was that the distance from Ulladulla to the next port of call along the road past Milton at the start of next year’s journey would simply have been too far to walk in one day, but it would be manageable if we knocked off the distance between Milton and Ulladulla this year before going home. As Josh had to be at the bus stop across from the Marlin Hotel in Ulladulla at 11am to catch the coach to Sydney, we all resolved to walk the distance back to Ulladulla with him.
Time was a bit short when we set off, so there was no stopping for sight-seeing in Milton, which is a pleasant village and one in which I would like to spend a bit more time. We walked straight past the Milton bakery and their famous pies, although the smell was tantalising. Spurring us on was the fact that it had begun to rain, not heavily, but steadily. At first we thought it might just be a passing shower, and so didn’t put on all our wet weather gear, and by the time that it was obvious that it was not going to stop, our trousers were wet through. So we pushed on, keeping a good speed so as not to spend longer in the rain than necessary, trying to avoid the running streams of water on the side of the road to keep our shoes dry. This was a hopeless cause. After an hour in the rain my shoes were full of water and the rain was dripping off my new Central Tilba hat. (I am happy to report that the hat suffered no damage from getting so wet – a benefit of having been made of polyester rather than natural fibres that would have lost their shape.) This was one section of the Princes Highway in which the verge is fairly wide, but despite being almost entirely built up all the way from Milton to Ulladulla, with homes and businesses either side of the road, there was no footpath upon which to walk until we got right into Ulladulla itself.
We came down the road past the Church, and straight into the arcade where the public toilets were situated. Josh went in to change into dry clothes from his back pack, while I waited outside for Sean to catch up. Out of the rain, my hiking trousers began to dry out, but my shoes and socks were clearly going to stay very wet. We accompanied Josh out to the bus stop, and before very long the coach had arrived. As it was still raining, we said our farewells, and he got on the bus. He was sitting on the other side out of our view, so we didn’t hang around in the rain, but went back under shelter as the bus left.
I had a plan in mind, and as Sean went across the road to a cafe overlooking the bay for his morning double shot of coffee, I nipped across to the Vinnies op shop next to the church. I was in luck: a pair of slip on shoes for $4 (almost brand new) and a pair of socks for $1 (brand new) in my size. I put them both on immediately after purchasing them, and put my wet shoes and socks in a plastic bag and into my pack. Feeling like a new man, I returned to Sean at the cafe where we had a pot of tea and some eggs on toast. Now with warm food in my tummy and dry shoes and socks on my feet, we crossed through the rain back to the public library on the other side of the road. Here was a warm, dry place with comfortable lounge chairs and electric sockets to recharge my phone and iPad. Sean read the newspaper while I worked on my blog until it was time for us to catch our own bus to Eden. It was still raining, but we had dried out more or less. The bus was a little late, arriving just before we were due to leave at 2:20pm, and we were glad to get on and to settle down for the journey.
There is nothing much to tell about the ride, except that we stopped in Batemans Bay to grab something to call “lunch”. Nothing much was open, which surprised me, as it was a Saturday and still the last weekend of the school holidays, but we did manage to get a pie at a nearby ice cream shop. It tasted okay, but I later on I began to feel quite ill. I thought at first it was just motion sickness from the bus, but I think it was this pie that did it. I was a bit off colour for the next 24 hours. The ride on the bus was not smooth – the road was windy and up and down, especially from the highway through to Tilba and down to Bermagui and across to Bega.
We arrived at Eden at about 7:15pm, and Mike Sheppard was there to meet us. It was a bit of a homecoming to arrive back at Mike and Judy’s. They had invited the two local Josephite sisters, Sr Brigid and Sr Bernadette, to join us for dinner. It was really nice to spend the time with our hosts and their guests in this comparatively quiet dinner. We reviewed many stories about our pilgrimage and heard many other stories from the sisters. Sr Brigid had grown up in Eden, and Sr Bernadette in Sydney near St Mary’s tomb. It was not a late night – we were tired, and the sisters were going to come and pick us up early in the morning to take us to mass at Pambula, so we said our good nights and headed to bed.
We were up in the morning early again – it would take me over a week after getting home before I was actually sleeping through the night till dawn. The sisters arrived to pick us up and drove us to St Peter’s Pambula for the 8am mass. The service was taken by the parish priest, a Samoan, and accompanied by guitars and good singing from those who attended. We enjoyed talking to the parishioners afterwards and letting them know about our journey. We caught up again with Dr John Liston with whom we had met when we came through two weeks earlier, and with another experienced pilgrim of the Spanish Camino. He and Sean had much to talk about. The sisters drove us back to Eden, all the while pointing out to us local features and places on the side of the road. They drove us down to the bay in Eden to see the memorials to the various ships that had been a part of Eden’s history, including the ship that St Mary’s mother was on when it met its end.
They dropped us back at the Sheppard’s, and we had time for a cup of tea before having to be back at the bus stop and getting on the 11am bus for Melbourne. I cannot express how thankful we are for the help that Mike and Judy and the people of Eden have given us – it has been a great base for us over the last two legs of the pilgrimage. We may return again next year, depending on how our travel plans work out to get back to Ulladulla, and Mike said we would be welcome.
So now began the long journey back through Gippsland to Melbourne. Going through the “bushy end” of Victoria along the Princes Highway we once again were convinced that we could never have walked this way from Orbost. Although it was difficult making the arrangements to get from Orbost to Eden via Bombala, it was definitely the right way to go, and gave us a much richer – and safer – experience than we would have had had we travelled along the Princes Highway. We stopped in Cann River for a food stop again – Sean was looking forward to visiting the cafe we had visited on the way through two weeks ago. For the past fortnight Josh had been ribbing Sean about a rack of novelty glove puppets that were displayed for sale in the store under a sign which said “Don’t touch the puppets”. Of course, Sean *had* touched the puppets… To pay homage to this jocularity, Sean was looking forward to buying one of the puppets on our return journey just so I could then photograph him handling a puppet next to the sign which explicitly forbade this behaviour. Unfortunately our fun was spoiled by the fact that the sign against puppet contact had been removed. In disgust we went to the cafe across the road and had our coffee there.
There was time to wander about the town a little. Sadly, the rather magnificent Cann River pub is closed – it would have been nice to have had the last beer of the pilgrimage there. But the church was open, and that was a good consolation prize. (Readers of this journal will note that in the tradition of medieval pilgrims taverns and churches have had an equally major role to play in our travels.) St John’s is an Anglican Church, but it serves as a joint Anglican-Uniting congregation. With the autumn leaves, the dark brown wooden walls and red roof of the church made it look like something from a 19th Century American New England landscape.
Back on the bus and now heading to Orbost and then to Bairnsdale. Normally we would have changed onto the train at this point, but as with the last time we travelled home this way at the end of our first leg in Easter 2016, the bus took us all the way to the station at Sale where we boarded the train. On the bus, I had heard the man behind me having a phone conversation with a friend in Caulfield arranging his visit. I vaguely wondered to myself whether the man was Jewish (Caulfield being a popular Jewish area in Melbourne) but thought nothing more of it. But Sean began a conversation with him at th Station at Sale and discovered that he was from Western Australia and had been to the Mimosa Rocks National park (we had walked through this on our trip) for a Buddhist guided walking meditation retreat. And yes, he was, at least by birth, Jewish, although he was not religious and did not keep kosher. So we ended up spending the rest of the journey to Melbourne sitting with Basil, as was his name, and talking of our various experiences related to walking, spirituality and the environment (he was a professional activist and promoter of environmentalism). As he was spending a few days in Melbourne, I extended an invitation to him to come and visit me in the following week at my office for a cup of tea and a tour of the Cathedral – which he did, together with Sean, the next Wednesday.
So the time went very quickly, and before we knew it the train was pulling out of Packenham and heading to Dandenong where I was to disembark and be picked up by Cathy. The final parting of the ways for the pilgrims came, and I said a rushed and awkward goodbye to Sean (he managed to hit his head on the rack above his seat – a change, because to this point of the journey it had been me hitting my head on things) and I found myself out on the platform on a cold Melbourne evening waving them off. Cathy arrived soon afterwards and it was a short 20min ride and I was back home.
So there it is. It took me about a week to settle back into the office. Strangely, it was only after this first week back that I started dreaming of the pilgrimage. And also it is now, in the second week since our return, that my body has begun to feel really physically tired. But my thoughts are constantly returning to our journey, and to our plans for the future.
Saturday Morning statistics
Planned distance: 7km
Measured distance by actual route (Gaia maps recording): 7.36km
Distance by iPhone Health data: 9.6km
Steps by iPhone Health data: 12,319 steps
“Flights climbed” by iPhone Health data: 9 floors (some of these were real stairs at our accommodation!)
Up and Down (Gaia maps recording): 7m (-81m) – note that if doing this in the right direction it would involve a steady climb upwards.
Highest altitude: Milton Church 95 metres.
Beach walking? No
Highway walking? Yes, all the way
Hours on the road: 1 hr 20 minutes
Distance covered from Eden: 307.28km
Distance covered from Fitzroy: 997.28km