If you did a demanding job for 26 years and then went on sabbatical for three months, what would you do?
Climb Mount Everest, explore canals in a narrow boat, swan around on the Riviera – there is almost too much choice.
Rev Tim Thorpe, the Methodist minister in Ponteland, was faced with this decision earlier this year and he chose to walk more than 1,200 miles across Europe on the Via Francigena (or Pilgrim’s Way) from Canterbury Cathedral to Rome.
He even found a friend to walk with him and share the agony and ecstasy.
Tim knew Chris from 40 years ago when he was his best man, so the plan incubated for about six months and came to fruition over May, June and into July.
The minister loves walking, but finds the journeys which start and end in the same place a little boring.
He relished the unknown of how or when they would eat or sleep and the unpredictability of weather and venues for a night’s rest.
It was a pilgrimage with a destination, but it was no soft option as they crossed France from Calais to Lake Geneva in Switzerland and then the Alps over the Saint Bernard Pass into Italy, through Tuscany and the Italian Lakes to Rome.
They dealt with the blisters, however Chris had to take a couple of days out in France since his feet were badly affected by the very wet conditions while Tim continued on his own.
This was a low point for him and he did think of turning back. It didn’t happen and they went on to average around 20 miles a day.
Strangers could be angels. For example, one evening in France they reached a village at 8pm but there was no campsite to pitch their tent, just three dodgy looking hotels.
They sat on the pavement in despair when a man appeared from over the road, invited them in for a meal, gave them a bed for the night and sent them on their way next morning.
He had done the pilgrimage and spoke good English.
The weather was unpredictable and at times extreme. In France in May, they walked through torrential rain and their feet suffered and walking over the Alps, they experienced deep snow.
By the time they reached Italy, they were starting at 4.30am when the temperature was already 24 degrees centigrade and it reached up to 40 degrees during the day.
Tim is back in the pulpit for another two years before he retires. He managed to lose 20 pounds and looks very fit, but what an adventure.