By Sue Reed, Doorway Supporter.
Why did I do it?
Well, the Christmas before last I’d achieved an ambition that I’d had since childhood of going in the sea on Christmas Day – I didn’t actually swim, I just paddled – but – I was in the sea!!! So I was ready for my next challenge!
A few years ago I’d seen a television programme about a man who’d hitched his way from sea to source in different kinds of rivercraft. I don’t think anyone said no (well, you don’t do you, if you see a TV crew actually filming you?!)
Anyway that, and my love and walking, and the fact that here in Chippenham, Wiltshire we are not many miles from the source, sowed seeds in my mind.
Then a friend, who was clearing out her late father’s belongings, came across a book called ‘The Thames Path – From the Sea to the Source’. Knowing of my interest, she gave it to me. It gives step by step instructions for walking the path, and gives the author’s recommendations of each day’s length, and where to stay.
The seed had been sown! I started talking about my challenge, and after a while I found Margaret Cleverley and Mel Harris agreeing to walk with me. Plans started to be put in place and accommodation thought about. We had to find 20 nights accommodation. They were going to pay their way, but I was hoping to find people who would give me an evening meal and hospitality overnight, with breakfast. Then I would only have to buy lunch each day. As it happens, most people also offered me a packed lunch which helped with my costs of the journey.
I wanted to the do the walk firstly for my own personal achievement. Then secondly I wanted other people to benefit from my challenge so I decided to walk in aid of two charities, Doorway being my favourite charity and then WaterAid, as I was walking along theThames.
Before I set out I needed to find my overnight accommodation. That was when I was confronted with the realities of homelessness. I managed to find two family members, and some friends who offered to put me up for a few nights but I still needed to find fourteen other places. I belong to a religious order called the Third Order of The Society of St Francis, so I had an address list that I could use to find possible members living near theThames. I could also contact churches. But the whole exercise of asking strangers seemed quite daunting – would I be rejected? Again my thoughts went to homeless and vulnerable people. How do they feel when they first come to Doorway, or when they come knocking at my door, which they do from time to time? Thankfully most people I phoned were very positive, a few a little guarded, only one who felt he couldn’t help at all.
So, as I set off on Sunday May 13th there were three places that I still had no accommodation for. A phone call later on in the week, that I’d been waiting for, secured one place, and friends at my first overnight stay found me another. That left one town that I actually walked into without knowing where I was going to stay. After two hours of searching I couldn’t find anywhere so a friend rescued me! Again I could relate to the Doorway guests.
The hospitality I received was amazing. Each night was totally different from the night before, from family and friends, vicarages, parishioners, to a convent where I had an entire guest house to myself, to a curate’s house where she’d left the key with a neighbour as she was away! And a church member who took me in despite there being nine people (four generations!) resident in her house, to another church member who turned out to be Harold Wilson’s granddaughter!
Each day contained beauty – of scenery, views, people, wildlife and experiences. Particularly at this time of year with the wild flower meadows, the ducks, swans and geese with their young, and the trees coming into full leaf. There was the amazing architecture of different buildings old and new – particularly going through London.
There was the changing scenes of the riverside from the built up overcrowded areas in London to the more sedate tranquil idyllic areas in outer London right down to the rural countryside as you reach the source.
We saw, amongst other wildlife, crested grebes, herons, jays, parakeets, red kites, a grass snake, a water eel, lapwings and myriads of damsel flies and banded demoiselles.
I was also walking for WaterAid and people, seeing my WaterAid t-shirt, stopped to chat – I was then able to talk to them about Doorway. People were very generous in giving to both charities along the path, and in places where we stopped for refreshments. One memorable occasion was when we stopped in Battersea and Charlie Dimmock gave me some money!
The weather, the first week of our three, was brilliant walking weather – grey, overcast, slightly breezy, apart from the day it rained and then it didn’t amount to very much. Then subsequently, the weather turned hot and we struggled! None of us like walking in the heat and we were soaked by the end of the day, with our clothes and rucksacks sticking to us!
As I walked along I thought about WaterAid – our need to keep drinking and the availability of water, and of the pints of iced non-alcoholic drinks we consumed during the day at our break times. Those who live in under-developed countries have often miles to walk to fetch water, and then the risk of it being unsanitary is huge. We are very fortunate.
Sue Meets Father Thames at Lechlade
What kept me going?
- My desire to achieve the impossible (according to the doctors, as I have a knee injury from last year).
- The knowledge that I was being sponsored for a great deal of money for two worthwhile charities very pertinent to the walk.
- Friends and family who were supporting me with numerous texts and phone calls.
- Prayer support from St Andrew’s Church and family and friends.
- The sheer fun, laughter, excitement, challenge and joy of each new day!