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Camino Salvado: A pilgrimage to New Norcia

The email said, “The walk to New Norcia is a tough, long walk and if by now you cannot walk 20ks on two consecutive days we suggest you pull out and register again next year.” This made me think hard, had I done enough training? I had built up my strength and had walked 12 kms one day, 20 the next and planned more on the third day, but something else happened and I didn’t. In the event I found I was fit enough and it was the wet weather or blisters which stopped me from completing three of the days.

Why walk? There are easier ways to travel to New Norcia but I enjoy a challenge and have always found walking relaxing and fun, I find it quite meditative and a good time for prayer. I had recently read a book called “Sinning Across Spain.” The title is deceptive. It is the story of a medieval tradition, the author carrying other peoples’ sins and praying for them as she walked. I decided to take with me a piece of ribbon on which I wrote the names of friends who live with illness or problems which may never go away. I tied the ribbon through a buttonhole on my shirt so it was a constant reminder for me to pray for them.

The walk was organised by a group of volunteers and we started at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Subiaco after the 8am mass. We were blessed by Father Joe, given a scallop shell to carry and taught a blessing to sing. There were 24 walkers ranging in age from mid 30s to over 70 and among them a marathon runner and a triathlon athlete. We were supported by a bus and ute for the luggage. Having thought myself quite a fast walker I soon realised I no longer am! On day 1 we stopped at Garratt Road Bridge for lunch and then on to St Charles Seminary in Guildford where we were given welcome cups of tea and cakes. From there we were bussed to Swanleigh for the night. The next day we were bussed back to where we had stopped walking.

On most days there were showers, and one day very heavy rain wet us through. I was surprised at how much water I squeezed out of my socks! We found large rubbish bags the best raincoats, not elegant but effective. Most of our walking was through bush on not very even paths. In the Chittering Valley the day was on roads but the traffic light, the scenery beautiful and the weather was sunny.

The days started with breakfast at 7am, then prayer, singing the blessing we had been taught and off by 8am. Sometimes I walked with others and sometimes alone. They were a lovely group of people and we now have reunion walks from time to time. We were usually at our destinations by 4 pm. One of the walkers, a keen amateur photographer, took photos and gave us all a disc of them so my camera stayed in its bag. The wild flowers were beautiful – many leschenaultia, orchids, wattle. We walked over Bells Rapids, and on up the valley to Walunga Park, along the edge of Julimar Forrest and immediately west of the Bindoon Army Training Camp. Farm land was green with wheat or bright yellow with canola.

Seven days after leaving Perth we arrived at New Norcia, exhausted and sore but triumphant. The bells were ringing as we walked to the Abbey Church were Abbot John was waiting to greet us, to wash two pilgrims’ feet and to lead us in a time of worship. We had all taken a token with us to leave on Salvado’s tomb. I left my piece of ribbon. The following morning at mass these tokens were taken at the offertory to the altar. The organist played our blessing and we sang lustily. We joined the monks and congregation for morning tea and I asked a monk I know well to burn the ribbon and leave the ashes in the monastery garden. Then it was time to be bussed back to Perth.

I had loved every minute of it and made good friends along the way. We had walked 24 to 27 kms a day. Would I do that walk again? I think not, 20ks a day is enough for me. But I will do another long walk if only for the pleasure of having nothing else to do but put one foot in front of the other until I reach my destination.

– Sarah Brown

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