‘The primary aim of the journey was to explore responses to refugees and asylum seekers’
Isabel and Christy in Kent.
A Listening Pilgrimage Christy Hawkins (1997) walked, talked and listened from Dover to Iona Last spring my fiancée Isabel and I walked 700 miles from Dover to Iona. We called our walk a Listening Pilgrimage. We were sponsored and supported by the charity Projects For All, who saw this project as a way to learn from individuals and communities about ways to support displaced people seeking sanctuary in Britain. The primary aim of the journey was to explore responses to refugees and asylum seekers; however, Isabel and I also wanted to get to know our own country more thoroughly at a time of instability and division. We were living in London and felt that we were in a bubble, with only the media to tell us what was going on elsewhere. We decided to walk out of that bubble as pilgrims, dependent on the hospitality of friends and strangers. Dover was our point of departure. As England’s gateway it faces towards Europe and the unprecedented waves of 34
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migration from troubled locations in the world beyond. We also wanted to cross a national border on our walk in order to compare the distinct cultures of England and Scotland. We chose Iona as our end point because of its historic status as a pilgrimage destination. This ‘island off an island off an island’ seems far removed from war and famine, yet it has much to teach us about human movement, hospitality, and the promotion of tolerance. The line between Dover and Iona allowed us to visit cities which are notable for their reception of migrants and refugees, namely London, Nottingham, Leeds and Glasgow. These great urban centres and the spaces between them gave us unique lessons in geography, history and culture which could be learned only by travelling slowly and on foot. Our journey began on well-trodden pilgrims’ routes to Canterbury, London and St Albans. In Kent we met teenagers
who had arrived as unaccompanied minors and exchanged with us stories of journeys on foot and of holy places. In London we spoke to former refugees in a community garden where they helped each other to heal with assistance from local experts in counselling and law. In Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire we were confronted with views which we found difficult to accept, but we were able to listen without judgement, and these face-to-face encounters were always amicable. It was here in the south that we saw the one piece of racist graffiti visible from our path. We covered it up and planted wildflower seeds which had been given to us by a friend whose grandmother had fled from Nazi Germany. Heading north through the coal country of the Midlands we learned about the changing social structure of the recent past. Stately homes, agricultural landscapes and windmills ancient and modern told
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