I was just watching this documentary about medieval pilgrimages when I realized something: I wanted to do something like this while I was in the UK (I believe this was in 2004).
I had it all thought out. I couldn’t afford to travel to the abbey at Iona (a site I had some ancestral connections with) because it involved almost certainly renting a car at some point. I then decided that I might be able to make the 100+ mile hike while on spring break.
I already had a coat I knew was cozy enough even in -10 F weather. I bought a backpack, a good LED flashlight, a multi-tool, and a vacuum-sealed camping meal (though I was only able to afford one and decided it would be better to just buy durable goods from Tesco on my way out). I had intended to take the bus to Glasgow and then walk all the way from Glasgow to Oban, then take the ferry to Iona. I was going to do it because I knew it would be hard, and because I knew it would be a tremendous experience of endurance that I would feel accomplished after completing.
Thinking about it now, that was very much the sort of travel plans a medieval pilgrim would make. It was only the prospect of hiking over 100 miles through Scotland in mid-spring that made me realize I was in over my head (there’s a reason pilgrims tended to travel when the weather was nice).
Maybe it’s just a coincidence brought about by circumstance though. It seems funny to consider but I can’t nail it down.
Incidentally, when I scrubbed my travel plans I went ahead and ate the vacuum-sealed meal. It was marked “chicken and dumplings,” but the “dumplings” had very little in the way of flavor, seemed to be made mostly of flour and water, and were still hard and dry in the middle. It didn’t bring back any memories but the feeling that I’d had something similar once, while simultaneously unable to think of a single instance when I had. It turns out the “dumplings” were basically hardtack and the consistency of this stew was very much like the swill improvised at the Western Front, less the dirt.