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.


I’ve begun discussing plans for next year’s trip to Ypres in earnest.

Currently, the plan is to visit not just Flanders, but to re-trace both John Harris and William Longespee’s steps.  This will not be particularly difficult to do because the two lived and were active in the same regions of the world for the most part.

Still trying to finalize exactly how many places I’m going to see.  Ypres, Houplines, Salisbury, Shrewsbury, and Hereford are at the top of my list, obviously.  My trip to Ypres will definitely include stops at Bellewaerde/Railway Wood, Hill 60, and Tyne Cot though I may also go to Langemarck as well… I did put a few men in there after all and I feel I owe them more respect than I gave them.

Then of course, I feel I have to go see John’s grave though I have to say the thought of being there brings a lump to my throat.  I still don’t know what I’ll do or say or if I’ll even say anything.  I may just ask for a moment alone under that willow tree and meditate for a bit since that seems the only really honest thing to do.  

Since it’s so close, a trip to Bouvines is also likely.  Those wounds have healed long ago, but the extreme coincidence of being captured and then killed in battle about 700 years and a few kilometers apart has not escaped me.

I would like to go to Ile de Re simply because my memories of Longespee’s twilight days at the abbey there, though sparse, aren’t unpleasant.  I’m also very eager to go to Fontrevaud Abbey to pay my respects to Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and above all Richard I (wish I knew what became of him in his later lives).  

Ideally, I would like to leave France via ferry from Le Havre since that’s where John disembarked for Flanders.  I guess this is more a matter of ritual than anything and it brings the whole thing full circle.  If time doesn’t allow for that, I may have to make a concession to 21st century realities and catch the Eurostar from Brussels or Paris, but that will give me more time in England.

As for spots in England, I’m not sure if I want to go back to Dover Castle since English Heritage have gone a bit Disneyland on the place but if I do go, I’m probably going to stop in Canterbury since there’s a good chance I had been there as William; after all, as the son of Henry II, it would have been politically adroit to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas A Beckett.  A lot of this will depend on if I go ferry or Eurostar back to England.

Shrewsbury Castle is an absolute must, since it’s one of several spots relevant to more than one past life.  As Longespee, I was Sheriff of Shropshire and the castellan of Shrewsbury Castle, and it just so happens that the Shropshire Regimental Museum (which houses the archives of John’s regiment, the KSLI) is also there. 

If time allows, I’d like to also see some people and places from my current life that I haven’t seen in nearly a decade.  I’ve got loads of friends in and around London who would be very glad to see me.  I’ve also got a close friend some miles outside of Bristol who I’m very anxious to see again, and another in (I think) Banbury whom I’ve only spoken to online; both of them know about John, incidentally.  

Make no mistake, though, this is mainly a pilgrimage in the truest sense of the word and I can’t say I will be entirely comfortable going back to Ypres and Houplines; I’m going there first so that I can finally let go.  I guess I’ll always be sad for what happened to John and I’ll always have lingering questions as to whether I could have possibly been the same person, but I’ve become so involved in the story and uncovered so many twists that it hardly matters any more.