WALKING ON HOLY GROUND: A PILGRIMAGE ON THE VIA FRANCIGENA AND THE WESTERN FRONT, FROM LONDON TO LAON
Som Tam Books, October 2022
“I enjoyed Nick Dunne’s Walking on Holy Ground ……no one has yet woven the Via Francigena and the battlefields of the two wars together so well.” Brian Mooney, author of A Long Way for a Pizza
“Having already walked the pilgrimage to Rome, I’m always interested in new books about the Via Francigena. I bought this book intending to skim it but in the end, I read the whole book because it tells a story which is not only about the experience of long distance walking but also about the places and people along the way. Nick diverted into Belgium to follow the Western Front into France and has uncovered many stories about the people who fought the wars and their graves which cover this part of Europe. It’s a good balance between his personal experiences and the story of this fascinating part of the world.
The book brought back many memories of my own pilgrimage and will be enjoyed by anyone planning to walk from England to Rome and those intending to visit the Western Front.” Amazon Review by Tim
I had been thinking about walking to Rome for over 35 years, ever since reading Fr Gerry W Hughes’ account of his journey In Search of a Way. I had met Fr Gerry in 1975, but it was not until 2014 that I felt able to follow him and start on the Via Francigena. I was not yet retired, so the walk would have to be in stages and over several years to fit in with my work commitments. Although this plan lacked the drama of walking 1,900 kms in one go it meant that I would avoid having a deadline for reaching Rome. I could therefore take time to explore the places I would visit, listen to the stories of the people I would meet and reflect on the experience as it unfolded.
The year 2014 was also the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. This, and the Second War that followed it, shaped the world I grew up in. My parents and grandparents had lived through these times and when they spoke of “before the war” or “after the war” or “during the war” it was not always clear which war they were referring to. The events of those first five decades of the 20th century had all happened before I was born but they were part of the tapestry of my life. Exploring them would bring a valuable dimension to my walk to Rome.
In France, long sections of the Via Francigena follow the static trench lines of the First World War. I therefore decided to extend this connection by turning north at Calais (instead of turning south to follow the Via) and walking the battlefields from Dunkirk to Nieuport on the Belgian coast, through Ypres and Armentières to Arras and Albert on the Somme. Like the Via Francigena’s churches and shrines, these battlefields draw pilgrims into the mystery of life’s purpose and the inevitability of life’s end. I therefore knew that my walk along the Western Front and the Via Francigena would be over holy ground and I wanted to respect this on my journey.
Like many pilgrims, I kept a detailed journal as I walked and, on my return, I researched the people, places and events my wife, Fiona, and I had encountered on the way. The result is Walking on Holy Ground: A Pilgrimage on the Via Francigena and the Western Front, from London to Laon, the first of what I hope will be three memoirs of our expeditions on the Via Francigena. When we finally reached Rome in April 2022, Fiona and I both knew that these journeys had enriched us. We had gained insights and experiences that we would treasure for the rest of our days.
Nick Dunne is Chair of Trustees of the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome, a UK charity that promotes the Via Francigena and provides practical guidance for those planning to make the journey.
Nick and his wife Fiona started walking the Via Francigena in 2014 and finally reached Rome in April 2022. “Walking on Holy Ground” is a memoir of the first stage of their pilgrimage from London to Laon along the Via Francigena and the Western Front. Nick lives in south London and is working on two further books to complete the story of his journey.
Walking on Holy Ground: A Pilgrimage on the Via Francigena and the Western Front from London to Laon by Nick Dunne is available as a paperback from pilgrimstorome.org.uk/shop and ypdbooks.com and as an ebook from Amazon.
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