This year Mark celebrates his tenth years of pilgrimage. In 2016 he walked 4,200 km from Gibraltar to Rome as part of his longer pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This leg of the journey took 150 days, and in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican he had the distinct honour of meeting His Holiness Pope Francis.
Two years later, in 2018, Mark found himself in Rome once more, having walked through snow and rain, in blistering heat, through lush green valleys, passing magical towns and cities, fields of rice, rivers and lakes, ancient forts and crumbling palaces – a walk through history, culture and the ruins of Roman civilization.
Mark, why did you decide to walk to Rome again in 2018?
Since my retirement I have walked the various Caminos de Santiago over twenty times. I walked from Cardiff to Gibraltar, and from Gibraltar to Jerusalem, both times raising funds for charity. Walking in Italy and getting to Rome in 2016 was an incredible experience which I wanted to repeat. My daughter Tammy, who has accompanied me on three Caminos in Spain, had never walked in Italy, the opportunity arose for us to walk together again and we decided to go on pilgrimage to Rome.
We started in Lausanne, Switzerland, and walked for forty days to Rome.
Why did you start in Switzerland?
La Via Francigena starts in Canterbury and is 2000 km long. The route I had set out for us would be over 1100 km, and for Tammy it would be the most she had walked in one go, and it would also be the longest period she had ever spent on the road.
We began our journey on the shores of Lake Geneva and the route took us through UNESCO vineyards, fairy tale castles, dark forests, up mountain passes, across fast flowing waters, and under the shadow of the snow tipped Alps.
Why do you enjoy walking so much, what is the big attraction?
All my life I thought what it might be like to walk for days and weeks and months non-stop, the sun warming my face and a fresh wind behind. I just had to go and do it. I walked for a whole day and loved it. Then two, a week, a month – I couldn’t help it, walking is a passion for me; the simple sensation of placing one foot in front of another is unto itself a satisfying endeavour.
I started taking my walking seriously after retiring from the military due partly to a very painful back injury; two herniated discs, compressed spine, and damaged neck. The doctors said that walking was good for me, so I walked.
But to do what I do – covering such long distances at a time – you must enjoy it. If you don’t like walking in the middle of nowhere, carrying all you stuff on your back and not knowing where you will sleep that night my advice to you is, don’t!
Is there more to walking than just the feeling of freedom and stunning views?
Yes, of course! Going on pilgrimage is more than just walking for extended periods over very long distances; a pilgrimage is also a religious experience. I have walked the Way of Saint James many times on various routes, the Via Francigena towards Rome on a few occasions, Le Chemin D’Arles, the Way of Saint Anthony of Padua, and followed the trail to Jerusalem.
I have fulfilled my desire of connecting my hometown the Rock of Gibraltar to the three most important centres of pilgrimage in the Christian faith – Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. I consider myself a pilgrim, walking these ancient trails are acts of faith as much as feats of endurance; my church can be found on the endless roads and with the countless brothers and sisters I have met and shared my travels with.
The Way is ultimately an inner journey of discovery, I have learned about my fears, love, friendship, about myself and humanity, but above all else I have learnt humility.