When Iona Community members were asked last year to think of ways of helping to raise money for the Iona Abbey Capital Appeal, the old chestnut of a sponsored walk came to mind. Although the idea of walking between two St Columba churches was because of the saint’s connection with Iona, it also seemed an appropriate challenge for me to undertake because I have had some mobility issues. It seemed a good idea, now that I can walk a bit better, to contribute towards giving folk with mobility issues more ready access to the Abbey’s accommodation.  

We set off from St Columba’s (C of E) Church in Fareham, Hampshire after morning service on 3 June and headed north along the disused Meon Valley railway line, now an excellent path for walkers. We picked up two long-distance walking routes in the St Swithun’s Way from Ropley to Farnham and the North Downs Way from Farnham to Guildford, where we were welcomed for Evensong at the Cathedral. Next we took the Wey Navigation canal-side path that led us to the Thames. From there it was along the river to Hampton Court and Teddington Lock, through Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath. We arrived at St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Pont Street, London to be welcomed at their St Columba Day service on 10 June. Overnight stays were varied: a pub b&b, a very generous homestay for pilgrims, the St Columba Retreat House in Woking and also with friends and family.

The purpose of the walk was, of course, to raise money but it was also a pilgrimage, allowing time and space for reflection, prayer, conversation and contact with interesting people and places, opportunities to talk about Iona, the work of the Iona Community and the objectives of the Capital Appeal. My walking companion all the way to London was Chris Merrien, an Iona Associate from Chichester. Two other friends walked from Fareham to near Weybridge and various other folk joined in along the way for a little stretch each. There were many casual conversations with folk out walking their dogs or hiking, and many positive connections and coincidences, not least the links between Iona and St Columba’s Pont Street, where the minister, Angus MacLeod, is a distant relative of George MacLeod and a descendant of one of Iona’s former ministers. A large piece of Iona marble adorns the entrance to the church.

As well as raising nearly £6000 for the Abbey Appeal, the Columba Walk has so far raised almost £1000 to help refugees and asylum seekers in Portsmouth through the charity Friends without Borders, which was the subject of my Iona Community New Members Programme Project.

My connection with St Columba’s in London is continuing as I’m helping to coordinate a ‘Big Sing’ there with John Bell and others on 21 October 2018, which will hopefully raise some more funds for the Appeal.

Thanks to everyone who offered me their support for the walk, whether financial, practical or spiritual!

– Bob Thomas

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