Two lofty rail users turned heads at a Thameslink station on Wednesday as they made their way to St Paul’s Cathedral to launch a new green pilgrimage walk to the oldest Christian site in Britain - St Albans.
The 12ft carnival-style puppets, belonging to St Albans Cathedral, boarded a mid-morning train at St Albans City station and alighted at City Thameslink, where they then made their way on foot to their destination, St Paul’s Cathedral, attracting attention from crowds of curious passers-by and tourists.
Their special journey today (Wednesday, 19 June) required expert planning given their enormous scale. Govia Thameslink Railway’s Local Development Manager, Patrick Ladbury, said: “It was a pleasure to help St Alban, Amphibalus and the St Albans pilgrims get down to London for this well-attended launch event. The journey went smoothly thanks to the professionalism of Thameslink staff, who were also very interested to learn about the story behind these giant puppets.”
City Thameslink Station Manager Kevin Hughes said: “It’s been quite interesting seeing the logistics of getting them off the train and up the stairs. It was a pleasure to help them through the station.”
The new green pilgrimage walk is from St Paul’s Cathedral to St Albans Cathedral and is part of St Albans Cathedral’s project to tell people about Alban, Britain’s first saint, and further raise the profile of the city’s rich history as well as the cathedral’s new welcome centre. The project has been made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The 35-mile walking pilgrimage has been split into five parts. The first walk is 9.3 miles from St Paul’s Cathedral to Hampstead Heath station. The second is 7.3 miles from Hampstead Heath Station to Woodside Park tube station. Part three sees pilgrims walking 7.5 miles from Woodside Park tube station to Elstree Station. For part four, pilgrims will cover 4.3 miles from Elstree Station to Shenley Tea Rooms. The last leg of their walk will see them following riverside paths from Shenley Tea Rooms to St Albans Cathedral.
The idea behind green pilgrimages is to make places of pilgrimage as environmentally sustainable as possible. St Albans was the first English city to join the global interfaith Green Pilgrimage Network, which was launched in 2011 in Assisi, Italy. Pilgrims taking a Thameslink Class 700 train can also enjoy the fact that they are travelling on an electric train.
St Albans Cathedral administrator and clerk to the chapter, Heather Smith said: “Thanks so much to Govia Thameslink Railway for helping us on our journey. The rail staff have been brilliant and the train ran on time. It’s been an exciting adventure.”
Reverend Kevin Walton, of St Albans Cathedral, said: “It’s a contrast of the ancient way of travelling and the modern way. It’s been very good. The rail staff met us and made sure we got on fine.”
Bishop Stephen Venner, who is retired and lives in St Albans, added: “The train journey was brilliant. “The Thameslink managers were so helpful and interested to know more about what we’re doing. There are some lovely people around.”
Govia Thameslink Railway
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:
- Thameslink – cross-London services between Bedford/Peterborough/Cambridge and Brighton/Horsham/Littlehampton/East Grinstead, and between Luton/St Albans and Sutton/Wimbledon/Rainham; plus services between London and Sevenoaks
- Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
- Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
- Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria