I would go to Canterbury which is not very original, but I have my reasons. Where I live in south London is very close to the Pilgrims Way and my office is in some almshouses in Peckham called the Pilgrims’ Cloisters. I feel that Canterbury is so essential to the church in England – more than the Church of England. In writing my biography of Pugin, God’s Architect, I rediscovered that sense of a very deep English kind of history. Rather controversially, Pugin always said “I’m not a Roman Catholic, I’m an English Catholic, like your Thomases and your Edwards.” There is, of course, the belief that the church in England has this apostolic history independent of Rome, and people believe it – even though the facts are against it.
Would you make any special stops?
It would be slightly out of my way but I’d certainly go to Ramsgate to see Pugin’s house and his church (The Shrine of St Augustine). It’s the most extraordinary building. I loved Pugin’s church before I knew anything about him, so I’d make a very circuitous pilgrimage from Camberwell to Canterbury via Ramsgate, somehow.
Who would be your travelling companions?
Well obviously I’d have all of Chaucer’s pilgrims so there’d be masses of entertainment and I’d also take [James] Boswell and [Samuel] Johnson. Boswell walked very quickly and Johnson walked very slowly, so when they walked they’d keep in pace by Boswell circling Johnson – I’d trot along beside them drinking in the conversation.
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto the route. What is it?
I think it’s the bar in the assembly rooms in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival in the 1990s. It was a great place to be. I went often with my first husband [the poet Christopher Logue] who would be performing and I’d find things to do such as write reviews. It was lovely and lively. I’d drink a lot of rather disgusting cheap wine because it was late at night after everyone had done their shows and it was sort of buzzy and happy. The place and the time made it everything.
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
I have tried camping in church halls and it’s pretty uncomfortable but I’d choose that over camping under the stars. The last time I went camping I woke up somewhere in Belgium with the rain beating down because the tent had disappeared, so I swore I’d never camp en plein air again.
Which books would you take with you?
Obviously I’d take Pevsner so I’d know what I was looking at as I went. And then I’d take something PG Wodehouse because he would cheer me up if I were feeling discouraged – he’s got me through a lot of the pandemic. Finally, I’d take some of the novels of Elizabeth Taylor – she’s very underrated.
What Bible verse would you ponder as you walked?
[Matthew 7:12 – “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,”] or, do unto others as you would have them do unto you – that’s basically it isn’t it?
You stop in a church. What’s your go-to prayer?
I’ve got a very good prayer which is perfect for writers and authors. It’s a prayer of Walter Raleigh: “O Lord God, when thou givest thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory; through Him that for the finishing of thy work laid down His life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.” I have it printed on my noticeboard above my desk as a constant reminder and encouragement.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
I cook quite a good range of currys – mostly Indian but also Thai curry – and I also operate on the principle that, however undeserving anything left over in the vegetable basket looks, it can always be stir-fried.
What’s the singalong to keep everyone’s spirits up?
Anything by Queen – “Radio Gaga”.
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
Hair straighteners. I’m quite convinced my hair is connected directly to my brain and I can’t think properly if it is frizzy.
What would you most miss about ordinary life?
I’d miss my house and my garden. Since lockdown, I’ve really come to appreciate them as perhaps I should have done before, so I would look forward to returning to them.
What would you miss the least?
Sirens … the endless sirens. I live close to King’s College Hospital and, despite the good and important work that’s done there, the endless “neenaw” in the streets is something I would not miss!
Rosemary Hill is an author and historian. Her latest book Time’s Witness: History in the Age of Romanticism is published by Allen Lane and is out now
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