Weekly blog for 30 March 2013 — Chaucer hike, anyone?

Browsing the virtual ether for literature events hither and yon, Odyssey got the bright idea to check out Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, another book that is also a trip (or trip that is also a book, however you like). Well, look no further — It already exists! Not only that, but the second such outing is coming up in just a few weeks.
Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, engraving by William Blake (public domain)
Of course it would have to! The text leaves no wiggle-room about tour dates:
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages . . . .


Last April (2012), Henry Eliot (apparently no relation of American T. S. or pseudonymous George) of London staged a four-day walk from Southwark (on the south side of London) to the Shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury, the tour destination of Chaucer’s pilgrims. Eliot’s guests appear to have had a wonderful time retelling and recreating stories out of Chaucer. Check out this webpage for more info, with some charming audio and video clips — It seems the hikers didn’t simply recite the tales or read them aloud, but retold them engagingly, and even dramatized them with piquant little skits. It looks to have been an altogether congenial event.

Chaucer's Pilgrims

Chaucer’s Pilgrims

Chaucer’s pilgrims started at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, which really existed, but alas all that is left of it is a plaque. Next store to the site of the former Tabard is the George Inn, which stands in admirably by all accounts. The walk takes four days, even though old Geoffrey used the miracle of literary foreshortening to make it seem as though they made it in one day. (That would make it a veritable Olympic event, besides leaving no time for stories.) A four-day schedule gives a relaxed pace — so relaxed that Eliot’s group even hikes part of it barefoot — and provides opportunities to socialize as well as recreate the stories. Lodging and board are provided along the way of course, in the same towns where 14th century pilgrims would have stopped, and there is a pilgrims’ welcome at the cathedral in Canterbury at the end. Chaucer’s host, Harry Bailey, was the non-fictional innkeeper (he really was the Tabard’s proprietor) who proposed the contest to begin with, and it seems to have been the restaurateur’s promo scheme, as the prize was to be dinner back at the Tabard upon return, paid for by the group. Chaucer gives no account of the return or of that dinner — Indeed, we are not even told who won the contest, something usually chalked up to the “unfinished” character of the work (although the author’s “Retraction”, typically placed at the end of the existing tales, seems a conclusion of sorts).


The second run of the event will begin on April 9 this year. Click here for invitation. You will note that the invitation gives a sign-up deadline of 29 December, and Odyssey was all set to offer condolences about the impossibility of late registration, when suddenly — NEWS FLASH: Mr. Eliot says there is still room! But hurry — April 9 comes on apace!

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