Nowadays, whatever we do, we’re told that it’s all part of ‘life’s journey’. Everyone is on a journey; we are shaped by the good things and the less-good things that we encounter along the way.
In the old days it might have been a pilgrimage, but we tend not to use that word anymore because it has religious connotations. Which is an interesting paradox because, although we might be squeamish about discussing religion, the shock inflicted by the sight of the blazing Cathedral of Notre-Dame (a genuine place of pilgrimage) was fairly universal.
Just as Parisians will have looked across the night sky on Monday evening and hoped that the bright light in the distance wasn’t really the blazing roof of Notre-Dame, so it is that sometimes we catch a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel and hope that it isn’t the headlights of an oncoming train.
We can’t help it. Since the dawn of civilisation, humankind has been creating landmarks in the distance: structures that give us focus, to guide us on our journeys – both physical and psychological.
And because we’re all on different journeys, these landmarks have developed different meanings for every individual, adding to their universal appeal. So while for some people a steeple is the tall tower on a church which points towards heaven, for others it is simply the starting point or the finish line in an old-fashioned horse race which gave rise to the name ‘steeplechasing’.
Steeplechasing attracts its own breed of pilgrims: the stalwarts that never miss a fixture at Kelso Racecourse and the picnickers that flock to Cartmel Racecourse on Whit Holiday Weekend in May, even the punters that back this week’s selection at Carlisle Racecourse on Easter Saturday – Blakerigg in the 3.25.
Racecourses are landmarks too. And just like Cathedrals, they mean different things to different people. You can get married at them, you can hold anniversary parties at them, you can even stage dog-training camps at them.
If you’re one of the Northern Cross pilgrims, you can use the stable-staff hostel at Kelso as a convenient stopping place on your journey to Lindisfarne at Easter. When you’re on a multi-day walk along St Cuthbert’s Way, it helps to have a comfortable place to sleep – especially when you’re carrying a large wooden cross which you’re planning to lug across the sands to Holy Island at low tide on Good Friday.
After the initial shock and sadness of the fire at Notre-Dame, there came relief that the damage wasn’t quite so bad as it could have been. And now there’s optimism about what can be built to replace the missing spire in the future. It’s an exciting project, nearly as exciting as making plans for new grandstands on racecourses. But each to their own journey…