Intrepid mum back from 150-mile CAFOD pilgrimage

On returning from her third pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for CAFOD, Judith Tooth spoke to Sophie Harrington about her latest adventure.

A pilgrimage, it seems to me, is both a feast of the senses and food for the soul.

santi7As I said in my earlier post, north Suffolk mum-of-four Judith Tooth has inspired me to do the Camino de Santiago one day.

The 47-year-old from Redgrave has just returned from her third leg of an epic 1,000-mile journey along this ancient route, which in English is called The Way of St James.

This time she covered 150 miles through French countryside with Newmarket parish priest Father Simon Blakesley. They met pilgrims of many nationalities en route to Toulouse.

Walking all the way from Arles, which is 1,000 miles from the shrine in Compostela, in Northern Spain, Judith has already walked distances on the pilgrim route of 100 miles in 2012 and 125 in 2013.

father simon

Her parish of St Henry Morse, where Father Simon was previously parish priest, has been hugely supportive of her efforts, even joining in with a pilgrimage from Quidenham to Diss last month.


Judith wants to help CAFOD end poverty and injustice and has raised almost £5,000 in three years from these walks. Her aim this time was to create a CAFOD World Gifts virtual village and she is raising money through her JustGiving page.

World Gifts is a way of supporting small and medium scale interventions that help people in developing countries to break free from poverty.

The money can buy gifts such as chickens, vegetable garden and water supply to help a struggling community craft a better future for themselves.

CAFOD World Gifts site >>


This, like her previous pilgrimages, has been a hard walk but was rewarded by breathtaking views.


On their route from Martin D’orb to Toulouse, they were met with wildly contrasting experiences. From hours of walking in beautiful shady woodland and picking wild strawberries in warm sunshine to threatening storms that literally filled their boots with rainwater and brought down trees.

After two years of pilgrimages in only fair and hot weather, Judith says this was a completely different experience.

“I had never needed my waterproofs before but that all changed this time.

“We could see the storm coming but there was nothing we could really do.

“We were walking along a 30km stretch of canal and trees and there was no way to turn off. Suddenly it was there. Massive hailstones, wind so wild we couldn’t even walk so we tried to take shelter under some trees that were moving so much.santi5

“All the high trees were swirling and the hailstones were hitting us hard on the head. It was so intense. I felt like I was standing in water there was so much in my boots.”


A night of shelter followed but the next morning they had to negotiate fallen trees in soggy boots and continuous rain, but they kept going.

santi11 donkeysOn the days that followed, they were treated to many amazing sights. The ever-warm welcome of pilgrim hosts and coming across a newly-born donkey foal early one morning, born moments before.

Judith said: “We covered the most beautiful landscape. It was very hard at times with a lot of climbing and sometimes hard rain again. I have much admiration for Father Simon for keeping going. It was a hard walk. I have had lots of practice, but it was new to him.”

They walked an average of 15 miles a day for 10 days.

One day, after hours of walking up rugged mountains, through wild and beautiful woodland, they reached what Judith described as a “magical door.”

She said: “It was astonishing. It was like opening magic door as we stepped out of this wood into a completely different landscape of rolling countryside and hay meadows.”

santi9 wood

Another day they soaked up the peace and beauty of the Benedictine monastery at En Calcat, and, after arriving in Toulouse, at the Couvent des Jacobins.


Judith said: “The journey is like a story unfolding. I don’t know what’s coming next in terms of landscape, people and places and I find that journey, simply following the path and trusting that it will take me where I need to go, liberating and exciting.

“My mind is more open to following God’s path for me, and I just pray I can continue to follow it even when I don’t have the path signs to help me!”


Judith has hit her £1,000 target she was hoping to raise this time, very appropriately on St James’ Day. However she hopes to raise even more. Anyone who wants to sponsor Father Simon can use the same website.


If you are inspired to do a pilgrimage for CAFOD, please get in touch and we can help you with information.

If you are interested in the Santiago de Compostela,  pilgrim guides and accommodations lists are available from the Confraternity of St James.

Some more highlights from this trip below.

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