On Wednesday 14th September Alan Ferguson and his wife Jan – from Bewdley, Worcestershire – visited Bradford Cathedral as part of their pilgrimage to visit all 42 cathedrals in the country. Along the way they’re completing a scrapbook documenting their travels, and we spoke to Alan as he ticked Bradford off their list as the 29th cathedral of 42, before heading off to Ripon. We began by asking him how this idea came about.

“Back in 2020 [the original Year of Pilgrimage] we decided we were going to visit every English cathedral, but for obvious reasons it didn’t happen. And then we decided to make it 2021, but we didn’t really come out of lockdown until July, so we decided to make it 2022.

“And here we are at cathedral #29, just edging towards half-way through September, so we’re feeling comfortable that we’ll achieve our aim before the end of the year.”

As we talked, we looked through the large hardback book that was filled with images, text and more from the cathedrals they had visited so far.

“I started thinking about how we would record the challenge. Wherever we go, if there’s a guided tour we go on that and I write down all the snippets of information that the guide gives that you perhaps wouldn’t find in the guide book or on the internet. I collect postcards, and pictures, and I have a separate photo album.

“To make it unique I also decided that in every cathedral I’d ask someone with 10-minutes to spare, if they could relish a challenge and draw a picture, in the book, of something in the cathedral that is special to them.

“My wife scoffed at this idea when I suggested it, thinking people would run for the hills when they heard what I had in mind, but we were very lucky that in the first cathedral we visited that someone was more than keen to draw something for us, which meant by the time we got to the third and fourth one we could say ‘well every other cathedral we’ve been to has done one…’ but we’ve not had to arm-twist like that. There’s always been somebody who has been willing to draw something for us.
“Some of them have been childish, some have been quite professional, but that’s not the point of it: it’s about the act of giving, and contributing to the book.”

We spoke to Gwen – the Bradford Cathedral welcomer – to describe what she drew in the book, and why she committed that image to the page.

“I tried to illustrate a few of the areas that I’d spoken to [Alan] about, and he asked me to draw what it feels like to be here and what I take from it. And I said – that I take friendship from it, and I can find that in all weathers, so I tried to depict that, in autumn leaves, and seasonal change.

“I put the cross there because of faith. I put music there because music means an awful lot to me, so I tried that. And some things that I’ve found whilst doing a bit of greeting here: I’ve noticed a lot of lovely words in poetry (in Diane Pacitti’s ‘Bradford Pals’ poem, on display in front of the ‘World War I’ window) – I like poetry – so I drew that as well.

“My composition was a bit separate, so I tried to bring it together, to say that I get all these things from coming here – with friendship most of all – and I put words in there as well.

“Also, I didn’t draw any people, because in the time frame I wouldn’t have known where to begin. But the people one meets through Greeting is also very inspirational, not least today on meeting Alan with his very special Pilgrims Passport and fantastic idea of getting others to draw what they feel they get from the Cathedral.”

Returning to Alan and his book, we also spied a playing card on each cathedral page of the page.

“The playing cards come from a pack we bought in the shop of St Edmundsbury – it’s a pack of playing cards of English Cathedrals and I thought I’d stick them in.”

(For those who are interested, Bradford Cathedral is the four of diamonds)

Alan and Jan had arrived at the Cathedral for the organ recital. “We were pushed for time but we managed to catch the final 10-15 minutes.”

They had also been exploring the photos of the 42 cathedrals in the Peter Marlow exhibition. “It’s fabulous.”

We ended the chat by asking Alan to sum up their journey so far.

“It’s been wonderful. I didn’t know what I wanted to get out of this. I didn’t have an agenda when I started, but what has really overwhelmed me is the openness and the kindness of the people.

“It’s the people who make the churches; it’s the people who make the cathedrals.”

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