Oxford to Cambridge with a Camel, June 1999

by Graham Kings

Date added: 02/08/2023


Oxford to Cambridge with a Camel, 22-27 June 1999

by Graham Kings

 Article for CAM and Oxford Today Michaelmas Term 1999

for a 5 minute film about the Camel Walk, click here.

Nobody has ever walked from Oxford to Cambridge with a camel before. One student on hearing that comment quipped “I wonder why not?” A whole range of questions arise. Why a camel? Well, we are supporting six primary schools for camel based nomads in northern Kenya. Why Kenya? I taught theology at St Andrew’s College, Kabare from 1985-91 and one of the students, Joseph Galgalo, from the Gabbra tribe in northern Kenya, was a former primary school teacher: he is now studying for a PhD in theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge – the first nomad to do so. Why Oxford to Cambridge? I read theology at Hertford, Oxford and Selwyn, Cambridge (both colleges generously sponsored us) and in 1980 walked, without a camel, with three friends from Cambridge to Oxford. Ever since, I have been looking for an excuse to walk again in the other direction. What was the excuse? The bicentenary of the Church Mission Society, with whom I served in Kenya. CMS was founded in 1799 in London by amongst others, John Venn (Queens’) William Wilberforce (St John’s) and Charles Simeon (King’s).


Monday 21 June        Preparation at Hertford College, Oxford


11.00am press conference, including radio interviews, at Hertford organised by the Vice-Chancellor’s press officer. 12.00 noon I’m grabbed by a passing cable TV crew in Radcliffe Square for an interview about the summer solstice – happen to mention the camel and the crew turned up to film the next day. 1.00pm  American walkers arrive, one without luggage (later found on a cruise in the Carribean). 4.00pm coach from Cambridge arrives with Kenyan and British walkers. 6.00pm briefing for the 24 six day walkers followed by evensong and dinner in Hall.


Tuesday 22 June       The Radcliffe Camel


7.30am Cleo the camel arrives in her truck, together with her handler and also the vet David Taylor, shadowed by a Grenada TV crew who are filming a 10 week series on him, called the Flying Vet. His parents were members of CMS. Cleo belongs to Amazing Animals, who rent out animals for adverts and films. 8.15am Pilgrimage sent off from Radcliffe Square towards Holywell Street, amidst a media scrum, by the Vice-Chancellor, the Principal of Hertford, the Vicar of the University Church and the General Secretary of CMS. 10.30am as the walkers continue, Joseph and I slip off with Cleo to St Edward’s School, Woodstock Road for more TV interviews and fund raising. Catch up with the walk along bridle paths and footpaths. David Ball, a Cambridge businessman, does a deal with a firm in Dubai on his mobile phone as he walks. 4.00pm end of day’s walk. Coach into Aylesbury to stay with parishoners.


Wednesday 23 June          Previous Pilgrims at North Marston


Glorious weather. Joined by 9 extra walkers for this day. Camel stuck in mud on a bridle path: Cleo has to try another route. Good photos by a hump road sign. Angelic sight of Ruth Gledhill, religious correspondant of The Times, coming up the hill towards us dressed in a white chiffon skirt and high heels. Lunch at Bell Inn, North Marston. Joel Phillips, undergraduate at Yale, recites 20 lines of Chaucer in Middle English. A local retired sea captain tells us how that village, which we had chosen by chance, had become a major centre for pilgrimage in 14th century England: a Rector, John Schorne, had struck the ground with his staff during a drought, and the gushing water had healing properties. At the evening meeting for the churches in Aylesbury Sasha Lewis, undergraduate at Harvard who had just flown in from a Greek island to join the rest of the pilgrimage, speaks of her conversion to Christ during an earlier  visit to Cambridge, England.


Thursday 24 June       Camel Avoids Woburn Lions


Start at a golf course and continue along the Green Sand Ridge with spectacular views. Stories about Bunyan from Peter Hilken our professional storyteller. Local radio interviews in pub over lunch. Walk through Woburn Abbey, but detour for Cleo (to avoid Safari Park lions) for photo opportunity and fund raising in Bedford Park. Someone phones BBC 3 Counties saying there was a camel in the park. When the DJ does not believe her, the local council phones in to confirm this news and their permission. Overnight stay with parishoners of Christ Church, Bedford.


Friday 25 June           American Ancestor and  Beer Bicentenary


9.00am As the walk continues Joseph and I meet the chief executive of Mid Beds District Council: his staff take photos of him and Cleo on a zebra crossing. Various local radio interviews on mobile phone as we walk. Fr William Robbins, from Hamden Connecticut, who completed the whole route aged 87, tells of the diaries he has at home, written by one of his ancestors, who was a white person captured by slave traders in West Africa and forced to ride a camel. Free drinks in the Greyhound pub, since the Greene King brewery was also founded in 1799! Mary Phenna, walk administrator (Selwyn, 1991) collected Bob Naser, Boston businessman, from the airport. Afternoon walk filmed by BBC Look East. Camel Extravaganza in the evening at Christ Church organised by John Scott (Corpus, Oxford, 1972).


Saturday 26 June      Primary School Stories from the USA and Kenya


Start from Sandy. During a break, Willits Sawyer (USA walk co-ordinator from New Haven) and Jimmy Sayre (blind singer from Ohio) regale us with wild stories of growing up together. William Waqo, from the Gabbra tribe (currently studying in Oslo) and Bob Beak (retired missionary bishop in Northern Kenya) recount the lack of basic facilities in the primary schools we are supporting. Children in Gamlingay ride on Cleo as she passes through the village. Along the prehistoric Clopton Way for a grand arrival at, and introduction to, Wimpole Hall. Coach to Selwyn College for the night.



Sunday 27 June        Camel through the Eye of a Needle at King’s


9.30am Matins at Kingston led by the Rector Jeremy Pemberton, a member of the 1980 walk (Merton, 1974 and Fitzwilliam 1978). Cleo enters for the blessing. Joined by a crowd of final day walkers including Joseph’s supervisor, the Regius Professor of Divinity, with his young family, and later the University Librarian. Filmed by Anglia, Granada and Cambridge Red TV. Lunch at Coton in the Church Hall. More walkers join us so that as we enter Selwyn College, escorted by Molly Dancers (East Anglian Morris Dancers) we are a large throng. Welcomed by the Master. Down West Road and into the back gate of King’s accompanied by St Andrew’s Chesterton Youth Choir. Under the jumbo arch of the Gibbs Building the Vice-Chancellor, welcomes us together with the Provost of King’s, Master of St John’s, Bishop of Ely and the President of CMS. Charles Simeon, one of the generous founders of CMS, lived above that arch for many years: rich man, eye of needle, camel …..Through the arch, as a torrential rain storm breaks, and into the great west door of Great St Mary’s, with Cleo, for a short service. Later a camel choral evensong at GSM and feast at Selwyn.


Monday 28 June      Duke of Edinburgh and Desmond Tutu


After a communion service at Selwyn, chauffeured punting courtesy of Scudamores and lunch at St John’s Innovation Park, we gather at the Veterinary School (where else?) to meet the Chancellor, the Duke of Edinburgh. Then comes surprise news from David Harrison, Master of Selwyn: he is bringing to meet the camel Desmond Tutu, just arrived in Cambridge to receive his honorary degree the following day.  Astounding finale for an amazing animal. When the former Archbishop asks if we are planning to repeat the walk, I reinterpret Jesus’ principle, ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’. This is the first time we have done this and it is likely to be the last!




Graham Kings

Graham Kings

Wood panel


Wood panel

A bronze