Author: David Atkinson

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How to take a walk in the footsteps of the Northern Saints

* This post was written pre lockdown * 

One name keeps coming up in County Durham: Cuthbert.

“St Cuthbert is woven into the landscape of the Northeast. There were times when the pilgrims couldn’t get to his shrine as it was so crowded.”

Charlie Allen, Canon Chancellor of Durham Cathedral, is expainling Cuddy’s perennial appeal as we meet in the Cathedral cloisters, the sound of the choir practicing for evensong beyond the ancient walls.

“Today, pilgrims come for different reasons but the idea of making a pilgrimage remains a transition point in life. It’s a time to reassess.”

Durham is the visitor hub for six new, long-distance walking trails, collectively the Northern Saints project, which maps the spiritual heritage of Northeast England as the Christian crossroads of the British Isles.

The trails, following ancient pilgrimage routes, were first waymarked to coincide with the Association of English Cathedrals naming 2020 as the Year of Pilgrimage.

I’m walking The Way of Life, following in the footsteps of St Cuthbert north towards Durham via Bishop Auckland.

His body was carried by his devoted followers [pictured above as a statue in Durham] to a place of refuge following Viking raids on Northumberland in the 9th century.

One of the shorter of the six trails, the 29-mile hike divides conveniently into two or three sections for a weekend of autumnal walking and local history.

There are places to stay and eat along the route with more infrastructure to be added.

The route is well waymarked with circular symbols of a purple Celtic cross, although it’s worth downloading a route plan from the website for some sections.

Further waymarking is due to be completed by Easter 2021.

My features from The Way of Life will now be published in the spring. Check back for details.

Why 1,546 is more than just a number — it’s a true national tragedy

Today marked a grim milestone for the UK with the highest ever daily death toll — yet.

The 1,546 people whose deaths were recorded today, all of them having died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, brought the pandemic death toll in the UK to over 100,000.

Commentators reacted with a mix of anger, despair and weary resignation.

But it’s easy to focus on the numbers on the numbers [see BBC graphic above] and forget the human cost.

Each one of those 1,546 deaths represents an individual tragedy, and a grieving family left behind to pick up the pieces.

I know from my work as a funeral civil celebrant that every family is different. Every family copes with its personal loss in its own individual way.

And family members take comfort from the opportunity to celebrate the life of their lost loved ones.

I work with those families to remember the person behind the statistics. We remember their achievements and cherish their shared memories.

Every one of the 1,546 souls lost today deserve the dignity of a highly personal service, one directly tailored to the needs of the individual family.

After all, that’s how the latter will find the strength to carry on.

As Julia Samuel, the author of the book Grief Works, says:

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”


I’m available for civil celebrant ceremonies in the Northwest region.

Liked this? Read also: How to share your story for National Grief Awareness Week.

Media masterclass: How to tell a story and engage your readers

I’m running a new online course from March 1st in collaboration with

We will cover how to tell a story and the importance of human interest to that.

We will also look at the importance of knowing your reader and work on drafting a sample feature for you to pitch — to ultimately sell and make money.

This course will be taught online to keep it flexible for working media specialists and student journalists currently based at home.

If you’re looking to refresh existing skills, or develop some new ones as a freelancer, this how-to course, based on my insider tips from 20 years as a working journalist, could be the new-year resolution you were looking for.

You can find out more about the course by reading my guest blog for the site, in which my key point is:

Journalism is complex but the secret to good storytelling remains simple: engage your reader.

Read the full post here.

And sign up for the course: How to tell a story and engage readers.

Why our own innate resilience is key to the art of not falling apart

Christina Patterson understands loss.

The journalist and broadcaster often talks about how she has survived cancer and is the last remaining member of her family, having most recently lost her brother.

“I am,” she says, “the end of the line.”

Yet she still finds ways to celebrate life with her love of the arts and her relationships with others.

Christina documents her story of loss with honesty and eloquence in her book, The Art of Not Falling Apart.

I enjoyed her writing but also admired her resilience, a topic she discussed as a guest on the latest edition of the What I Believe podcast from Humanists UK [pictured above].

The knockbacks she has survived in life have, she explained, built her sense of resilience. She has not only overcome them but gone on to build a career as a freelance writer and commentator.

We don’t all have Christina’s resilience.

It’s hard to bounce back when life sends a curveball. It’s hard to stand up again when events conspire to knock us down.

It feels even harder to remember that now as we draw to the close of a year that many people would probably rather forget.

But we do bounce back. As Christine reminds us, there are fleeting glimpses of beauty in even the darkest skies.

She finds it in poetry and nature; others will locate it elsewhere. The secret is to grasp it wherever you find it.

After all, she says, loosing her entire family has only strengthened her resolve to keep on embracing life.

She says:

We’re all trying to work out what really matters to us during this pandemic. There is certainly something to be said for reminding us how short and precious life is.

In my role as a civil celebrant, I meet people who are living with loss.

It’s raw and painful but, as we work on a eulogy about their loved ones and gather to celebrate their lives at a civil ceremony, I see their resilience shine through.

Christina Patterson’s writing helps to remind us resilience is hard-wired into all of us — we just need to let it flourish.

More about The Art of Not Falling Apart.

Liked this? Read also: How to share your story for Grief Awareness Week.