Tag: walking holidays

Walking Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail as it marks its 50-year anniversary

This year marks 50 years of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail.

There are local walking festivals to look out for and a revamped visitor centre in the Welsh border town of Knighton to open later this summer.

An ITV series about the Path, Wonders of the Border, will be shown over summer.

The 177-mile national trail, which runs from near Chepstow on the River Severn to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast, divides into 12 day sections.

As lockdown restrictions eased, I walked the trail for a day from Castle Mill [pictured above] near Chirk Castle in North Wales into the Shropshire Hills to get a taste of the path.

The earliest reference to Offa’s Dyke is attributed to Asser, King Alfred’s biographer, who wrote:

“A certain vigorous king called Offa … had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia.”

Offa was the king of Mercia (the modern-day Midlands) and ordered the construction of the dyke around 785AD to mark a de-facto border between England and the rebellious Welsh tribes to the west.

National Trail Officer Rob Dingle says: “King Offa is something of a shadowy figure from history, but we do know that he was keen to expand his kingdom, and the design of the Dyke was quite deliberate, acting as a warning shot to the west.”

National Trails is encouraging walkers to share their memories of 50 years of Offa’s Dyke. Read more.

Read my feature coming soon to the i newspaper.

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How to celebrate St Patrick’s Day by climbing Ireland’s holiest mountain

Today marks St Patrick’s Day.

Normally I’d be raising a glass of the black stuff to celebrate. But, like everything else, it looks be a bit different this year with Visit Ireland live streaming the craic via YouTube.

But, pre Covid, I had celebrated the big day in the west of Ireland, joining walking guide Ged Dowling to climb Croagh Patrick, the holy Irish mountain towering over County Mayo.

I had gone to discover why some 120,000 people hike the treacherous trail to the summit each year, and to learn more about the man behind the folklore-shrouded myth of St Patrick with which is it so closely associated.

Patrick spent 40 days and 40 nights atop the summit of Croagh Patrick in 441AD, fasting, praying and communing with God in a lonely vigil, which established this formerly pagan peak as the new summit of Irish spirituality.

Ever since, the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage for St Patrick’s Day has felt like walking in his holy footsteps.

“Croagh Patrick was revered as a place of ancient spirituality long before Patrick was in town,” says Ged. “To me, it feels reassuring — like visiting an old friend.”

Read the feature in full via Independent Travel

See also Terra Firma Ireland

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.

British Pilgrimage — spiritual journey or Emperor’s New Clothes?

I took a weekend out during the summer.

Just me and a brand new experience. It felt good.

I joined a weekend pilgrimage [pictured above] with the British Pilgrimage Trust, a charitable trust with a modern-day take on the ancient art of pilgrimage.

After a night in an Airbnb in Frome and meeting a group of 20 complete strangers over coffee the next morning, we set off — pilgrim staffs in hands [pictured above].

It was a long haul, covering some 12 miles per day, although the bucolic countryside of the Avon Valley helped to distract from the burgeoning blisters.

After two full days of walking, we arrived into Bath and took the waters to conclude a pilgrimage devoted to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

Sinking in

So how did I feel at the end of the weekend? Underwhelmed.

The idea of weekend alone with my thoughts in nature really appealed. But the practicality of the pilgrimage itself started to grate, especially after we arrived really late at our overnight stop on the first day and having run out of water.

If you’ve got a group of people paying £150 a head to join the pilgrimage, you have a duty to cover the basics and look after people.

Maybe, I was expecting too much. As one of the walk leaders told me over breakfast:

“It’s about giving our pilgrims an experience. Whether they enjoy it or not, it’s still an experience.”

Tacking stock

I’ve deliberately waited a couple of months before pitching and placing an article about my experience. It will be published in the new year.

Meanwhile, I’ve had time to think back over the weekend. Did I bring my own stresses or preconceptions to the pilgrimage? Or is this type of group experience simply more Scout camp than spiritual journey?

Read my article and decide for yourself. Here’s a preview:

We finally made it to Iford Manner on the Somerset-Wiltshire border as night fell, tired and hungry, for an al-fresco take-away dinner and homemade cider.

Bedding down en masse on sleeping mats in an outbuilding that night, I pulled the sleeping bag around me glad to rest.

This pilgrimage lark, I was coming to realise, was no walk in the park.

A pilgrimage should be about the journey, not the destination. But it was only when I spent time alone in Bath afterwards that I actuallly found the sense of peace I had been looking for all along.

I’m not planning to re-book. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a pilgrim after all.