After COVID?

July 12, 2022 at 10:00 pm | Posted in England walks, Gloucestershire walks, Worcestershire walks | Leave a comment
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‘Time Flies’ I’ve said it before, and to be honest it’s a kind of excuse for not having done something, but in the last five years quite a lot has happened. My previous blog(s) mention knee problems and Lo , they got worse, and after two arthroscopies I ended up having a total knee replacement in 2017. The op went very well, but unlike the previous ones, I decided to take the physio requirements rather more seriously, so I was up and walking moderate! distances in less than two months. I have been keeping a log of all my walks for the last couple of decades and had been regularly walking over a Thousand miles a year but NOT after the knee replacement and that year I was down to just over five hundred. It has increased a bit since then but I doubt whether I shall ever get back to four figures, but the good news is that I am still walking on a regular basis, although not with the LDWA whose walks are mostly too long and too fast for me. The good news is that I have joined a new walking group lead by an interesting character, Bruno, who has a rolling programme of walks, mainly in the Cotswolds and every Tuesday, alternating between long and shorter distances.

Who ever?, wants to write about COVID, but like most keen walkers, I have managed to get out and about with quite a degree of success. During the first lockdown, I managed to hear that the government had decreed you could drive out to your place of exercise so long as your exercise was longer than the drive. So I was able to drive out to the village of Andoversford, which is almost a gateway to The Cotswolds and sort out lots of different lengthy walks. On an early walk, I arrived at the remote village of Hawling , only to find signs saying that the village was closed to walkers. Crazy, but I did later learn that there had been a fatality involved locally. The downside of the pandemic is that most walking clubs, mostly plan their walks some way ahead, and COVID and the early restrictions on group numbers, meant that most people were just sorting out their own little group walks, which they soon got used to. The result of this is that clubs are now offering their members the opportunity to do this, within the group through online contact, which is called Meet Up. This Luddite has never managed to get on the site but then I have enough walking anyway.

My other great interest- Woodland- has also not been much affected. In the early days, when driving the ninety miles or so down to Somerset, I made sure I was in my working clothes and had a spade and tools in the back of the car in case I got stopped, but I never did. However, I did find looking after both woods rather too arduous, especially since most of my time was being spent in the lower wood, where we have our commodious cabin, now with a woodburning stove, added a couple of years back, so last year we decided to part with the top wood and put it on the market. It sold quite quickly to a local couple who wanted to have more space for exercising and training their sporting dog. Unfortunately the sale coincided with the large upturn in property prices but we were happy with the result at the time, and it’s no good looking back!

And now for something rather different! That you may have already spotted on the new menu added to this – PILGRIMAGE WALKS. In my advanced years, I have not gone all religious but prefer to adopt an old adage ‘Curiosity does, no less than devotion, pilgrims make’. This came about through a very old friend of mine who is The Chair for the parochial council of two local churches in North Gloucestershire. One of them is at the rather uninspiring village of Stoke Orchard which is between Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. The clue is in the name of the church, which is dedicated to St James. In the 1950’s and 60’s amazing wall paintings were uncovered under centuries of whitewash, which show St James’s travels to Compestella in Northern Spain and where his relics lie. Outside the porch to the church are quite a few Votive signs which had been inscribed by pilgrims passing through or maybe starting a pilgrimage from the village. So, my friend Roger, pointed them out to me and said’ You’re a long distance walker and you must know nearly every track and footpath in the county, so where do you reckon the pilgrims came from and where were they going?

There is certainly a burgeoning interest in Pilgrimages, and the annual numbers making their way to Compestella, on any of ten or more different routes through France and Spain, now exceeds the numbers from medieval days. Pilgrims arriving at Compestella can acquire a certificate or scroll to show that they have walked at least a hundred km past official way stations and part of the minimum distance covered can also include starting from England.

In our ‘little’ island we have nearly a thousand delineated walking trails and there are about a hundred that are dedicated to a Saint or have a religious or Pilgrimage emphasis. There is definitely quite a strong Pilgrimage history in North Gloucestershire but very few trails. So, ever the enthusiast, yours truly, is now finding links between the local places that pilgrims are known to have travelled.

We, that is Roger Grimshaw and myself, are starting with a circular Pilgrimage trail around Tewkesbury taking in Tewkesbury Abbey, Stoke Orchard, and Deerhurst. More details are on our new Pilgrimage page and this circular trail has just been opened. We have also produced a colour leaflet which is available from the churches and Abbey on route. You can also download it here.

My Pilgrimage interest was further increased when I heard from a lady about a remote church in Worcestershire that had connections. This was just outside the village of Pirton, which is quite close to the NT estate of Croome Park. I looked it up on the relevant OS map and found that it lay on an almost straight line of footpaths, bridle ways and minor roads between Worcester and Tewkesbury and may therefore have been on route for pilgrims between these two major places of worship.

As a long term project, I am now looking at a possible modern pilgrimage route that will start at Worcester Cathedral and then proceed south east linking up many well known places with pilgrimage background to finish up down on the south coast at either Southampton or Portsmouth. My unofficial idea for a title would be ‘A Way to Wessex’

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