It is now three months since the launch pilgrimage for the Two Saints Way guidebook took place. I had hoped to write sooner, but I have been pre-occupied with a house move from the Isle of Arran to Bishop Auckland in County Durham which has now taken place.
The pilgrimage began appropriately on the afternoon of All Saints Day Sunday November 1st at the shrine of St Werburgh in Chester Cathedral. The small group were welcomed by Canon Jane Brooke and she was presented with a Two Saints Way candle by Ann Fisher who during her time in office as High Sheriff of Staffordshire had walked The Two Saints Way. I was also delighted to receive one of The Two Saints Way candles which had also been delivered to others churches along The Two Saints Way. During her pilgrimage Ann had also raised funds for the High Sheriff’s fund and it was excellent that a grant was provided so that free copies of the guidebook could be given to the 22 schools that were on the route. Delivering those guide books during the week was a very worthwhile and enjoyable part of the pilgrimage.
We then walked the short distance to St John’s Church for the official Chester launch where we were welcomed by a choir singing “When the Saints Come Marching in” which was lovely, but we didn’t feel we quite deserved it after only walking those few yards! Father David Chesters welcomed us and then I shared some thoughts about the significance of Chester as a pilgrimage city and introduced the guide. We then enjoyed refreshments and sold our first copies of the guide which I duly signed. To conclude the day, we walked along the first stretch of The Two Saints Way out to Christelton checking on signage as we went.
It was a great pleasure to have my friend Pete Adams walking with me on Sunday and Monday and the photographs from these two days are his. Monday was a grey and misty day where I was often describing the views that could not be seen, but it was a day full of good things all the same.
When we turned off the canal towards Beeston Castle, we met up with some walkers who were glad to buy a copy of the guide. I had envisaged this possibility and it certainly was a good moment. Soon after Pete took this photo of me fixing a sign by a new kissing gate.
This photo captures the atmosphere of the day very well with the tower of St Boniface Bunbury in the misty background. A few moments earlier Marg Hardcastle here on my right had caught up with us. She has worked with me on the development of the Two Saints Way since it started. She had chosen this week to complete walking sections of The Two Saints Way she had not walked before
and it was great that she should be the first to use the guide book after its publication.
Two other highlights of the day are illustrated in these photos. Snugbury’s famous ice creams are close by The Two Saints Way and since they get a mention in the guide, we sold a copy there and even though it was not the kind of day you’d normally go for ice creams, Pete’s offer to treat us was not to be missed! In the photo I am indulging with Tim Saxton, who was my special companion throughout the week driving his guidebook laden car and dealing with sales at all the launches. In the evening the launch was at the wonderful Nantwich Bookshop and it was a very special and well attended occasion. The owner, Steve Lawson had put on a great spread before I spoke and afterwards a good number of guides were sold.
After that first full day of walking, I actually took very few photos myself during the rest of the week. It continued to be very cloudy and overcast and there was one extremely wet day on Thursday so it was not the best of weather for photographs. Also I was very much focussed on checking the signage and improving it wherever possible. Crossing the M6 is always something of an event on the journey so I
thought I should make sure there were two markers in the middle of the bridge there indicating the ways to Chester and Lichfield!
On Tuesday, we had the launch at Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum which I always regard as a special highlight and on Wednesday it was held at the Potteries Museum. Before that, Philip Swan, who had been with me on the inaugural pilgrimage on the Two Saints Way in 2012, met me at Westport Lake with five asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iran and we walked together along the
canal and through Festival Park to the museum. It was a very positive experience for all of us and it was good for them to see more attractive parts of the city.
Although as I have mentioned it was cloudy and grey for most of the way, there was still much to please the eye. On the left is a photo of the golden birch leaf pathway ascending to Seven Sisters above Trentham Park.
On Thursday evening our launch was at Christ Church Stone which is the church I attended when we lived in Stone, so it was very good to be joined on that evening by many good friends who have been good supporters of the Two Saints Way.
On Friday, I was joined by Martin and Sue Goodchild on the journey to Stafford where the launch was hosted in the Mayor’s Parlour by the very jovial and hospitable mayor Peter Jones. I think this was arguably the most relaxed of the launches with the most laughter! Afterwards Tim and I went to the fascinating old Stafford windmill where I did an interview for Radio Windmill. It went well and Ian and Lisa Tiso the delightful couple who run the station decided to make a full length programme out of it, that was broadcast on the following Sunday and there were a few other repeat broadcasts as well.
You can hear the interview (without the music) if you click here.
And so to the final day which began with some more very heavy rain, butthen in the afternoon, wonder of wonders, the sun broke through as we descended from Chorley to Farewell! It is difficult to describe just how uplifting that parting of the clouds was and the sun lighting up the autumn colours!
I was joined by Lichfield coordinator Angela Bickley with her granddaughter Chloe, Marion Kettle from Farewell and again by Ann Fisher and Julia Roberts.
The last stretch along Cross in Hand was memorable not just for the sunshine, but also for an encounter with a man who was working in his garden as we were looking at a small cave beside the road. We asked him if he knew anything about the cave and he proceeded to tell us all about The Two Saints Way! He explained (as we all knew very well) that Cross in Hand Lane was part of an ancient pilgrimage route now revived as The Two Saints Way and that the cave was believed to be occupied by a candle seller. Candles were required to be given by those going on a penitential pilgrimage. We soon revealed to him that I was involved in the reviving of the route and he was very glad to receive a copy go the guidebook.
At Lichfield Cathedral we were warmly welcomed by Canon Pat Hawkins and she conducted a brief foot washing ceremony before I spoke. After book signing there, we made the short journey to St Chad’s. It was a fine sunset and I took some photos of that wonderful view of the cathedral with Stowe Pool in the foreground. That sunset along with an excellent tea and final prayers formed a fitting conclusion to the pilgrimage.
There were so many people who contributed generously to this launch pilgrimage…
We enjoyed wonderful hospitality in Chester at the home of Catherine Green, In Allsager with John and Pat Percival and for three nights in Stone with Sean and Helen Kennedy.
For each of the seven launch events, the local organisers worked hard to ensure that we were taken care of and that there were people there to buy guidebooks! There were others too who provided refreshments for us along the way at Bunbury, Chesterton and Burston.
Julie Jones, CEO of Lichfield Diocese helped us with fuel costs on the journey as well as having sponsored our pre-launch event in July with North Staffs YMCA.
I have mentioned Ann Fisher and her generous contribution for guidebooks for schools.
Last but by no means least, I am so grateful to my dear friend Tim Saxton for taking care of the guidebook sales and driving the car, always being flexible and ready to help not only myself but others who joined us too.