Tag Archives: Cannock Chase

Two Saints Way Pilgrimage with Bishop Michael September 21-24 2016

The Background
Earlier this year my friend Philip Swan mentioned to me that the newly appointed Bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave who was then the Bishop of Woolwich, is a keen walker and suggested he might appreciate a copy of The Two Saints Way guidebook. I duly sent him a copy and quite soon I had a card from him thanking me for the guidebook and mentioning that he might be able to link his inauguration, which was due to take place in Lichfield Cathedral on September 24th, with The Two Saints Way.

This initial contact eventually led to the arrangement of a three day pilgrimage from Stoke Minster to Lichfield immediately prior to the inauguration. This was coordinating with a nine day ‘Season of Welcome’ designed to give opportunities for people to meet the new bishop. I agreed to organise and lead the pilgrimage and Bishop Michael asked me to choose a small core team to accompany him on the journey. The team that came together consisted of Ann Fisher who was High Sheriff of Staffordshire between 2014 and 2015, Rev Sally Smith, Team Vicar in Hanley and Ali Shadravani who is from Iran and has been involved with the Sanctus Project for refugees and asylum seekers – see http://www.sanctusstmarks.co.uk Sally’s husband Roy kindly agreed to drive the support vehicle.

tsw01Wednesday September 21st – Stoke to Stone
Our pilgrimage began at Stoke Minster. Before setting off, we gathered for morning prayer at the old eighth century Saxon preaching cross. Appropriately in this location, we had two mini preaches from Bishop Michael and Robert Mountford before we set on our way singing Bunyan’s “To Be a Pilgrim” – we had the BBC Midlands Today team filming the occasion which meant an early request to backtrack and repeat the start of our journey a second time!

We went over to the Trent & Mersey canal and started our journey south, pausing for Bishop Michael to do an interview for BBC. It was a busy media day with Bishop Michael doing further interviews for Radio Stoke and for the Stone Gazette.

We had a good stop for morning refreshments at St Mary’s Trentham before pressing on to the hilliest section of the pilgrimage on the ridge above the Trentham Estate with the busy M6 below to the west. We had a brief pause at the Duke of Sutherland monument which is a fine viewpoint before descending to Tittensor where we had an excellent lunch stop at St Luke’s.

The afternoon walk to Stone was over Tittensor Chase to Saxon’s Lowe, a possible burial place for King Wulphere, where I shared the legend of St Wulfad and St Rufin to the group and to some cows who came as the story began and left as soon as I finished! Our last stretch was back on the canal. There was a good crowd gathered to greet us at St Michael’s & St Wulfad’s for an occasion that

included the opening by Bishop Michael of a new interpretation panel highlighting the history of Stone especially in relation to pilgrimage. Amongst those attending were the Stone Mayor Jim Davies and Sue Thursfield, Manager of HSBC Stone which helped to fund the new panel. As soon as we had we completed the opening, the heavens opened and we were glad to move swiftly into the church for refreshments!

Here are some images from the first day:

A steep ascent at Trentham

A steep ascent at Trentham

A pause for meditation in King’s Wood

A pause for meditation in King’s Wood

The cows listen to the Legend of Wulfad & Rufin!

The cows listen to the Legend of Wulfad & Rufin!

Bishop Michael opens the new Stone panel

Bishop Michael opens the new Stone panel

Thursday September 22 – Stone to Stafford
Our second day began in the oldest part of Stone which is the crypt with its fine vaulted ceiling in the basement of the privately owned Priory House. I am grateful to the Gillow family for allowing us to start there and it was great to have Charles Gillow and his friends walking with us during the day. The Augustinian priory at Stone was built around 1140. After a short prayer tin the crypt we went up to the garden of the house where there are a few more fragments of the priory and where
we completed morning prayer.

It was a fine sunny day as we walked the canal once more to St Saviour’s Aston where we received a very warm welcome. We then visited the wonderful chapel at Aston Hall where Deacon Trevor told us the story of the bones of St Chad and how they were rediscovered in the chapel in 1839. It was then a further mile or so across the fields to the charming little village of Burston with its mill pond and the unassuming St Rufin’s Church where again we received a very warm welcome. It was mentioned that there were no records of any Bishop of Lichfield visiting this church before.

Our last canal stretch then followed as we walked on to Salt and then up to Hopton Heath where we paused to read the panel about the Civil War battle which took place there in 1643. Our next stop was at the village hall in Hopton where the Mid-Trent churches had put on a marvellous lunch for us.

Bishop Michael and pilgrims following on the canal between Burston and Salt

Bishop Michael and pilgrims following on the canal between Burston and Salt

In the afternoon, we walked over Beacon Hill with fine views over Stafford to Cannock Chase and over to the Wrekin. In Stafford we were able to call in at St John’s C of E School where an after school Messy Church was taking place. It was a delightful time there where we enjoyed the children singing and the children asked Bishop Michael some great questions. We then walked through the suburbs of Stafford and heard the bells of St Mary’s chiming for us before our arrival there. Our day concluded with our end of the day’s walk prayers around the Byzantine font followed by welcome refreshments.

Friday September 23 – Stafford to Lichfield
We began the last day of our pilgrimage with morning prayer in the splendour of St Chad’s Church before emerging into the natural splendour of another fine sunny day. It was pleasant to walk along the River Sow leaving the sounds of Stafford behind until we came to a bridge where the River Penk joins the Sow. Shortly afterwards, we had our morning stop at the home of Tony and Marie Living where it was warm enough for us to enjoy our refreshments in their wonderful garden. This was our only stop that was not a church, but Tony and Marie live on the site of the former St Thomas’s Priory. It is so good that they have been able to host pilgrims on The Two Saints Way in this place where pilgrims would have stayed in medieval times. Afterwards we were shown around some of the remaining priory ruins by the Liveings’ neighbour John Martin.

Deep in conversation….

Deep in conversation….

Refreshments with Tony & Marie Liveing

Refreshments with Tony & Marie Liveing

The second half of our morning involved skirting some sewage works – the wind was fortunately in the right direction! – and across fields, through Black Covert before negotiating a busy road across canal and railway bridges to Milford. From there we drove in two cars over to the southern side of Cannock Chase. This section would have been too much for us to include all in one day, but Bishop Michael has completed this section of The Two Saints Way on other days! Once again we had a wonderful welcome at Christ Church Gentleshaw and an excellent lunch too!

A brief pause in Black Covert

A brief pause in Black Covert

Silent walk in Cross in Hand Lane

Silent walk in Cross in Hand Lane

Duly refreshed we walked on over Gentleshaw Common and via Watery Lane and Chorley to St Bartholomew Farewell for our last stop. Here, as in every church we visited, Bishop Michael gave a blessing before we set off for the last two miles of the pilgrimage. This was along Cross in Hand Lane. Following pilgrimage custom, some of us had small hand crosses and we had a moving time of silent meditation as we approached Lichfield. After crossing the busy A51, we walked on into the city. We passed the cathedral and walked round Stowe Pool to St Chad’s Church where, after our final welcome and refreshments, many others joined us for the special Renewal of Baptismal Vows service which ended by St Chad’s Well with our being joyfully sprayed with water from the well!

Saturday September 24 – Bishop Michael’s Enthronement
It was a great joy for our pilgrim band to join Bishop Michael on this special day and to accompany him to the great west door of the cathedral. The service had already begun and then the dramatic moment arrived where Bishop Michael banged the  door three times with his crozier and then the great doors swung open and we  entered the cathedral. We all enjoyed the deeply moving service which followed and of course were delighted with the pilgrimage references in Bishop Michael’s inaugural sermon!

The pilgrim band - Ali Shadravani, Ann Fisher, Sally Smith, Bishop Michael, David Pott, Roy Smith

The pilgrim band – Ali Shadravani, Ann Fisher, Sally Smith, Bishop Michael, David Pott, Roy Smith

Some Personal Reflections

Bishop Michael
It was an enormous joy for me to walk through the diocese from Stoke to Lichfield. As we travelled along canals and rivers, through housing and industrial estates, across fields, and up and down hills, I was repeatedly struck by the way in which the stories of St Chad and those who have followed him through the centuries are threaded through the landscape of this part of Staffordshire. I carried with me a meqamia, an Ethiopian prayer stick, which I had been given on a visit to the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp outside Calais. It reminded me that many people are on the move in our world today: some’ like us, of their own free will, but others forcibly displaced, or escaping war or famine, or in search of a better life. As we walked on and I leaned on my meqamia, I knew in a quite tangible way the need in the journey of my life to lean on the supporting strength of the Holy Spirit.

Ann Fisher
Our pilgrimage with Bishop Michael leading up to his installation at Lichfield was a marvellous experience. What a joy to spend three days in glorious autumn weather, making our way through such varied and interesting landscape and sharing simple pleasures of walking, talking, eating, praying, laughing and quiet reflection with a wonderful group of people. It was great to spend time with old friends as well as deepening friendships with newer acquaintances and making completely new  connections. Walking the Two Saints’ Way gave me a real sense of connection with the landscape, its history and its communities past and present. It was also an opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for so many blessings: the freedom to walk and to share our beliefs without fear of persecution; the beauty of our surroundings, especially at Creationtide; the warmth with which we were welcomed along the way and, of course, the wonderful celebration at the Cathedral at the start of Bishop Michael’s ministry in the Diocese. I returned home feeling uplifted, refreshed and with many memories to treasure. Thank you for including me and I look forward to sharing more journeys with you all in the future.

David Pott
I am so thankful for how the whole pilgrimage went. My main desire was that it would give Bishop Michael ample opportunity to get to know the diocese in this most natural and Christ like of ways by walking and meeting people, so one of my main pleasures was just seeing him in conversation with people! “Bishop’s move” was a word I got early in the pilgrimage and I am glad to think that Bishop Michael is indeed a bishop on the move and full of purpose and I think that will be great for the whole diocese. I am also so grateful to all the good folk along the way who provided us with such excellent refreshments and always a warm welcome. It was very good to have such a wonderful core team and getting to know each of them better was special too. If I were to choose just one highlight amongst many it would have to be that morning coffee and cake in the Liveings garden – the warmth of the sun, the warmth of the company, the special pilgrimage place – perfect!

Ali Shadravani
Walking the Two Saints Way with Bishop Michael, David, Sally, Ann and other pilgrims we meet along the way was an amazing experience for me. It really made me think about the great importance and value of the the right leadership in all areas of our lives. David was so familiar with the route we were walking, that he knew instantly if someone out at the front was leading us the wrong way. He also knew from his experience which parts of the path were too difficult, and so he took us by an alternative route to avoid getting into trouble. Bishop Michael has come to lead us in our diocese, and I’m sure that he is the right person to lead us at this time. However, we know that he will only be able to do that as he is led by  Jesus, who walks all of our journeys with us. So I will continue to pray for Bishop Michael, that he will always hear the voice of Jesus, saying “This is the way, walk here alongside me”.

Sally Smith
It was a great privilege to be invited to be a part of the core team walking with Bishop Michael, to his seat in Lichfield Cathedral. When I initially accepted the invitation, I was sure that I had several months to get fit and practice walks which were more than a just ‘potter around the park with the dogs’. However, time went by quickly, and so as the pilgrimage approached, I wondered how I would manage to complete it. However, I learned a very great lesson on this walk. And it was the great necessity of walking together, and sharing each others burdens. When I found the path difficult, and when my backpack felt heavy, it was the support and encouragement of my fellow pilgrims that kept me going. Ali carried my bag and supplied me with water, and David encouraged us and gave us lots to think about with his stories and reflections along the way. Bishop Michael has joined us as our Diocesan Bishop at a crucial time, as the need for mutual support for each other in our diocese, and with our ecumenical partners has never been more needed. I pray that Bishop Michael will know the anointing of the Holy Spirit as he leads us, and that he will be gifted in bringing together parishes and deaneries that are divided, as we seek to serve God together, supporting and helping each other, to be the people of God in the world.

Ken & Sue’s Pilgramige

For the blog this month, I am handing over to Sue Down who with her husband Ken
have been journeying along the Two Saints Way. Here’s their story…

Ken & I are grandparents, still working but approaching retirement age. We haven’t done much walking but do run quite a bit and have managed to complete a couple of half marathons. When we heard about the Two Saints Way, we were excited at the prospect of walking a long-distance path that went through our ‘own patch’. We loved the fact that the path has such a richness about it from retracing the footsteps of ancient pilgrims and getting a good view of the Staffordshire Hoard; exploring our  industrial heritage through the Potteries and the canals; having the opportunity to level in glorious countryside such as Cannock Chase and the Trentham Estate as well as exploring beautiful English cities, towns and villages.

So the decision was made to walk the way in six days, beginning on 1st April. We planned the route by comparing the draft guide book to Google Earth and an Ordnance Survey Street Atlas that we had. We booked a couple of B&Bs and contacted friends in Baddeley Green. David sent out a barrage of emails to let people know that we were on our way and four friends and their dog agreed to join us for the first day.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable time exploring Chester on Bank Holiday Monday, the highlight being a very informative tour of the Cathedral led by Nick Fry. The weather was dry and sunny albeit bitterly cold. We were very glad to stretch our legs and set off for Christleton. After having a good look round this pretty village we headed for The Cheshire Cat which backs onto the canal. We were superbly well looked after and would have no hesitation in recommending this excellent Innkeepers Lodge.

Tuesday was another dry, bright day with a cold wind. We set off towards Nantwich at a brisk pace which, sadly, we were not able to maintain throughout the day. Ken developed painful blisters on his heels and later in the day I too discovered a few problems with my feet. We lost our way for a time at Calveley when we couldn’t find any way markers to help us. We soon got back onto the canal towpath and continued on our way. To keep our spirits up, we found ourselves singing old hymns – fortunately, there were not many people around at that point! I think the highlight of the day must be limping into Nantwich, 11 hours after we set out, eating fish & chips from the shop on Chester Road. We stayed the night at The Crown Hotel, a bit pricey but a very welcome resting point.

We started Wednesday with a tour of the beautiful St Mary’s Nantwich, thanks to Alan Joslyn, and the purchase of every blister treatment in the town. So with Ken’s wounds dressed and new socks on, off we went again. We decided to walk as far as the village of Hough and then get a bus as Ken’s feet were not up to more than 7 miles. Another dry day saw us crossing fields and strolling along country lanes. We stopped for coffee at the Swan Inn at Wybunbury which was most welcome. You can see on the left the very first Two Saints Way signs to be erected and a new panel with the map also. We got a bus to Crewe, then to Hanley and then to Baddeley Green, where we passed a very comfortable night with friends.

On Thursday morning we were finally able to see the Staffordshire Saxon and the Hoard, at The Potteries Museum, having failed on a couple of previous occasions.  We were back on the bus and heading for home in Stafford by lunchtime. More blister treatment and a night in our own bed saw us ready to fight another day.

Intrepid explorer on Two Saints Way near Tixall!

 

The path goes through the centre of Stafford and out along the River Sow to the edge of Cannock Chase at Milford. That is about 6 miles from our house so our plan was to reassess our fitness when we got there. I’m pleased to say that were able to keep going and enjoyed a fabulous 17 mile walk across the Chase to Beaudesert where Angela Bickley very kindly met us with hot chocolate and biscuits. The last pull up a steep, snow covered trail in the woods was tough but it was well worth it for the views from Castle Ring, the Iron Age fort on the highest point of the Chase.

After another very comfortable night spent with John & Christine Polhill at Reflections, their retreat centre home, we were off again. Wonderful sunshine, no wind for the first time all week and snow stacked up against the hedges. It was a delightful 8 mile stroll into Lichfield. We met up with Lilas Rawling, who walked the last little way with us and before we knew it we were at St Chad’s Well with Mike Preston excitedly showing us the drawings of the archaeological digs on the site. It was a fantastic, heady moment and I felt as though I could have turned around and walked all the way back to Chester!

Mission accomplished!

Probably just as well that Ken was there to keep my feet where they belonged and Lilas very kindly offered us a lift back to Stafford.

Two Saints Way is a wonderful walk that I would recommend to anyone. We learned many lessons about our own capabilities, God’s provision and the beauty of creation and the importance of having the right equipment for the job. We would be happy to help anyone else who is planning to walk the way and can always offer a bed for the night in Stafford. Oh, and we do intend to go back and walk the missing 30 miles!

“I’m Signing in the Rain!”

The last five weeks have seen a major focus on waymarking the countryside sections of the Two Saints Way. I amglad to be able to report that about 60 miles (two thirds) of the route is now signed. We have been working entirely in the countryside and waymarking in the urban areas will take some time as there is quite a lot of formfilling to be done first.

All hands on deck!

We began this round of signing in Acton on June 11th linking up the route between the Llangollen and the Shropshire Union canals. Rev Peter Lillicrap and churchwarden Charles Hull put up some waymarks at the start and then it was good to have Martinand Kitty Boot signing with us whom we had met on the pilgrimage. On June 13 TimSaxton and I drove out from Stone and met John Steadman in Wybunbury for a thoroughly good drenching! We signed around the village which we had planned to complete before their annual fig pie rolling event.

On June 18, Tim and I were joined by Ram and also Angela Bickley and Lilas Rawling to do the signage between Castle Ring and Farewell. It was incredible to notice the amazing difference between when we walked at the end of March when it was so dry.Watery Lane between Gentleshaw and Chorley had been only a little bit watery inMarch but was now quite a challenge to get through! So many places were overgrown.It gives us great admiration for those sturdy pilgrims who have continued to walk theroute after all this rain. Paul Graetz who came on the pilgrimage, recently did the wholeroute with a combination of biking and running in two days to raise funds for Douglas Macmillan Hospice!

On July 4 Ram brought Staffordshire University’s ViceChancellor Michael Gunn for a photo opportunity signingat Beacon Hill. Staffordshire University has of course beenan active partner and Ram had raised the money to adoptthe Beacon Hill mile. I had in mind to for Michael to signon the hillside so that we could get a good view ofStaffordshire University behind him, but when I saw him in his pinstriped suit and shiny black shoes I was not sure whether we would be able to do the deed! To the rescue came local farmer Richard Clarke and beckoned us into his 4×4 and drove us steeply up the hill and round to the stile with the perfect view. Fortunately this was a rare sunny day as you can see from the photo!

We drove up to Apedale Country Park on July 13 to meet countryside ranger Steve Spackman. We signed from their over to Audley in more normal rain! It was about this time that I started to sing:

I’m signing in the rain, just signing in the rain,What a glorious feeling I’m soaking again!

I’m sure one of you readers would like to have a crack at adding some more appropriate words!

Another soaking in Bunbury!

Our longest day of signing was across Cannock Chase on 14 Julyback from Castle Ring to Milford: Common. We even managed to doa little bit more back from Milford Common to St Thomas Priory at Baswich Lane but for our pains we got another tremendous soaking just before we finished!

On 16 July we travelled out to Bunbury and met Jill Robey and Amber Middlemiss. It was another day of pouring wet rain as we signed to Beeston but it didn’t dampen our spirits. There were quite a few places where sticky back markers were required but of course there was no chance of erecting them on a day like this so we have left them with Amber and Jill to put up which they may have done by now seeing summer has arrived!

Since summer has arrived, on July 22nd I actually went out without an anorak to sign between Stafford and Baswich Lane. The River Sow had flooded and it was not possible to get through, but I found another way round to complete signing. This time there was no soaking but I got a headache from the unaccustomed heat of the sun!

Many thanks to all those who have assisted with waymarking – it has been a very satisfying occupation.