ancient UK paths in the wonderful countryside

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<p><figcaption class=Caw Gap on Hadrian’s Wall.Photo: Daverhead/Getty Images

Hadrian’s Wall Pilgrim’s Way

Begin Close of Houses
Finish Brocolita Roman Temple
Length 4¼ miles (use AD122 regular bus to shorten, if necessary)
Those who walk the entire 84 miles of Hadrian’s Wall in a week can refer to it as a form of pilgrimage. But in recent years the ever-innovative British Pilgrimage Trust has worked with English Heritage to devise historic pilgrimage routes – incorporating ancient sites across Britain – including the 23-mile section between Housesteads and Corbridge. For a pilgrimage with a Roman flavor, start at the fort of the Roman Houses – where “hooded gods” are said to have been worshipped, and walk east taking in the mile-long castles, turrets and remains of a temple dedicated to Mithras, the Roman god the light. (use the Hadrian’s Wall bus to return to the start).

Saint Patrick’s Camino, Newcastle, County Down

Start/finished Harbor House, Newcastle
Length 3-7¾ miles
Based at the Patrick Center in Dunpatrick as a guided offering (still available as a day trip for £45 per person) this Irish camino takes in the town where CS Lewis holidayed as a child and no doubt heard the legends of the mountain near him. Slieve Donard – said to have a hermit’s cell for St. Dominic, as well as, in Irish mythology, the tomb of mythical people and a door to the afterlife.

Walking in a loop from the town (if you follow your nose, or a map, from the center) the goal is the Narnia-esque Tollymore Forest Park, where a selection of paths can create a circular walk through large redwoods and rocky outcrops, and over stepping stones and 16 bridges across the Shimna River – an area of ​​special scientific interest due to its rare mosses, Atlantic salmon population and geology. Evidence of prehistoric man has also been found here.

John Bunyan’s track, Bedfordshire

Start/finished Sundon Hills Country Park
in the distancee 2½ miles

Published in 1678, The Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into over 200 languages, has never been out of print and influenced writers such as CS Lewis, Charlotte Brontë and Enid Blyton. This track is named after its author, who was imprisoned for preaching. In 1995 the Bedfordshire Ramblers group created a commemorative walking route that crosses places from his book to the real locations on which the writer based his trauma. This section starts where one of Bunyan’s followers lived and winds its way across the chalky landscape to the summit of Sharpenhoe Clappers (cut off Streatley for this shorter route) – a spur of tree-covered land that rises sharply from the surrounding flat arable land .

Cuckmere Pilgrim Path, E Sussex

Start/finished Berwick Station
in the distancee 1-11¼ miles
In 2014, Will Parsons and Guy Hayward noticed an ancient path on Gough’s 14th century map (one of Britain’s oldest maps) that connected churches and holy places. They used it to try to resurrect what they called the Old Way, linking Southampton to Canterbury – an act that sparked a renewed interest in walking ancient paths. Inspired by their work, in 2018 a local from East Sussex, the Rev Peter Blee, decided to create this circular route (broken down into six shorter options) which covers many points, and includes seven churches rural. But what stands out is the chance to wander amongst the clay and chalk of the South Downs, Low Weald and the archaeologically rich Cuckmere Valley, taking in a 1,600-year-old yew tree, a bird hide to see migrating and nesting birds. , and the Long Man of Wilmington, a 72 meter figure carved into the chalk hillside in the 16th or 17th century.

The old Stone Way in the Peak District

Begin Rowsley
finish Greaves apple
Length 8 miles (shortened to 1¾ miles starting at Birchover and walking there and back, either to Hermit’s Cave and Robin Hood Stride or Nine Women)

The total length of this neolithic walk is just over 37 miles, but this main walk has some real highlights, finishing at the handy YHA youth hostel in Youlgreave which is located in a former village co-op a few miles outside Bakewell. There are no Christian saints here; instead, it is littered with a prehistoric chieftain’s cairn, or galleon. Among these is the circle of stones known as The Nine Women (which in local lore is said to be women who used to dance on Sundays and were turned into millstones); a huge bush known as the Hermit’s Cave where there is a carved cross from the 13th century; and a beautiful rock formation called Robin Hood’s Stride – perfect for scrambling and feeling the cool limestone under your fingers, and which film buffs might recognize from the 1987 film The Princess Bride – all looking out towards Minninglow in the distance, a shamrock tomb going back miles. years to pre-Christianity and gaping bowls topped with a crown of beech trees.

Avebury Day Pilgrimage

Start/finished Avebury National Trust car park
Length 11 miles

Most people who visit Stonehenge go to Avebury for its unfenced prehistoric stone circle. But few people have taken a full day to stay and truly feel the depth of history in this landscape. Using one of the oldest footpaths in the area, the Ridgeway, to begin with, take the ancient oval Sanctuary – once marked by wooden poles which were thought to be a gathering place and an entrance to the Avebury stones. From there, you admire West Kennet Long Barrow, the site for 50 burials dating back nearly 6,000 years. Pass the source of the River Kennet – where hanging trees are often covered in “clouties”, or strips of ribbon, and the 4,500-year-old Silbury Hill, before visiting the Long Stones, which are aligned with the winter solstice. Eliminate the trees that are said to have inspired Tolkien to create his tree-like creatures, the Ents, in The Lord of the Rings. Going with kids? A walk around Avebury is a pilgrimage in itself.

North Wales Pilgrim’s Way

Begin The Coch House Hotel, Morfa Nefyn
Finish Y Gegin Fawr, Aberdaron
Length 15½ miles (start at Porthor to shorten)

Officially launched in 2015, the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way follows the route taken by medieval pilgrims back in the sixth century. Their target was Bardsey Island, aka the island of the 20,000 saints (people buried there who were almost guaranteed to rise to sainthood), although remains were found that predated Christianity by 700 years. The weather often prevents the trip there from the Lŷn Peninsula, but this section does, from a hostel only accessible on foot to the Great Kitchen – once used by pilgrims and still serving coffee today – great trip. It’s a wonderful mix of rough sandy beaches, tiny pebbles, crumbling cliffs and the whistling sands at Porthor (which squeak when you walk over them due to the molecular composition of the grains), before crossing farmland and rivers, and finally get the view of the island.

Breac Cathedral Pilgrimage, Powys

Start/finished Trout Cathedral
Length 4½ miles (two route options)

As this starts and ends at a cathedral cafe (aptly called Pilgrims Tearooms), you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a walk for religious people only. But the two routes created over the past year as part of Visit Wales’ Year of the Paths are much more than religious places. Landdew loop continues on a lower level of water mainly from an ancient well and along the Honddu River to a market town. Pen y Crug encompasses the high level of the River Usk and the iron age hilltop from which it takes its name – hence, spirit-lifting views of the Brycheiniog Bannu (formerly the Speckled Beacons) and the Black Mountains reward the efforts of pilgrims.

Saint Ninian‘s Cave Pilgrimage, Dumfries and Galloway

Begin St. Ninian’s Chapel, Isle of Whithorn
Finish St. Ninian’s Cave
Length 5½ miles (one way); one cave from Chiosal, 2 miles

The Isle of Whithorn village is home to the ruins of the fourth century church of St Ninian, which is said to have converted many Celtic and Pictish people from the south to Christianity. In the 12th century, pilgrims came to water and rest, before continuing to Whithorn and its priory, in honor of the saint of the name. Green signs marked “Core path 356” (a coastal network established by the local council) take you along sea cliffs to the cave where the saint would seek solitude. Names on the map are highly anticipated – Rock of Providence, Devil’s Footsteps – and it is also on this coast that the famous final burning scene of the 1973 classic The Wicker Man was shot. Look out for birds, especially cormorants, perched above the turquoise water and explore multiple caves once used by smugglers until you reach Port Castle Bay and St Ninian’s Cave, where 18 stone crosses have been discovered medieval.

East Iona, Fife

Begin Queensferry North Station
Finish Aberdour Station
Length 8 miles (2½ miles if using train at Inverkeithing)

Marked as the longer Fife Coastal Path, this journey goes through a part of Scotland that would be full of pilgrims back in the height of the ecclesiastical journeys. So much so that Queen Margaret, who later became a canon and a saint, established a ferry there to help bring people across the water (hence the name Queensferry) to reach the famous St Andrews further up the river coast. The walk includes numerous bays and coves, as well as tree-lined tracks and the fishing village of Aberdour with its 13th-century castle (thought to be one of the oldest examples in Scotland), and offers views of Enniscolm, AKA Iona. the East, where you can spy the ruins of a 12th century monastery. Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the proliferation of beaches en route for open water swimming surrounded by fulmars and seals.

Phoebe Snew myth book Wayfarer: Love, Loss and Life on Britain’s Ancient Paths (HarperNorth) out now. To buy a copy for £14.95 go to

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