Having established a route from Norwich to St Benets’ the rest of the route back to Bury St Edmunds needed to be considered. It is suggested the monks originally went by boat to Bungay, by-passing Norwich altogether. Bury St Edmunds Ramblers have had previous experience of walking from Bury to Norwich by walking East to Diss and joining the Boudicca Way via Saxlingham Nethergate and Pulham Market.
But should we consider the point of it all? Was it to follow exactly in the monks footsteps or to promote Bury St Edmunds as a Pilgrimage Centre once again? If Pilgrimage is part of the purpose, then it might be worth considering what is meant by that, and its implications. Much has been written on pilgrimage already, reflecting new interest, and also a concern for the impact of so many people on the environment and precious places. Statistics for pilgrims to Santiago are kept through the system of Compostela- records of the journey which are presented to the pilgrims’ office on arrival. Last year, 2018, there were 327,378 pilgrims recorded, a huge increase since statistics were recorded from 1986:
Mindful of the impact of pilgrimage, the Green Pilgrimage Network was launched in 2011, of which Norwich is now a part. Should Bury be part of this, too? The network describes Seven Stages of Pilgrimage which individuals might experience- but how to nurture these? The list sounds rather prescriptive, but could be used as a framework for planning. The most tantalising “stage” on the list is the last one: metamorphosis/transformation/transfiguration/ascendance/transcendence- where change occurs. As a doctor I spent a career pondering on how to change people’s “health” behaviour, and came up with few answers. Individuals (pilgrims in this world) must be receptive to change and be able to see things anew. Art has the capacity to support this process, as does reading, writing and learning generally. And yet the change must occur in the brain. In The Master and his Emissary, Iain McGilchrist argues that the two sides of the brain have different functions (left- detail/language/logic; right- insight/instinct) and that Western Society has valued one over the other too far. Can the physical process of walking address this imbalance? Speaking recently on Radio 4, Richard Long made the obvious but profound observation that walking uses both sides of the body, and therefore the brain. Is this just my personal experience, but he did not mention the dreamworld which accompanies walking- the speeding up of thought, the evoking of memory, and the dreams at night. It is as if the extra exercise heats things up and stirs them about. This, surely, must help the capacity for change and redress any imbalance from our nit-picking left hemisphere. What an interesting area to explore as a neurophysiologist!
Thinking about these matters, and how to design a pilgrimage from the Bury St Edmunds end, I set out with a friend to walk to Bardwell. Once again we were lucky with the weather, and the companionship provided for a good sharing of ideas and memories. We set off Northwards along the St Edmunds Way as far as Culford, when we turned East to Ingham. Spring was all around with abundant sloe blossom and flowering birch. It was easy to feel immersed in the scene.
Outside the porch at Ampton Church there were large bunches of pussy willow, but sadly it was not open.
The track across from Ampton to Great Livermere reminded me of the sweeps of road along to Santiago, but without the thousands of other pilgrims:
And unlike the Caminos, the churches at Great Livermere, Troston and Bardwell were all open. Great Livermere contained several interesting features, including a memorial to M.R.James , who grew up as the rector’s son, and wall paintings where detail was long lost: The wall paintings at Troston were in better condition and easier to interpret: There was St George and the Dragon, St Christopher holding the Christ child, and a barely clothed St Edmund surrounded by coarse-featured Vikings!
There were also some tantalising geometric patterns, some of which were partly obscured by the Victorian panelling:
We reached Bardwell mid-afternoon to find further lovely details in the church of St Peter and St Paul . There was a wall painting recognisable as Christ being taken down from the cross:
The scene was interrupted by a party of bellringers who had travelled from Reading! We enjoyed the peels as we sat in our friend Tom Hoblyn’s garden waiting for a lift home.
And how does this walk fit in with my thoughts about pilgrimage? It would certainly provide an enjoyable entry back to Bury from St Benet’s. Ideas around “Green Pilgrimage” make me think it is so much easier to step out of your own door than bother with flights abroad to places already filled with travellers. From goodwill it is possible to construct a local network which more than fulfills the criteria for pilgrimage. There is enough beautiful landscape and fabulous art within a day’s walk, let alone a week, although I think this could be worked on with good stewardship. And Metamorphosis? The images played on my dreams and incorporated themselves into my own art-works: here a tiny “walk”, an icon.