After nearly two years of complete quiescence it is time to get out moving again. The Coronavirus Pandemic put organised Pilgrimage on hold, but there is much to write about, and explore.

The millennial pilgrimages were cancelled for 2020, and have now been reorganised for April 2022 and May 2022- see the Cathedral website for details.

A fortnight ago I took the path from Mildenhall to Ely, to check the route again. Coming out of Mildenhall seemed more complicated than before as a bit of the river by Gravel Gardens has been blocked, and it is necessary to leave the river briefly down Gravel Drove.

start of Gravel Drove from Ely end

The other change was the bridge across the Great Ouse has a warning sign! It is looking rather faded, but still very welcome as you enter Ely.

I am looking forward to April! The walk 4/5 April will be followed by a “Pilgrimage Day”, arranged as an Abbey 1000 event, where different aspects of pilgrimage to Bury St Edmunds past, present and future will be discussed.


At last, after a year of trialing routes and many deliberations, the pilgrimages planned for the Millennium of the Foundation of the Abbey of St Edmund are available to book on the Cathedral website.  Hurrah! I have been slow in describing the routes on this blog, but will do so now in the hope that people will want to come. You will NOT be disappointed if you do.

Route one:  St Benet’s to Bury St Edmunds May 18-22 2020 around 80 miles

IMG_4661Day 1 Ludham to Norwich around 15 miles, walking from Ludham to St Benet’s, then crossing the river Bures by boat to South Walsham, following the walk from Ranworth to Norwich previously described after the walk last March. Evening meal at Norwich Cathedral

Day 2 Norwich to Dunstan around 12 miles. A walk of Medieval Norwich, devised by St Stephen’s Church in memory of Richard Caistor who died 600 years ago.  The walk includes the Shrine of Dame Julian for prayers, before setting out to Caistor . This is a Roman Fortification with plenty of wall left and a small church dedicated to St Edmund, which once belonged to the Abbey of St Edmund. Beyond this is a large hotel: Dunstan Hall, with comfortable rooms and decent food. I walked this way last June: the Medieval Norwich walk in particular was fascinating, and St Edmunds Church poignant: Bury men had been here before a long time ago.


Day 3 Dunstan to Diss around 24 miles. Yes, twenty four miles. No proper hills and easy walking, but it takes a long time! We started at Dunstan Church just behind the hotel and basically walked Southwards along quiet roads and footpaths. Part of this includes the Boudicca Way, but where this seemed to zig-zag unnecessarily we ignored it, stopping for a picnic lunch by St Catherine’s church at Fritton, with lovely wall-paintings. Once past Fritton we stuck to the Boudicca Way all the way to Diss, which is well-signposted.

Day 4 Diss to Bardwell around 15 miles. I was always worried after very long walks whether I would ever be able to move again- but this will be easy! I trialed the walk with Ron West from Bury St Edmunds Ramblerslast October- the walk is straightforward along the Angles Way , then turning South-West at Thelnetham Church of St Nicholas


Day 5 Bardwell to Bury St Edmunds around 14 miles. The walk has been previously described on this blog via Troston, Great Livermere, Ampton and Ingham. The plan is to join the other pilgrims coming from Ely and arrive together in time for Evensong at 5.30pm at the Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds

Route Two: Ely to Bury St Edmunds May 21-22 2020 around 30 miles

Day 1 Ely to Mildenhall. Around 15 miles Previously described on this blog: after a walk to Prickwillow the walk continues along the River Lark to St Mary’s, Mildenhall The Bell has kindly agreed to take on the hospitality with a pilgrim meal and beds. St Mary’s Church is celebrating their 800th Anniversary, so the Pilgrimage will be part of this.


Day 2 Mildenhall to Bury St Edmunds Around 15 miles. Following the River Lark via Icklingham, then the Icknield Way to West Stow, and the River Lark again to Bury. Previously described on this blog.

I have two concerns for this walk: the A11, and undergrowth. I approached the Police about crossing the A11- their official advice is not to attempt it, but they do concede there is a public footpath marked and have suggested we use the new roundabout with traffic lights which control the traffic half-way across. The rest will involve timing in small groups

The undergrowth problem is less dangerous, but during the month of May things grow very quickly. There are offers of help to trial the walk beforehand armed with sickles.

And in the meantime I have been playing with more linocuts.  I was looking for images from 1020 and paid a visit to the museum at Norwich. I was struck by the subtle differences between early crosses and other, Viking images, and played with variations. I also played with Angels in Mildenhall for their 800th anniversary.


Icon painting at Clare Priory

I have spent a week in Clare Priory learning about icon painting. The Augustinian monks are not an enclosed order, but opportunities to to get out were minimal, especially as light was so important for painting. For someone who likes a whole day’s walking this seemed restrictive after a few days, and I kept nipping out for quick walks into neighbouring Clare Castle. Autumn is advanced, and there was lovely colour all around with shadows stretching across the fields.

IMG_6287Clare Priory was reclaimed by the Augustian monks in the 1950s.  There are currently 3 monks and two resident nuns.  The main building is C14 and the stairs to my attic room went at odd angles.  There were instructions laid out on the structure of the day:

IMG_6262The Augustinian Rule provided further structure to the day. This Eight Chapter document was designed to encourage the community to live together well. A bit in Chapter eight seemed particularly relevant for icon-painting:

“The Lord grant that you may observe all these precepts in a spirit of charity as lovers of spiritual beauty, giving forth the good order of Christ in the holiness of your lives: not as slaves living under the law but as men living in freedom under grace.”

The connection between a highly structured and prayerful day, and the production of something beautiful revealed itself through practice as the week progressed, although I must admit there were times when beauty escaped: us students talked too much and we got stressed. One day I missed Mass to catch up on my painting, and whilst I regretted this in some ways it was a particularly lovely experience to be on my own in silence working on the icon.

So what is an icon? The word (like pilgrimage) is used very loosely. By the end of the week I felt I had reached the point of “conscious incompetence” – at least knowing how little I knew.  Our wonderfully patient teacher Annette Ashton-Melzack had recently completed her training as an iconographer through the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, working under the tuition of Aidan Hart. I had his large instruction book: Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting, but this had not prepared me for just how many stages there are to producing an icon in a traditional manner (and there are several different traditions…). I also have his smaller book Beauty Spirit Matter which reflects on the central idea in Christianity of the spiritual made material, and the beauty and integrity of matter. Prayerful in production, the final piece should be anonymous in nature, and allow the viewer to look beyond our normal universe to the Sublime. No pressure, then!

Each painting session began with a prayer, which became increasingly covered in paint  as the week progressed:


Theotokos: the carrier of God. What a daunting prospect. We started off with a gesso board and made up some pigment paper, rubbing red ochre into paper to transfer a tracing of the image. This was then secured with paint- tempura made with a mixture of egg yolk, vodka and distilled water. The base of the halo was then built up with 7 or 8 layers of bole: a clay paint which was ground and polished when dry to form a base for gold leaf.

Getting the gold to stick was an interesting challenge- more vodka was required. The student sitting next to me was a sister who had spent much of her life teaching both art and theology- she was a natural and invented a refinement which involved leaving the backing paper of the gold to peel off in its own time- it worked!

IMG_6296The process continued with plenty of opportunities to make mistakes, but also to correct them as there were so many layers. The only design decision was how to paint the background. My first thought was dark- “Madonna of the Midnight”, then bright orange “Madonna of the Autumn Leaves”, but in the end it just had to be Celestial Blue .


On the final evening us students took our offerings into the church where they spent the night. At Mass the following day they were blessed with lots of incense before the congregation. My icon is now at home looking a little out of place.

I do not think I will ever be an iconographer; I do not have the patience, but I learnt so much. I imagined how things might have been for the artist-monks in the Abbey of St Edmunds- working within a tight framework of the Benedictine Rule, and lacking decent light in winter. Their illuminated manuscripts are simply amazing. I was reminded once again of the iconoclasm which took place during The Reformation. This would have struck at the heart of anyone who took comfort through or from such imagery- perhaps particularly (in the case of Theotokos) women.  I hope that some of the ideas and techniques can be transferred to other work and I might “have a go” at illuminated manuscripts. And, as with all things, if you make something  you start to appreciate other, better examples.



It is several weeks since I walked back to Bury St Edmunds from Stradishall- it seems a whole season away as then it was one of those late summer days rich in colour- and now there is steady drizzle. I have delayed writing due to activity to do with water meadows in Bury St Edmunds- for which I am also writing a sister blog: Wild Meadows 

The bus to Haverhill stops by the lane to Stradishall, and it was no distance before I found the church. Sadly it was locked, but there were some splendid gargoyles dealing with the drains and also embedded into the wall at the West end. They reminded me of the current milieu in the House of Commons- things don’t seem to change.

I walked along a footpath towards Denston, passing by brambles in the hedge. The berries were at various stages of ripeness, reminding me of an illustration in the Bury Herbal

This wonderful book is a product of the Benedictine Abbey from around 1100- although the text was copied from existing texts it is likely the illustrations were drawn from life, and the text added afterwards. I am not sure what physicianly properties this plant was thought to possess and wish I could understand the text.

Coming into Denston I came across the unlikely scene of a woman wrestling with a large flag of the Isle of Man. By good fortune this turned out to be the Churchwarden, Fiona Evans, who was most willing to show me around the church. The first thing which struck me as we approached was its size. Denston is a tiny village, yet the church was enormous.  A population of 120 was recorded on 2005. This has declined over the past 200 years, probably due to a change in farming methods and general migration to towns and cities:


Much has been written about Denston church already- there is so much interesting detail it is hard to know where to start. Whilst a church existed here in the 12th Century the main building was built in the latter part of the 15th Century, incorporating a “College” “To celebrate the divine offices day by day … for the souls of John Denston and Katherine Clopton his wife.. and of their heirs.. and for the souls of all the faithful departed.” The chantry priests survived the dissolution of the monasteries until Edward VI’s reign. Two beautiful brasses lay on the floor of the nave. I noticed that the woman’s cloak was decorated with scallop shells down the left border. A Pilgrim! We speculated as to whether the parts of the work left in bare stone had once been coloured in some way? And what is that man doing with another man wrapped around his head??


IMG_5827The most unusual, probably unique, feature of the church was the beautiful Double Cadaver Tomb. Professor Julian Luxford published a paper on this for the Journal of the Richard III Society in 2016 where he writes enthusiastically on the subject. He states that 175 cadaver tombs are known from the medieval period, most of which are in brass. I am familiar with our own stone John Barrett in St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds: John had the tomb made before his death in order to contemplate his own mortality. But a double tomb? The (very) elderly couple lie side by side, he looking more decrepit than her. Perhaps the artist- and his audience- found more difficulty in accepting the female image in a state of decomposition. It is not clear who the couple actually represent, although John and Katherine would seem most likely, given the tomb’s prominent position in the church. Their anonymity makes the art-work more universal.  I mused as to whether the couple got on well in life, and how they had felt about lying together, forever, after death.

IMG_5839Another delightful feature were the medieval finials on the pews. One tried to represent an “elephant” but the artist had trouble knowing what to do- it ended up looking more like a duck.


The churchwarden also told me the extraordinary story of how one of the finials had been stolen, and then ended up on eBay in the USA 34 years later, complete with provenance! It was now safely reattached.

What a place. I was saddened to hear they have been without a vicar for nearly two years (along with the other 6 churches in the Bansfield Benefice). They still manage a Parish Magazine the “Parish Pump” and a service once a month thanks to its diminishing group of supporters.

Time was passing, and now I needed to walk back to Bury St Edmunds. The Clare walk lies only a couple of miles to the South East. I thought I would walk to Hawkedon and rejoin it at Somerton. The weather was lovely and I was in good spirits.


Two unfortunate things then happened. Quite unexpectedly I fell over. I was striding forward when a lace in my right boot caught a hook in my left boot. This sent me flying onto a gravel path, knocking off my glasses and grazing my face and right arm. I sat stunned, wondering if anyone was about, but there was no sign of anyone, so I had no choice but to get up and go on. The second thing was an energetic herd of cattle which blocked my path before I reached Somerton. They seemed to know by telepathy which stile I was aiming for and huddled around it.  After trying various ways around them there seemed nothing for it but to head back to Hawkedon and follow the road to join the footpath up towards Brockley.

By the verge I noticed some saw-wort- the flowers were well over by now and had turned brown but the leaves were fresh. I picked them and put them in a dye pot when I finally got home.




A Lost Road

According to David Addy’s St Edmundsbury Chronicle the road from Bury St Edmunds to Haverhill used to pass through Chevington. The road was called The Abbots’ Way as the Abbots had a retreat at Chevington next to the church.  The road was diverted in around 1810 when Ickworth Park was created. What remains of the retreat is now Chevington Hall, surrounded by high hedges and a moat.

I set out for Chevington with a friend on the number 15 bus from Bury St Edmunds, turning off from the Haverhill Road via Chedburgh. Stopping at The Greyhound Pub we were delighted to be met by Paul Thacker, who knew the place very well from living there.

We walked up to All Saints’ church together.  It is beautiful Grade One listed building standing now in a quiet lane (the old road). He explained that it used to be longer, but the East end had been shortened in 1697 after problems with subsidence into the moat of the Abbots’ retreat. I looked down into the moat, but could see nothing but brambles:

IMG_5733Why would the Abbots’ retreat have a moat? It is likely this is far older than even the church. Perhaps the Abbots chose the site for being prestigious in some way, now forgotten.

We entered through the lovely Norman door:


The interior is a hybrid of a building from 1130-80 with additions in the C13th and subsequent revisions, which have continued until now, giving a sense of involvement from a community over many, many generations. The effect was surprisingly coherent and peaceful. Paul pulled back some floorboards to show me a stone coffin. This was described by Gage in 1828:

It contained a very perfect skeleton of a young ecclesiastic. The hands were found raised on the breast, and the remains of a leaden chalice, which had fallen from them, lay near the right shoulder.

Modern pews at the front had been removed, which produced a clean space. Medieval pews remained at the back with C15 carvings of musicians.

We stepped outside as a sweep of sunshine hit a black cloud behind the church:

IMG_5734.JPGPaul showed me other treasures, too- including a labyrinth cut into the grass with a log at its entrance. He insisted the cut edge of the log looked like a madonna, but I couldn’t see it myself!

IMG_5737.jpgThe walk back to Bury St Edmunds was straightforward, walking along the old road into Ickworth Park through pretty countryside. The park entrance had seen better days:


The path led to the church of St Mary, recently restored by the Ickworth Church Conservation Trust under the current Marquis of Bristol. There is a gallery to separate and elevate the Hervey Family from the rest of the congregation. The church had previously served the village of Ickworth, also moved along with the road during the creation of Ickworth Park. There was a cheerful-looking Gabriel at the East end whose feet seemed to be on the wrong way round:

IMG_5747.JPGThe path took us though the park and up to Horringer Church, then over the A143 and road to Whepstead. We were in deep countryside, yet close to Bury St Edmunds:

IMG_5750.JPGThe old road probably went a different way back into Bury along the path of the River Linnet, but the footpath joined the St Edmunds Way. I hadn’t realised before how close Chevington was to Bury, but if you go by car the way is  further due to all the rearrangements.  Why do we have to make things so complicated!



To and from Hessett

I had been meaning to go to Hessett church for a while ever since realising there was yet another Grade one listed building I had never seen within easy walking distance. My opportunity came when I met the churchwarden – he wanted an opinion on a piece of cloth- as if I was qualified to give it!

I set off to Rushbrooke initially, taking the long route via the St Edmunds Way. As soon as the West Suffolk Hospital is passed it feels like deep countryside. Crossing a field of ripe wheat, wild flowers were in abundance in hedgerows and verges: Lady’s bedstraw, white campion, blue scabious, and flowering dock which had turned a coral-red. Passing Nowton church, it looked manicured on the outside as if they were expecting royalty:


Rushbrooke church was its usual delightful self and I could not resist three more books in aid of their heating fund. The cover alone for “Into a far Country” (1945, reprinted 1946) had me enthralled. The flysheet reads: “Miss Snow has wisely introduced important lessons of life which will undoubtedly help to guide the thinking and mould the character of its readers” 


The walk from Rushbrooke on to Hessett actually seemed easier than going by car, as you simply walk in a straight line between quiet lanes and footpaths. The main incident was that half way across a field I realised it was occupied by some young bullocks who started moving towards me. Fortunately a stile appeared and I crossed over while they were a good distance away.

My phone had gone dead when I reached Hessett, so I regret to say there are no pictures to share. Everything about St Ethelbert’s Church was fascinating.  Ethelbert was an C8th king of East Anglia murdered by King Offa’s men, thus predating Edmund by nearly a hundred years. There is a stone post in the front churchyard which was presumably used as a meeting place, possibly even before the church was built. It looked very old, with recesses on each side as if to take planks of wood. It is not described in official descriptions of the church, perhaps overlooked by the fantastic wall-paintings, the medieval stained glass and the many other features which make the place so special. Of the wall-paintings the seven deadly sins was particularly memorable, as well as a painting of St Barbara carrying her tower with windows to represent the Trinity.  The warden showed me the vestry, which was possibly used as an anchorage with a medieval wooden ladder leading up to a first floor- it looked quite cosy! He also explained how the Sindon- a Pyx-cloth made of medieval linen embroidery, had been found in a trunk which somehow escaped the rigours of the Reformation. Along with it was a painted Burse- in the manner of Opus Anglicanum, but painted over linen. These objects are currently in the British Museum, but good photographs were on display, and may be found on-line:

dsc01445.jpg295242127_465254be08So many treasures! I thanked him and set off back over the fields. Unfortunately the bullocks were waiting for me, this time gathered around the stile.  I talked with them for a while but they wouldn’t move. I chickened out at this point and retraced my steps to go into the neighbouring village of Rougham and headed directly back to Bury St Edmunds.

If I had been a pilgrim at the time of the Abbey I would have entered the town via Southgate St. As it was I walked along the Lark Valley footpath, offering lovely views of the fields leading up to the Abbey Gardens along with the distant roar of the A14. I am still wondering how the pyx cloth was made- such beautiful work must have had a spiritual significance : not just a demonstration of human skill but threads extending in an orderly fashion.

Hospitals and Hospitality

Hospital, hotel, hostel, host, hospitality. Latin hospes (m) a guest, visitor hospita (f) female guest.


The six “hospitals” of medieval Bury St Edmunds described by J. Brian Milner in his book  “6 Hospitals and a Chapel: the story of the medieval hospitals of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk” (2013) lay on the periphery of the town along the main roads. There were  two  at the edge of Southgate St coming in from Sudbury: St John’s and Saint Petronella’s. The Gatehouse to the hospital of St Saviour’s is still visible behind Tesco’s on the Mildenhall Road, although there is no visible sign of the Chapel of St Thomas, which was opposite. There were two in Eastgate St: St Nicholas and St Stephen on the road coming in from Diss, and one in Out Risbygate St coming in from Newmarket.

The position of these buildings raises interesting questions around their role in relation to the abbey and to pilgrims. The name hospital is most likely to mean a guest-house, taking all types of visitor, but perhaps some- the sick, the elderly, the homeless, needed more help and “hospitality” than others. Such an idea has a touching similarity to the principle of the National Health Service, whose premise is based on the basic problem that those most in need of healthcare (the very young, old, mentally ill, poor and ill) are those least likely to be able to afford it.

The Abbey provided for ill-health in both spiritual and physical ways: pilgrims would gain indulgence from their journey, and could hope for miraculous recovery from their chosen saint.  The monks would have been physicians with a classical training, giving particular perspectives on the psyche (breath, soul) and the hierarchy of the Creator and created.  Roy Porter, in “Flesh and the Age of Reason” (2003) discusses the dualism of body and soul assumed from the time of Pythagoras (600 B.C.). “Spiritual” and “physical” became the same thing. People’s destiny in classical Greece seemed dictated by the gods, with rival demands of individual love, duty and  desire leading to inevitable tragedy. Judaism and Christianity added to these perspectives. The Old Testament refers to Man’s misfortune stemming from the Original Sin of disobeying God. Illnesses were punishments from God (e.g Exodus 9:11, Job 2:7). Suffering in the New Testament is sanctified by Christ’s example. Corruption of the body was symptomatic of Man’s lapsed condition, but there was hope of salvation.

Such ideas continue through our use of language (heart, soul, flesh, spirit). Even the NHS refers to ways of living well, based on evidence that some behaviours (e.g. smoking) are causative of disease. And hospitality, now divorced from modern medicine, still has something to offer healthcare through its implication of kindness and nurturing.

I am left wondering what happened to needy pilgrims after the Reformation. With the closure of the Abbey the provision for healthcare would have collapsed.  “The Medieval Hospitals of Bury St Edmunds” by Joy Rowe (1958) refers to the Chantry Certificates for 1544-5 where there is a petition from the inhabitants of Bury St Edmunds:

it may please the King’s most excellent majesty of his most charitable benignity, moved with pity, in that behalf to convert the revenues and profits of the sum of the said promotions (hospitals) into some godly foundation, whereby the said poor inhabitants daily their multiplying may be relieved.

I am also left unclear how much the “hospitals” were ever used by the townspeople: I suspect they were chiefly pilgrims and elderly priests. Yet they missed them when the hospitals were gone as they inherited their occupants.

Ely 3

I walked to Ely from Cambridge by catching the 07.31 train from Bury St Edmunds. As I passed by Parker’s Piece large numbers of Muslims were celebrating- eating breakfast in the open air and embracing each other. “Ramadan is finished!”, a young man explained, adding (helpfully) that this was “the equivalent of your Lent!”


I congratulated him and felt rather guilty. I have always admired my colleagues’ ability to manage Ramadan, particularly during summer. Any attempt to do without during Lent has been fairly feeble on my part, and never a cause for community celebration.

Fasting was a feature of pilgrimage for Margery Kempe (b.1373), who did not always get much sympathy. She describes her visit to the Holy Land to Mount Quarentyne, allegedly where Jesus had fasted for forty days. She felt too weak to get up the mountain until she was helped by Grey Friars, whilst her fellow countrymen would not acknowledge her. “And so she was ever more strengthened in the love of our lord and the more bold to suffer shame and rebukes for his sake”.. I can see why her countrymen found Margery irritating. Hardship and doing without bears an interesting relationship to holiness. Is my walking hardship or enjoyment or both, and how are they connected? There is a sense of satisfaction from arriving somewhere, and the journey is always interesting; Margery was looking for Pardon, and described a sense of grace and spiritual comfort. But she seemed to do it despite her fellow countrymen rather than as a community effort.

The river Cam looked in perfect condition, with lots of boats about. I was intrigued to watch a dredging boat, Berky, reach out and scoop a colony of watercress up and into its rollers with a pile of foliage arriving on board- we definitely need one of those on the Lark!


Hardship started to creep in at Waterbeach. I lost my way and found a gate impossible to open. When I found the path again things were badly overgrown and it had begun to rain. There was a large herd of cows in the way, although they had at at least trampled the ground enough to see where to go. I just tried to ignore them and also the sign which warned they could be aggressive with calves about. There were several miles where the path was very overgrown until things began to improve again. Then once again the marvellous cathedral came into view and I knew things would get better. And by some miracle I arrived at the station with 90 seconds to go before the train took me back to Bury St Edmunds

IMG_5347.JPGMiracles were a feature of the Holy Saints in Medieval times, and a reason for Pilgrimage- this sounds quite competitive, as the more miracles emanate from your Holy Site the more people will visit it. This is discussed in a PhD thesis by Michael Schmalz in 2017, using data from Herman’s De Miraculis. Edmund is credited with miracles involving punishment, but also rescue and healing. In a world without modern medical intervention this would be very useful indeed.

St Etheldreda was the centre of the cult at Ely, with reports that contact with her shroud-cloths could drive away demons, and her coffin could cure blindness. To this list we can now add prompt rescue by warm trains.



Ely 2

As the walk between Ely and Brandon was long and affected by traffic I wanted to try another way. This time I took the bus from Bury to Mildenhall. The church was busy with a friendly noticeboard packed with activities- most impressive.

The path took me behind the church past an old School House:

IMG_5308.JPGI wondered if there had been a girl’s school also? Also, having checked the dates, I wonder which Henry Bunbury? The one I had heard of was a caricaturist, but he died in 1811, making it more likely to be his son.

The path to Ely from Mildenhall is, in theory, straightforward- you just keep going along the northern bank of the Lark to Prickwillow, then turn West to Ely as before. Things were not quite as easy as that, though. Once away from Mildenhall the path was overgrown and very close to the bank at one point.


Then abruptly things improved! It was as if someone had come along with a mower and made a perfect job up to a point, then gone home again. Had I just crossed into Cambridgeshire?


Hoping this would be the end of my difficulties I carried on, but the undergrowth fought back and at one stage  it was so tall there was no way the footpath could be seen and I wondered if it was safe to continue.  I was pleased I remembered my stick.  Towards Prickwillow things improved again and I was treated to wonderful views of both the fens and the cathedral.


Perhaps I was in better physical shape than the first time, but I arrived at Ely in good time and with a sense of elation. If the footpaths can be made visible then this would be the easiest route back to Bury. As it was I took the train and got going with a dye-pot using plants gathered over the last few days: a “fenland mix” of weld, horsetail fern and yarrow to produce a dazzling yellow!




Ely 1

Plans for a pilgrimage to Bury St Edmunds in 2020 are becoming more complicated. In the St Edmundsbury Chronicle David Addy presents evidence for the foundation of the Abbey by King Cnut in 1020, just three years after his establishment as king. He replaced the existing priests with Benedictine monks from St Benet’s and Ely, and paid a pilgrimage himself to Bury St Edmunds in 1020. So now there is a proposal to repeat the journey from Ely to Bury, as well as from St Benet’s. But how? An attractive possibility would be by boat. It is possible to go down the Little Ouse to Brandon from the Great Ouse, , or down (up!) the Lark as far as Jude’s Ferry near Mildenhall.

As I had never tried before I thought it would be interesting to walk along the Hereward Way between Brandon and Ely, to see if this was a suitable option for pilgrims. I decided it would be safer to head towards Ely as trains continue long after the buses stop. The earliest bus from Bury took me to Brandon by about 9.45 and soon I was heading Westwards into deep countryside. There were very few signs, but I was reassured when I spotted a recent badge for Via Beata: this amazing project has nearly completed a 400 mile route between Lowestoft and St David’s in Pembrokeshire using art projects as stations along the way- what a wonderful achievement!


The first half of the journey was through isolated and beautiful scenery along the marshland of the Little Ouse, walking mile after mile on the top of a dyke. A cuckoo joined in with distant jet noises from US Lakenheath-

IMG_5277I felt privileged to be out in such isolated country. Things got difficult, however, when I  reached a railway track leading to a tiny station at Shippea Hill. Somehow the footpath had been forgotten at that point and I was wading through undergrowth before I climbed onto the level crossing and back onto a road! At that point any “footpath” disappeared completely and I walked along the A1101, then the B1382 into Prickwillow keeping out of the way of the cars that dashed by.  At one point a large blue tractor slowed down and moved across for me, causing road-rage from cars behind him.  Reviewing the map now there does not seem to be a better way as the land is defined by a series of ditches. A disused pumping station reminded me of the former fens-

IMG_5284.JPGIn the 11th Century it is likely that most of this part would have been underwater or impassable marshland.

As I was approaching Prickwillow a view appeared. The “Ship of the Fens”, disguised by a barn at first, and appearing much closer than it actually was due to its enormous size. The sight of it cheered me up considerably. At Prickwillow I crossed the Lark and went down a delightful track called “The Old Way”, with the Ship appearing ever larger and more Cathedral-like. I doubt I was the first pilgrim to have felt grateful when I finally arrived in the Centre of Ely. I had walked around 25 miles, and was happy to sit down.


Simon of Sudbury

I decided to treat myself to a bus trip to Sudbury to see the silk shops at Vanners and Stephen Walters. I was hoping to find out more having recently learnt to weave braids . The finest braids were made of silk, but the yarn needs to be strong, judging from my early efforts with wool. No known braids from Edmund’s time have been found in East Anglia, but there are braids from Denmark and Norway, which have survived in anaerobic conditions, and whose designs are straightforward to reconstruct. This one is from the Oseberg burial site in Norway from 834ad:


My mission failed – not only were both shops closed on Mondays but there was a staff shortage and there was no bus back to Bury until mid-afternoon. Perhaps I should have walked back, but just for once I was not in the mood. Instead I set out to investigate Sudbury.

St Gregory’s Church was visible from Vanner’s Mill Shop, and I wandered in to a large medieval space. I was admiring the huge C15 font cover when I heard a soft squeaking noise behind the door. I wondered if someone was having a problem with the heavy handle and went to open it. Behind the door was a man trying to oil it! He explained he was the organist and was most happy to tell me all about the church and its many interesting features. Before long he asked me if I would like to see a skull.. and of course I  accepted immediately.  We went into a small anteroom beyond the chancel and there, in a small cupboard, was the severed head of Simon of Sudbury. The squeamish should look away now…


Skulls in the anatomy department are usually cleaned of soft tissue, but this one had not been prepared and there is mummified skin over part of the face.  The skull was of a large, heavy-looking man.  Sudbury’s career was impressive- not only was he appointed Bishop of London in 1361, but went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 1375 and then Lord Chancellor of England in 1380, an odd combination by modern standards.  My companion explained that things went wrong for him when a poll tax was introduced and a populist mob dragged him to Tower Hill where he was beheaded with eight blows to his neck.

I turned around, and my companion showed me something else: in 2011 the head had been examined and a facial reconstruction made by forensic experts at the University of Dundee- this is what he would have looked like!


What a very human face. We both agreed it was a most suitable story for the political times in which we live, and I can only feel relieved that populist execution is not yet current practice in the UK.

As we returned to the chancel I admired the carving on the misericords- noting that decorative braids in the clothing and hair of the women: perhaps we weren’t so very different after all.




Dreams and Metamorphosis

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.

IMG_4921The 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: IMG_4930The 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:

IMG_4934.JPGThe 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.


To Norwich!

A pilgrimage from St Benet’s back to Bury St Edmunds is proposed for 2020, and work must be done to plan for it. What are the obstacles? An inspection of the map confirmed that St Benet’s is on the far side of the river Bure with no near way to walk across. Further, there was no obvious footpath back to our first proposed stop at Norwich.

I started by contacting the ferry man at Horning. He was more than helpful, but needed to fix his engine, and then sort out insurance and river tolls. He has assured us that all will be well for 2020, but we could not rely on it for now.

Then how to get there? I went with Canon Philip Banks from Bury St Edmunds, using  two cars and leaving one in Norwich Cathedral.   The main issue was whether roads were acceptable for walkers if there was no foot-path. We were strongly advised that the obvious route, the Salhouse Road, was no longer suitable for pilgrims, with photos sent across from Norwich to demonstrate the problem:

IMG_0987.jpgPhilip studied the map carefully and came up with other possibilities, but these were also  rejected by the team in Norwich, who knew the terrain.

IMG_1014.jpgIn the end we agreed to start walking from the South side of the river at Ranworth, opposite St Benet’s, and followed the route advised by Richard Woodham from the East Anglian Pilgrimage Network.  Many thanks to Richard for his patience.

The day was sunny, and we met up with Sarah Friswell and her husband at Ranworth church to head back to Norwich. Reaching the top of Ranworth church tower involves a narrow spiral staircase and a couple of ladders, but the view across the Broads was well worth it, including a distant view of St Benet’s across the water. The interior was pretty amazing, too, with St George (rather than St Edmund) to send us on our way in the company of angels:

IMG_4949.JPGThere were very few footpaths, but the lanes were so quiet it scarcely mattered. I wondered if this would be the same during the summer? We passed by a few trees, but mainly it was open countryside, dry for the time of year.

IMG_4953.JPGAnd there was no need to worry about facilities! Woodforde’s Brewery soon came into view with a malty slurry being excreted from a pipe into a green tank at the back.

IMG_4955.JPGAlso, the thing which many pilgrims privately worry about, a set of public toilets!


We turned off the road after that and crossed over a railway track only to find the footpath had  disappeared under a freshly ploughed field. Whilst we were puzzling this out a man in a tractor appeared and advised we just walk across ..


We ate our lunch in the churchyard of All Saints, Rackheath, off the main track: standing alone on a hill and redundant.  There were building works going on and the place was covered in scaffolding, but there was no-one about.

We had been advised to continue to Spixworth, but took the chance to turn South at the North Waltham Road- a mistake as it turned out to be busy and without a pavement. Crossing the A1270 things improved quite quickly as we turned down Church Lane, reaching the delightful church of St Mary and St Margaret, Sprowston. This was full of interesting details, and a welcoming feel.


IMG_4965.JPGAfter that the walk was easy, with suburban roads and pavements until Mousehold Heath , now a nature reserve, and full of woodland paths which took us over the hill and down into the centre of Norwich over the Bishops’ Bridge. Walking up from there to the precinct of the Cathedral we passed The Great Hospital , which looked very much like a former pilgrim hostel. Entering the Cathedral precinct from this direction gave a very “pilgrimy” feel to the experience- as if repeating the views taken by pilgrims centuries before. And coming through the cloisters how lovely to find the refractory still open for tea!

IMG_5014IMG_4975What did we learn? Overall we were pleased that such a pleasant walk was possible. We should have listened more exactly to the advice given and will need to return to check the route by Spixworth again- there is no substitute for local knowledge: Thank You, Norwich!  I am also reminded of the impact the motor car has had over such a short time in our history: less than 100 years ago a direct route would have been easy to walk, but equally we would have found it more difficult to get to Norwich in the first place.

Connections 2

For the past three years The Bishops of Suffolk: Bishop Mike Harrison and Bishop Martin Seeley,  have carried out pilgrimages during Lent across the county. In 2017 this was from Dunwich and in 2018 from Bures to Bury St Edmunds.

This year they set off from Southwold on Ash Wednesday to arrive in Stowmarket 11 days later. In the East Anglian Daily Times Bishop Martin is quoted:

‘‘The one thing I always try to do after trekking across our beautiful county is to help connect the gifts of one person, with the needs of another of those I meet. To make connections between people, and to make a real difference in these uncertain times.’’

I joined the bishops on their eighth day at the church of St Mary, Rickinghall . We stood wondering if this was the correct church (this was Rickinghall Inferior, and there is another called Superior, but this is currently redundant) A shaft of sunlight filled the porch and a cheery lady arrived to confirm we were in the right place.

IMG_4748The bishops arrived wearing purple high-vis jackets printed with “Walking Together” on the back, and after a short service we set off  in  the company of the Vicar’s brother. The weather looked a bit better than the downpours they had endured the day before, but was windy, with occasional shafts of sunshine fleeting across the fields.


Making connections seemed very much a priority of the walk. At Walsham-le-Willows we joined a primary school where they gave an assembly, then a pottery, where the potter patiently taught them both how to make a pot. The moment when this was decorated was impressive and the bishops seemed justly pleased with their efforts:

IMG_4756Lunchtime in the pub was briefly interrupted for an update with the local radio before we set off again to Wyken Hall , where they were treated in style by the Carlisles. I bought a lovely blue jug from their shop.

Any association with hardship, indulgences, hair shirts or endurance rather deteriorated after that. The Carlisles very kindly gave us all a lift to the next village, Ixworth, and on the way Carla drove some of us up to the vineyards, which she described as looking like gravestones: row upon row of black sticks reaching down the slopes.

The final event for me was a short service at  All Saints, Ixworth Thorpe.  This is a tiny thatched church on a hill, with a Norman Door- yet another Grade one listed building I had never seen before. IMG_4761.JPGThe main thing which I witnessed was the amount of goodwill shown. There was a cheery group to meet them there and people felt privileged and pleased. The whole scene seemed strangely out of time, particularly now with a political scene  in turmoil. Connections were providing mutual support and encouragement.  How counter-cultural, at a time when we are threatened with barriers to education, research, industry and international connection, to simply walk out and meet people.   The bishops’ next appointment was a Darts’ Match- I hope they won, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Connections 1

Generally speaking, this pilgrim prefers to travel alone. I walk at my own (rather slow) pace and let my mind wander. But there is much to be said  for walking in other people’s company, and this has happened recently.

I returned to St Benet’s Abbey  with a friend, specifically to meet members of the Friends of St Benet’s. (FoSBA). There is a proposal for  a pilgrimage  from St Benet’s to Bury St Edmunds to celebrate Bury’s Abbey Millennium in 2020. The FoSBA are busy getting ready to celebrate their own millennium of their foundation.  We wanted to talk to them more around how monks from St Benet’s might have travelled to Bury st Edmunds, and how it could be achieved now.  We met at the beautiful church in Ludham, where a fifteenth century rood screen showed an image of Saint Edmund next to Henry 6th:

IMG_4661I also enjoyed a tapestry on display of the local landscape- stitches make delightful ploughed fields:


A group of around eight of us, led by the vicar of Ludham, Deborah Hamilton-Gray, set off after a short reading from the Rule of St Benedict toward the Abbey site. This gave us the opportunity to make friends and hear about their plans.  This led us to think about how we could contribute to the Millennium of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, due to take place in 2020. They have worked hard to produce their excellent website, and other things already in place at their Abbey site: a large cross with the word PEACE has been erected at the former altar, visible for some way across the Norfolk Broads.

IMG_4679There was also a “singing bench”, which not only provided a comfortable seat, but Benedictine chanting fuelled by solar energy! It was surprisingly enjoyable.

IMG_4681.JPGAnd there were connections with the past:  the abbey site is a ruin with a ruined mill within the gatehouse. Graffiti from centuries is scratched within:

IMG_4674.JPGThe FoSBA were full of local knowledge about the past and possible routes now . It is likely the geography has changed since then, partly due to the use of peat, but a boat would be a good way to start the journey. They suggested a path to Horning, then Woodbastwick, and then on to Norwich via Salhouse and Mousehold Heath.

Making connections here was so important to us: gathering information, making friends, sharing and forming ideas. And the Benedictines?  Maybe some connection was made there, too. The Rule addresses the monastic world of the 6th Century, but is still relevant. In her book A Life-Giving Way, Esther De Waal discusses the central precept of Christ in the Benedictine view of hospitality. Chapter 53  of The Rule advises that “Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received.”  The final paragraph lends a note of caution, however: “no-one is to speak or associate with guests unless he is bidden” de Waal interprets this as a need (?mutual) of withdrawal to protect oneself.  Connections have their place, but one’s own space is important, too!

foretelling the weather

26th February-  I took the bus to Clare and walked back to Bury again. I have developed a routine of trying to sketch whilst sitting on the  top deck of the bus. This has the interesting effect of uncontrolled lurches on the page, and an ever-changing view. The curves in the ploughed fields sweep around and when you look up they are gone. A memory of a gate, a red hedge of dogwood, a few cheery daffodils, bare branches.

IMG_4630I was hoping to see signs of Spring, and there was plenty about, but the main thing was the incredible weather. The frost was still on the ground in the shade of the old church site at Clare Priory, but this quickly disappeared as I made my way along the tracks and over the fields, and as the morning went on it grew warmer and warmer. The sky was clear blue throughout the day until I could see no more.

IMG_4605There was continual birdsong; a skylark went up and up, then became invisible in front of the sun; hazel branches were overloaded with catkins, and a bumble bee was out exploring sloe blossom

IMG_4615.JPGIMG_4613.JPGYet I could not help feel this was rather odd for the time of year. A year ago there was snow on the ground and a mean Easterly wind. It turns out this was the hottest day recorded for February. And it was dry. Tracks are normally so wet at this time of year a walk from Clare results in large plates of clay attached to your boots, but not today. Tracks were cracked and fields looked parched.

IMG_4619.JPGIMG_4620.JPGHow should we respond to this? Whatever the cause there is sound evidence that the surface of the Earth has been heating up since records began:

91944-050-8CAC285DOur species has a heavy responsibility to manage this: even if it is not caused by man’s activities, (although it is highly suggestive that production of carbon dioxide combined with destruction of forests is contributing). There is an urgent need to protect  the environment  if we wish to keep, let alone enhance our biodiversity, and even our own survival. Beautiful though it may be to bathe in sunshine in February I feel conflicted, and the effects are here to see on our own doorstep.

St Benet’s Abbey

Where did the monks come from to set up the great abbey in Bury St Edmunds? Many years ago I had been told it was France. King Cnut needed literate men to act as administrators for his East Anglian kingdom when he founded the Abbey in Bury St Edmunds in 1020.  Benedictine monks were ideal as literate, self-contained, and dedicated to prayer.

Looking it up now interesting possibilities are discussed by Joseph C.W. Mason in his book St Edmund and the Vikings 869-1066, suggesting they came via Norfolk. Abbo, a Benedictine monk from the abbey at Fleury (St Benoît-sur-Loire) was invited to England in 985 by Oswald, Archbishop of York. He was appointed abbott of Ramsey, a fenland monastery. Whilst there he wrote Passio Sancti Edmundi describing in lurid detail the murder of Edmund by the Danes and the miracles that followed. It is clear that there was a cult of St Edmund developing in East Anglia with numerous churches dedicated to the saint, particularly around NE Norfolk.

David Addy describes evidence for the setting up of the Abbey in Bury St Edmunds in  1020  in the  St edmundsbury chronicle. He describes how twelve – thirteen monks came from St Benet’s Hulme, with others from Ely, making 20 in all. This is now known as St Benet’s Abbey.

I set out to visit St Benet’s on a bitterly cold Sunday in January. The sun was low when I got there and the place was deserted. The wind funnelled off the marshes and through the ruins.

IMG_4211.JPGIt is clear that people love this lonely ruin, with a combination of the abbey remains and a mill built in its centre. The friends of St Benet’s have produced a great website full of information

How did the monks get to Bury? The Norfolk broads block the direct path, unless they used a boat. Pondering on this problem, which occurred a thousand years ago, I returned  to the car with a last glance:



The Church in the Forest

It was such a beautiful day for the end of November I headed for the bus station in Bury St Edmunds and took the bus for Brandon, sitting on the top of the double-decker. Towards the end of the journey I was joined by a lady and we got chatting. When I explained that I planned to walk back to Thetford through the forest she expressed concern: she never went into the forest without her husband. I wryly thought that (statistically at least) she was at greater risk of rape or murder through domestic violence then from a stranger in a forest. Nevertheless she pressed her point by reminding me of the tragic case in Norfolk last year of the murder of an 83 year old man walking his dog.

I have walked between Brandon and Thetford on my own before, and was not troubled by her concern as I set off. It was sunny and mild, with lots of colour still from oak and birch leaves, now mainly on the ground, and sun on the Scots pines.IMG_4021.JPGAs I walked towards Santon Downham the trees closed in and I wasn’t exactly sure of the way at a couple of places, but relied on the general direction. I then heard a cough behind me and noticed a man coming up towards me. “I coughed so that you would not alarmed when I pass you!” he explained. How thoughtful.

The church of St Mary the Virgin at Santon Downham is known as The Church in the Forest, and is indeed surrounded by trees, mainly planted around 1920 with the development of the Forestry Commission . 

There is lots to explore both outside and in.  On the South wall is a mythical beast that appears to be sprouting a Fleur de Lys from its tail above a Romanesque arch


On the North side there is a blocked up archway and what looks like a piscina- was this bit inside at one stage, or was it actually a frame for a statue, as their pamphlet suggests?


Inside the church there was  medieval and Victorian stained glass, and also a lovely image of St Francis by Harcourt Doyle from 1952.  I was particularly intrigued by the rood screen with a dark printed pattern stained onto it, hard to make out in the light, and a tiny window on the right side. Curiously the pattern of this window was reflected in the glass of a memorial scroll painted with forest plants by the window opposite.


The front of the rood screen was boldly painted (more recently?) with a joyful band of briar roses.

IMG_4045.JPGThe other thing which touched me was a (rather worn) Call to Prayer from Bishop Martin for the people of Syria and Iraq. It put into context any worries for the  safety of lone women walking in a forest to think of the tragedies endured there. I remembered my own visit to Syria back in 2007 and the kindness and generosity of the people I met there.  Could prayer possibly work for them?

I left the church and continued into the forest thinking about various issues to do with safety.  What would make me feel more or less safe? Getting lost would worry me, particularly if it got dark- signage could be improved. Would I be afraid in the dark? I remembered childhood fears of owls hooting, and, bizarrely, a dread of the noise of vacuum cleaners.

Suddenly there was a hideous noise overhead; a roaring sound which made the birds cry out. It sounded like jets but I could not see them. I actually felt pleased to be in the forest as I felt protected. The noise came again, this time very loud and I spotted four fighter jets in close synchrony flash across. Friend or Foe? They were probably from the local American Airbase, but they did not make me feel safe at all.

I reached the Little Ouse and enjoyed a board walk and a wooden bridge with beautiful views. thinking about the limitations imposed by a sense of safety and risk. Being too cautious can be very limiting and boring. There is a frisson associated with risk, and thrills to be had from wild places, heights, dangerous liaisons.. Risk is inevitable in most encounters and in creative acts of art and writing, with a risk of criticism.

IMG_4054.JPGI was now on the North bank of the Little Ouse, and in Norfolk. There were two more dangers ahead: the first was a swan on the bank with her rather large cygnets. She hissed at me briefly whilst I did my best to ignore her.  The second was the oncoming roar of the A11. I haven’t recovered from the stress of crossing over this to get to Mildenhall and was very relieved that here was an underpass  with some splendid graffiti, including “Sexy Mary” to make the experience truly delightful.  I knew I must be getting to Thetford, but there was one thing missing. No litter! I was impressed. Surely the place isn’t becoming gentrified?


Journeying back in time

I was the only one on the bus this morning from Bury to Clare, enjoying the journey from the front of a double decker. Walking back again the leaves were in brilliant autumnal colours. Field maple is a luminous yellow, dogwood a maroon, blackberry leaves bright coral crimson, and a bumper crop of purple sloes stood out against yellow hazel bushes.IMG_3854.JPG

I dawdled in the various churches to see the preparations for the forthcoming Armistice Day on the centenary of the end of the First World War. St Peter and St Paul’s in Clare looked incredibly smart with beautifully arranged poppies and a red alter cloth. At the foot of the altar were two hassocks embroidered along the side with the word PEACE.


Walking on I took a detour to St Mary’s Hawkedon. This looked beautifully kept, too, with a brush left on the alter rail hinting at recent activity. The East window was filled with an assortment of medieval pieces of stained glass and the pew ends were full of individual  detail and character. I am pleased it is a grade one listed building, but it shares with six other parishes and has a service once a fortnight. There was a wall painting of the Transfiguration above the  East window, but I couldn’t make it out and was pleased to find a copy in the West end


The main activity, however, was further on- in St Andrew’s, Brockley. When I had visited before this Grade II* listed building had been closed. This time there were lights on!

IMG_3847 I entered the church nervously as there were voices- there was a group setting up an art exhibition and lots of attention was focussed on Armistice Day. The Warden wanted to show me a display he had made for his grandfather and also his uncle who were both killed in the First World War. Five men from the village had died during that time, and a map of the village showed where they lived. It felt very personal and recalled for me the impact of that war on my own family.  I cried.

Last year we had spent a week in Northern France, exploring the battlefield and War Grave Commission graveyards. I went to find the grave of my great uncle Geoffrey, killed at Passchendaele on September 19th 1917. I went with two of my children, and when  we found the grave I wanted to talk to Geoffrey and tell him about all the things he had missed.  My grandfather survived, writing poignant memories for Geoffrey’s family. He later went on to marry Geoffrey’s younger sister, my grandmother.

IMG_1198IMG_1693My mother has kept the postcard my grandfather sent back to England on the 11th November 1918. Soldiers were allowed to send messages by ticking a box. In a moment of intense understatement he ticked “I am quite well”.

By the time I departed from the happy atmosphere in Brockley church the light was fading. I took some photos of their art show


IMG_3848.JPGand walked back across the fields in the fading light, thinking about Uncle Geoffrey and all the other young men who lost their lives in that war. Between nine and eleven million military personnel and a further 8 million civilians lost their lives.

IMG_3852It got dark by the time I reached Mickley Green. I would not have minded but for cars which dazzled me with headlights on full beam. I hope this year’s Armistice Day can help  lay ghosts at peace and ensure this never happens again.

to Rushbrooke

My cousin was staying with me from Australia, and I wanted to take her on a walk to Rushbrooke Church. Plenty has been written on this before and here, emphasising its unusual features. We had to go!

We took my Iraqi friend, Nada, and set out despite a gloomy weather forecast. I took my rain-coat just in case. Walking out of Bury St Edmunds we went along the St Edmund’s Way towards Nowton Church. By good luck it was open, and once again we were able to admire the amazing tapestry of medieval and Victorian stained glass donated by Mr Oakes.

IMG_1557.JPGBut there was something a little odd: not only was the church open but a  pair of men’s trousers was hanging over a pew! Was there anyone else there? I sat down and filled in the visitors’ book, noticing there had been about a dozen entries since my last visit in February.

Outside I noticed how beautifully kept the front garden looked, with freshly planted wallflowers and weeded beds. Then a man appeared from behind a grave with a fork, and I felt reassured that he was the owner of the clothes in the church.

After some distraction picking wool off a gate we walked on and over the fields toward Sicklesmere. Only after a while did I realise I had left my raincoat in the church! I decided to collect it later, and we walked on. Over the Sicklesmere road and up a hill between high hedges, which felt like an ancient track.

IMG_2248.JPGIMG_2255.JPGAs we entered the church we were met by a lady going the other way, and we got chatting. She had spent the morning cleaning and preparing it for the monthly service the following day. She explained she had been cleaning the church for 40 years and was the only one left to do it, with a congregation of very few left. She had arranged some flowers, which she had purchased herself. She expressed her sadness that so few people came, and her anxiety for the future as she herself was not well.  My forthright cousin asked her why she still did it. It seemed to be a sense of duty and loyalty to the Rothschild Family who once owned the estate, where she had worked, as much as to God.

IMG_2270 We admired her flowers and I set about exploring the church for all the little things which may be overlooked by official documents, but describe the effort and goodwill of the people who have contributed to both this church, and the many others like it whose future is uncertain in these secular times. There were numerous prayer mats which had been painstakingly sewn:

IMG_3694.jpgIMG_3693.JPGIMG_3692.jpgThe church is a Grade One listed building, and there are many things to see, most famously the shield of Henry VIII on the ceiling with the words “Dieu et mon Droict” (sic)


Apparently this was not present in 1840, and could possibly have been replaced by Colonel Rushbrooke if it had been hidden and then found again. It is impressive, but not as lovely as the roundels of unicorns on the North side:

IMG_3689These are Flemish and connected to the roundels inserted into the work at Nowton. They fit perfectly into their environment in this church.

The other thing I could not resist as we went back into the entrance area (baptistry ), was the bookcase of fabulous books for sale in aid of the heating. I can’t imagine this covers the cost, but I was delighted with my purchases:

IMG_3765.jpg“The Queensgate Mystery ” is a “War economy standard” for senior girls aged 12-14y, with an improving verse as introduction:

“All things are possible to the girl who believes;

They are less difficult to the girl who hopes;

They are easy to the girl who loves;

And simple to the girl who does all three.”

“Brenda’s Homecoming” is a little later, published in 1947 under “Authorised economy standards” and describing itself as suitable Sunday School material for 8-12 year olds. I can’t wait to read them!

Coming back outside the weather had deteriorated and it had started to rain heavily. My raincoat was still sitting in Nowton church. We ate some chocolate biscuits and set out back for Bury St Edmunds, being directed back along a shorter track. By the time we got back we were all wet right through. The books had been stuffed under my clothes but were, I am sorry to say, rather damp.

I drove to collect the key to Nowton Church to retrieve my raincoat and explained about the gardener and the trousers. “That was the Church Warden”! exclaimed Mrs Finn, the keeper of the key.  Two more examples of the often unsung heroes who keep things going.




The weather in September has been dry and sunny with changing colours of Autumn beginning.  There was light and colour everywhere. Walking again from Bury to Icklingham I passed by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, looking great in green corrugated iron in the sunshine:


Over the A14 on the foot-bridge there was the start of the sugar-beet “Campaign” – a seasonal sign in Bury St Edmunds.  A  plume of vapour was rising, catching the morning light:


Walking along the Lark there were definite changes in the leaves with more yellows and reds amongst the green:

IMG_3598.JPGIMG_3602.JPGReaching West Stow Church an elderly man was sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. Inside, the light filtered through the stained glass producing pools of colour in the seats.

IMG_3610.JPGThe church was full of interesting detail. There are bell-ringing plaques in the bell-tower, one of which honoured Patricia Bailey in 1979 for being the “First Lady to achieve a Peal of Plain Bob Minor 5040 Changes”

IMG_3604There was also a Table of Fees from 1891 offering a burial in a common grave for two shillings for the Rector and four shillings to the sexton. Behind it some ancient graffiti.

IMG_3605.JPGLooking about there was quite a lot of writing within the plaster done with impressive care

IMG_3608.JPGI walked on through West Stow Country Park and sat down in the sunshine on a bank to eat my lunch. I had brought some wax crayons with me to do some sketching, but alas had forgotten to bring any paper! The Brown paper bag containing my sandwich had to do:


Past the rows of Scots Pine along the Icknield Way towards Icklingham I stopped again to enjoy the character of the Scots Pines and use up the other side of the bag:

IMG_3758.JPGReaching Icklingham I spent some time enjoying All Saints Church . This has not been used as a church for over a hundred years, but there is plenty to see inside and out. The church is supported by the Churches Conservation Trust, but is in need of attention; I have reported the hole in its thatched roof. Inside the South windows are full of medieval stained glass with saints under canopies in good condition. A large funeral cart occupies the South side of the nave.

IMG_3619.JPGThe sun was getting low by this stage and lit up spiders’ webs lacing themselves between the pews- not a bad place for spiders, I suspect.

IMG_3624Things started to go wrong for me after that- I waited by the bus-stop for an hour and no bus came, despite the timetable saying it was due, then overdue. I then made the stupid decision to start walking back to Bury St Edmunds in case I was standing in the wrong place. Shortly after that not one, but two buses came past, and I knew I had missed the last one home. Fortunately I had arranged to meet friends in Bury and they very kindly came out and picked me up back at West Stow just as the light was fading.

Reflecting on this journey afterwards leaves me with a bittersweet sense of the end of summer, still so beautiful with so much colour and low sunshine; also the vulnerability of the precious places I have visited. I played with watercolours  trickling down the page and colour scales in oil paint in the manner of American abstract expressionists. Patrick Heron  took stripe paintings forward in the UK following the exhibition “Modern Art in the United States”  in the Tate Gallery in January 1956, showing Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Clifford Still, Franz Kline and others.  Writing about it for Arts(NY), in March 1956, he described  these painters as “the most vigorous movement ..since the war. If we feel that far more is suggested than is achieved, that in itself is a remarkable achievement”.

IMG_3754IMG_3756Writing later in the catalogue for his own exhibition in 1961, he concluded that “Painting has still a continent left to explore, in the direction of colour. Painting (un?)like science, cannot discover the same things twice over.”  I almost agree with him; Colour comes from light, and using colour in a synaesthetic way to describe beyond the representational invites more than one continent.

To Mildenhall

I have walked back and forth from Mildenhall several times already: the path comes out of Bury S Edmunds on a footbridge over the A14, then along the river Lark. There is a detour from West Stow to Icklingham along the Icknield way.

Usually I go to see the angels in Mildehhall at St Mary’s church- so lively with their wings outstretched in the roof. The guide explains they are part of the structure of the church, as hammer beams, not just ornamental appendages. Most have remained intact, although an inspection in 1930 revealed 2 arrow heads buried in their bodies. Sadly the more accessible angels on the South side had their wings ripped off: in 1651 the parish paid a man a shilling a day to destroy them. IMG_3248.JPG

On this occasion my purpose was quite different. I have been growing woad on my allotment, and thanks to the hot summer have had a bumper harvest. Woad thrives on neglect and seeds everywhere on my sandy patch in Nowton Road. Having extracted the dye from the leaves I followed the Anglo-Saxon recipe of fermenting it with old urine. The moment when the wool is pulled out of the bottle is truly magical as the blue appears on re-oxidisation.

IMG_3542.JPGWoad used to be an East Anglian Industry until it was overwhelmed by cheaper imports of indigo. So what should I do with it? Such special material needed an art-project. So with this in mind I set off looking for ideas.

The end of summer was notable along the river, with silver tufts of willow-herb in the air. Much of the Lark was overgrown with rushes. I am told it used to be navigable, and was indeed the preferred route for pilgrims coming to Bury St Edmunds from Mildenhall. There were shots of magenta-coloured purple-loosestrife and other pink flowers I could not identify: a form of willow-herb?

IMG_3464.JPGMany of the plants I recognised as dye-plants from my favourite dye-book: “A Dyer’s Manual” by Jill Goodwin. Tansy, yarrow, bracken, dock, dandelion, bedstraw, sloes and elderberries: all these grow in abundance round here and are easily overlooked. The elderberries in particular were ripe for picking:

IMG_3468IMG_3467.JPGWest Stow Anglo-Saxon Village uses experimental archaeology on an archaeological site to seek to understand life in the 5th-7th Century. It has two galleries displaying local artefacts- and a dye display using madder, weld and woad.  Fabric from that time is hard to come by, but I was struck by the bold and simple patterns imprinted on the pots, and also the many remnants of shields from that time. Why so many shields in times of peace? It seems that the men were buried with them, even if they were not warriors in life. Here were the ingredients for a rug/shield! The designs on the pots carried an immediacy, a boldness worthy of my woad harvest, and the repetition of pattern resonates with walking.


I bought a tiny book by local artist Kim Smith, illustrating the story of Beowulf using local pigments, and walked on full of ideas.

The Icknield Way turns off into land so different from the chalk clay South and West of Bury St Edmunds. Rows of Scots pine mark boundaries, their dark needles producing interesting shapes:


IMG_3543.JPGBreckland is recognised as special for its habitat and history, and The Breckland Society do fantastic work supporting it. Before reaching Icklingham there is a field full of flint-  I always think of the wonderful flint arrowheads and spear-heads at West Stow and Mildenhall museums. This time a harvest of onions is about ready.

The last few miles to Mildenhall are back by the river, and have become a bit of an assault course of nettles, a fallen willow branch and, worst of all, the A11. It was 4pm on a Friday before the Bank Holiday, and the traffic was solid, but still going fast. It took at least 20 minutes before I crossed the road, waving my arms about in the hope they would see me. I wonder if the council could be persuaded to put a foot-bridge there, too? I can try.

By the time I got into Mildenhall it was too late for their museum, but I had been there a few weeks ago and could remember the fabulous display of the warrior with horse and (of course) his shield.  Also the famous replica of the “Mildenhall Treasure”. But this was Roman, and not in the spirit of woad, which feels more like something Boudicca would enjoy. I will return there soon, but in the meantime will get on with the woad-work.

To Walsingham!

I have been wanting to go to Walsingham for ages, and spent a while trying to work out how pilgrims got there from Bury St Edmunds in the Middle Ages. We had walked the Peddars Way a few years ago, but this continued West from Castle Acre. The Revd. John Merrill describes a “Walsingham Way” from Ely, which goes via Brandon- so this would be it!  Bury-Thetford, then Brandon, then Swaffham, Castle Acre, then another 28miles to Walsingham, with a short detour to Fakenham if preferred.

Unfortunately none of this seemed straightforward as my husband was recovering from eye surgery and in the end we agreed to go by car. This at least made me realise how important the walking experience is to me- the journey usually being so much a part of the arrival. However, there were opportunities to spend more time at places along the way, and there was plenty to see.

Our first stop was a picnic by the ancient church of St Mary the Virgin at Cranwich .  The graveyard was circular and the church lay at its centre on a little mound surrounded by trees.  Sadly the area behind it is so tangled with nettles it is no longer possible to see the gravestones.  The tower was narrow and circular, with a circular  knotted window. Three circles!


Next, Castle Acre. We had been there before, but there had not been time to explore the Priory, so we needed make amends. The former Cluniac Benedictine Priory is truly beautiful lying in the gentle valley of the river Nar with the village behind it, the Parish church beside it and the castle at the other end. English Heritage have done a good job in trying to demonstrate how things were before the Dissolution, but as ever I was trying to get a sense of it without the words. I was struck by the number of squares in the design: square window frames, square tiles, square fireplaces, even a square drain-pipe cover on display at the entrance.  And the biggest square: the cloisters.





What was the significance? I am often suspicious of meanings in symbols.  Carlota’s “Dictionary of Symbols” talks of firmness and stability, the seasons, the points of a compass and the four Elements. Whatever the intention I find this shape very satisfying and am content to believe it represents earthly matters. I had been shown how to draw a square using a compass back in Astorga using circles.


Circles have a host of “meanings”, too, but I digress. Staying in Holt we set out for Walsingham the following day, starting near West Barsham. Gentle countryside made me wish we had walked further, as before we knew it we had arrived at the “Slipper Chapel” at Houghton St Giles,  a Catholic Shrine beautifully kept. I was distracted by the display of tiny relics in lockets- one was labelled Saint Edmundo- was it a piece of hair? or a bit of toe-nail? A tiny scrap on a disc.

Henry VIII had visited this spot on several occasions before he ordered its destruction. Along with others he had removed his slippers and walked the final mile to Walsingham bare-foot. In due fashion, therefore, this was to be repeated. My husband, not normally known for his piety, was the first to take off his shoes and set off down the “holy mile”.


Needless to say there was much moaning along the way- presumably King Henry had not had to put up with gritted tar-mac, but we arrived in Walsingham with a small sense of achievement..

What can I say about Walsingham? It has a serious feel to it. Not enough profanity? Too many shops selling images of the Virgin Mary? I would happily have stayed longer in these- I can fully understand why people wanted toe-nails as souvenirs, but was restrained under pressure, so readers you have been saved (this time) from Mary with Baby Jesus in a snow-storm for Christmas.


There was plenty to see. The Anglican Shrine, the Greek Orthodox church, the old court-house and the Abbey ruins in landscaped gardens. It was very quiet- not at all like Santiago.  It was as if the place was asleep amongst the fields.

On the way back along the disused railway line we passed a nun wearing a grey and white habit- she looked very elegant walking along. It reminded me of the ongoing political arguments over the veil. Back in 2007 when I was in Syria I did a small art project thinking about the veil, and wrote in my sketch-book: Reveal/conceal, mask, cover, mystery, decoration, seclusion, symbol/label, make a statement, allure, suggestive, bridal, hiding, secretive, protection, propriety, modesty, seduction, dignity, ceremony, women, shame, holiness, piety, tradition, oppression, Taking the Veil, consecration, virginity, Veil of the Temple, partition, veiled in mystery, lifting the veil, sensuality, eroticism, the Unknown, veiled beauty, Dance of the Seven Veils, a label. Public/private spaces; valuing the interior. Since then I have had more respect for veils in their various forms.


It is over two months since we returned from our Pilgrimage from Orviedo to Santiago, and beyond to Muxia, and I have been reflecting on the role of story-telling. My medical training advises on the importance of eye contact during consultation- I wonder now if this should be challenged. Talking to other people on a Camino comes very naturally: perhaps the exercise of walking is disinhibiting and the common goal of the Pilgrim becomes a bond. During the walk from Santiago to Muxia I found myself talking to strangers about their lives and my own, places, politics, pretty much anything. Yet while there is real intimacy there is no eye contact. Each walker needs to look where they are going and will look almost anywhere except into the eyes of the person they are talking to. Despite the advice of textbooks this seems to give a freedom to talk about things honestly and with a stream of consciousness not usually possible in most social settings. I would argue that lack of eye contact is key to this process.

IMG_2507 The last day to Muxia was a long one- about 32km. My husband, who had our food supplies, stayed back to help a fellow pilgrim. The day was hot. I started talking with a woman from Slovenia, who keep me going for sometime with tales about her family and her life.


After we parted I caught up with another member of our pilgrim group: a retired inspector of police. He asked me if I knew any Old Testament stories to pass the time. He told me all he knew of the story of Joseph in a steady rhythm as we walked along: many sons, a loving father, ornate robes, sheaves of wheat, spices, twenty pieces of silver, betrayal, blood: the story went on and on as we trudged along, in an out of Egypt a few times and meandering into side alleys, it regained its thread in another land. There was famine; there was deception, and at last reconciliation, feasting, forgiveness. Reading this now (Genesis Ch 37-50) the story could have been stretched even further with elaborations on the many descendants and Joseph’s great age (110y) when he finally died. However, the story-telling did the trick and I had been transported. By the time we came to a reasonable end many miles had passed.

Sitting down in the evenings after a long day’s walk was another opportunity to share stories. The evenings got merry with wine and a mixed crowd not so unlike Chaucer’s group in Canterbury Tales. There was no competition to encourage us, but the companionship (with-bread) drew us together with a mutual sense of achievement and sharing of the experience.IMG_2542



The craft fair

I went to the craft fair in Clare Priory. The monastic site was taken over with stalls everywhere.  It was another hot summer day and there was lots to see with music and ice cream.  I soon started emptying my purse for small trinkets, including a small Spanish acorn made of pewter, very similar to the one in Moyse Hall. It reminded me of the descriptions of the fairs at Ely, where “tawdry-ware” was sold, after St Audrey (Etheldreda)


I went on a tour of the church with two lay members who told the story of the new church, with all its difficulties and how they had been overcome. It is a truly beautiful space, linking the medieval infirmary building with a modern build supported by beams in a pattern of circles within squares: heaven and earth. The glass walls link to the exterior, including an enclosed  garden “room” of a lovely meditative space.


Outside I got talking to a garden volunteer. I asked him if he had found anything interesting in his digging and we got on to the perennial subject of St Edmund’s relics.  There is a current view they may be found beneath the tennis courts to the East of the abbey. I told him of counter theories, including the one that he was placed in an existing tomb in St Mary’s. The gardener pondered this and exclaimed this was what happened to Christ, whose body was placed in the tomb intended for Joseph of Arimathæa. The tomb was new- and intended for Joseph.  (Matthew Ch 28, v.59-60)  Perhaps the tomb intended for John Reeve, the Last Abbott, who died shortly after the closure of the Abbey had already been built? The Abbott could have place the sacred body in his own new tomb.

Mary Lowndes

On that long hot day between Stoke-by-Nayland and Long Melford the church of the Holy Innocents in Lamarsh was a curious interlude. The name itself was delightful, but I was surprised to see such a small place in such a rural site so full of fabulous art. The images in the stained glass were boldly designed in strong colour, and deserve to be better known.  The Holy Innocents themselves took centre stage in the East window,  with the virgin Mary tenderly protecting her baby.  The church website , http://www.lamarshchurch.org.uk/Lamarsh.html#_Toc31807822 does not do justice to either the work or its producer. Mary Lowndes was an active member of the suffragette movement and established the Artists’ Suffrage League. She  was part of the Arts and Crafts movement; she co-founded The Glass House as a stained-glass studio and was prolific in output. This is a treasure and I am only sorry my phone was dead and I could not take any photos- I can only advise that you visit this Church for yourself .

I was pleased to learn Mary has now been recognised on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square.

I left the church inspired, but also saddened that women artists are still relatively ignored. Mary deserves greater recognition for her achievments.

from Manningtree

Taking the train from Bury St Edmunds to Manningtree I walked back to Bury St Edmunds over three days. The walking conditions were hot and quite exhausting- it was a relief to enter the churches along the way to cool down.


I followed the St Edmunds Way  using Marcus Powles’ lovely book as a guide. There was so much to see. I was struck by the ordinariness of the countryside around Flatford (which was, well, flat)- no dramatic hills, but lots of sky and the meandering river Stour with swathes of rushes and a few cows sheltering beneath trees or wading in the river- very much as John Constable would have seen it.

IMG_3045.JPGWalking down hedgerows, across fields of barley and ripe wheat revealed many rural views, often with a church in the distance. Two Constable paintings are to be found: “The Ascension” in St Mary the Virgin, Dedham, and the extraordinary “Christ Blessing the Elements” at St James, Nayland. My entry into this particular church was marked by three men digging a trench across the graveyard to lay a water-pipe. “Any bones?”, I asked. “Lots!” they replied and showed me several fragments. We had a cheerful conversation until I walked in to the cool of the church to be confronted by Christ in a blood-red robe. A remarkable painting.

Memories of my first day include being almost overwhelmed by nettles leading to St Mary the Virgin, Lawford. I was rewarded with some fabulous flint work and a service with hymns drifting over a worn statue of the Virgin.IMG_3018.JPGIMG_3024.JPG

I spent the night at the Angel Inn at Stoke-by-Nayland after inspecting the truly amazing door of St Mary’s. The Tree of Jesse is a heavily carved family tree of Christ, quite extraordinary in its beauty and solemnity.


The second day seemed to go on and on, with treasure upon treasure revealing itself. After Stoke-by-Nayland, and then Nayland I found St Mary the Virgin at Wissington, tucked away behind a horse-riding event, full of medieval wall-paintings; the most impressive being a large dragon in red ochre.


The scale of the place, its coolness and quiet made me sorry to  leave but I had a long way to go. The heat of the day was quite extreme by this stage and I was glad of my pilgrim hat and a much-needed drink when I reached Bures. Then on to Lamarsh. The paths seemed to go on and on, with very physical experience of heat and rustling of rapeseed pale gold and crispy, ready to harvest.


Reaching the church of the Holy Innocents in Lamarsh revealed a remarkable interior full of stained glass by Mary Lowndes. This was so intriguing I must research further for a future blog post.  Then on again to St Mary the Virgin, Great Henny, with painted demons on the ends of roof beams. This  church is deservedly part of the Small Pilgrim Places network, a remarkable space to cool down.

I was getting tired by then, but there was much further to go with no way out as my mobile phone had run down. The afternoon was then interrupted by four fire engines racing past dealing with a field fire. I then got lost trying to find the path towards Middleton, ending up in a field of goats, and then another farm where I was re-directed.  Eventually  reaching  Sudbury, there was nothing for it but to walk, and walk, and walk another six miles along the old railway line towards Long Melford. And even having got to my destination Long Melford was very long indeed, stretching on forever to arrive eventually with my kind friends Sandie and Robert Lant. There I washed and we had a large glass of red wine with an excellent meal, whilst watching the news of the resignation of Boris Johnson! What a day.

Robert had recently retired as church warden and I was privileged the following morning to go round Holy Trinity Church with him. This must be described separately, but surfice to say there was plenty to see and reflect upon as I headed for the final stretch of my journey. Boris Johnson appeared, bizarrely, in reconstructed form as a piece of flint knapping. I was beginning to hallucinate! Something to do with the overload of images and heat? The vision was sufficiently persistent I was compelled to reconstruct it when I finally got home, entitled “The Fading Dream”..


The route back to Bury takes you across to Lavenham through a wooded stretch of old railway line now very overgrown. Once again the fabulous tower of St Peter and St Paul’s could be seen from a distance, and it was a pleasure to go in this time to cool off again.



It was afternoon already and I had to get back. I have walked this footpath from Long Melford to Bury several times before, and seem to get lost every time. When I compare to the close sign-posting of the routes to Santiago de Compostela it is fair to say things could be improved. I spent ages with my map, but this did not seem to correspond with the reality before me!  I had to guess by the direction of the sun on occasion and wish I had brought a compass and a phone-charger along. If I had been able to summon help I would have done so, but there seemed nothing else for it but to keep going. My feet were hurting by this stage and my pace was very slow and getting slower. The sun was setting when I finally arrived home.

As I sit here and nurse my blisters I can feel privileged to have done this. Two thoughts recur: firstly the act of walking is a form of incorporation – an interaction between the pilgrim and the environment through which they travel- my blisters are from the impact of the earth beneath my feet. Secondly, not all travellers are as lucky- I cannot imagine what it is like to be forced to cross continents for fear of persecution and without good resources, friendships, language or the certainty of a welcome on arrival. And yet refugees through the ages, and still now, have endured this from necessity. A Catholic movement, Share the Journey, recognises  this and encourages prayer and support for refugees through pilgrimage.



IMG_2842.JPGThe ruins of the Abbey now in Bury St Edmunds are a material reminder of how things were, but also how things move on. I wonder how many people actually mourned for the building after The Reformation- they were too busy collecting the stones and re-using them around the town. This is in contrast, say, to the recent disaster in Glasgow, where Mackintosh’s School of Art was burnt down. Debate will be had about the future of that site, and leaving it as a ruin is an option discussed by  Ray McKenzie

The Bury ruins are emotive if not actually beautiful.  They are evocative of how things were, even if our ideas of the past are unrealistic; They invoke a sense of yearning, bringing forth ghosts. Physical gaps and cracksIMG_2843.JPG symbolise our lack of understanding.  They are mysterious and invite curiosity. The Unknown is often so much more interesting than the obvious.

“Heritagisation” is a dreaded word for me as re-invoking the past seems to miss the point. Visitor centres and re-enactments seem to dwell on the obvious, the superficial, and (of course) the need for money to maintain the spectacle. These places are best left as they are as testimony to Man’s achievements and ultimate fate.



One of my favourite walks is between Clare and Bury St Edmunds, set up by the council (details onthe Long Distance Walkers’ Association site.)I take the 9am bus from Bury and start by a visit toClare Priory .This Augustinian community was revived after it was repurchased in 1953 and the infirmary was used as a church. This was extended and a modern building was consecrated in 2015. It is a truly beautiful space with a rare sense of calm.

The original church is now a ruin, but very much part of the scene.IMG_2735.JPGI wanted to stay longer, and would like to meet the Augustinians, as I realise I know nothing of either their practice or that of  the Benedictines who founded the Abbey in Bury. Their website explains the benefit of community:

“The Rule of St. Augustine emphasises the need to search for God together in order to achieve oneness of mind and heart:

“Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”

Rule of St. Augustine Ch 1.2″
 I had to get on as it takes me roughly seven hours to walk back to Bury St Edmunds. I stopped by the Church of St Peter and St Paul to admire the doorway with the Ten Faces of the Green Man , rather worn but at least ignored by IMG_2747
William Dowsing  when he violated the place in 1643
The footpath is much easier during the summer when it is dry, and the countryside is a fine place for meditation. Apart from one lost cyclist (trying to find Dalham) I met no-one all day. The paths are reasonably well-kept, with  ways across the fields kept free, but not always obvious from signs if you didn’t know the way. Compared to the camino ways in Spain this could be improved. 

The Throng

The Camino Primitivo was quiet when we walked in April, but joining the Camino Frances at Melide the atmosphere changed as the numbers increased dramatically. Americans, Irish, Spanish, French, Italians, young and old, moved along- there was chatting in the evening and when meeting up along the road with people we had met before.  The Confraternity of Saint James keeps monthly statistics via the pilgrim office in Santiago. In 2017 there were 301,006 pilgrims recorded, compared to 93,929 in 2005, with around 60% coming from the Camino Frances.

So many people as we move towards Santiago- a mixed blessing if quiet contemplation is preferred, but exciting as you are swept forward. Music, singing, groups of youths mainly interested in their mobile phone. This pilgrimage is nearing its goal with a sense of anticipation and also a sense of returning to the “real” world.

Was this atmosphere experienced in Bury St Edmunds? If there were enough people and things going on, then Yes! It is difficult to be certain of numbers, which varied with popularity and was probably declining even before the Reformation. There were fairs, including one for St James the Apostle in July https://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/suff.html  which would have encouraged numbers. 056

Staffs, staves, sticks and rods

I have never tried a “trekking pole” until now, and can report it helps a lot. I stand more upright and can push up hills and balance across streams more easily. A fellow pilgrim agreed, describing his stick as his “friend”.

Psalm 23 verse 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

I had never understood the difference between a rod and staff, but am advised the rod is a stick which can be used as a weapon ( spare the rod and spoil the child) whereas the staff is a shepherd’s crook used for controlling sheep. The stave is the stick used by pilgrims and referred to in Pilgrim’s Progress as something to lean on when weary.


The food in the Asturian region was magnificent. A “pilgrim’s menu” cost between 10 and 15€, which produced several generous courses of home-made food with red wine. Favourites included Fabada, a thick soup of ham, cabbage and potatoes with chorizo sausage and black pudding, stuffed cabbage, or braised beef and a caramelised cheesecake.

A lot of energy is needed to walk 30km. I cannot imagine how this could be done whilst fasting as penitence. Self denial may be a feature of faith taken to extremes, reinforcing the idea that the bodily self is unworthy. Margery Kempe describes a scene where other pilgrims complain about her refusal to eat meat. The doctor supports her: “I will not make her eat meat while she can abstain and be the better disposed to love our Lord… and while our Lord gives her strength to abstain”

The food was part of the region- “knee- strengthening “ and repairing to manage the hills. It is a pleasure to eat knowing the food will be used as fuel for the body.

Where did the pilgrim’s eat and stay in Bury St Edmunds? I imagine this would be in the town rather than the abbey complex, and would have produced a substantial amount of work.


Thoughts, dreams, and visions

I am aware that my thinking is altered through walking. The rythmn and the exercise allow thoughts to tumble out. On an expedition such as this journey to Santiago there is lots of sensory input of new sights, sounds, smells, tastes. Inhibition is loosened, sensation heightened. I have also noticed dreams are more action-packed- as if the traffic in the brain has speeded up. It is hardly surprising this feels therapeutic. Not all my dreams have been pleasant or easy, as if old memories suppressed are dredged up and processed.

Thinking could be further affected by the pilgrim’s health: Margery Kempe had fourteen children and was likely to be malnourished. She practiced fasting regularly. I wonder if this explains her emotional lability and easy tendency to cry? It would be easy to imagine  visual hallucination following on from this state, moving beyond the rational or tangible world into a waking dream, or vision, with supernatural or divine explanation. 354D0A27-1F92-4D85-907A-906ADB5E1FF39A4387C5-0A1A-4A9F-A3CC-612AC0037A7776C96C75-DBEF-4805-B87C-503926EE20A0B90B6833-C4B2-4315-8A56-F4F4D81F67C1

Ups and Downs

We climbed in the Cantabrigian hills along from Pola de Allande to the village of La Mesa. This involved a steep climb across Puerto del Palo at 1146m. This pilgrim was begging for mercy, staggering up Hill Difficulty and feeling thankful once the summit was reached. My husband, however, is particularly challenged by going downhill or crossing awkward streams, with much complaining along the way. The views at the top were awesome, but I was glad of the journey’s end.

Weather, seasons, light and shade

Walking through the Asturian hills in April made me think about the seasons and their influence on pilgrimage- the mud South of Bury St Edmunds would have made travel difficult before roads were paved. How delightful, however, once things had dried out a bit and the sun was shining.

I am struck by how much our language uses sunshine for happiness and clouds and/or shade for sadness or uncertainty. In a hotter country the shade is desirable, especially when travelling. It is much easier to walk in the cool of the morning. When the sun shines through, however, the effect feels truly beautiful. Contrast of light and shade is sharper and the view literally lights up. Dappled shade adds infinite effects.




The wild flowers in the hills, especially the woodland between Grado and Salas in the Asturian region are truly spectacular. Everything was so lush, so green. Banks of purple nettle or red clover; orchids, violets, deep blue Pulmonaria and clumps of Solomon’s seal. This was, presumably, how the Suffolk countryside once looked, too. I am saddened we have lost so much of our local flora around Bury St Edmunds to intensive farming and building. – this is something which should be acted on before it is too late. 

Oviedo Cathedral

We visited Orviedo Cathedral on our first day along the Camino Primitivo. I was really impressed by this building- even though it was built and revised over several centuries it seemed very coherent- the size, shape, light, design all held an integrity and beauty. The three rose windows were stunning. It reminded me of the Art School designed by Mackintosh in Glasgow- the same absolute conviction in design down to the smallest detail.

Walking out into the countryside the patterns of arches, etc could be seen in the hills, trees and many wild flowers. The building reflected this and celebrated it: a truly great work of art. ACE77A4C-257A-4B60-BAF2-E0B61DA2BBD9F5019FC6-DB05-4440-9B27-1CB7EE20767FBD1D4060-81DB-4DDA-942D-ECCC97CDF3FA

Destruction of images

I visited the Cluniac priory in Thetford with my friend David Rees. The ruins of the complex are easier to imagine than the Abbey ruins in BSE as the scale is smaller and there is slightly more left, including the remains of the priors’ house, a piece of gothic arch and the altar, completely stripped.  There are two sets of cloisters: a large one and much smaller one beside a 12th Century infirmary with a flint-knapped floor: perfect squares. The priory closed in 1540, 4 years after the beheading of Ann Boleyn. Duffy’s Book “The Stripping of the Altars” goes into detail on the debates at that time over images. Pilgrimage was banned from 1536. Thetford had possessed a statue of a virgin which performed miracles. John ap Rice, writing to Cromwell described his findings from Bury St Edmunds: “Amongst the reliques we found moche vanitie and superstition, as the coles that St Laurence was posted with all, the paring of S.Edmundes naylles, S. Thomas of Canterbury penneknyff and his boots, pieces of the olie crosse..”

Hugh Latimer, Lenten preacher to the king, was particularly exercised by images: in June 1536 he gave an sermon rejecting a list of objects of popular devotion: the cult of saints, images, lights, relics, holy days, pilgrimage, pardons and Purgatory. As most people were illiterate this completely undermined the structure of their devotion.

The Bishops’ Book, published in 1537 states that “we are utterly forbidden to make or have any similitude or image to the intent to bow down to it or worship it”…”Use (of images) in church was a concession to the dullness of men’s wits surviving traces of gentility or paganism. Better to have no representation whatever of God the Father.”

The banning of pilgrimage would have suppressed communication and greatly reduced income for the churches or their towns: the equivalent of stopping the Tourist Industry. I wonder how much devotion with candles, statues, etc. continued at a private domestic level? The act of pilgrimage is thus linked to image-making and image-appreciating. The emotional rants of the time confirm the emotional power of the images, particularly with an illiterate population



Off to Santiago

I am walking with my husband from Orviedo to Santiago, along the Camino Primitivo next week, joining a larger group from Bury St Edmunds to go on to Finistere and Muxía. About 450km.

The various preparations for this journey would be recognised by pilgrims before me, although solutions have varied.

?What to bring. Absolute necessities nowadays include mobile phone, passport, money- all of which makes you vulnerable; food and drink enough- for me this includes a supply of tea! I will be wearing layers to cope with unpredictable weather in the hills and a St Edmund Pilgrim Badge

?How to get there. Pre-Reformation Orviedo could have been reached by boat across the Bay of Biscay to the Spanish coast, followed by a long day’s walk or ride. The journey from Bury St Edmunds is 1,091 miles, and would have taken weeks by boat or even longer by foot through France.  Nowadays this is accomplished in a few hours by aeroplane.

?where to stay. This has been prearranged through a Travel Company- were there such things back then? None of the solutions are cheap, and must have been prohibitive in the past unless money was given for travel as intercession for someone else’s soul. Margery Kempe, writing in the 1430s asked the Lord, who replied; “I shall send enough friends in different parts of England to help you. And, daughter, I shall go with you in every country and provide for you…” The Lord also instructed she should wear white, which Margery pointed out was different from how other chaste women dress. She feared ridicule

?when to go. I have been watching the weather forecast. I can’t imagine many pilgrims would have enjoyed the muddy paths around BSE until April; even now Santiago de Compostela is 12C and raining.


Potential primary sources of evidence

Written records

Pilgrim literature: Marjery Kempe; Sir Richard Guilford; pilgrim manual e.g William Wey “An English Pilgrim to Compostela” 1456

Records of visits to BSE: e.g. King Henry VI 1433

nb Literacy rates? Excluded groups, such as women

Commissioners’ reports during reformation


Records from takings at the Abbey?

Pilgrim badges and materials

Numbers of pilgrim badges  Finds from British museum; Moyse Hall, Bury St Edmunds

Death rates?

Mortality rates from plague- devotion increased during crisis or calamity, but might have been instrumental in carrying disease, or reduced numbers due to illness and death?

Indirect evidence

Ronald C Finacune post-humous accounts of miracles




Wall painting/churches

Personal walking experience; creative experience




The Pilgrim’s Progress


A favourite book of all time for me is The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is easy to read as not too long and the characters are obvious: Help, Faithful and so on. The English countryside, weather and walking are used as metaphor between the material and spiritual.


If Bunyan had been given access to the internet he would have certainly used it- yet he was writing for himself: “I did not think to show the world my pen and ink in such a mode; I only thought to make I knew not what; not did I undertake thereby to please my neighbour: no, not I; I did it my own self to gratify.”


The following is a list of expressions taken from this book:

dark clouds; dark and cloudy words;

Truth’s golden beams

Carrying a heavy burden

I walked through the wilderness

Walking in the sight of God

Slough of Despond

sound ground

forbidden paths

knocking at the gate; an open door

the straight and narrow way

The Hill Difficulty

The Way of Danger, Way of Destruction

Valley of Humiliation/Humility

Leaves of the Tree of Life

Valley of the Shadow of Death

Clouds of Confusion

Pits, pit-holes, deep holes

The heavenly country

These expressions draw on the countryside, weather, walking, and the heavy burden to carry.  Less is surely more for a pilgrim as far as carrying material possession is concerned. How was this managed? Carrying very little, I imagine, unless you were rich enough to get others to carry your burden for you. The tragedy for Bunyan was this work of art was written in prison; his burden was not a material one and he he must have yearned for country views

Sundridge in April

Aramaic chant

IMG_1990I was sent this by my friend Genista:

Aramaic chant

In 2007 I visited my brother in Syria. We were lucky enough to go on an expedition north from Damascus to various sites- there was so much stuff to see and the countryside in April was full of wild flowers.
I was quite obsessed with The Veil at the time, and its many meanings. I worked on a sketchbook using layers, veils, things hidden; an inner life.  Looking at this now I could pick up these threads in Christian pilgrimage: layers of history, things hidden, forgotten or destroyed
Coming back to Damascus we visited Maaloula set in cliffs where the caves have provided refuge in times of trouble. Aramaic is still spoken and there was a convent and a church. I bought some Sumaç and an Aramaic cross.
The monastery has since been destroyed in a battle between Assad and rebels. I can only hope the caves provided some refuge- as they had before