Pilgrimpace's Blog


back on the way – 1
October 12, 2018, 3:13 pm
Filed under: pilgrimage, Uncategorized, walking | Tags: , , , ,

Readers who have bourne this blog for a while will know that I have – slowly and gradually – been walking a pilgrimage along the Cistercian Way in Wales.

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I had planned to walk it in an autumn a couple of years ago, but a damaged knee meant I had to miss a month.  I am slowly filling the gaps (click here to read previous posts).  It is interesting to remember different parts walked in different seasons and years, and good to have a chunk of this pilgrimage still to walk.

At the end of August, I set out again, in the good company of Roland, to walk from Carmarthen to Machynlleth.  I’d originally planned to start slightly further west in Whitland (it was here that the Cistercian Sisters examined my knee and said very firmly “Fr Andy, you cannot walk further.  We will put you on the train home tomorrow.”)  But it is good to listen to local suggestions, and Roland said, if we head north from Carmarthen, we can visit Skanda Vale.  This seemed right.

So, we got the bus to Carmarthen and, after a visit to the Roman amphitheatre, began climbing the narrow roads.  Through Llanpumsaint, where in a slightly surreal conversation, we were told about the local holy wells (on private land, and no chance of visiting them unless we went with the annual parish pilgrimage) and that there are no footpaths in Carmarthenshire (I have walked on some).

As we neared the ashram, we were passed by cars full of Tamil faces and we passed roadsigns.

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We had walked fast that first morning, to try to arrive in time for Puja.  We dumped our packs, took off our boots, and sat on the floor of the temple, listening to the chants and bhajans, receiving the sacred fire, welcomed as pilgrims.  It was a festival; the ashram was full of people who had driven for hours.

Thoroughly blessed, we slipped away, climbing through the complex and exploring the temples.  At the top was the enclosure for Valli, the elephant presented to the ashram by the Sri Lankan Government.  We were lucky enough to see her, and to have a long chat with one of her keepers, a man who had left the urban West Midlands firmly in the past.

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All in a normal day’s walk in rural Carmarthenshire.

We walked on through a muggy, warm, unfolding landscape.  Tracing our way to Pencader (useful shop) and Llanfihangel-ar-arth, talking with people on the way – who were clearly unused to walkers or pilgrims.

My knees were fine, but I use two walking poles now.  Roland was concerned that my technique was not right.  I tried hard to do it properly but was losing the ability to walk.  He cheered me up by playing me Matt McGinn’s The Wee Kircudbright CentipedeI went back to walking badly but semi-effectively.

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In order to make the pilgrimage affordable (and to enjoy the freedom) we were carrying bivvy bags and tents.  The forecast was good for the night.  The map showed promising small areas of woodland in the rough vicinity of Capel Dewi.  Heading for one of them, just before dusk, we struck one of those wonderful small slices of wood between road and field boundaries which we could tuck into well out of sight, put out our bivvies and, leaving no trace, sleep the night with no one knowing we had been there.

It had been a long day.  I slept until dawn, waking occasionally as light rain fell on my face.

 

 

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