Pilgrimpace's Blog

cistercian way – hospitality
November 3, 2016, 8:34 pm
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I know I owe you all a proper report on The Cistercian Way for walkers and also a longer reflection (I will write up and expand the talk I gave at Tintern).  Please be patient – they will come!


view from a Guestroom, Caldey Island

I have been reflecting on some of the differences between being a pilgrim in Wales and Spain.  In Spain there are a lot of pilgrims walking or cycling and, even on very quiet roots like the Levante, there is a lot of pilgrim infrastructure.  There is always somewhere at the end of a day’s stage where you can pay for cheap lodging.

Wales is different.  There are some well-walked bits: The Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Offa’s Dyke, the Pilgrim Way from Holywell to Bardsey.  There will be campsites, bunkhouses and the like along these.  But other bits of the Cistercian Way are much less serviced.  It would be possible, I think, to make your way round staying in bed and breakfast or hotel accommodation, but this would be beyond my or most people’s means.


I stayed by two rivers and one waterfall

I was carrying a tent, but as it turned out, people were amazingly hospitable.  I had contacted friends who lived near the route, and began walking with quite a few offers of accommodation. It was fun to slightly adjust my route and the length of my days to take these in.  More came as I walked – people rang ahead for me as I walked or suggested places.


I took refuge from the storm in this little valley

With the exception of the apocalyptic weather of the first day, Wales and her people were unfailingly and beautifully hospitable to this pilgrim – especially in my times of brokenness.  Folk really went out of their way to help me – thank you to all of you.  I owe you.


arrived – and a view of Our Lady from the kitchen


caminos and retreats

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to lead a little Camino Retreat with a group of good friends.  We spent a few days walking from Coruna to Santiago; the walking interspersed with reflections and silence; time and space for praying; and great and profound fun when we arrived in Santiago.

If you click here, you can read through the blog posts about it.


It was a wonderful time (and we had some apocalyptic winter weather).  I have been retracing this a bit as I reflect on the Cistercian Way.  The first part traced through by time spent with the religious communities of Caldey and Whitland; solitary days plodding through beauty.  Walking and retreating nudged together.  Inward and outward journeys coming together.

I am really glad to see that the Camino Chaplaincy is offering two Camino Walking Retreats in 2017 from O Cebreiro and from Barcelos.  These will be led by Fr Gerard Postlethwaite.  You can get full details of them here.  I would really recommend them if you can go.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to get a deep experience of pilgrimage and to see what impact it can have on your life.

Fr Gerard writes: The Camino journey is deeply personal to everyone who makes it, but there is also a value in receiving some direction. Inspired by spirituality of Saint Ignatius and the poems of TS Eliot, I very much look forward to leading these two walking retreats in 2017. I hope that, together, we can take our experience of the Camino to a deeper level”.

san anton

If you would like to support pilgrimage, here is a good chance. San Anton is an old school, basic, loving Christian albergue on the Camino de Santiago near to Castrojeriz. It is set in the ruins of an old monastery.  For five months a year, rough-and-ready pilgrims sleep in 12 Army-issue bunks set in among the old entryway, they eat a meal together and pay whatever they can afford for the no-electricity, no hot water, no-wifi experience.
It relies completely on donations.  And they need a reliable water source.

My good friend Rebekah Scott has come up with a wonderful fundraiser – all the profits of this lovely book go towards the water supply.



Press here to read more about it on Rebekah’s blog and to order your copy.

Click on it, and close to the top right is a DONATE button to purchase the book. Follow the instructions re payment and shipment within the article.

Buen Camino!

PS  – Rebekah says you need to let her have your address so she can send you the book; Paypal doesn’t do this.

journeys of three parts

Seven years ago I made the Camino Levante from Valencia to Santiago.  This ended up being a pilgrimage of three parts.  A tramp from Valencia to Toledo through the summer heat.  There were no other pilgrims on the route.  Some days in La Mancha I walked in a straight line for 18 miles from the first pueblo to the second pueblo.  People were extraordinarily kind.  I found the inner strength to do it.  It was profoundly difficult, beautiful, stark and one of the best things I have done.


In Toledo I met my friends Karen and Roy who had come to see me on holiday.  I spent time with them, visiting Avila and Segovia, being looked after, replacing albergues with hotels.  From Segovia I decided to get the train onto to Zamora.  This meant that I would be walking again from the point where the Levante joins the Via de la Plata, the route from Sevilla, and there would be other pilgrims.  It also meant I could take some time, rather then having to walk long stages every day before my family arrived in Santiago.


I was able to enjoy walking with others, sometimes for a day, or just a meal, sometimes longer.  I walked a long way with my friend Jose Carlos.  I was able to spend a few days before Santiago with the Cistercians in Oseira praying it all.  Three parts, one experience, all profound.

It looks like this time with the Cistercian Way is going to be a journey in three parts too.  I walked with Penrhys to Whitland most of the way (I’m reading Walter Starkie’s seminal account of the Camino The Road to Santiago again; he is in cars, lorries and trains most of the time!). A badly hurt knee has meant several weeks at home healing and recuperating. I am hoping now for a third part – walking from Abergavenny to Penrhys in a week or so’s time.

But I think in all this there is something about ‘yessing’; finding what God has put before us and saying yes to it, accepting it, walking the way – whether we expected it or chose it or not.

Prayers and love.



“In the olden days people felt great sympathy for men and women who pledged themselves to undertake a  pilgrimage, for they knew that there were grievous sins that could not be remitted by priest or confessor.  Such sins needed the expiation of a pilgrimage to Santiago or to Rome, and so they considered it their duty to assist their friends who made the vow of pilgrimage.”

-Walter Starkie


“The monk must work to create this emptiness, this space within, so that the power of God’s word can fill it.  Only then will this power spring up like a flash of light or as a force which can transform me.  This does not normally happen quickly.  Perseverance, humility and patience are needed, and not some sort of interior searching and questioning which would be no help at all.  What the monk must do is nurture his desire for the word of God in faith and trust.  The attitude of soul and heart which we are describing is not always easy or comfortable.  The reason for this is that it is an attempt to persevere in what is in fact an interior desert.”

– Andre Louf

I managed a four mile walk along the canal today.  Knee is holding up, although it tired me a lot physically!

Thinking and reflecting about weakness, smallness, vulnerability, brokenness and the Good News of the Gospel.  Lots of connections forming and being glimpsed in this space carved out by pilgrimage and Cistercian reading.


I hope it’s OK to keep updating you on knee progress.

It is improving a lot.  I walked three miles today with Bharti to go for dinner.  It hurts less than two out of ten.  It feels a bit ‘loose’ inside, but that walking has not made it hurt any more.  I will tentatively go for a country walk of a few miles tomorrow and see how it goes. If I don’t obviously make it worse, I will be walking the final section of The Cistercian Way in a fortnight with a light pack.

These last couple of weeks have been tough.  It’s not what I was planning or expecting.  I have mostly been at peace with it, am living and exploring this broken pilgrimage as deeply as I can, but there have been some tough, dark days.  I am glad to be well enough to be outside exercising gently now.


It’s been good to have a chance to read and think and pray.  I’ve been reading a lot about the Cistercian way of life and spirituality.  There’s a lot to reflect on about how this can nourish my life and ministry in the same way that the Carmelite and Franciscan mystics do.  I’ve had space to begin some new poems.

I wrote this posting on the Camino de Santiago Forum a few days ago:

I am supposed to be in the middle of walking The Cistercian Way, a 700 mile pilgrimage around Wales. As always when I set off on a long pilgrimage I promised that I would only stop for two reasons: an emergency call from home or a medical professional telling me to stop.

After 10 days I started getting very bad knee pain. Fortunately I was staying at a monastery and two sisters who were trained nurses looked at it and told me to stop walking. (Also my good friend @Bradypus was nearby and arrived with icepacks, painkillers and a bottle of tinto).

I got the train home the next day. An x ray has been clear and the doctor advised me to rest it for a couple of weeks and then to see if I could gently get back into walking.

It’s been a little over two weeks now. The pain is mostly gone and I am able to do normal day to day activity. Next week I will see about some short walks. If that is OK, I will do some day walks the week after.
If that goes well I will rejoin my route towards the end of it (I will be doing a talk at Tintern Abbey anyway on October 18th) and finish it with a very light pack.

I have been at peace with all this. The pilgrimage has taken me in a different direction from the one I had expected, and I have had a huge amount of space to reflect, read and pray all this.

What I am trying to say in all this is sometimes on Camino an injury means you have to stop. This is not necessarily the end of the pilgrimage or of the journey. It’s hard, but see where it leads.

There have been some lovely insightful responses, really helping me to think what this all means and how to respond well to it.  If you think of anything, please let me know.

I’m keeping you and all those who have asked in my prayers,


camino of the candlesticks
June 4, 2016, 2:23 pm
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As you will have gathered from recent posts, Bharti and I have been on holiday in Spain.  We spent a couple of rich weeks travelling by bus and train between A Coruna, Zamora, Segovia, Avila and Madrid.  I’ll post a few reflections on this but I was very struck by this pilgrim on the marked Camino route in Zamora:



I assume that if you are a very large candlestick and cannot therefore walk, it is OK for you to be carried by your assistants and travel by car.