Pilgrimpace's Blog

pilgrimage of the spirit
April 5, 2020, 6:19 pm
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The rowing Camino de Mar feels like a real pilgrimage of the spirit, a chance to move beyond the steady horror of the pandemic and the lockdown, to intercess, imagine, pray (and – possibly – to listen to a little music).


I am south of Upton Upon Severn, making steady progress down the river.  I’ll report on it all soon.  The last few weeks have been very busy – my diary emptying of some things but filling with others as emergency plans to keep essential things going are put in place, learning how to gather a Church that can’t physically meet, adjusting to pastoral work on the phone, to funerals with restricted numbers of mourners, making sense of it all.

I am hoping for space in Holy Week.

This quote from St Therese of Lisieux means a lot:

“You will not arrive at what you desire by following your own path, or even by high contemplation; but only through a great humility and a surrender of the heart.” 

and time to read again Four Quartets, down the passage which we did not take towards the door we never opened 

reflecting on the journeys that are possible, the journeys that may save us at this time – as well as the journeys, which for the sake of the world, we must not undertake

rowing report – catch up
March 29, 2020, 6:12 pm
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Notes from an almost week of pilgrimage:

I’ve done the first 5km – the Stratford on Avon Canal (which is a few meters from my house) to it’s junction with the Birmingham and Worcester Canal. I turned south and soon entered (illegally because I am a very small boat) the Wast Tunnel. I have emerged near Hopwood, and plan to start again tomorrow.

another lovely spring evening. Rowed along the canal, through Hopwood. The pub there does a good pint, and also whole rotisserie roast chicken …. then through Barnt Green to Alvechurch. Have moored for the night near Alvechurch Station

a difficult day today with a couple of long tunnels. I made it to Tardebigge – a tale to be told of unforecast and unseasonable snow, of thawing out in the Canal Trust Cafe with mugs of strong tea, and of being put right with a friend, a couple of pints, and a bag of home made scratchings. Happy Annunciation!

have moored up near Stoke Works. Rowing through the twilight, the heron playing hide and seek, chase.

Am praying for you as I row. Let me have any prayer requests

one day with no rowing – it is a hard time at the moment.  Caring for ourselves so we can care for others is important

have moored up just south of Droitwich.  Nipped into the town for a Brine Bath and then afternoon tea at Chateau Impney, with thoughts of the Victorian Salt King and his young French wife pining for home

a quiet Sunday afternoon boating and am moored under the A449 Bridge near Worcester.  The lockdown and travel restrictions should mean a very quiet night.  Am cooking pie, mash, veg and gravy on the primus.

Updated map here



Camino de Mar
March 28, 2020, 7:27 pm
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with thanks to Peter Alcock

We are in the terrible crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.  Among the less serious consequences of this for many people is the closure of the Camino routes and the inability to travel.  Here in the UK, we are in lockdown.

I was thinking about pilgrimage and also about the importance of having something to take me beyond the stress of the present moment, when I hit upon an idea.  I have a rowing machine in my garage.  Why don’t I use it to row to Santiago.  I talked about this with a few friends – and it is gaining traction.  So, I will try to record it in the blog.

Most days I can just row a few miles in the evening.  It is likely to take me a long time.  Around 1200km.  From my home in south Birmingham, down the Birmingham and Worcester Canal to Worcester, then the River Severn to Bristol, and out to sea with the small matter of the Bay of Biscay.

I hope this isn’t a “stunt Camino”.  It feels like a pilgrimage.  I will be praying along the way – please leave any prayers you would like me to make in the comments.  It is also a time to reflect, a spiritual journey during what promises to be a testing and awful time, and a voyage into the imagination.

Screen Shot 2020-03-28 at 19.22.40

My friend Sean is recording the journey on Maps.  You can follow my (slow) progress here.

I am very grateful to all who have been inspired by this.  Please join me.

I’ll post an account of the first days as I row to Droitwich Spa very soon.

Buen Camino!

August 16, 2019, 3:35 pm
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One of the unwalked sections of the Cistercian Way beckons.  This year I appear to have enough kit.


See here for approximate kit list – a few changes – eg gas stove rather than alcohol.  I’m really looking forward to picking up the fourth (I think) part of this extended pilgrimage.  Let me know if you would like me to pray for anything.  Hopefully a visit to St Melangell.

Time to look in details at the maps


Bless you all.

new pilgrim book
July 25, 2019, 11:39 am
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Johnnie Walker writes:
I’m delighted to share news of this new book with you. The publishers asked if I would write this in the style of Joyce Rupp’s “Walk in a Relaxed Manner” which was published 15 years ago. I was delighted to do so and even more pleased when Joyce Rupp agreed to write the Foreword. That delight turned to astonishment when Martin Sheen offered to write the concluding chapter. His words are powerful and beautiful.
I’d like to be absolutely transparent about the finances. The publishers are themselves a social enterprise who have been in business for 60 years. The arrangement I made with them is that there will be no author or contributors’ fees or royalties. In return, they have provided me with 2000 copies free of charge to raise money for pilgrim charities, and to give to Pilgrim Associations to sell for funds. Copies will soon be on their way to the Australian and South African Associations. I’m talking with the Canadian Association and APOC, and a supply of books are theirs if they want them.
Right now the book is on sale from the Camino Society Ireland, who are happy to post world-wide:
The price is 10€ – but remember that means that exactly 10€ goes to helping them help pilgrims.
The book is also available on Kindle – for Kindle purchases the publishers will donate 50% of the sale proceeds to pilgrim charities.

back on the way – 3
October 28, 2018, 5:06 pm
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(continued from here)

After an unintentionally slow breakfast, and entertained by energetic builders on one table and the world’s most moan-ey man on another, we walked the short distance along the river to Strata Florida Abbey.

(Note to self – large quantities of fried bread is not the best breakfast before exercise)

We arrived before it opened but were able to get a look over the wall and at the parish church next door.  I remembered that if I had not been injured a couple of years ago, I had a promise of a meal and a bed from one of the families there.


As we looked, we were watched by The Pilgrim, the statue by Glen Morris, which you can just make out on the picture above, reminding us that we were on a camino, a pilgrim trail.


We turned away from him to the north and began to climb past the old lead mines, following tracks and paths that disappeared on the high ground, with one of those strange hours where you haul yourself across moor and bog, traverse high barbed wire fences where the path should be, climb down and across deep drainage channels and – when you reach the road – find you have spent a lot of energy and time on very little distance.

There was a chance to rest at Ysbyty Ystwyth, the name showing an ancient pilgrim hostel.  We were shown inside the old church – and told it was the only one in Wales where the heating is from an open fire (arrive early for services in winter?).

On to Devil’s Bridge (we were now deep in Hinterland Country) for lunch.  While we were eating, a monsoon started.  We were forced to stay in the pub for longer (what hardship for pilgrims!) until it subsided to heavy rain.  Then picking our way down the valley through fields and forest, over the railway track and eventually to the footbridge.  Again, this walk through Wales really brings home to me the barriers that the rivers are.


Climbing up again.  An enforced stop to recover from swallowing a fly.  Through fields for cattle and horses, past the wonderful hill fort Castell Bwa-Drain, and onto moorland.  Heading for the forest west of Ponterwyd to find a place to camp.

Walking through a farmyard where a man studiously ignored us as he filled his van with diesel from an oil drum.  Pausing later as farmers moved someone’s entire stock to different pasture.


Arriving at the forest near dusk.  Close on an hour of searching for a spot to pitch.  The conifers planted on ground that had been ploughed into ridges.  Finally a spot just large enough to cram in the tents.

Up with the dawn for a day of tremendous walking on the Cambrian Mountains.  No one else until we were near the end.



It was cold for August.  I was wearing four or five layers and felt the wind bite.  There was little shelter.  Rain meant few chances for photos of the spare beauty.  A building on the map named Angler’s Retreat looked promising but was a holiday cottage.  We cooked and ate our dinner crouching in a ditch next to a barn.  Rarely have cuppa soup, noodles and meat balls been so appetizing.

Walking on across open land, through forests, past reservoirs.  A river across the path deep enough to overwhelm our boots (there was a tree-trunk bridge, but it was too rotten to risk).

And then we came to the edge of the Cambrians.  A view worth any walk.


Climbing down zig zags to Cwmyrhaiadr and threading our way through the lanes and tracks to Friday evening in Machynlleth for beer and the train home.

All being well, the next leg of The Cistercian Way will be Machynlleth to Conwy.  Bigger hills await …

back on the way – 2
October 17, 2018, 7:38 pm
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Waking around sunrise, warmed by coffee and porridge cooked on our stoves, we began.  Water bottles refilled from the taps behind chapels, climbing up and down as we made our way through valleys.  As always, the second day was hard; the initial energy spent; fitness building up.  A day of stops, tucking out of sight, brewing tea.  Pubs closed down.

We headed for Llanllyr, the site of a community in Cistercian sisters, arriving mid afternoon.  Searching for the site, we wandered first into the water bottling factory, where we were able to quench thirst.

We were very generously shown around the fine gardens.  There is little or nothing left of the abbey.  This fine carved stone commemorates the gift of a plot of land to an Irish follower of St David.


The fact that the women left so little in terms of material traces interests me.  One of the benefits of this ongoing pilgrimage is a friendship with the sisters at Holy Cross, Whitland, which has become one of the places I go for retreat.  There is something important for me about the simplicity and humility of the life, that – in the words of RS Thomas,

they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

written on the hearts of people rather than in huge stone works.



We were given kind permission to camp in a field nearby.  It was very moving to spend time quietly on this site.

I needed rest.  We cooked a meal of luminous tinned curry (it was filling; we were hungry; I would recommend something else if you have a choice).  I sat or lay, watching red kites glide.


Camping with permission meant a slightly later start in the morning, but heavy rain was forecast, so we set off.  We made our way climbing through the villages along the Aeron Valley.  Our diet improved with hard boiled eggs and cucumbers bought from stalls outside small holdings, glimpsing ancient church towers, passing historic ruined chapels.  Llangeitho has a handy village shop and café, from where we turned east, crossing the Roman Road of Sarn Helen.  Tregaron was first town of any size since Carmarthen – with the first open pub.  We drank an expensive pint, listening to confident and classed English voices, before resupplying with food.

And a climb.  Away from the rolling hills and pastures we had been walking through onto the beginnings of the Cambrians – proper hills.  The plan had been to make Strata Florida before the end of the day, but the rain closed in and was heavy, and we had booked into the pub at Pontrhydfendigaid for the night.  The weather and the prospect of a hot shower, dry clothes and a decent meal, called us off the hill in late afternoon.