Pilgrimpace's Blog


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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.

 

 



by the itching of my feet …
August 17, 2018, 2:53 pm
Filed under: pilgrimage, Uncategorized, walking | Tags: , , , ,

… I can feel a pilgrimage coming up.

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Packing in progress.

Let me know if you want me to pray for anything.



ahead
June 23, 2018, 4:43 pm
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First proper day off for a while.  Had planned a decent walk with a friend but he cried off and I am tired – feeling better for a long sleep, a day pottering in the house and garden, a bath, a good book.

And the next best thing to a walk – planning pilgrimages over the summer.  A couple of days, I hope, to walk St Hilda’s Way in North Yorkshire and then later in the summer another week on The Cistercian Way, continuing to fill in the sections I missed through injury.  I am looking at Whitland to Machynlleth.

Lots to anticipate!



tracing the way
September 23, 2017, 6:40 pm
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“Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus.” Pope Francis

I am looking forward to walking these paths tomorrow.  #Cistercian Way Talk at Penrhys tomorrow at 5.30

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looking back : looking forward

A year ago I was on Caldey Island, staying in the monastery for a couple of days as part of a pilgrimage walking the Cistercian Way around Wales.  That deep, strange pilgrimage where I began in torrential rain and almost no visibility in Penrhys above the Valleys, and walked west.  Where, when I turned north, I strained my knee and was sent home for a dark and inward journey.

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Caldey Island, September 2016

Where, after four weeks rest, I tentatively started again and, with a light pack, managed to walk for Abergavenny round to Penrhys.

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Our Lady of Penrhys

A time for looking back, asking what lessons – at this stage – have been learned, what gifts given, what the next steps on the journey might be.

I’m returning, briefly, to Penrhys on Sunday 24th September to give a talk about the pilgrimage.  I’d love to see you there if you are able.

Here is a video of the wonderful Llanfair Uniting Church

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