The Walter Hilton Pilgrimage Day


From Thurgarton Priory to Southwell Minster

Saturday March 26

Join the group or start when you like

Rupert Sheldrake, one of our patrons, whose roots are in Nottinghamshire, plans to go on this one-day pilgrimage, and if you live nearby, he invites you to join him. It’s about five miles. Whether you set off with the group – and with Rupert – or go at another time, all pilgrims are invited to tea and refreshments in the Great Hall of the medieval archbishop’s palace, just beside Southwell Minster.

Here are the details:
St Walter Hilton (c. 1340-1396), one of England’s greatest medieval mystics, was a Augustinian canon at Thurgarton Priory, near Southwell, Nottinghamshire. His feast day is March 24, which is why this pilgrimage is happening when it is. This pilgrimage follows the Walter Hilton Way, a footpath route from Thurgarton Priory along a farm track, and through fields and meadows to the village of Halloughton, with its church of St James, in which you can see images of the scallop-shell emblem carried by pilgrims to the great Cathedral of St James (Santiago, in Spanish) in Compostela, Spain. The path then goes through the fields of the Brackenhurst estate, the agricultural campus of Nottingham Trent University, and emerges in the fields on a hill above Southwell Minster, nestling in in a wide valley below. Southwell Minster, also known as Southwell Cathedral, the ‘hidden gem’ of English cathedrals, is probably most famous for the exquisite naturalistic leaf carvings in the Chapter House, dating from the late thirteenth century. The cathedral is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Thurgarton can be reached by public transport from Newark, Nottingham or Southwell. If you are driving to the area you could park your car in Southwell, and take the bus to Thurgarton. Here are some details:

Southwell: Line 26 bus to Thurgarton at 10.42 or 11.12 am

Newark: By train from Newark Castle Station at 9.40 am, arriving 9.54, or at 11.36 am, arriving 11.50.  (There may be engineering works, so please check these details nearer the time.) The last bus from Southwell to Newark leaves at 6.38 pm. The bus stop is near the Minster and evensong should end around 6.15 pm.

Nottingham: Buses (Line 26) from Nottingham to Thurgarton at 10.16, arr 10.48, or 10.46, arr 11.18 am. Unfortunately, on that day there are no direct trains from Nottingham (except early in the morning), and the train journey will necessitate going via Newark and changing there. The trains from Nottingham to Newark are at 9.01 and 10.59 am, and connect with the trains from Newark, above. To return from Southwell to Nottingham on line 26, there are buses at 6.50, 7.20. 7.48 and 8.18 pm, and some even later.

Thurgarton Priory and St James Church, Halloughton will be open for pilgrims’ visits throughout the day. There will be a special service of Eucharist celebrated by the vicar of Thurgarton at 11.30 am in which pilgrims can receive holy communion or a personal blessing, ending with a blessing for all who are going on the pilgrimage. For those arriving later, please note that there will be a wedding at the Priory from 1.00-2.00 pm, so visits will not be possible until it has finished. At St James’ church, Halloughton, glasses of water will be available, and pilgrims are welcome to rest there – and, if it is raining, to eat their lunch there.  At Southwell, tea and refreshments for pilgrims will be served (free of charge) in the Great Hall of the medieval Archbishop’s Palace, and at 5.30 pm there will be a beautiful service of Choral Evensong in the chancel of the Minster, sung by the cathedral choir, to which all are welcome, followed by a reception with drinks and snacks (free of charge).

Pilgrims are advised to bring their own lunch and water for the journey. There is a good pub in Thurgarton, The Red Lion, which opens at 10.00 am, but no other sources of food along the way. It would be advisable to wear boots or strong walking shoes. A group led by Rev Alison Milbank, a professor of theology and literature at Nottingham University and a canon at Southwell cathedral, will set off together after the Eucharist in Thurgarton, but those who would prefer to start at other times or go at their own pace are welcome to do so.

What makes a pilgrimage different from a walk is going with an intention, for example to give thanks, to pray for healing or guidance, or to seek for inspiration. It would be good to have your intention in mind when you start out from Thurgarton, and to pray about it when you reach the Minster, where you can light a candle.

One traditional practice is to walk clockwise around the destination, before entering it, thus making it the centre. By walking round the Minster, you will also gain a greater appreciation of its architecture and overall structure.

Click for Google Map of Walter Hilton Pilgrimage Route to use on your smartphone Click to download Walter Hilton route in GPX file format for your smartphone’s map app

Written directions for those walking on their own:

  1. From 26 bus stop in Thurgarton village centre take Priory Road to the north by the hair salon and follow it uphill, passing a beautiful cricket ground to the left. The footway rises and separates from the road as you go on and curves left. The churchyard and Priory Church of St Peter will soon appear on your left through a wall. It was here that Walter Hilton served as an Augustinian canon and wrote his Ladder of Perfection. Church is usually open on Saturdays or a key can be borrowed from the vicar on 07720010066 . (The vicarage for returning the key is opposite the Red Lion). It is a fine church with a memorial to Walter Hilton and a copy of his writings. The rest of the priory is now a private house and the setting is idyllic.
  2. Leave the churchyard and follow the road onwards. It takes a sharp turn to the right and becomes a public bridleway. After about 500 yards you will see a gap in the hedge on the left. Go through and a bench offers a rest and a notice bidding us remember all the animals who were used in experiments when the Priory belonged to Boots.
  3. Carry on up the lane through a car barrier with views over the valley where there are (obscure) Roman remains.
  4. Turn right just past a barn conversion by a public footpath sign by an austere grey farm building and keep close to the hedge to the bottom of the field. Follow along to the right until a gap opens with a small bridge over the dumble (local word for a deep cut stream).
  5. Cross the bridge and through a gate into the next field and cross diagonally left to the next gate, which leads to another. Hug the left hedge until you reach a farm track and gate. Cows for Long Clawson stilton cheese often pass along here for milking.
  6. Cross the track to yet another gate and follow the left hedge until the path joins a track and you come between buildings of Bridle Path Farm to a road. Turn right.
  7. This is the peaceful village of Halloughton and the road leads to Manor Farm, once a Prebendal holding of Southwell Minster with an ancient tower (prebends were clergy financed by land-holdings). Opposite lies St James’s Church, a good place to rest and pray. It has a window with St James’s pilgrim scallop shell and Southwell Minster. The Pilgrims Chapel at Southwell has a tapestry with another such shell.
  8. Follow the road to the end and cross the main A612 with great care. Turn right (counterintuitively) to walk on the wide grass verge to a public footpath sign on your left, which takes you into Brackenhurst land. This is the environmental science and agriculture part of Nottingham Trent University and is sustainably managed, with helpful display boards. Turn left over a bridge across another dumble and turn right to follow the trees passing three hedge boundaries to your left.
  9. Immediately after the third you turn left onto a farm track, viewing Brackenhurst House in the distance. (You can make a detour to view the gardens of what was the boyhood home of Lord Allenby, associated with the British remit in Palestine, now part of the university.)
  10. Turn left at the first lamppost to join a metalled road that takes you past another cricket ground, when you turn right along a grassy signposted public footpath between farm buildings. It emerges through a gate onto a lane. Turn right towards the footpath sign, getting your first view of the Minster across the fields. Take the footpath to your left and follow it diagonally right to a white footpath sign across the field, often planted with maize or barley. Carry straight on across the next field until the path curves left down the hill, hugging the fence of the Minster School grounds. A new building, this school has an Anglo-Saxon origin as the Cathedral School and still has a junior department for choristers.
  11. The path comes out in the War Memorial Park. Turn right and left at the end of the path to pass the children’s playground. Turn right through its car park to join a path at the end by the Bramley Apple Trail sign. This fruit was invented in Southwell and has a window in its honour in the north transept. Follow the path to another yellow footpath sign by two green posts and fork left to the Minster. You pass the ruins of the palace of the Archbishop of York and a lovely garden, which you can visit later, along with the State Chamber which survives. You can now enter the Minster by the South Door on your right or continue round to admire the beauty of the Norman West End before coming in by the North Door. Or circumambulate (walk round) the whole Minster before entering as a sign of respect.

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