St Edmundsbury to Walsingham – 85 miles, 8 days.
You start at Bury St Edmunds, with its ruined abbey standing side-by-side with the cathedral, where you can hear its choir sing evensong. Bury Abbey’s St Edmund shrine was one of the most wealthy and miracle-working in medieval times. A succession of beautiful Suffolk churches follows Bury before you arrive at West Stow Anglo-Saxon village. Then through the giant King’s Forest and along the old Icknield Way to the medieval boundary stone of Barnham Cross between Norfolk and Suffolk just before Thetford Priory, a huge ruined monastery.
You then follow the St Edmund Way along the Little Ouse to the forest well of St Helen and the miniature, magically-situated church Santon Downham. Here you part from the St Edmund Way, almost immediately visiting the bumpy mounds of the prehistoric flint mines of Grime’s Graves. A ruined castle follows, at the beginning of the evocatively named Pilgrim’s Walk through another forest, along which there is a hidden stone cross, and several more medieval remote churches follow. Then you are on the ancient trackway of Peddar’s Way, and more remote churches before the great wool town of Swaffham, where you can rest for a while. Onwards to the deeply inspiring and colossal Castle Acre Priory ruins, a classic stopping point on the way to Walsingham.
Country churches increase in frequency as you approach Walsingham, before you finally come to the Slipper Chapel, the Catholic Basilica of the Lady of Walsingham, from where you can walk the last mile barefoot to the village of Little Walsingham, which, given its littleness, packs a serious spiritual punch with the ruins of the great shrine of Walsingham Abbey and the Anglican Shrine of the Lady of Walsingham and its holy well and awesome atmosphere of extreme reverence. This was one of the big pilgrimage sites destroyed by Thomas Cromwell – the memory of the destruction even has its own song, the Walsingham Ballad, made famous by William Byrd’s musical setting, and its inclusion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The loss of Walsingham probably still affects national consciousness even today, even if we do not realise it. Nevertheless, the shrine lives on.
Highlights of Edmundsbury to Walsingham
St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Forest riverscape of St Helen’s Well and Santon Downham Church
Prehistoric landscaping of Grime’s Graves
Ancient walking along Peddar’s Way
Past glory of Castle Acre Priory
Slipper Chapel, Abbey ruins and Anglican Shrine, Walsingham
Ely to Walsingham – 103 miles, 10 days. You can also start at Ely Cathedral, the ‘Ship of the Fens’, founded by patron saint of Cambridgeshire, the abbess St Etheldreda. Walk the Hereward National Trail, via Prickwillow Church, across Sedge Fenland, then through Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve whilst following the Little Ouse River to the pilgrim St James’ church in Hockwold, then the Weeting Heath National Nature Reserve before rejoining the above ‘St Edmundsbury to Walsingham’ route at Weeting.