The Pilgrim Ways to Walsingham
St Edmundsbury to Walsingham – 85 miles, 8 days. Follow the St Edmund Way description from Bury St Edmunds until Santon Downham, from where you bear off to meet the bumpy prehistoric flint mines of Grime’s Graves. A ruined castle follows at the beginning of the evocatively named Pilgrim’s Walk through another forest, a hidden stone cross and several medieval remote churches follow. Then you are on the ancient trackway of Peddar’s Way before the great wool town of Swaffham. Onwards to the colossal Castle Acre Priory ruins, a classic stopping point on the way to Walsingham. Then the remote medieval churches increase in frequency as you get closer to 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.
Norwich to Walsingham – 36 miles, 3 days. Starting at Norwich Cathedral you soon have the Shrine of St Julian, a female mystic of great literary influence, embedded within a city of thirty medieval churches. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the county of Walsingham, there is evidence of a powerful female spirituality not only related to Mary but also St Anne, St Margaret, St Catherine, St Birgitte of Sweden and the writer Margery Kempe. Much of the route to Walsingham passes through the valley of the River Wensum, an region of unassuming beauty. Around the Snoring villages are stretches of high, grain-growing plateau with huge skies, and then you have the wooded valley of the Stiffkey. There are vistas of unenclosed valleys which have changed little since earlier times.
Coming into Walsingham – Remote churches are in plentiful supply as you approach the Catholic Slipper Chapel, from where you can walk the last mile barefoot to Little Walsingham village which, given its littleness, packs a serious spiritual punch with the ruins of the great shrine of Walsingham Abbey and the deeply revered Anglican and Catholic Shrines. Walsingham was one of the big pilgrimage sites destroyed by Thomas Cromwell – the memory of the destruction even has its own song, the Walsingham Ballad. Today, the shrine lives on.
Highlights from Bury St Edmunds
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
Highlights from Norwich
Shrine of St Julian, Norwich
Protected nature of River Wensum
Stiffkey Wooded Valley
Slipper Chapel, Abbey ruins and Anglican Shrine, Walsingham.
Holy Places listed in Britain’s Pilgrim Places book: Bury St Edmunds; Houghton-on-the-Hill; Norwich Cathedral; Little Walsingham.