St Birinus Dorchester Abbey Pilgrimage in a Day – 10 miles – 1 day – Churn Knob, Blewbury to Dorchester Abbey. Saint Birinus was the first bishop of Dorchester; a sleepy little village that was once the centre of Christianity in Wessex, before it was eclipsed by Winchester. But the Thames Valley is also a place of myth and magic – the route takes you over Wittenham Clumps; two domed hills that are the location of an Iron Age hill fort, buried treasure, and a “cuckoo pen” – a grove a trees with the power to trap a cuckoo, and thus ensure a never-ending summer. The far side of the pilgrimage takes you to Churn Knob, a round barrow where Saint Birinus once preached. Follow the green paths as they take you off the beaten track, close to England’s navel.
“Until recently there was an annual pilgrimage in honour of St Birinus following this route from high on the downs, through ancient villages, across water meadows and over the Sinodun Hills to the old abbey at Dorchester-on-Thames. The walk begins at Churn Knob on the Berkshire Downs (though now in Oxfordshire) where St Birinus preached the Christian Gospel to King Cygnalis of the West Saxons. It drops down to the village of Blewbury, with its crystal-clear streams straight out of the chalk and its pretty thatched cottages. Passing over Blewburton Hill with its ancient hill-fort and across low-lying farmland, it reaches South Morton before continuing over water meadows laced with drainage ditches to Mackney, then Brightwell-cum-Sotwell. From here it climbs up over the Sinodun Hills with another ancient hill-fort and the poem tree, before descending to Little Wittenham, then crossing the Thames at Day’s Lock. Finally it passes the Dyke Hills to enter Dorchester-on-Thames, with St Birinus’ Church (Catholic) and Dorchester Abbey (now the Anglican Parish Church). The land for the abbey was given by King Cygnalis when he was baptised in the river here. The churches at Blewbury, South Moreton, Brightwell, Little Wittenham and Dorchester (where pilgrims used to have their ‘passports’ stamped) are all special, as are the villages themselves if you admire picturesque old architecture.”