St Edmund Way – 79 miles, 8 days – Manningtree to Brandon, via Bury St Edmunds. This route honours St Edmund, England’s original patron saint before St George replaced him. Edmund was martyred in 870AD by the Danes in battle for not renouncing his faith, tied to a tree, shot with arrows and had his head chopped off, which was then reattached by a speaking wolf. His relics were translated from his unknown site of martyrdom to Bury in the early 900s. King Canute built a stone shrine in 1020, and by 1095, the silver and gold pilgrimage shrine at Bury Abbey was one of the most famous, wealthy and miracle-working in all England. Beyond that, we know little about him.
The route does its best to introduce you to the non-hilly but characterful land that Edmund would have known, by using the River Stour valley path in East Anglia, then in Suffolk passing Bures St Mary, where King Edmund may have been crowned, to Bury St Edmunds, where he was buried, then along the River Lark Valley path to the ancient Icknield Way at West Stow, where there is an astonishing, fully-reconstructed Anglo Saxon village with wooden huts with fires burning inside them. Then it’s the King’s Forest, which is bleak and huge, and just before Thetford is the Barnham Cross, the ancient boundary stone between Suffolk and Norfolk. Thetford’s incredible ruined Priory and Motte and Bailey will impress, before walking the river path alongside the Little Ouse which brings you to the secluded forest well of St Helen before the magical tiny church of Santon Downham before arriving in Brandon, where the Edmund Way ends.
River Stour Valley path
Bures St Mary, where Edmund was probably crowned
St Edmundsbury Cathedral and ruined Abbey
River Lark Valley path
West Stow Anglo Saxon Village
St Helen’s forest well and Santon Downham church
2-day Version – Thetford Priory to Bury St Edmunds – 22 miles. This a modified section of the complete route in order to take account of English Heritage sites in Thetford. You begin at Thetford Priory, an important medieval monastery, near the Priory of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, who aided medieval pilgrims to Jerusalem. Next is the medieval stone Barnham Cross that marks the boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk, and along the Icknield Way through the King’s Forest to West Stow, a reconstructed 5th-7th-century Anglo-Saxon village. A succession of four beautiful Suffolk churches follows before you arrive at Bury St Edmunds, with its ruined abbey standing side-by-side with the cathedral, where you can hear its choir sing evensong. (Scroll down to bottom for logistics).
St Edmundsbury Cathedral Pilgrimage in a Day – 9 miles. West Stow Church to St Edmundsbury Cathedral (see two-day map below.
Logistics for 2-day version from Thetford to Bury
Train to Thetford, and from Bury St Edmunds. Or bus or taxi to Thetford, if parking car at Bury St Edmunds.
Thetford to West Stow – 15 miles
West Stow to Bury – 7 miles
Accommodation and Food
West Stow and Culford (on the route), Flempton or Lackford (near the route). If wanting cooked food in the evening (which you don’t have to cook), the Cadogan Arms in Ingham is a 1hr walk from West Stow, or a 30-min walk from Culford.
Footpaths, fields and small sections of road.
NB the alternative route via Fornham St Martin, and its splendid Woolpack Inn and Church, involves you walking across a golf course. If there are golfers around please show a pilgrim’s respect.
If you want to sing a medieval chant dedicated to St Edmund as you go along, here are three: