St Kenelm’s Way & Trail

1 week, West & East Midlands

St Kenelm’s Way – 55 miles – 5 days
St Kenelm’s Trail – 60 miles – 6 days
St Kenelm’s Church, Romsley, Clent Hills to St Peter’s Abbey, Winchcombe
(Both routes have same start and end points, but look at the Google Map below to compare their different holy places).

William of Malmesbury, writing in the twelfth century, reported that ‘there was no place in England to which more pilgrims travelled than to Winchcombe on Kenelm’s feast day’. St Kenelm is also mentioned by Chaucer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. The two pilgrimage routes dedicated to him link the two places most commonly associated with his legend – Clent Hills, south of Birmingham, identified as the scene of his supposed murder by his tutor, who was ordered to kill him by Kenelm’s older sister Quendryda, the tutor’s lover, because she wanted to inherit his kingdom), and the small Gloucestershire town of Winchcombe, near Cheltenham where his body was eventually buried. The routes both allegedly follow the historic route walked by monks of St Peter’s Abbey, Winchcombe, who carried St Kenelm’s remains back there after interventions by a heavenly dove, the Pope and a faithful cow. Along the route springs sprung wherever the cortege rested; therefore, you will have to walk both routes to discover which is the true path of his relics. Both routes pass through several ancient villages, and visit many Middle Age churches (three of which are named after St Kenelm) and places of historic interest such as the picturesque Huddington Court of Gunpowder Plot fame, and finish by going through the grounds of the more famous Sudeley Castle before arriving at Winchcombe. They also visit two holy wells associated with Kenelm and Hailes Abbey, which housed a vial of Holy Blood, and the site of the now-vanished Winchcombe Abbey, which were also important places of pilgrimage of the age.

Even today, Winchcombe locals put on community pilgrimages that dramatise the tale of Kenelm, and in medieval times, villagers at Kenelstowe in Worcestershire celebrated St Cynehelm’s Day (July 17) with a village fair and the ancient custom of “crabbing the parson” – bombarding the unfortunate cleric with a volley of crab apples.  

Saint Kenelm is one of the most important Saints of medieval England,  venerated throughout England. Indeed, His legend identifies him as a member of the royal family of Mercia, a Boy-King and martyr, murdered to further the interests of an ambitious relative. After his body was concealed, it came to light by virtue of miraculous intervention and, as described above, was transported by the Monks of Winchcombe to a major shrine where it was venerated for several hundred years.

As legend has it, the child Kenelm, ‘King of the Mark’ (i.e. Mercia) and pious at just seven years old, is murdered by a treacherous servant at the behest of his wicked sister. His body is hidden but a heavenly dove informs the Pope in Rome about Kenelm’s murder, by dropping a scroll on the altar where he is saying Mass; the scroll is inconveniently in English, but the Pope finds someone to translate it and learns that it says ‘In Clent, Cowbach, Kenelm the king’s son lies under a thorn, his head cut off.’ He sends messengers to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who investigates. The body of Kenelm is found where the scroll said it would be, his hidden grave guarded by a faithful cow. The body is taken to Winchcombe, and when the wicked sister sees it coming she tries to curse it by reading from her Psalter – but her eyes fall out of her head and she dies. According to the South English Legendary, this Psalter was kept at Winchcombe, where any pilgrim who cared to see it could ascertain the truth of the story.

Highlights
Great story that inspired the routes
Beautiful Cotswold scenery
Joy in finding a forgotten but well-trod path
Several springs and holy wells

Buy Guidebook to St Kenelm’s Trail and read introduction by John Price

Buy Guidebook to St Kenelm’s Way

For more academic history, read ‘A Clerk of Oxford’

Click to download route/s in GPX file format for your smartphone’s map app

Instructions for using a GPX file to show you the route on your smartphone

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