Marshwood Vale Whitchurch Pilgrimage – Lewesdon Hill is the source area of the River Char, inspiration for a long poem titled ‘Lewesdon Hill’, and marks the beginning of the Marshwood Vale, with a vista opening onto its entirety. This is something of a river pilgrimage, from source to sea, much like the metaphor of walking from birth to death. Starting at Stoke Abbott, with its striking 12th-century font, we will roughly follow the course of the Char through Marshwood Vale country, first to Pilsdon, where you can visit an Anglican charitable retreat for ‘wayfarers’ – people who are for various reasons needing a place to rest for a while. Next is Shave Cross, the medieval pub where pilgrims got their head shaved before walking the final few miles to Whitchurch and where, allegedly, St Wite’s bones were stored for a while (ask the landlord to proclaim all the tall tales…). From here, you can follow those ancient pilgrim footsteps along the Char straight to Whitchurch Canonicorum, the one place in Britain apart from Westminster Abbey where the relics in the shrine are still intact, and a great place of pilgrimage ancient and modern.
Or (blue route on Google Map) you can drop down secretive hollow ways to Chideock, the hallowed place of the Chideock Martyrs executed by Elizabeth I, with its unique Catholic chapel and loft where they were kept. From there you walk the coast from Seatown to Golden Cap, and the ruins of St Gabriel’s Chapel, before climbing to St Wite’s Well, where the great Wite (aka St Candida) got her water (and so can you if you filter it!). The well is a short walk from Whitchurch Canonicorum. An alternative route goes past Hardown Hill where, like Golden Cap, Wite lit bonfires to warn locals of Viking ships.
From Whitchurch, if you want to finish your river pilgrimage, you pick up the River Char again and follow it to its end, at Charmouth. (FYI if you follow the blue route you roughly follow another river from source to sea, the River Winniford near Ryall, which flows into sea at Seatown). This route offers a lot: the natural holiness of the river, local folklore, poetry and history, the ecclesiastical holiness of un-destroyed Catholicism, and of course the unparalleled beauty of the carved Dorset landscape.