Worcester Cathedral Pilgrimage in a Day
St Wulfstan Day Way – from Great Malvern Priory – 11 miles, Google Map Yellow Line. (Scroll down for extended description). Walk the Three Choirs Way from Malvern Priory (which Wulfstan played a role in founding, an ancient stopping place for pilgrims along the salt route), visiting Madresfield and Powick Church (and the Powick Yew Tree), and the site of the first and last battles of the English Civil War, Old Powick Bridge, then a final approach to the Cathedral along the River Severn. See photos below.
Droitwich Spa – 10.5 miles, Google Map Orange Line. Home of two historical Christian leaders, Droitwich Spa is a perfect starting point for a riverside walk to Worcester Cathedral. Both these devout sons of Droitwich went on to find fame elsewhere, St Richard becoming bishop of Chichester in the 13th century and Edward Winslow boarding the Mayflower to seek religious freedom in the American colony of New Plymouth. Starting at the town’s memorial garden and statue celebrating St Richard’s early years, this park also includes the town’s brine well, which the saint successfully restored with a blessing when it started to fail. The route moves to the church of St Andrew, which Richard would have known, then to the town’s other early church St Peter’s where a memorial to Edward Winslow marks his place in history as one of the Pilgrim Fathers. A long and peaceful walk beside the Droitwich Canal and then the River Severn then follows, leading to the centre of Worcester itself, where a few steps connect to the cathedral and further opportunity to contemplate the holy history of this appealing one-day pilgrim route. The cathedral’s two saints St Oswald and St Wulfstan also have connections further afield, the former ending up as Archbishop of York in the 10th century and the latter successfully campaigning against the slave trade from Ireland to Britain in the 11th century.
Pershore Abbey – 12 miles, Google Map Burgundy Line. Walk from historic abbey of Pershore, joining the River Severn at Kempsey for a final approach to the Cathedral.
Evesham Abbey (via Pershore) – 21 miles, Google Map Burgundy Line. This is the same as the Pershore route but with a day’s extension from Evesham Abbey.
Short Urban Pilgrimage – 0.5 miles, Google Map Green Line. Visits Old St Martin in the Cornmarket, St Swithun’s, and St Helen’s Churches, and Worcester Cathedral.
St Wulfstan Day Way – Great Malvern to Worcester Cathedral (11 miles)
Up a squiggly path lined by root-exposed beech trees of Happy Valley, you find St Ann’s Well. This is one of the three principal sources of the healing waters of Malvern inspiring the 1840s/50s Malvern water cult that attracted the great and good. The well is the start point for your pilgrimage to Worcester Cathedral and has been known for centuries for curing the “many maladies suffered by mediaeval folk”. Set your intention for healing here, perhaps singing our water song to it. An old song attributed to the Revd Edmund Rea, who became Vicar of Great Malvern in 1612, alludes to the healing properties of the well:
Out of thy famous Hille
There daily springeth
A water passing still
That always bringeth
Great comfort to alle them
That are diseased men
And makes them well again
So Prayse the Lord!
Until recently St Ann’s Well was the starting point for the annual Malvern Fringe May Day procession. Now, like these revellers, you will walk down the hill to Great Malvern, where you meet the Malvinha Spring – inspired by the Celtic Triple, the Christian Trinity and the three springs coming out the hills (there is another holy well two miles south). A three of threes.
Malvern once lay on a salt route over the Chase of the Hills – a hideout for nefarious bandits and thieves. In 1075, the great Wulfstan of Worcester encouraged a reluctant hermit Aldwyn to become the first Prior of Malvern Priory, which was then built as an effective bandit repellent. Prior Walcher succeeded Aldwyn, with great impact, introducing the arabic numbering system we use today – 1, 2, 3 etc, instead of roman numerals, a primitive tally system. Walcher is pictured in a stained glass window resting on his astrolabe, and buried in a tomb opposite. The Priory has a larger display of 15th century stained glass than any other parish church in England, and it is believed that its size is second only to York Minster. It also has an enviable proliferation of medieval tile designs – presumably the original ‘William Morris’? Have a search in the graveyard for Charles Darwin’s daughter Annie’s grave.CS Lewis was associated with Malvern, as was Tolkien, Tennyson, Darwin, Dickens and Elgar. There’s obviously something about this place, as it inspired all of them. The picture below is of the gas lampost that he saw in the snow, turning to Tolkien to say how such imagery would work well in a book. The other picture below is the wardrobe-like structure at the back of Malvern Priory, in which there is a keyhole through which you can see a gas lampost by some trees…
After moving through an industrial estate on the edge of Malvern, and fields through the Madresfield estate, you come to the ‘Mount Joy’ vantage point of Old Hills. This is the place from where you can first see Worcester Cathedral in one direction, and your start point of the Malvern Hills behind you in the other direction. Also, you can eat your packed lunch here.
You then pass Stanbrook Abbey (once a convent, now a hotel) before reaching the village of Powick.
Serenely, the venerable yew tree sits in state in Powick churchyard. An old grumpy man in feeling – go and cheer him up with a song or a calming hand on his bough or trunk.
From there proceed to the late medieval Old Powick Bridge, the scene of the first major cavalry engagement between the Earl of Essex and King Charles I. Due to its positioning near the confluence of the Rivers Teme and Severn, it held strategic importance in the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651.
From there, you walk along the River Teme, passing by the main field of battle that closed the civil war in 1651 at the confluence of the Teme and Severn. Now it is a field of cabbages with your first close-up glimpse of the cathedral.
After crossing over a footbridge just along from the confluence, you walk along the River Severn for a while before reaching the majestic west front of Worcester Cathedral. Inside you will discover eye-catching vaulting and buttressing.
The cathedral has an important pilgrim history, with the former shrines of Wulfstan of Worcester and St Oswald either side of King John’s tomb in front of the High Altar, and you can stand where they would have been to soak up the good vibes. Wulfstan was the leading abolitionist of his day, stopping the slave trade from Bristol during his lifetime, together with Lanfranc. Sing his wonderful chant to him to show your appreciation (virtually, of course, to avoid flying throat molecules).
You end your pilgrimage standing on the engraved slab under which the Worcester Pilgrim is buried. Possibly Robert Sutton, an educated tradesman who walked from Worcester to Santiago de Compostela. But we prefer to know it as the ‘Grave of the Unknown Pilgrim’.
Reflect on your day standing here, reminding yourself of your original intention that you started with, and feel where you have come with it. After this, you are free to walk the streets of Worcester as a mere ordinary person; your status as pilgrim relinquished until the next time…