England’s longest Pilgrimage Walk - 420 miles
- Norwich Cathedral to Durham Cathedral via the cathedrals of Ely,
Peterborough, Lincoln, York, and Ripon.
In 1974 I was approached by the York Department of Tourism to see whether I would create a walk from Norwich Cathedral to Durham Cathedral, to promote their East of England Heritage Route. I jumped at the chance and spent many weeks working out the route, averaging 20 miles a day and using public rights of way as much as possible. I devised a 21 day schedule. The Tourist Department would ensure media coverage for the walk, helping boost tourism in this area. As a result, press, radio and TV crews appeared along the route as I walked. I planned to camp along the way, but they arranged a hotel or a stay with the Dean of the Cathedral in each Cathedral city, so that I could spend a day exploring each cathedral and city before walking to the next cathedral. This meant I got to see places in the cathedrals that few see. I ascended the towers, walked the roof and above the naves. At the same time I would be raising money for the various Cathedral Restoration projects. In total £7,500 was raised - ( Equivalent to £60,525.75 in 2020!)
With a Town Cryer ringing his bell, and announcing my endeavour, I set off from Norwich Cathedral in late March 1975, unsure what lay ahead, for there were no mobile phones then. Four days later I was in Ely. Ely to Peterborough was the shortest stage of 44 miles. Then 3 days to Lincoln and 4 days to York. The last stage to Durham Cathedral was the longest - 5 days and included Ripon Cathedral. I was royally entertained in each city. I reached York Minster at 2.0pm, as arranged on Easter Saturday, and the special Easter, Pace-Egg play was performed in my honour. I reached Durham too early so hid in an inn for a couple of hours so that the local Lions Club could accompany me with rattling buckets, raising money for the cathedral restoration project, from the passersby. Reaching the cathedral the Mayor and Dean were waiting for me and I posed holding the sanctuary knocker, while being filmed and photographed, symbolising the completion of the walk. Later the following day I boarded the train back home to Sheffield and was quite baffled that a major section of the walk flashed by in a couple of hours.
Since that walk, I have often been back to the various cathedrals many times and rewalked the paths I took. The paths are more used now but the cathedrals have little changed, but where once entry was free now you have to pay!
Rather than write a guide initially as to how to walk the route, which would probably be 300 pages long, I have simply outlined the basic route each day and the maps needed. It is for you to work out the route and walk it at your own pace. I have included a list of Tourist Offices along the way for accommodation details. I do plan to write a comprehensive walking guide. But first I want to encourage people to make the pilgrimage and put it on the pilgrimage map.
So plan the route using my basic schedule and slip on your rucksack and set off on a magical pilgrimage walk up the eastern side of England. From the Broads and Fens, to the rolling landscape of Yorkshire and onto the stunning Durham Cathedral. In doing so you will have completed England’s longest Pilgrimage route. A journey of body, soul and mind while seeing everything at a sedate pace. You will be enriched for doing so and will have extended your life by more than 6 days. For every mile you walk you extend your life by 21 minutes!
Copyright - Revd. John N. Merrill - February 28th. 2020.