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14:42 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 15:42 UK

Reviving an ancient pilgrim route

Chris and Jenny Potter

Tackling the 950-mile pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain last year made Chris and Jenny Potter think about how a similar route could be revived in north Wales.

Traditionally, pilgrims made their way from wherever they were in north Wales to Bardsey Island, reputed burial place of 20,000 saints.

Now the couple have ambitions to create a clear, way-marked route from Basingwerk in Flintshire to Bardsey, off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula, with a booklet guiding people to interesting sights along the way.

As Chris, who is Dean of St Asaph, explains, the Spanish trail has grown massively in popularity: "In 1980 there were about 2,500 people recorded as going on the route. This year, which is a holy year when the feast of St James on July 25 falls on a Sunday, they expect a quarter of a million."

Basingwerk Abbey

Both Chris and Jenny found going on the ancient route to be a profound experience.

"It was a fantastic experience and the whole sense of that long journey seemed to go deeply into us and everyone else we met along the route. There was great camaraderie, enormous support and encouragement," says Chris.

On their return to north Wales the couple began thinking of how a route across from Basingwerk to Bardsey could be revived and which way it would go.

There are various options, as Chris explains: "There are one or two routes you could take, possibly following the north Wales coastal path which is a well-established route, but we'd like it to link up, as ancient pilgrimages do, with ancient sites, coming through Holywell and Llanasa for example, maybe going to St Beuno's and Bodfari."

Jenny runs a fair trade coffee shop and can see the business potential in creating a route: "I can see the value of extra custom, so I'm sure lots of other businesses would appreciate it.

"When we were walking we realised how often we were stopping for a coffee or to buy some food and how much business we were generating as we went along. So there is commercial potential in this."

St Beuno's well

For Chris one of the highlights of this route would, of course, be St Asaph Cathedral. But there are many other places of interest which could feature.

"I love the ancient feel of the well at Holywell, our mini Lourdes," he said. "There's also the fact that Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote from St Beuno's and there's Ffynnon Beuno, the ancient well there. He saw the beauty of this particular landscape and recognised the spiritual quality of it as well.

"Llanasa, of course is linked with St Asaph and the ancient church here in the north of Wales. In Denbigh there's St Marcella's, another ancient church."

The couple's next step is to research and walk the route, taking photos and making notes. "We intend to link up with other people who have written about the journey. A lot of the work's been done and we're very grateful for that and feel we're just providing bits of sticky tape linking it together."

They will also be talking with tourism, walking and countryside organisations, and a meeting is planned for 26 April to discuss future plans.

The couple are certainly glad they followed the Spanish pilgrim route: "It was a great experience, a very moving experience, and one we'd like others to have a sense of sharing."

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St Beuno's well (11 Nov 09 |  Religion & Ethics )

Diocese of St Asaph
Bardsey Island

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