Page 6, 5th February 1982

5th February 1982
Page 6
Page 6, 5th February 1982 — THE PILGRIM'S TALES

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Organisations: English Tourist Board


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THE Christian tourist should approach Britain's ancient shrines as a pilgrim suggests Christopher Rails. He cites the examples of Glastonbury, Lindisfarne and Iona.

THE English Tourist Board has become increasingly aware in recent years of the yeast number of people who visit the Cathedrals and churches of this land. So much so that in 1979 they published a report of their findings about visitors to 40 cathedrals and seven greater churches.

Among the comments they collected was one from the Dean of Canterbury, who remarked: "We hesitate to make a distinction between pilgrims and tourists. Chaucer's pilgrims were in many ways tourists also."

The report itself, entitled English Cathedrals and Tourism, had this advice to give to the tourist-oriented cathedrals: "Every visitor is a possible pilgrim, and it is the task of the Church to draw him into the spiritual dimension of the experience of visiting a cathedral".

I would like to think that we can apply the above remarks to other places of pilgrimage. There are three I will talk about here: Glastonbury, Lindisfarne and lona.

I will begin with Glastonbury because I know it best of the three. I have ancestors buried there, and relatives living there still.

During my boyhood, in Bristol, I used to travel the 30 miles to Glastonbury by coach for the annual Clifton Diocesan . pilgrimage. As sixth-formers several of us decided that to make it a real pilgrimage we ought to walk. So we set off at five o'clock on a summer Sunday morning, and climbed over the Mendips. I recommend this route to anybody, we used the least busy road, via Bishopsworth, Chew Stoke (past the scenic Chew Valley Lake reservoir), and Castle of Comfort Inn, high on the Mendips.

We descended into Wells in time to hear the bells of the Cathedral ringing across the valley for the main service of the day — a welcoming and cheering sound.

Wells and Glastonbury somehow go together. They are only about six miles apart. When you visit Wells, Glastonbury always beckons.

From whichever direction you approach Glastonbury, the Tor stands out for many miles as the only landmark on the flat terrain that was once the sea.

There are many legends about Glastonbury; that it was visited by Joseph of Arimathea, and possibly the infant Christ; that in the Chalice Well is buried the Holy Grail: that the Tor was once the Isle of Avalon — King Arthur's last resting place.

If you are a real romantic, you may choose to believe some of these stories. If you are a cynic, like me, you will congratulate the erstwhile monks of the once magnificent abbey on their propaganda techniques. It brought the pilgrims in their thousands, and the medieval George and Pilgrim Inn can still be seen in the main street.

Yet Glastonbury has an atmosphere about it that I cannot explain. The hippies who set up camp there in the sixties said it had the vibes". They were right.

Lying in mid-Somerset, Glastonbury is not easy-to reach without a car. Until 1966 you could get there on an obscure branch of the old Somerset and Dorset railway. Now, the best way by public transport is National Express coach, or train to Bristol, and then a bus.

It is interesting to note how the wildest and most Celtic areas of Britain seem to find connections with King Arthur. Bamburgh Castle, near Lindisfarne is believed by some to be the Joyous Garde of King Arthur's knights.

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, stands off the Northumberland coast. I confess that I have not visited it.

I once caught a glimpse of it from an express train as I was speeding north to Edinburgh, and was much impressed.

' Looked at from the mainland, Mien the tide is out and the island is reflected in the wet, golden sands, Lindisfarne looks like something out of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Edward Grierson, in h is Companion Guide to Northumbria. says that under these conditions "there is no more extraordinary place to be found in Britain."

Lindisfarne was, of course, the home of St Aidan and St Cuthbert. The ruined priory is bleak' and atmospheric. Small wonder that Scott. in Marmion wrote:

Dry shod o'er sands, twice every dot'. The pilgrims to the shrine .find way..

Twice every day the waves efface, Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.

The modern pilgrim-tourist will not have to wait for low tide to wade barefoot through the wet sand. The Low is crossed by a modern, metalled road. fhe island can be reached by turning off the AI, and the nearest railway station is Berwick-bnTweed, about ten miles away.

Still farther north is Iona, a little island off the southern tip of the Isle of Mull.

I and several friends reached it from-Tobermory, the "capital" of Mull. Eight of us travelled across Mull in an old Rover car — quite a squash! Like the other tourists, we left the car at the quayside, and crossed the short distance to the island in a small boat.

lona is yet another mysterious, atmospheric place if you get away from the crowds. The climate is mild, and it has the feeling of being in West Wales, or Cornwall.

The abbey, a ruin since 1561. was rebuilt in the early years of this century. It is interesting for the pilgrim as well as the tourist. It has a resident community of ministers and lay people, founded in 1938.

A note in the church invites the visitor to inquire further. Being from Worth Abbey Lay Community, all eight of us crowded into the inquiry office. The information officer had neve; dealt with so many people at one time!

It was St Columba who made Iona a sought-after place of pilgrimage. It became, in the sixth century, the most famous centre of Celtic Christianity.

Many ancient Scottish kings were buried there, including, reputedly, Duncan and Macbeth.

I would like to have seen lona out of season, when there were fewer visitors. But even my experience, at the height of the tourist season. felt like a minipilgrimage.

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