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Way of St David Journal
Thursday 1st August 2019
Lynne (on the left of the image in front of St Davids cathedral) is from Brampton, Canada and was a pilgrim on our first Way of St David journey in June. Here is her daily journal packed with observations and insights on pilgrimage on what proved to be an amazing time together:
Saturday June 22, 2019 Cardiff - Llangwm
Hi everyone, Martha and I began the day in Cardiff with a walk to the Bay Area—an area once the economic centre of Wales as the location from which Welsh coal was exported and later a very poor area of Wales following the cessation of coal production in the area. It is now a revitalized area for arts, sports and civics including the home of the Wales legislative assembly, built 20 years ago.
We then trained just over 2 hours to Haverfordwest where we were met by our tour leader Iain Tweedale and driven to Llangwm in Pembrokeshire and the cute little house in which we are to stay for the next five days. We met our fellow pilgrims Graeme and Chrissy over a tea of Welsh cakes [like flat scones] and Bara Brith bread. Chrissy will be walking part of the trail with us. She will also help to look after us.
We went for a walk to the nearby Anglican church, recently renovated to the tune of £450,000. Pamela Hunt, a BBC persona, led the renovation effort and our tour. In the course of their work they were able to discover the Flemish roots of the area (it was the church of the de la Roche family) and its Game of Thrones-like medieval history. We had a long walk down to the bay area and back through a cricket game before we settled in Iain's private garden with a bottle of red wine.
After dinner we had a gathering — a prayer time. Here is an excerpt from one of the prayers:
As we walk these ancient ways today, may we renew our faith in you, our God, and thus carry the flame of Christ wherever we go. Lord, shine within me, walk beside me.
Sunday June 23, 2019 Llangwm to Milford Haven (Pilgrimage Day 1)
Hello everyone, just back from 5 1/2 hours of walking (11.84 miles; nearly 19 km) mostly in the rain! But it was a light rain and it was not cold so it was not too unpleasant. We attended the Anglican church service where they gave us a lovely sending off. Then we walked through the fields, on roads and along the coast passing by huge oil refineries and windmill farms. We ended up at the bay at the Milford Haven, formerly a big fishing harbour and now part of the British Legion and a yacht club. My feet and legs are both sore but I did it! And so hopefully will be able to do the same tomorrow. Some interesting and helpful facts: our tour guide Iain has never had a member of his party suffer a broken bone or twisted ankle or heart attack!
This is part of the prayer we had at lunch today as we sat looking over a marina:
Lord, you are my shore, my refuge and my secure haven. You are the song of the wind in the trees. You are the deep waves of the shining ocean.
That's all for today. I'm going to be the first in the shower!
Monday June 24, 2019 Milford Haven to Dale (Pilgrimage Day 2)
Our itinerary today was dictated by two rivers we needed to cross and the tide. Because the tide was high this morning, we started our day later in hopes that by the time we arrived at the first river, we could cross it. Thus we were permitted a "lie in" today (British for sleeping in) and began our walk at 11:20.
Despite the late start, we arrived at the first river about an hour before it was ready to be crossed. That did not stop Martha and Graeme who took off their footwear, hiked up their pants and walked through the water. (Martha felt a calling to return to her old camping and canoeing days). The rest of us waited and crossed about 45 minutes later with our hiking boots on!
Today we passed hopefully the last of the energy utilities, this time a massive pipe structure by which Middle Eastern natural gas is brought into the UK. With that behind us, we walked mostly along the coast, through some rain forest like parts, up and down hills, on narrow paths and on loose rocks, past sheep, cows and dogs, by fields of blue flowers and red tinged straw. Through most of the walk we could hear the lapping of the ocean's waves next to the shore below us.
We spent half an hour walking and engaging in silent Christian meditation which really means meditating over some Christian sounding word. Most of us used "Maranatha" which is Aramaic for Come Lord Jesus. After that we return to our normal walking and gabbing ways.
We ended our walk at 6:30 pm in Dale, which is the place that King Henry VII and his 50 French ships landed before journeying with their Welsh supporters to Leicestershire to defeat Richard III at Bosworth. The beginning of the Tudor dynasty. My kind of place! We walked 12 miles! Nearly 30k steps. This was from our lunch reading:
Tides make you develop another sense of time away from the clock. Having to wait for the tide at a ford takes you into a rhythm of life that has been almost lost. Waiting for the tide at the ford is a place to share good news, stories, to share a meal and some time....
Tuesday June 25, 2019- Dale to Little Haven (Pilgrimage Day 3)
Today was the day we were not going to walk. A month ago, back in Brampton, contemplating this walk, Martha and I thought we might have to sit this day out. We would spend it at the pub, nursing our sore feet and legs. But we woke this morning feeling fine and not only began the walk but finished it (although, to be fair, there are not many off ramps for a partial walk on this pilgrimage).
We spent almost the entire day on the coastal path, the oil and natural gas refineries behind us. High on the cliffs, we marvelled at the changing rock formations below us: some black, some grey, some red; some jagged, some smooth; some covered in moss or trees. It was very beautiful.
What I'll tell you more about is the sounds. In addition to the crashing waves, which we loved, we heard birds, bag pipes, artillery (a military base is nearby), a tractor (Massey Ferguson, no less) and occasionally, the pleasant wind chime sound of our St. Christopher medallions (the patron saint of travellers) knocking against our pilgrim shells, both strung to the back of our knapsacks (God interrupting, as Martha says).
And there was one more sound. After lunch we all stood on a cliff and lifted our voices to Guide Me oh Thou Great Redeemer. Truly, it was a noise that only the Lord would find joyful. But it was very moving. We stopped for lunch in St Brides and visited an old church. Martha lit a candle for pilgrims and peace.
After 8 hours of walking, covering nearly 15 miles, we collapsed into The Swan, a Little Haven Pub where I had my second G&T of the trip. Apparently, the quinine in the tonic water is very medicinal--wards off leg cramps and malaria. As for the gin— well how else could you drink the tonic? Martha had her gin with soda water and thanks to her special request, both of our drinks were laced with seaweed. When in Wales...
Wednesday June 26, 2019 Little Haven to Solva (Pilgrimage Day 4)
Further to my description of the sounds we heard yesterday while walking, let me tell you about the sounds you would have heard had you been with us last night after we returned to the house in Llangwm following our 15 miles of walking: moans and groans. But after our hot showers, a bottle of wine and a nice home-made dinner: laughter particularly as we watched a rerun of an irreverent Irish 1990's sit-com called Father Ted.
We left earlier this morning, determined to end our walk before 6 p.m. today and with that decision implemented and the route selected being 3 miles shorter, we succeeded, finishing at a pub in Solva at about 4:45 p.m.
The day was much quieter than yesterday. The water was calm and so there were no crashing waves. The view was spectacular though with one breathtaking view after another as we moved past each "head land" (jutting out parts / corners of the coastline).
Though we finished earlier today and the distance travelled was shorter, it was not easier. As we drove to Little Haven this morning to pick up on our route, I read aloud a prayer you will have heard many times. After doing so, we created our own version something like this:
May the path we walk be wide enough for two feet;
May the stones that gird the paths be flat and not jut up in unexpected places;
May the inclines be gentle and the declines be subtle.
We all know that sometimes the Lord answers our prayers. Sometimes he makes us wait. At those times, he requires us to walk, at least for a time, a difficult path. As the pictures will indicate, that was his determination today. In total, the elevation we walked was 1,833 feet. We all enjoyed the singing so much yesterday that we decided to repeat the exercise every day. Today Graeme chose the hymn: How Great Thou Art. We sang it in a better key than yesterday, at the top of a cliff. It was magnificent.
On our journey we have been in search for elusive "belty cows" (black cows with a white band around the middle). Martha insists she saw some from the window of the train on the way from Cardiff. (Sure you did 😊). In our travels we have seen brown cows, white cows and black cows but all from a distance and none that are "belty".Today, atop a cliff, we walked through a herd of large Holsteins one of which was a bull who took quite a bit of umbrage to Martha's efforts to get up close and personal while she was wearing a bright pink matador like shirt. Don't worry we got out of its path before Iain was required to provide first aid. [At home, my mother-in-law observed that our characterization of the cow may have been incorrect. While it had horns (hence our thinking it was a bull), it also had a full udder. An androgynous cow/bull? Hey: we are very open-minded on these things. "You be you" we would have said to the beast, had we noticed].
Let me end with the prayer with which we began:
May the road rise to meet you;
May the wind be always at your back;
May the sunshine be warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hands.
Thursday June 27, 2019 - Solva to St. David's (Pilgrimage Day 5)
After five days and 100 kilometers walked, we arrived at the Cathedral of Saint David at 3 p.m. The second of our audible gasp moments, an old stone gate opens up to display a monastic settlement constructed, destroyed and re-constructed in whole or in part four times since 1181. In the same century, the Pope declared that two pilgrimages to St. David's was equal to one pilgrimage to Rome and three were equal to one to Jerusalem.
Like thousands of pilgrims before us, we were welcomed into the large cathedral below its wooden jigsaw-like ceiling (not a nail in it) and met below the stained glass window portraying many Abrahamic journeys including that of Noah, the Israelites leaving Egypt, and Jesus ascending. We were given a tour of the many chapels within the cathedral and said prayers in each before going to the Pilgrim Centre where we received certificates evidencing the completion of our pilgrimage (as if our sore muscles and sunburn were not evidence enough).
Possibly the most moving part of the day though was the evensong service performed by a choir of 20 (most under the age of 18) which we viewed from the choir loft. Words cannot describe its magnificence.
The rest of the day seems somewhat banal in comparison but it was once again filled with challenging elevations and descents around verdant paths, spectacular head lands revealing dark craggy rock faces and azure Caribbean-like waters and —we could hardly believe it—10 wild ponies.
We ended our day in the foundations of a little stone church called St. Nons, the birth place of St David. To get there we had to walk across a field of cows (none of the belty variety). In fact two of our party were intimidated by the herd and refused to join us. But none of the swarming nature of the beasts, their swatting tails, or their mooing cries deterred the girls from Brampton from jumping into the paddock to see the religious site.
The weather today was forecast to be 24 degrees without a chance of rain. Our backpacks were so much lighter without the need to carry sweaters and raincoats. We decided to eat out for lunch and dinner and so were also relieved of having to carry our sandwiches. A nice way to finish the last 6 miles of our trek.
Let me end with the "Grace" with which we ended the evensong service and which is known so well:
The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen