‘The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage,’ Sir Walter Raleigh
I have just returned from a week-long pilgrimage to Glastonbury for the summer solstice – wild-camping along the way and staying with friends. Walking in glorious sunlight (at least for the first couple of days) and holding vigil for the sunrise on the Tor I had plenty of time to think about why I was undertaking such a walk and why the solstice means so much to so many (over 3 million watched the summer solstice sunset and sunrise from Stonehenge online). We live in dark times, and having spent 3 months in lockdown I was desperately in need of a change of scene, and to feel like it was actually summer. I had also finished my teaching for the (very intensive) academic year, and needed a break to mark its end — a hiatus to avoid the relentless monotony that recent weeks have become. However peaceful and pleasant (and productive) the enforced home-stay has been in many ways (especially where I am fortunate to live) the lack of variation in rhythm, in texture, was beginning to feel stultifying. To celebrate the longest day of the year, the joy that summer (usually) brings, and the minor miracle of being (and staying) alive seems like all good reasons to make the effort to witness what of course happens every single day. I have been waking up at dawn lately, and every single time I do and get to eavesdrop upon the dawn chorus and witness the rising of the sun I feel blessed.
Pilgrimage is an act of intentionality, and stopping in a porch in Oakhill to shelter from the heavy rain I was asked by the vicar there, Rev. Richard Priestley, who was just locking up, what I was undertaking mine for. I found it hard to articulate at the time, being soaked and exhausted, but it was, I realised, a journey to the light — a physical prayer to help bring ‘light’ (goodness, peace, kindness, truth) back into the endarkened world. This is not to deny the shadow — we’ve had plenty of opportunity to consider that lately — but to kindle the light that seems so fragile at the moment. On all sides we see how hard-won liberties, and humane values are being torn away or challenged by a disturbing neo-fascist discourse. Those craving power are determined to demonise the marginalised and drive a wedge between communities. It feels like the 1930s all over again. I must admit to being sick to death of social media and the news – I needed a break from it.
Every year around this time I go for a long walk and have a ‘digital detox’. I have walked many of the long-distance national trails in Britain. Last year I walked the 192 mile Coast-to-Coast (or ‘Wainwright Way’) in the north of England, and ended up on an accidental pilgrimage.* That experience made me realise I no longer wanted to do just secular geographical walks — however satisfying they can be — but to have a spiritualised experience. Having a focus, like St Bee’s on the Cumbrian coast (the monastery there celebrates its 900th anniversary this year), with its Midsummer associations (the 9th Century Irish St Bega landed there on Midsummer Eve) transformed my walk into something meaningful. And it was there I decided that this year I wanted to walk a route I had devised in 2017 connecting Tintagel to Glastonbury, a legendary trail in the ‘footsteps’ of King Arthur from the place of his conception to his grave. It felt more powerful to do synchronise this with the summer solstice – as I found that build-up of energy over two weeks really powerful and motivational. It gave one a tangible ‘deadline’ — as though one was racing the sun. Over the winter I planned the route and prepared my pack meticulously. Of course, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, as John Lennon wisely sang. Lockdown happened, and even with some easing, all the campsites and pubs remain closed. I was prepared to wild-camp but having nowhere to get a hot shower, charge a phone, or fill up my water bottle (or treat myself to a hot meal and a pint now and then) would make the whole thing more like a SAS training challenge — far too hard-core. It was meant to be my holiday as well, and it is hard to feel very spiritual when you are soaked, chilled, hungry, and exhausted: all you can think about is getting dry, warm, fed, and rested. Also, I didn’t want to risk a 4-5 hour train journey at present. And so I decided to postpone that until it was more viable, and opt for a compromise – a ‘shorter’ walk (1 week, rather than 2) from my doorstep near Marlborough to Glastonbury. It felt like a practical solution that also allowed me to honour the solstice, and scratch my pilgrimage itch.
I have put together this podcast to capture the spirit of my pilgrimage, and to evoke this beautiful time of year. I hope you enjoy it.
The Golden Room episode 12 track-listing
- Sunrise Praise – Kevan Manwaring
- Reverie pt1 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
- The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage – Sir Walter Raleigh
- Reverie pt2 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
- In the Name of the Sun – Kevan Manwaring
- Reverie pt3 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
- Ascension Day – Henry Vaughan
- Reverie pt4 – Rosemary Duxbury (from Thread of Gold)
- Adlestrop – Edward Thomas
- Drifting By – Fly Yeti Fly (from ‘Shine a Light in the Dark’)
- The Green Rooad – Edward Thomas
- Serendipity – Simon Andrews
- A Midsummer Summoning – Kevan Manwaring
- King of the Fairies (trad.) – Shenanigans
- The Haymaker’s Song – anon.
- The Corn King – Jehanne Mehta
- In Love, at Stonehenge – Coventry Patmore
- Summertime – Simon Andrews
- Praise Song for St Bega – Kevan Manwaring
- The Rollright Stones – Jehanne Mehta
- Praise Song for a Lost Festival – Kevan Manwaring
- Stonehenge – Shenanigans
- Pilgrim’s Way – Kevan Manwaring
- The Sun – Jay Ramsay & Rosemary Duxbury, from ‘Thread of Light’
- A Pilgrim’s Joy – Kevan Manwaring
- The Faery Beam Upon You – Ben Johnson
Compiled by Kevan Manwaring, 21 June 2020
*My full account of walking the Coast-to-Coast to St Bee’s,’The Accidental Pilgrim’, features in issue 3 of The Pilgrim, available here: https://www.thepilgrim.org.uk/shop