Walsingham Way pilgrimage path
Previous articles for The Magazine on the Norwich to Walsingham route of the Walsingham Way have presented it as an aspiration, a project for which there was much local interest and support but still no wherewithal to make it a physical reality. That situation has changed, and 2020 will see the Way as a signposted path on the ground. Canon Librarian at Norwich Cathedral, Peter Doll, gives an update.
Last August, the European Union’s LEADER programme awarded the Cathedral a grant of £31,000 to cover design costs and to waymark the rural portion of the route (from Ringland to Walsingham) with wooden signposts; for the moment, the Cathedral will cover the cost of marking the ‘urban’ portion of the route (primarily along the Marriott’s Way) with stickers attached to signposts. The marking will be finished this summer.
The grant award was made in recognition of the potential of pilgrimage to make a significant contribution to rural economic development in the region through sustainable, environmentally friendly tourism.
As Christians, we want to be supporting the life of our communities, but we do of course have another agenda, a mission of our own. We believe that through a close encounter with God’s creation and with the story of his blessing of our communities through the life of the church, pilgrims can be brought to a recognition of the nearness of God’s Kingdom and of his love and care for each of them.
We have been working closely with Norfolk County Council to finalise the route, but even with the grant, this has proved far from straightforward. Despite the intensely rural character of much of Norfolk, public footpaths in this section are few and far between.
As the route must follow quiet country lanes, the County rightly demands a high standard of safety, and certain road crossings will require additional funds to make them safe for groups of walkers. Happily, the Leader of the County Council, Andrew Proctor, has put his support behind the project and the Highways Department is working with us to source funding for these elements.
We are conscious that a path is only a beginning. We have plans to make an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to support workshops in communities on the route to help them consider ways to use the presence of pilgrims to support economic development through offering hospitality, to interpret local heritage through pilgrimage history, and to use church buildings and halls as places to offer hospitality to pilgrims on the way.
In addition, other groups are already working with the Cathedral and the Walsingham Shrines to develop routes from other directions; these include an ecumenical group in King’s Lynn and another looking at a route from Canterbury to Walsingham via Tilbury.
As our society becomes ever more conscious of the impact of our fossil-fuelled travelling habits on this fragile planet, our awareness of the need to journey more lightly and in harmony with creation can only grow. Our pilgrimage paths will be there to welcome and guide them to an encounter with the living God who is our eternal destination.
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