A new 37-mile waymarked walking route between Norwich and Walsingham is being launched to celebrate the tradition of pilgrimage in the county, encourage more people to enjoy the rural landscape of the Wensum Valley and provide a boost to sustainable tourism in the local area.
Called the Walsingham Way, the new path is inspired by a network of pilgrimage routes that once crossed the county as pilgrims from across Europe travelled to north Norfolk’s Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The modern-day Walsingham Way route will take about three days to complete on foot and can be started from either Norwich Cathedral or the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist.
While the route is closely linked to Christian pilgrimage, the hope is that it will also be enjoyed by people of all faiths and none and that it will also benefit tourism businesses in the area.
The Revd Dr Peter Doll, Norwich Cathedral’s Canon Librarian and Vice-Dean, said: “The Walsingham Way has been established not only for those who wish to make a spiritual journey to a holy place but also for those seeking a connection with the natural environment, the heritage of the region, and physical and mental well-being.”
The Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham Usher, said: “I walked the Walsingham Way last year at the end of the first lockdown. As I walked the lanes and fields of Norfolk there was an inner unwinding from the tensions of the pandemic. As I approached Walsingham I was conscious that I was in step with countless others through history, singing with Mary that ‘my spirit rejoices in God’. I hope that many people will put on their walking shoes and set out. May this new pilgrim route help them find joy and hope.’”
Norwich Cathedral has been working in partnership with the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Walsingham Shrines, The Walsingham Development Group and many others.
The project has also been supported by funding from the European Union LEADER funding for rural economic development, the Diocese of Norwich, the John Jarrold Foundation, and Norfolk County Council, and by the considerable goodwill of volunteers, landowners and parish councils.
Canon Doll said: “We hope that people of all ages will now enjoy walking the route and experiencing this special part of the Norfolk countryside. We are very lucky to have such beautiful rural landscapes in our county and it is important to highlight that we must all do our best to help protect these areas for the future by abiding by the Countryside Code while out walking.”
Volunteer groups along the route have also already started projects to welcome new pilgrimage visitors. At Great Ryburgh, for example, the church has established an area for campers and will offer hospitality to walkers.
The plan is also for the Walsingham Way to connect with other walking routes, including existing routes such as the Wherryman’s Way from Great Yarmouth to Norwich, and paths being planned for the future such as a King’s Lynn to Walsingham route.
Fr Kevin Smith, Priest Administrator of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, said: “Pilgrims have been making their way to Walsingham for nearly 1,000 years. The Shrine is set in a very beautiful part of North Norfolk and all who make a pilgrimage here are invited to discover afresh the beauty of God’s holiness, to reflect on the journey of their lives and to be refreshed in body, mind and spirit. The Anglican Shrine is delighted to commend the new Walsingham Way and looks forward to welcoming those who follow its route to this unique place of pilgrimage.”