May 2nd, 2015
The last couple of years at this Beltane time I have been engaged in leading group pilgrimages along sections of Mary/Michael Pilgrims Way. Looking out of my window now at the rain bucketing down I am somewhat relieved not to be repeating the experience at this exact moment.
Two years ago we were walking over Dartmoor, a few of us even foolish enough to take a dip in a moorland stream. Last year it was west Cornwall and a week of walking from Carn Les Boel to the Fal Estuary. Both were rich and rewarding experiences and feedback from participants has supported my belief that pilgrimages like this can have a profound and nourishing effect on those who share the journey.
Right now I feel the need to step back from the role of organising and leading these pilgrimages to reflect on how they are held and to consider alternative ways of facilitating the experience. Not sure quite what will emerge.
In the meantime the cycle of the seasons continues. Working up on Dartmoor on Wednesday I was delighted to hear my first Cuckoo of the year. These birds are somehow intimately associated for me with my pilgrimage journey.
Last July as I stepped over the nominal provincial boundary between Asturias and Galicia (marked by a small cairn and a line of stones), on my way along the Camino Primitivo heading towards Santiago, a cuckoo called as if on cue.
Earlier in the summer one had woken me at summer solstice morning during our second Dartmoor pilgrimage, whilst the year before, several cuckoos heard and seen along the way had felt like a very good omen for our inaugural Dartmoor pilgrimage.
Going further back, In 2008 a fruitless search for signs of cuckoos following a tributary of the River Exe had led me to a small poster advertising Awakening Albion, a pilgrimage along the Michael and Mary Lines, which provided one of the sources of inspiration for the establishment of Mary/Michael Pilgrims Way. (The poem written following that fruitless/ fruitful walk in search of a cuckoo is reprinted at the bottom of this post)
Graham Joyce, one of the organisers of the Awakening Albion pilgrimage which went right across England from Carn Les Boel to Hopton in seven weeks between Beltane and Summer Solstice in 2008 has written a piece – “Awakening Albion, Seven Years On” reflecting on that momentous journey. This will be included in our next newsletter which will be sent out within the next few weeks to all who are on our mailing list. (Free to anyone who signs up for it via our website)
He and I have corresponded over the years and met up occasionally to share thoughts about pilgrimage in general and the Michael and Mary Lines in particular.
Recently I participated in a memorable evening with he and a small group at Beardown Farm on Dartmoor, where we initiated a beautiful sweat lodge yurt which had been made by Graham. During the evening we were blessed to hear and then see a couple of young otters come frollicking up the stream valley next to our camp. Such a gift of nature opened all our hearts as well as leading to the now initiated sweat lodge being named “(H)otter Lodge,” when it returned to Norfolk.
Before I forget, for those who would like to read more about the Awakening Albion walk, a book of that title is available. With full colour photos, line illustrations, diary entries & poems, it is an intimate & personal description of their journey. A copy can be obtained for £18 (plus £2 p&p) by sending a cheque to Graham Joyce, Willow Farm, Weybread, Diss, Norfolk, IP21 5TJ.
So to conclude this post, that poem – it has been shared before so may be familiar to some of you.
I walked in search of the cuckoo,
Around Bickleigh and Cadleigh,
Up the valley of the Dart.
I wandered into an old world of marshy meadows
Where cuckoo flowers abounded
But their namesake was absent.
Most unexpected was the heronry,
Where birds vulture-like perched and looked me in the eye,
As if spotting the silvery glint of a tasty morsel.
I got lost, missed an unmarked path,
And ended up knocking on the door
Of a cottage at Little Silver
Where a person 5 feet tall
Would have had to stoop to enter.
Back in Bickleigh, a fading poster
Pinned to the bus shelter, caught my eye.
It advertised Awakening Albion,
A walk from Cornwall to Norfolk
From shore to shore
Between Beltane and Summer Solstice.
It spoke of pilgrimage and community,
Two words close to my heart.
The incongruity of speaking to one of the pilgrims
As they neared St Austell.
In my mind he was garbed in medieval robes,
With staff, gourd, scallop shell – and mobile phone.
Part of me longed to up sticks and go
To break through to a different life.
Leave the washing up in the bowl, the lawn unmown,
My own message pinned to the door,
“Away on pilgrimage.”
To re-awaken in me that joy of days and weeks
When walking was my life,
The pace and rhythm so unrushed
That my senses like a fairy tale princess kissed, revived,
And where, a long, long way from home
I heard the cuckoo call.
*The Dart referred to here is a tributary of the river Exe