New routes completed – old routes de-marked and two commissioned!
At the end of June, Lorie Lain-Rogers and I set out on what will probably be our final excursion to way-mark the trail.
What makes the Via Beata such an exciting project to work with is our amazing supporter base across the country. It is through such friends that places for new way stations have been found and this was what made this trip necessary in order to alter the way marking.
We started with a bang by attending the commissioning of the new way station at Wolfhamcote church on the border of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. I remember first seeing the church of St Peter about five years ago and thinking then that the location would be perfect. And so it has turned out.
After spending the night with Via Beata friends in Ledbury, we went first to Stoke Lacy in Herefordshire where we met Helen and Richard Combe. Richard is a churchwarden at St Peter and St Paul. Consultations have already taken place with the PCC, and hopefully, we will be placing a new way station there sometime next year. The church is home to memorials and stained-glass windows commemorating the Morgan family of the well-known car of that name.
This means a slight detour from the current route, but the plus is that it now avoids a stretch along the A465. On our way home, we were able to re-route and de-mark. Job done.
From Stoke Lacy to mid-Wales and the campsite run by Jerry and Paula Gary in Llangammarch Wells. Once installed in one of their pods, we met up with two new friends, Anne and Martin Hayward. Anne has walked six thousands miles around Wales and France. She is currently writing her third book on her pilgrimages and wants to include information about the Via Beata. They joined us in walking into the forest to take off way markers. Another change in the route has been necessary as there will now be a new way station at Llanwrytd Wells . We will use the Heart of Wales trail which conveniently links up Builth Wells, Llangammarch Wells, Llanwrytd and Cyndhordy.
On the Tuesday, we had a third attempt at walking the remote and poorly-signposted section from Caio to Glangwenlais, near Cilycym. Previous attempts had failed because I got lost the first time round and poor visibility the second. Though the day started cloudy but dry, by the time we reached our marker, it was pouring down. We squelched our way back across the hillside. Visibility got steadily worse but making out the forest in the distance we were able to find the road back to the car park.
That evening, we celebrated with Jerry and Paula’s friends from two local churches as we commissioned the new way station at the campsite. It is called “The Wells of Salvation” and Jerry has placed it in their secret garden just off the road. It will make a peaceful place for people to stop and contemplate. A splendid BBQ followed, albeit held in steady rain under a couple of gazebos.
In the morning, we set off for Letterston in Pembrokeshire. Looking for the footpath, we came across Kev Danks from “Into the Sticks” campsite. It sits within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Each plot has a compost loo. There is a 2.5 km nature trail, masses for families to get involved in and a shepherd’s hut for those who would rather not camp. It was inspirational and I hope to return one day with my two young grandsons once they are a bit older! Kev put us on the right path which led through a secret valley, over a stream and up to the road and a bridle path to join us with our previous route.
Onto Solva in Pembrokeshire next. Again through new friends, Ian and Nadia Bowey, there will be a way station on their land on the headland. It means another change of route, another improvement as the previous one went across a rather dreary old airfield. Now the path from Llanhowell is much more interesting and leads down to the beautiful harbour in Lower Solva where we enjoyed a locally produced ice-cream. The other benefit is that Via Beata pilgrims will now join the coastal path earlier. The walk along the cliffs that morning was break-taking. The sun was shining and the sea a flat calm, strongly contrasting with our day in the rain previously.
On our return to Norfolk, we finished marking the new route at Stoke Lacy and took in a visit to the church of St James at Stanford Bishop. Another new friend, Guy Vowles had suggested that it was worth a visit. As you enter the churchyard you are confronted with a massive 1200 year old yew tree. Its’ girth is 26 foot. The church’s other claim to fame is St Augustine’s chair, reputed to date back to the 7th century. Although we will not have a way station there as it is so close to Stoke Lacy, it will be marked on the guide as its’ history is fascinating and the church a beautiful, calm place.
That night, we had supper at the Talbot hotel in Knightwick with Helen and Richard Combe. The Via Bench bench, depicting the story of the Good Samaritan, which was installed there last year was being used as we arrived. It is obviously a good place to enjoy a pint in the sunshine! They have given the Via Beata a Go-Pro camera so we can video as we walk. Once we have learnt how to operate it, it will add interest to the website.
Then home, via Rowancroft, where we were able to update Steve and Gill Eggleton on our exploits.
The route is now pretty much fixed. Over the winter, the guide will be checked and got ready for publication on the website by next year and an important milestone will have been reached.