What a wonderful way to finish the routing of the Via Beata! What made it so special were the people that offered Lorie Lain-Rogers and I such amazing hospitality, together with those who were able to walk with us at this last push! My prayer is that this is just a forerunner with people opening their homes to the pilgrims walking the Via Beata right across both countries.
The drive across England and into Wales was easy as we decided to leave the caravan behind, mindful of the narrow Welsh roads. Our first night was spent with Nick and Carolyn Down in Rhydcymerau. We had walked with them on our previous trip in March and together with Christine Smith, Tom and Eva Cowcher, they made up our party of seven as we set out in the rain from their farm to Capel Dewi. It rained hard all day. Our lunch stop was beside a bus stop and phone box, neither of which provided any cover. We are assured that the views from the top of Mynydd Llanbyther are fantastic, but with all the rain, it was difficult to imagine it.
Our day ended at Tom and Eva’s farm, Long Barn, near Capel Dewi which hosts the waystation depicting the scripture that God will take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.
Our walking team was down to four on Wednesday as Emyr Matthias joined Chris, Lorie and I for our walk to Newcastle Emlyn. Emyr works as a builder, but his passion is carrying the cross within Wales. During the day, we were amazed as he told us of his exploits and how God has used him to bring the gospel to the many people he talks to.
Quite a lot of that day’s walking was on quiet country roads, but it also included walking along the River Teifi. Early on, because of the rain, it was difficult to cross a stream, but Emyr bridged it for us by manhandling a huge log so we could safely pass over it. The local council are aware that, for the footpath to work here, a footbridge will be needed.
After lunch, we went off route to visit Emyr’s wife, Diane, at her studio in Henllan. Among her other paintings, she had a large picture of the cross at Ffald-y-Brenin on display. A reminder that the High Cross there is the way station in that area. The stop was a welcome break before we once more joined the path at the bridge at Llysnewydd. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop at the Wool Museum at Drefach as it was getting late, but apparently it is well worth a visit. We finally reached Newcastle Emlyn by 7.00 pm. For the next three nights we enjoyed Tom and Eva’s hospitality, staying in one of their properties, and eating with them and their family every night.
The plan for day three was to walk from there to Crymych. We parked one car north of there in Blaenfoss and returned to Newcastle Emlyn. Once again, we walked on quiet roads to start with then set off towards a disused quarry. The footpaths were non-existent and after a morning crossing hay meadows, we finally turned back to the roads. The Nags Head at Abercych, was reached just after lunch, time for a quick lager before setting off uphill through Ffynone Wood. It was a fabulous walk, the footpath and bridlepaths were well signed and easy to follow, until the end when what should have been a ancient path, became increasingly difficult to follow. We scrambled through to Boncath and back to our car. The route will now be revised to take it down to Crymych which Chris Smith will work out for us.
The next two sections from Crymych to Flald-y-Brenin to Letterston were walked four years ago and only need to be signed, so day four was supposed to be from Letterston down to St Davids Cathedral. Looking at the map, we realised that, because the route has now changed to go to the cathedral rather than Llanrian, we would need to put in an extra stop. Llanhowel looked a likely place to start. What a
find. A beautiful little church, full of life and open every day. The walk to St Davids went easily. On the disused airfield, we met a couple who were very interested in the Via Beata and are going to write about it in their parish magazine. We have found that simply giving out leaflets as we go stimulates conversation and interest and so the community that is gathering around this pilgrimage path grows. From the airfield, which is a conservation area with lots of orchids, we crossed the main road, and headed for the Pembrokeshire coastal path. How wonderful to walk on the cliffs above the sea.
We fairly swung along to St Nod’s where we visited the chapel, before heading inland to the city of St Davids.
That night, we were hosted by Janet and David Ingram sleeping in their annexe, a pretty self-contained flat, after enjoying fish and chips at the Farmers’ Arms.
Our last day and Lorie and I were on our own. We eventually found our way
out of the city and to St Justinian’s on the coastal path. There is an ancient chapel there that we crept into. Open to the skies, the sense of the presence of God was strong and we simply sat and prayed.
Once on the coastal path, we saw beautiful “gigs”, open boats manned by a crew of six and a cox who were racing around Ramsey ‘Island.
The last lap took us to Whitesands, full of surfers and
then on and up to St David’s Head. The sun shone as we ate our lunch then made our way to the top and the end of our walk.
There are a few bits and pieces to be re-walked and some waymarking still to do, but effectively the route is now in place. Our prayer is that in the future, this path will become an established pilgrimage route, with people walking east to west, and west to east, encouraged on their way by the word of God strung out across England and Wales.