Virtual Pilgrims’ Progress – Week 1

Week 1 of our pilgrimage


We have now completed over a week of walking, running, swimming, cycling and paddling and have already raised over £600.

We have already traversed the eastern side of these isles after leaving Nottingham for Canterbury before making our virtual way north to Kirkwall. We are currently on our way towards Iona.




Today we arrived in Kirkwall, at St Magnus’ Cathedral, having logged 107.375 miles by 9 pm. 
It is the most northerly cathedral in these islands, and was founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald, in honour of his martyred uncle Magnus. The story of Magnus’ death at the hands of his cousin Haakon, and the event that led up to it is recounted in Orkneyinga Saga, written down three centuries after the events it describes, and, how shall we say, more interested in good stories than pedantic detail. There we find that Magnus and Haakon had shared rulership of the isles for 9 years before their relationship broke down, because of ‘evil men’ advising Haakon (at least according to the saga). This led, inevitably, to Magnus’ betrayal on Egilsay. He was buried where he fell, but miracles began immediately: his burial place was transformed from a rocky outcrop to a green field, and healing began to occur. About 20 years after his death, Magnus was declared a saint.
There is a good deal more of interest in Orkney, from Skara Brae and a stone circle  ((C) Mark Foster on Unsplash)
to George Mackay Brown (I warmly recommend his short stories, especially ‘Andrina’), whose Catholic faith plays an important part in his writing and Peter Maxwell Davies (
Our next destination is Iona, 291 miles away. We have to cross the Pentland Firth, known for having exceptionally strong tides and tidal races, on the Burwick to John o’Groats ferry. At least being a virtual pilgrimage, we don’t have to worry about the dangers of crossing!
John O’Groats takes its name from a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, given the licence to run the ferry in the 15th C, shortly after the Northern Isles came to the Scottish realm, as a dowry for Margaret of Denmark, James III’s queen. We will make it as far as Wick, where the first Christian preachers in the 8th C were St Fergus, an Irish missionary, after whom the town fair is named, and St Drostan from Aberdeenshire. It (and the rest of Caithness) only became part of the Scottish realm – answerable to the Scottish king – under William the Lion in the 12th C.



By 9.30 pm, we had logged 96.2 miles on Day 7, which takes from Peterculter to Aberdeen and then on the ferry for half the journey to Kirkwall. As I post, the heavy rain outside in Nottingham would make us almost as wet as if we were swimming to Orkney!

  Early on Day 7, we completed the nine miles to St Machar’s Cathedral in Aberdeen: St Machar’s church is now a High Church of the Church of Scotland (it stopped being a cathedral in 1690). It’s famous for its early modern heraldic ceiling:  

By Quicumque at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY 2.5,


St Machar himself was a companion to St Columba on his journey to Iona. From an 14th C account, we learn that St Columba told Machar to build a church where a river is in the form of a bishop’s crosier before flowing into the sea., hence its place on the river Don. This took place in Old Aberdeen around 580; this was replaced by David I (yes, him again) with a Norman cathedral in 1131.
St Machar was one of the Scottish saints including in the Aberdeen Breviary, one of the first books printed in Scotland (and which is so large that it seems to have put the printers, Walter Chepman and Andro Myllar, out of business. See here for digital images:


King’s College, Aberdeen was the third university founded in Scotland, after St Andrews and Glasgow; its founder, Bishop William Elphinstone, travelled to Italy to have its founding documents were signed by Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia pope. The second college of the University of Aberdeen, Marischal College, was founded in 1593 by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal.
From Aberdeen we are sailing to Kirkwall, a distance of 158 miles: with the miles bagged, we’re 74 miles away from Orkney. We have sailed past Fraserburgh (and Peterhead – both 16th C foundations, and both major fishing ports (among the largest in the UK, at least before Brexit). Peterhead is also the location of a maximum security prison: Peterhead’s place on the map tells you why. The Fishermen’s Mission, founded in 1881, serves these places and provides practical and spiritual support for fishermen at all times (; Peterhead (with a population < 20000 in 2011) still has 17 churches.
Onwards to Orkney and the Vikings!



The pilgrims have done it again – completed a whole leg of our journey in a day – a total of 198.05 miles registered today by 22:00.
So, our route today took us from Otterburn to St Andrews and then on to just 9 miles short of St Machar’s Cathedral of Aberdeen.
Our first stopping point after Otterburn is Jedburgh. Jedburgh has had a church since the 9th C, founded by Ecgred of Lindisfarne; the Priory was founded by David I of Scotland, for Augustinian monks from Beauvais, and it became an abbey in 1147. (Anglo-Scottish warfare ruined the abbey in the 16th C). See here for more details:
Stuarts who passed through the town include Mary Queen of Scots (the house where she stayed is still marked) and Bonnie Prince Charlie, on his way to Derby. It also has a geological importance: ‘in 1787, the geologist James Hutton noted what is now known as the Hutton Unconformity at Inchbonny, near Jedburgh. Layers of sedimentary rock which are tilted almost vertically are covered by newer horizontal layers of red sandstone. This was one of the findings that led him to develop his concept of an immensely long geologic time scale with “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”


  From Jedburgh, we move on to Melrose, slightly off the A68, but very important as the burial place of Robert Bruce. Melrose is a Cistercian Abbey, also founded by David I. A later historian, John Mair, writing in the 16th C, described David as a sore saint for the crown, as his monastery founding alienated a lot of royal wealth, which led to problems in later centuries. The Wikipedia article lists King Arthur among famous people associated with Melrose: he is apparently buried in the Eildon Hills, a view of course disputed by Glastonbury and most of Wales.  

Melrose Abbey, Image by Bret Fisher on Pixabay.

From Melrose all the way to Edinburgh, stopping briefly on the way at St Giles High Kirk. St Giles was also founded by King David (everyone needs a hobby) in  1124; and was made a collegiate church in 1466 by Pope Paul II. In 1559, John Knox became minister of  St Giles, after he marched an army of followers into St Giles and preached there for the first time. He  oversaw the removal of all the Catholic decoration. In the following century, Charles I tried to impose Anglican worship, and met deep resistance in St Giles: famously, a woman called Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the preacher, provoking a riot. The year after Jenny Geddes threw her stool, in 1638, the National Covenant was signed around the corner in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. This document, outlining shared Christian beliefs and practices, and calling for religious freedom, was a major political statement  and had huge ramifications throughout the 17th C. For more on the history of St Giles (central in much Scottish church history), see here:  


From Edinburgh, we travel to Queensferries (South and North) under the Forth Bridges. The queen involved is St Margaret of Scotland (d. 1093), who founded these as ferry ports for pilgrims to St Andrews. St Mary’s Episcopal Church is the town’s oldest building, the remnants of a 15th C Carmelite friary; now the only medieval Carmelite church still in use. Queensferry also has a local custom of the Loony Dook – a New Year’s Day dip in the Forth, which raises money for the RNLI.  

 Elizabeth Jamieson on Unsplash.

  From the Queensferries, we go through East Wemyss, where there are some sea-made caves which contain ancient carvings, some from the Bronze Age but most from the Pictish period.  To see round these caves, see here: And then to St Andrews: in the mid-8th C, the Pictish king Oengus I established a monastery  to house the relics of `St Andrew brought to the town by St Regulus. St Andrews became one  of the most important pilgrim destinations in Europe, where pilgrims were hoping for the apostle’s blessing. It also became the capital of the Scottish church (which in turn became a special daughter of the Roman see). St Andrews also saw many of the major events of the Scottish Reformation, from  the first martyr (Patrick Hamilton in 1528), to the murder of Cardinal Beaton in 1546.  



From St Andrews to Dundee, the 16th C home of the Wedderburn brothers, the eldest of whom, James, wrote Lutheran plays and was exiled to Dieppe, the  middle one John is associated with the Gude and Godlie Ballatis, a collection of religious songs and psalms in Scots (the most recent editor questions that association, but it’s quite wedged in most material about the period) and the youngest one, Robert, remained a Catholic priest.
From Dundee to Forfar, associated with training radio announcers (East Fife 4, Forfar 5, is quite hard to say quickly). Forfar is the county town of Angus, and has been a settlement since the brief Roman occupation. This was a Pictish stronghold, and some of the finest Pictish stones have been found here. On another note,the Queen Mother was baptised in the Scottish Episcopal Church (designed by Rowand Anderson).
Our next stop is Brechin, famous for its cathedral (the diocese of Brechin still exists in the Scottish Episcopal Church), with its 11th C round tower, one of only two of these monuments surviving in Scotland. Amongst its more famous children is Robert Watson-Watt, the radar pioneer.




Our next stop is Banchory, founded in the 6th C, by a Pictish monk, Ternan. Ternan had travelled in Europe before returning to Scotland and apparently taught agriculture with theology at the college he founded. HIs feast day is June 12, celebrated with a fair. Nearby is Crathes Castle, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and part of their castle tour. Finally. we stop today at Peterculter. This was also the site of a Roman marching camp, and has had a largely untroubled history as far as I can tell. Its most famous daughter is Nan Shepherd, currently on a Scottish £5 note, who is finding new fame as a nature writer, particularly about the Cairngorms.



We have accumulated 128.2 miles today, which has enabled us to complete two more legs of our journey as we surged through Whitby, on to Durham and finally coming to rest somewhere near Otterburn.  

The first place we passed was Kirby Misperton, a small village, but where a church has stood since the 9th century. Among its incumbents have been Alexander Neville who became Archbishop of York (1374-1388) before being deposed and exiled to Louvain; and John Thornborough, one of the translators of the King James Bible, who ended his career as Bishop of Worcester, dying in 1641 at 90.
Whitby is famous for all kinds of things, but is most important as the site of the Synod of Whitby, held in 664, when the dispute between the Celtic and Catholic methods of calculating Easter was resolved, along with various other differences of opinion. Presiding over this event was the abbess Hild. The Northumbrian king Oswiu came down on the Roman side, presented by Wilfred, and so England turned towards Rome and away from the West.
From Whitby, we head to Durham, our next main destination. Its Norman cathedral is the final resting place of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, and together with the castle, is an UNESCO heritage site. In fact, local legend insists that Cuthbert, though deceased, should be regarded as the founder of Durham, for in 995, the saint apparently decided that he was tired of being carried round the north, and appeared to a monk, Eadmer, to instruct him to take Cuthbert in his coffin to Dun Holm. While no one was sure where this was, exactly, Eadmer and Aldhun, Bishop of Chester-le-Street set off, receiving another revelation when they met a milkmaid looking for her cow at Dun Holm. Once the coffin was put down in this place, it could not be moved, and the cathedral and the city grew up around it. Cuthbert’s shrine wrought miracles, and as a result, Durham became a pilgrim destination. Cuthbert apparently continued to take an interest in his city, preventing Durham from being bombed by the Luftwaffe on 30 May 1942 by creating a mist that covered both castle and cathedral. Alas, though, according to Wikipedia, ‘[t]he exact events of the night are disputed by contemporary eyewitnesses’.
Here is a photo from Noel of Durham cathedral, currently under major renovation:

Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we are even now beyond Durham, about as far as Otterburn. Now a military training area, its claim to fame rests as the location for the 16th C ballad ‘The Battle of Chevy Chase’, a not-entirely-inaccurate account of a battle between the Scots and the English, where the English, led by Percy, were routed, and the Scots leader, the Earl of Douglas, was slain. Otterburn is on the edge of the Northumberland national park, very close to the dark skies area of Kielder.
Tomorrow, we journey on towards St Andrews.



Good evening, pilgrims! Including last night’s additional miles, we have achieved a total of 182.83 miles today. This takes us as far as Malton, having travelled through Kings Lynn, Lincoln, Gainsborough, Goole, and Stamford Bridge. This offers a very rich diet of Christian history.  

Kings Lynn was the home of the other great female medieval mystic, Margery Kempe (it wasn’t a common English phenomenon, in contrast to mainland Europe). Although a contemporary of Julian of Norwich, these women had very different experiences of life and faith. Margery remained a laywoman all her life, and travelled around England and to Italy and the Holy Land. She was accused of preaching and of Lollardy, although she was in fact quite orthodox and more prone to weep uncontrollably than preach. She was illiterate, but her visions and her spiritual biography were recorded by her confessor. They are very domestic and detailed, and quite disconcerting at first reading, not least because they are not arranged chronologically, so it takes a bit of time to orientate yourself. For more about her, see here:
William the Conqueror ordered the building of LIncoln Cathedral, and it was first consecrated in 1092. Its spire was the tallest building in the world, even taller than the Great Pyramid, between 1300 and 1549, when it collapsed in a storm.
Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash
From Lincoln we move to Gainsborough. The first recorded evidence of a church at Gainsborough is in 1180, when the rectory there was granted by Roger de Talebu to the great Preceptory of the Knights Templar in Lindsey, at Willoughton. However, in the 17th C, non-conformism grew strong, and the congregation of John Smyth eventually became Baptists. The URC church in Gainsborough is named after John Robinson (1576-1625), the pastor for the Mayflower ‘Pilgrim Fathers’.
After Gainsborough, we arrive at Goole, home to Roy Clarke (writer of Open All Hours and Last of the Summer Wine). It is also the UK’s furthest inland port. The only photo of Goole is one of the Morrison’s store, but I’m sure it has prettier views.
Stamford Bridge is our next interim point: it is probably best known for the battle in 1066, between Harold Godwinson and his brother Tostig Godwinson and Harald Hardrada.
There has been a bridge here across the Derwent since Roman times!
Our stopping point today is Malton. This place has also been inhabited since Roman times, and New Malton seems to have been in existence since 1138. It had a Gilbertine monastery from about 1180, and the monastery church is now a parish church, the only Gilbertine church still in regular use.
(c) By JohnArmagh – Own work, Public Domain,
Tomorrow we will reach Whitby, and then on to Durham.



We completed the last 9.4 miles of our journey to reach Canterbury (quite late on Day 2, in fact) and have also completed the whole of the second leg of our journey to to Norwich! This took us through Lavenham, to the east of Bury St Edmunds – a very wealthy medieval monastic foundation.     I hope we had chance to enjoy to wonderful cathedral in Norwich.   Its wealth in the middle ages, mostly due to the valuable wool trade, led to the building of many churches in Norwich in that period and, by repute, the city has more standing medieval churches than any other north of the Alps. Norwich and Kings Lynn were home to two female mystics, Margery Kempe (Kings Lynn), an extraordinary lay woman, who undertook actual pilgrimages to Rome and to Jerusalem, and Julian of Norwich (c. 1343 – after 1416), an anchoress whose cell was in St Julian’s church, Norwich. Julian’s work, Revelations of Divine Love. This is an important work of mystic theology, in which Julian argues that God is both mother and father. The best known phrase from her work is this:  ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’. Her feast day is 8 May, so we’re a bit early. For an introduction to her work, see here:

By Charles Hutchins from London, United Kingdom – Helen, CC BY 2.0,
As our total for submissions since Sunday at 9.30 stands at 211.16 miles, we have not only completed the second leg, from Canterbury to Norwich (138 miles) but have already made 63.76 progress on our third leg towards Whitby.



Two days in and our virtual pilgrims have covered over 167 miles – almost enough to reach Canterbury, our first destination!     Canterbury has been one of the major sites of Christian witness and worship since the 6th century, and where St Martin’s Chapel has been in continuous use for over 1400 years. Canterbury Cathedral has been built and rebuilt from Saxon times. The city became a major centre of pilgrimage after the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket in 1170, and the development of a major shrine to him in 1220. In the 1370s, Chaucer sent his fictional pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, although the collection is not finished: those pilgrims never actually reach their destination!    


A total of 56.41 miles has, so far, been registered for May 1, our first day of walking.

Our first main destination is Canterbury, and this fifty-six miles brings us to just short of Alconbury.     A quick search brings up snippets of interest about the church: Alconbury’s church, dedicated to St Peter and Paul, serves both Anglicans and Methodists. It is famous for its long chancel, and shows centuries of building and rebuilding, from stones prepared in the 12th century, to lancet windows from the 13th, and a 15th century carved roof, which includes the depiction of an angel with a lute. The tower, belfry and spire were restored in the late 19th C, a restoration made remarkable when, shortly after the completion of the work on the upper tower had been completed, it was discovered that the lower part was unsafe. Renovation of the lower part was undertaken through the ingenious engineering of a timber frame to support the upper tower. ( ; We would be delighted to welcome more pilgrims to join us on our fund-raising journey for Christian Aid. More information may be found HERE.