The Small Pilgrim Places Network
A talk at North Hill Village Hall by Terry Faull
If our life really is a part of an endless process, rather than a just a brief, inconsequential destination, then pilgrimage must be its epitome. Sure, there has to be a physical goal to provide the endeavour with a purpose, but it is the very act of undertaking the journey that gives meaning to the eventual arrival.
Terry Faull, landscape historian, respected author and long-standing friend of the Tamar Dowsers, started this presentation by reminding us that pilgrimage comes in many guises – both externally to sites of reverence and sanctity, but also the inward pilgrimage to the deeper corners of the soul.
To go on a pilgrimage is a core feature of many of the world’s better-known religions – with the Buddhists wending their weary way around Mount Kailash, and the Muslims attending the Hajj, just as Christians used to make the epic overland trek to the Holy Land. If the Middle East seemed too far away or too dangerous, then at least the devout could undergo the travails of travel on the way to somewhere a little more predictable – perhaps to Santiago de Compostella in north eastern Spain, or maybe to Canterbury or York.
In every case, the actuality of making the journey is at least as important as arriving at the end of the quest. Indeed, in mediaeval times, when pilgrims and pilgrimages were at their zenith, making it home afterwards was far from guaranteed. People across the globe abandoned their everyday lives, with just their faith to protect them, and only the vaguest idea of where they were going.
Driven by a mixture of duty and devotion, even today people from all backgrounds set off, usually on foot, to experience something of the essence of the grand sagas of their ancestors. The modern pilgrim may choose to catch the train to the starting point or to fly home afterwards, but the principle is much the same; journeying on foot to a designated sacred location – from a respectable and worthwhile distance.
In Britain, there are a number of well-documented and ancient pilgrim routes, of which the ones to Canterbury are probably the most well-known, having been described, even romanticised, by Geoffrey Chaucer in his fourteenth century classic The Canterbury Tales.
Two pilgrim paths, still very much in use today, cross Cornwall for at least part of their length. One, the old road from Padstow to Fowey, was once part of a much longer network of paths that guided devotees en route from Wales, Ireland and the North to the shrine of St James at Santiago. Rebadged as The Saint’s Way, this track is delineated by ancient wayside crosses and modern guideposts. While it is now designed primarily for use by tourists, it could be argued that communing with nature over its 30 mile length would have been very much in the spirit of the walking meditation objective of the original pilgrimages.
The other Cornish component is the work-in-progress that is the Michael/Mary Pilgrim Way which, when finished, will follow both the earth energy lines and the St Michael Ley all the way from the west of Cornwall to the east Norfolk coast.
Pilgrimage may have ancient roots, but it is very much back in fashion in a 21st Century society trying to find some meaning in a world of hollow consumerism.
Terry is part of the Small Pilgrim Places Network, which seeks to quietly promote (if that’s not too much of a contradiction in terms) some of the less frequently visited pilgrimage sites – and to find others that traditional pilgrims may have overlooked.
Terry makes the point that it is not so much the location of the place, as the feel of it that makes it so special. Just as the process of walking the path is at least as important as the arrival, so the sense of the spirit of the site is as vital as the geographical co-ordinates.
The more-established Gatekeeper’s Trust walk the pilgrim routes in a similar manner to ramblers making their presence felt on rural rights of way. Several of their number are also members of the British Society of Dowsers. However, the SPPN essentially consists of spiritually-minded people who discover the joy of visiting out-of-the-way churches, chapels, caves and pre-Christian sites – and of being at one with their sense of place.
Here dowsers have an important role to play. The ambient presence at a Small Pilgrim Place is not totally intangible, but it is essentially indescribable. Many, even most, people can sense that it is there, but quite what it is defies resolution. Those of a religious persuasion will tend to attribute it to their understanding of the divine. Those of a more rationalistic nature will try to unpick the threads until nothing remains, not even that magical feeling. Linking the two ends of this particular spectrum are dowsers. We can demonstrate, to anyone with an open mind, how intangible forces, stirred or concentrated by geology, underground water or leys (whatever they may be!) can have very marked effects on what any life form can sense at a pilgrim place. Occasionally, crossing water lines forming a spiral, crossing earth energy lines, also forming their own spiral at a different ‘wavelength’, plus one or more leys, will all coincide spatially – notably at holy wells. While this is not a comprehensive explanation of the spirit of place – and it is certainly not the only way of making sense of the new reality – it does provide a subtly different vocabulary for those seeking to understand the nature of those special places.
We hope to go out with Terry again later in the year to have a look at some of his personal small pilgrim sites, to see if we can add any input to those coming to the subject from a theological or a technical angle – and just to enjoy going there.
Many thanks to Terry for – once again – taking the time to talk to us, and for battling through his presentation, despite having recently returned from the virally-challenged metropolis with a much reduced voice!
Nigel Twinn, Tamar Dowsers, January 2017