In September I had the blessing of walking the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way from the beautiful new Pilgrim Doors of Chester Cathedral for 156 miles across North Wales to Bardsey Island at the tip of the Llyn peninsula.
Three years ago I turned 70 and retired from my vocation in Medicine as a GP. I wanted to mark this by making a pilgrimage and seeking God for direction for the next phase of life. The opportunity of a place on the Bardsey Retreat organised by St Beuno’s gave me the impetus to get organised and to plan my pilgrimage to end with the week on Bardsey.
How do I summarise in a few paragraphs this experience? I am struggling to put into words how this pilgrimage and the retreat felt and how powerfully they affected me.
Perhaps I can paint a few word pictures of what was, for me, a very spiritual and, simultaneously, a very physical experience.
The joy of being so aware of walking each step with Jesus for two weeks – even (perhaps especially) the steps which were steep and uphill. The gradual realisation that my feet and legs were coping well and the hills were becoming (slightly) easier to climb.
The peace and tranquillity of the many small, rural churches, and the coolness of the interiors on very hot days!
Prayer times inside sun-lit churches and outside in old graveyards under ancient trees.
Old churchyard gates – and new ones. Lych-gates and flower-filled entrances.
The warmth of hospitality in so many different places – convents and cabins, inns and farmhouses.
The friendliness of ‘chance’ meetings on the way – and the interest in pilgrimage and the significance of my staff.
The surprise and joy of arriving on a Sunday morning at St Beuno’s church in Clyynog Faur just in time for the start of the communion service and the gift of being invited to join the congregation in sharing bread and wine.
The gift of the words ‘Igam Ogam’ from a Welsh speaking member of the congregation when talking about that day’s destination at Nant Gwrtheyrn (at the bottom of a 2000-foot zig-zag path). ‘Igam Ogam’ is the Welsh for ‘Zigzag’ - but more literally ‘One step after another – and not necessarily in the same direction’. Those are now the key gift words of my pilgrimage!
The beauty of the views and paths along the cliffs of the North Llyn coastline. The sighting of seals fishing in coves below.
The simple, everyday, ‘God-incidences’ – like the only calm days of the third week being each of the two Saturdays when we sailed over to, and returned from, Bardsey.
The isolation and simplicity of life on Bardsey.
Watching the sheep be sheep – simply munching grass all day every day!
The glory of God’s light show at sunset – the sun going down behind the mountains of Ireland.
So … now begins the harder task of integrating all these experiences and the changes in me back into life in Waverton! Learning to become more and more aware of Jesus with me in the day-to-day tasks(without a pilgrim staff to remind me of His presence).
Continuing my journey in my daily life.