Pilgrims urged to ‘think green’

WITH a quarter of a million people making the journey to an historic East Anglian Christian shrine last year, it is clear there is still a considerable interest in treading ancient pilgrim paths.

Now the team at one Suffolk church is hosting an open weekend aimed at encouraging even more worshippers to make the journey to Walsingham – and leave their cars behind.

St Andrew’s Church in Mickfield, near Debenham, is about halfway along the traditional 170-mile pilgrimage route between Westminster and the Norfolk shrine, but is just one of 65 parishes lining the path to “England’s Nazareth”.

Mark Wright, of the Anglia Church Trust, which owns St Andrew’s, said he hoped as many places of worship along the route could join together to help offer accommodation, information and support for pilgrims making the journey. The open weekend at the church runs until Monday and anyone wanting to find out more about environmentally-friendly ways of following the 1,000-year-old Westminster to Walsingham route can stop by.

Mr Wright said: “The routes that I have researched from London to Walsingham will be largely on long-distance paths – seven altogether – that pass through 65 parishes, almost all of which have got historic churches.

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“I have been in touch with most of them and the idea is to encourage them to offer whatever they can.

“It isn’t just pilgrimage in the traditional manner because Walsingham was, in the past, one of the top four destinations in Europe and even now it has 250,000 a year.”

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Mr Wright has a display at the church charting the route, with images of many of the churches along the way and details of all the footpaths, cycle routes, rail lines and bus connections and will be on hand to offer advice all weekend. The Anglia Church Trust has been renovating St Andrew’s Church for many years and offers sleeping quarters inside for pilgrims or religious researchers seeking a quiet retreat.

Mr Wright added: “The shrine at Walsingham was established in 1061 but was very much revived in the last century.

“The vast majority these days go in cars or coaches and I thought it would be nice to promote a rather greener and healthier way of getting there.

“People do not always have time to walk 170 miles there and back, which is why we have researched all the parallel public transport and footpaths. It’s quite possible and it can be tailored to people’s needs.”

Along the route there are several stretches of picturesque countryside and Mr Wright said anyone wanting to find out more could visit the church or call 01449 711640.

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