January 26, 2022
S2:E11 Saints & Stones Across Britain's Pilgrim Pathways

English author Andy Bull ( joins author Kevin Donahue ( to discuss four walks in the U.K. from his book Pilgrim Pathways, including a fascinating walk to Stonehenge and three saints pilgrimages the Northern, Cornish, and Welsh Saints Ways, as well as a fascinating walk to Stonehenge.

English author Andy Bull ( joins author Kevin Donahue ( to discuss four walks in the U.K. from his book Pilgrim Pathways, including a fascinating walk to Stonehenge and three saints pilgrimages the Northern, Cornish, and Welsh Saints Ways, as well as a fascinating walk to Stonehenge. 






MEET OUR GUEST:    Andy Bull

Andy Bull is a keen walker, journalist, and author who has written travel pieces for The Times, the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the Mail on Sunday, and The Tablet. When he wanted to go on a pilgrimage that could be completed in a weekend and found no suitable guides were available, he realized he would have to find a route for himself. He found 20, and Pilgrim Pathways is the result.

Andy has also published two travel books on America, guides to English trails for mountain bikers, and local history books drawing on his Kentish roots. His next project is a book on Britain's Great North Road.



MEET THE HOST:  Kevin Donahue

Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.

In 2019, Kevin Donahue set off from his home in the United States to begin a pilgrimage journey spanning both years and miles, walking across continents to the ancient end of the world, to kneel at the tombs of eight Apostles. Available for Easter 2023, Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal is Kevin's first-hand account of the people and places found along the way to inspire questions and enlighten answers about faith, hope, and love.



Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal

Available from print and digital booksellers for Easter 2023, Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal is the first-person account of a reluctant pilgrim navigating the eternal questions of faith while walking along the world’s revered paths. The book follows one man’s journey through Portugal and Spain on the Camino de Santiago, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean connecting California’s Missions Trail, across England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way, and onward towards Rome via Europe’s forgotten footpaths on a journey of soulful discovery. More than a travelogue, Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal is a first-hand account of a pilgrim's journey and the people and places he finds to inspire questions and enlighten answers about faith, hope, and love.




Duration: 49:03

[Intro]: Walking, virtually along the world's most revered footpaths and connecting the global community of pilgrims. It's the Sacred Steps Podcast available on YouTube and your favorite podcast app. Broadcasting from the Chez Mer Studios in Florida, here's your host, Pilgrim Backpacker, and author Kevin Donahue.

Kevin Donahue: Buen Camino, pilgrims, and welcome back to the Sacred Steps Podcast. I'm Kevin Donahue, Pilgrim Backpacker, and author of Sacred Steps: A Pilgrimage Journal.

On today's episode I am so glad to welcome back my friend from London, England, Andy Bull. Andy joined us during season one to talk about the legacy of pilgrimage in the U.K., the interruption that took place with the English reformation, and the rebirth of the pilgrimage movement. His book, Pilgrim Pathways from Trailblazer, outlines, 20 short walks across England, Scotland, and Wales, and actually helped form the basis of three of my walks in the U.K. this past year. The Pilgrim's Way from London to Canterbury, the English leg of the via Francigena from Canterbury to Dover, and the Pilgrim's Path to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. So today, Andy and I are going to be discussing four great walks in the UK that you can take as a one to two-day route or longer walk if you’re so inclined.

Before we begin with Andy, I want to thank so many of you for visiting our new website at and sending a voicemail about your upcoming pilgrimage plans. Many of you are planning a Camino de Santiago, and a few of you are even looking to walk in the U.K. If you haven't sent your voicemail yet, it's really easy. Simply visit, click send voicemail and tell us who you are, where you're from, and your next steps. The website has our new membership program as well, allowing you to join at any of three different levels or private member live streams and even some one-on-one sessions where I will be helping you plan your upcoming pilgrimage.

Speaking of planning, if you're planning your first Camino and you're looking for answers and resources, check out our Sacred Steps Channel on YouTube. We have a video series there called Camino 101, with simple five-minute video answers to basic questions about your first Camino, everything from which route should I take? How much should I budget? How can I prevent blisters? Which apps to use? There are some great video resources at our Sacred Steps channel on YouTube.

Now without further ado, it's my pleasure to welcome my friend, Andy Bull, author of Pilgrim Pathways back to the podcast, today we're discussing four short walks in the U.K., including a route that I recently completed to Holy Island and a very exciting walk to Stonehenge. So, if you're interested in walking in the U.K., please join me in welcoming back Andy Bull.

Kevin Donahue: Andy Bull, welcome back to the Sacred Steps Podcast.

Andy Bull: Hi, Kevin. Great to be speaking to you again.

Kevin Donahue: I'm so glad to see you. My friend, it's been a few months since we were together in London. I just want to thank you one more time. You gave me such a great Beckett Pilgrim token when we were together at Southwark and walking across the bridge.

Andy Bull: Kevin, and I've got to say, I'm very impressed with your pronunciation of Southwark because that's not an easy one. That's one we like to trip people up with so well done. You've got it.

Kevin Donahue: Do you remember when we had our first podcast together back in, I think it was 2020 and I said South Wark Cathedral. Do you remember that one?

Andy Bull: Yeah. Yeah, and I told you that's where Jr. Lived in Dallas.

Kevin Donahue: And look at me now.

Andy Bull: Yeah, you're a Brit

Kevin Donahue: Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I've certainly learned a lot about U.K. pilgrimage and a lot of that has been from your book Pilgrim Pathways, talking to you, jumping on some of the Facebook groups that are dedicated to British pilgrimage learning from the British Pilgrimage Trust, talking to pilgrims who've walked like Jo Frances Penn and then looking forward to the walks that I completed in 2021: the Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury, the English leg of the via Francigena from Canterbury Dover, and then the Pilgrim Path to Holy Island.  And I thought we'd get together, talk about a few walks from your book, Pilgrim Pathways, maybe starting with that Northern Saints Walk that I kind of finished recently ending at Holy Island… at Lindisfarne. Looking at the book, Andy, there's a lot in that Northern Saints Walk.

Andy Bull: Absolutely. I mean, you know, normally when I've tried to build the walks around each one around a particular Saint, but you get three for one here, you've got the three Northern Saints, you've got Aiden who was brought from the island Iona to Christianize Oswald's, kingdom of Northland, and he put him on Lindisfarne, Holy Island.  He was the Abbot there and then you've got Oswold himself… kind of warrior king, who became converted, and one of his people converted and then you've got Cuthbert who was kind of because he was so impressed with Aiden and his story became a monk and ultimately himself also became the abbot of Lindisfarne. So, it's a fascinating bit of history.

Kevin Donahue:
 That's a really interesting sort of relationship that happened too. So, and because I happened to be in Holy Island last year, I learned a little bit about Aiden and Cuthbert and their relationship. Oswald originally had another monk from my Iona come before Aiden and it really didn't work out. He was trying to spread Christianity, the monk went back to Iona… very frustrated and the way it was told to me, sort of, you know, I don't know, 35th hand was frustrated because in North Umbria, the people just weren't learning Christianity the way the monk was trying to teach it. And he was speaking to Aiden, and Aiden said, “Well, how did you try to teach them?” You know, and they were trying to learn Latin, and no one in north knew Latin, let alone reader write Latin. And Aiden said, “Well I think I could do this.” And so he was, there was outreach to Oswald and Aiden came to North Umbria and he was a man of the people. He was known for walking throughout North Umbria speaking to the English in their native tongues and learning a lot and became sort of an evangelical ambassador for Oswald.

Andy Bull: Yeah. I mean, it's fascinating and that kind of approach is very interesting. I mean, I think it's obviously it's relevant to any evangelist, you've got to be able to speak people in a way that they understand and treat them as people of intelligence, who are seeking. Like we all are so that, I didn't know that actually that's very interesting, Kevin that's...

Kevin Donahue: Well, I walked around with a fake monk and if you're listening, Chris, great to connect you, I'll send you a message on Facebook, thanking you for telling me a bit about the story. But Oswald gave Lindisfarne, the island of Lindisfarne, Holy Island to Aiden, to found his see and that's where the Lindisfarne Priory was, was built, and this became a place of holy pilgrimage as Aiden and Cuthbert built, really Christianity in North Umbria.

Andy Bull: Well, that's right. And it's something that people are very conscious of in that area and you've got some very couple of very well established, long pilgrim paths, St. Oswald's way, which goes down from Scotland, St. Cuthbert’s  way, which runs through Northumbria, and the thing about when I looked at those routes and I was planning my book, the idea I had with this particular book, Pilgrim Pathways, was to try and give people a kind of an introduction to pilgrimage. People who were quite keen walkers, but looked at the length of a lot of pilgrim routes, well over a hundred miles and thought, you know, I'm not sure that I can do that. So, my idea was to kind of get to look, it's almost like a pilgrimage, you know, greatest hits. It's the things you can do in a weekend.

And I tried to make it really easy. So, there's the places to stay, there's that how to get your public transport, ideally in and out, if not taxis, where to stay for the night, you know, where to get provisions, all the kind of tips that hopefully would make it as easy as possible and I mean, I thought it was fascinating. One thing I particularly liked about Cuthbert was as we were saying, Cuthbert, he did become Abbot of Lindisfarne, but he kind got tired of it and he decided to become a hermit again. And he went to the Farne islands, which are it's now a nature reserve run by the National Trust off the Northumbrian coast at sea houses. So, I start my pilgrimage… image get on a boat. I know it's not normal; you get a boat out to the inner Fanres and you do find there are amazing buildings that survive from that period. And from there its a lovely walk. So, the next place up the coast is where Oswald had his one of his castles at Bamburgh, and next to it is the church he dedicated. So, an and where Aiden is buried. So, within this very short period, its part program, I think is like 27 something miles, you get a wonderful experience of these three amazing characters and also, of course, some wonderful landscape.

Kevin Donahue:
 Yeah. So, this area is actually really breathtakingly beautiful and I wasn't familiar with North Umbria. So, when I took my walk to Holy Island, which follows Pilgrim Pathways, across the Causeway, I was really impressed because from Bamburgh, you can see Lindisfarne, you see all of this area and it's just rustic and you get such a different feel of the English coast there. You mentioned that you go from Bamburgh bur where there is a proper castle, right? Oswald's castle, and then the church for St. Aiden, I had read at one point that there was a huge fire that was going to take this church and through prayer Aiden, it said change the wins and save the church and it's just, it's such a sacred site, to start the pilgrimage there.

Andy Bull: Absolutely and you mentioned landscape, I don't know about you, but that experience of walking you've got as you at low tide, and we probably need to stress, you've got to check those tide tables because it's, what is it a mild, it's probably more than a mile across the sands, across the Causeway, from the mainlands to the island, but you get out there and I mean, it's here, isn't it? You know, it's the only sound is the wind and there's the birds in the air and you look back...

Kevin Donahue: There's one more. There's the sea lions, the seals, or whatever, they're barking off in the distance. So, I took this walk at as you said, low tide was like 7:05 in the morning. So, I had a couple of miles before I got to the Causeway, and then you walk, as you said, across the receding North Sea, the sands, and there are poles that map that mark the Pilgrim Path across to Holy Island and you've done this walk too. You've walked the Causeway over to Lindisfarne, and then when you arrive, it's such a, it's really a special arrival and I talked about it in one of my podcasts and so people can listen to it in more detail, but such a great sense of place to arrive to Lindisfarne and be at the Priory, and see Cuthbert's Island and really so much of where English Christianity took hold throughout North Umbria and really all throughout England.

Andy Bull: Yeah. Absolutely and there is that amazing in the church of monks carrying the coffin, carrying Cuthbert's coffin. Cause as you probably know a couple of centuries after his death, I think it was in the ninth century, there were threats from Viking Raiders. So, they up took and left the island and they took Cuthbert with them and traveled around the North for some time before, eventually ending up in Durham, and they placed the remains in a church, which is now Durham Cathedral. So, you've got a whole another aspect of things going on there.

Kevin Donahue: So, I didn't get the chance to visit Durham Cathedral and actually see the shrine of St Cuthbert there. But that actually takes place in another walk that you've had going to Durham Cathedral, and maybe we can get into that at another point, but this walk goes up through you also go through the, help me with my American… Kylo Hills?

Andy Bull: Kylo Hills. Yeah. I've think that's how they say it. They may tell me otherwise, but yeah, the Kyle Hill. So, that's very interesting. So, after Bamburgh, you go inland and its quite rising country wild remote mall land, and then there's a place there's a wood and if you go into this wood, you trail around and you find beneath the trees completely, you know, hidden an enormous cave, which is called Cuthbert cave, and there's, we're not quite sure what the connection with Cuthbert is. It may be that when he was in his hermit period, he had a Hermitage there. It could be that the monks where they were carrying his remains eventually to Durham rested there. We're not really sure, but it's a very big cave goes right in under the ground and you can see for centuries, people have gone there and carved their names and it's a curious place really unexpected.

Kevin Donahue: And this is part for those who are doing the full route of the St Cuthbert's Way, they would start in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish border regions and then walk all the way along St. Cuthbert's go through this cave at what we're calling Kylo Hills, and then onto Holy Island, it's really a special pilgrimage. That one is about 62 miles, but these Northern Saints Walk in Pilgrim Pathways is just over 25 miles. It's very doable in just a day or two.

Andy Bull: Yeah, absolutely. That was the plan and also, it does give you time if you want to, to start off by going on the boat trip out to the Farne island, which I think makes, well, for me, that's a unique pilgrimage. I haven't been able to do that on, any other trip.

Kevin Donahue:  That's fantastic. I've got to get back to do the boat trip because I haven't done that. So, I'm going to put that on my bucket list for my U.K. pilgrimage.


Also on my bucket list, everyone was asking me because I did a couple of routes that were connected, London to Canterbury, Canterbury to Dover. And so that was very easy through the Kentish countryside over in the I don't know if you call it the Southeastern part of...

Andy Bull: Southeastern. Yeah. Yeah.

Kevin Donahue:
 Okay. That's what I'm calling the Southeastern part of England, and some of my acquaintances… you know, the geography of England is a little fuzzy sometimes for Americans.  They said, “Oh, did you visit Stonehenge?” And I said, “No because that's actually the opposite direction.” So, I know I've got to visit Stonehenge. I was looking at Pilgrim walk number four in Pilgrim Pathways actually concludes at Stonehenge. Can you take us through that?

Andy Bull: Absolutely. Yeah, you're right. That's, we'd say that was kind of central Southern England, it's up on the MOS, but this I was very interested in Stonehenge, a, because it's, was, well, I very curious and amazing unique place, but also about a couple of days walk from it is another equally ancient, about 5,000 years old place called the Avebury Stone Circle to the North of it. And what interested me was there are various series. We don't really know, we know that there were some kinds of ritual connections with these two, but there is one theory that the Avebury stone circle was a kind of a celebration of life and that Stonehenge is more about death. It's about honoring ancestors or the recently dead. And there is one theory that pilgrims and we're talking, this is what, you know, 3000 years before Christianity which makes me think pilgrimage is something which is so innate.

It's not, it's about belief, but it's not just about Christian belief. And I that's what got me going on this one. But there is one theory that when you do that route from Avebury to Stonehenge, you can go along for a lot of it along a river valley, the Avon valley of the river, an Avon, which is again, a lovely, lovely walk and if you do that, you come into Stonehenge like by the back door, because given that so many hundreds of thousands of people want to visit Stonehenge, they've had to move a visitor center about a mile to the east. So, if you turn up conventionally like in a car or on the bus you find yourself a mile away. You have to do you're checking in or buying your ticket there.

And they put you on buses to take you down to Stonehenge. And to me, that's difficult to do as a Pilgrim. It doesn't feel like a pilgrimage. If you come in the other way, the way we believe that the ancient pilgrims from pre-Christian times would've come, you're coming through the back door. You go up from the river through another place called Woodhenge which is a curious thing, was as the name suggests was built of wood, probably about the same time as Stonehenge, and then you go in there's, a foot walk across the MOS and you get to Stonehenge. I didn't meet anybody. There were just a few sheep out there and you get there and the kind of the guards are very surprised. Cause you turn up the wrong way and you say, I'm a Pilgrim, I've come this way and they go, oh, OK. Right. So, they said, well, would you like a lift down? Cause you got to go and get a ticket and they let me get on the bus. They took me down to get, so I could come back and actually, wander around within the stones. But yeah, that's a very different experience.

Kevin Donahue: That's… you make a really interesting point because often we talk about pilgrimage in terms of Christian pilgrimage and we know that, you know, first of all, there are people of all faiths that makes a pilgrimage, right. We talked about, I think in our, one of our previous shows together, pilgrimage to Mecca and the Muslim tradition of pilgrimage, but pilgrimage - the act of walking in a thoughtful way, the act of walking in a faithful way - extends far beyond just Christian tradition.

Andy Bull: Yeah. And I always say, I think pilgrimage is for people of all faiths and none. I don't think anyone wants to impose particular beliefs on pilgrims. I certainly don't but you do get something under walking and I just think it's a kind of essential human thing. I know not everyone likes walking, but plenty of us do, and whatever our beliefs are, or indeed our lack of beliefs walking can really help us in my experience.

Kevin Donahue: Well, especially after all we've been through with the pandemic, I've learned more Greek letters, and unfortunately, I think I'm going to learn some more, who knows. Yeah, but it's really… in talking to people, it's made them be more reflective and be thinking about the connections that they want in their life, those that they want to prioritize, and often those are connections with faith, connections with spirituality, connections with a particular religious practice, and for you and I, that happens to be Christianity, but for many, it's not. This Stonehenge walk is a perfect example of people who were walking because it was their tradition and because it was a thoughtful, meditative practice. The … help me again, Avebury?

Andy Bull: Avebury. Yeah. Yep.

Kevin Donahue: Avebury, the walk to Stonehenge is that's a two-day walk?

Andy Bull: Yeah. That's right. Fortunately, about halfway, your halfway through it, you get to a few villages on the river and there are some nice pubs and places that you can stay there. Yeah. It's good. I mean, it also takes in a really prehistoric route, kind of on the High Downs route called the Ridgeway, which is probably the oldest road in England. So, you get a real mix of history there.

Kevin Donahue: I love that, one of the walks that I've been looking at because people are asking me, “Where you're going to walk next?” I think if all my plans hold (which doesn't seem to be the case these days) but if they do, I hope to be walking the Via Francigena and finish in Rome very soon. And I was saying - if I can't go to Italy - I might, like to come back to the U.K. and do some walks and so I was looking through Pilgrim Pathways, Andy's book from Trailblazer, and you have a route that is in the footsteps of some Celtic monks, the Cornish Saints way.

Andy Bull: Yeah. That's another very interesting one. And again, a big contrast.


So, this goes from the North Coast to Cornwall, to the South. And for those who don't, as you, not everyone knows the geography of England, but if you imagine, the little pointy bit that sticks out down on the Southwest of England that's Cornel, and it's pretty narrow, you know, it's about 18 miles across direct, possibly less so in the North, there's on the North Coast, there's a town called Padstow and, on the South, there's a town called I'm going to call it Fowey. It's F O W E Y. And bit like you, Kevin, some people tell me no it's Fowey, but I think it's Fowey, and I think Locus calls it Fowey. So, anyway, that's...

Kevin Donahue: Between the two of us, we've got it covered because when I was looking at it, I said, I said, this is Padstow to Fowey, and so, you take that whole coast to coast walk. From the North down to the South.

Andy Bull: Yeah. And the reason is that this route, I mean, and it was again, in pre-Christian times, it was a Dr. Route, but from about the fifth century, sort of hermits, monks, pilgrims, all sorts of people, some of whom wanted to go Compostella in Spain or indeed, Rome, Jerusalem, if they were come, they were coming from Wales and Ireland. And they didn't want to go around the coast of Cornwall, because there's a bit called land in, a land at the very tip, which is treacherous, still treacherous now, but very treacherous, you know, centuries ago. So, they would go overland. They would go to Padstow and go overland, and the really interesting thing is there are still former Pilgrim. Hostelries, there's one at pow stove on the Harbor. There's one about halfway, a place called St. Benet’s Abby, which was a medieval pilgrimage stop, but is still a B&B that you can go to and there's another one down in Fowey, called Scallop Shell house. So, you've got that kind of history there but not all the people who traveled that route were on their way out. A lot of Celtic Saints or Celtic, holy men came and became saints and they would sort of settle in little bits of Cornwall, and this was the time sort of the two centuries after the Romans had left and apparently, there were the locals were very susceptible to Christianity. You know, it kind of chimed well with them and they had a lot of success.


So, there was one, there were a whole bunch of them, but there was one called St. Petroc, who Padstow is named after and he basically settled there and his monastery is where the parish church is now, still there and there's a Celtic cross in the churchyard, and as you walk up, you walk up two rivers really, first off you go up the Camel Estuary and then you go up to a little place where St. Petroc also, settled and as you go across the country, you get all kinds of things. I mean, there are prehistoric sites, ancient Christian sites. It's really, really a remarkable walk, including one little place at a village called Golant, where there is a St Sampson, not quite spell like the guy with the hair and Delilah, but there's a holy well there, right by the churches St Sampson holy well, and there's a whole string of these fascinating little places.

Kevin Donahue: Well, and I was sort of intrigued because you mentioned in Fowey… the Scallop Shell House that obviously has some connection to Santiago.

Andy Bull: Absolutely. I mean, I think the present house is probably 18th century, something like that, but it is believed that it was built on the site of a program host and you know, this is not something I'm an expert on, by any means, but I believe in medieval times a lot of seafarers who were going to France and Spain would take pilgrims on the way out and bring back wine and all the other nice things that we wanted to import, and they had to have a license to carry pilgrims. All the ports were like this South Hampton Brisa, all the ports and including I guess, Fowey. There would've been boats that would take people kind of hugging the coast along the South Coast of England, hopping across the channel and then following the French coast down to Northern Spain.

Kevin Donahue: When you were on the podcast last, we talked about the English Camino route, and obviously this route is not the English Camino route - the Cornish Saints Way - but this is a route, if you are a traditional Camino Pilgrim where you can see this route of pilgrimage. They would get the boat and head to Spain to walk to Santiago, to Compostela, so great history, and connection for those who may be interested in the Camino to Santiago. There's one more route to walk within the U.K..

Andy Bull: Yeah, absolutely. And I think particularly as we were talking about lockdown, a lot of people started walking, and one of the things, there was a lot of interest in pilgrimage, in the U.K. simply, because you could do it, but also, we've got a sort of burgeoning interest in identifying the routes, which were like feeder routes from which English British pilgrims would've gone across and then picked things up in Spain going to Santiago.


So, there's a lot of well, but yeah, there's quite a lot of research and a lot of interests I'm particularly very interested in identifying those routes. And I know that the church authorities in Spain are very generously saying that a number of routes when they're identified as having historic significance of speed of routes, they will actually allow you to start your pilgrimage on those routes and when you get to Spain, you will have, if you can, on 25 kilometers in the U.K., that will count as 25 kilometers towards the hundred kilometers you need to get to have your Pilgrim, passport stamped into the officially, a Pilgrim.

Kevin Donahue: Our guest today on the Sacred Steps Podcast is English author, Andy Bull. His book, Pilgrim Pathways, features 20 short walks in England, Scotland and Wales. I will link it below in the show notes, but let me highly recommend that you pick up a copy. Andy's book was such an inspiration for me in learning so much about pilgrimage in the U.K., because for many of us and Andy, you talked about this in our season one episode, the concept of English pilgrimage is lost to so many in the Western culture, but was also lost to so many within the U.K. because of the Reformation. Can you remind us a bit about the impact of the English Reformation on pilgrimage?

Andy Bull: Absolutely. So, we’re going back a little bit to Henry VIII and the 1530s when Henry - having been considered a defender of the faith and a great friend of the Pope - because of issues that we won't go too far into about needing divorces so that he could try and marry a woman who'd give him a male heir, split with Rome and declared himself the head of the church in England. And a number of things happened at the same time. He banned pilgrimage; banned veneration of saints; and all the kinds of things which were considered idolatrous. So, you'll see, and if you ever go into English, country churches, they are whitewashed. That's because they painted out, they all will have been covered with paintings in murals of the Bible stories and so on.

So, for like 300 years or so, pilgrimage just didn't happen. So, we lost our tradition. In Spain, they didn't. That's why they've got such a powerful network of routes in Spain, but in England, and in Wales and in Scotland, we had a lot of local saints. So, we've been sort of talking about some of the very big, important saints, but actually, there were a lot of little local saints and people, you know, the word holiday comes from holy and on holy days, people would go to a shrine of their local Saint, to make an offering and so on. So, I think it's a wonderful thing that we are, you know, a lot of us are choosing to try and reclaim that tradition, that got smashed.

Kevin Donahue: Literally, there were shrines that were destroyed and smashed. And as I was walking, I would talk to people, in particular, my longest walk was the London to Canterbury. So, I would run into people along the North Down’s Way in pubs and ins throughout the path and many people were interested in walking pilgrimage. I think there is a great rebirth in the U.K., as you said, reclaiming the traditions. Whether they were walking it to visit a specific shrine, you've outlined some holy places that are not created by the church itself, but they were traditional local shrine, local Saints.


I want to talk to you about a couple of saints over in Wales, and maybe we could talk about the Welsh Lords, the burial place of saints, Holywell.

Andy Bull: Yeah, that's right. So, there is another long-distance route in North Wales. The North Wales Saints Way. And that goes from the coast on the river right on the North Wales coast, at an Abbey called basing work and it's another long one. It goes 135 miles down to an island called Bardsy Island. So, what I did with my theme of trying to pick a kind of essential route you could do in two possibly three days for this one, I did the bit from basing work to a little called Gwytherin.


Now there is a Saint who connects them she was called, Saint Winifred and it's a curious story. I mean, it's actually a very common story. When you start looking into this kind of Celtic or Angular Saxon Saints, in a sense, you find that they've got a lot in common. Their stories very often are that they were a princess, a prince wanted to marry them. They didn't worry, wanted to marry him. He got angry and in win's case, her head was chopped off now. Fortunately, her uncle sent boy know, stuck it back on again, and she survived, but at the point where her head is supposed to be chopped off, it's about three miles inland from basing work at a place called Holywell. It's look like Holywell, it's written Holywell again, I'm told locals call it Holywell so I'm calling it. Yeah. So, where her head came to rest before it was stuck back on a spring, came up and that spring's still there and its a, I say spring, we think of like a trickle out of the ground. This spring delivers 3000 gallons of water every minute into this enormous wellhead.

And then it spills over into a great big it's like a swimming pool, but it's a kind of sacred pool and pilgrims have been coming there for 1300 years and they're still coming now and it managed to survive the reformation. No, one's quite sure why, as far as I'm aware, but there is a possibility that Henry VII's mother actually funded the building of the medieval shrine there and a chapel, which is built above it. So, it may be that it had some kind of, you know, Royal protection in any case. When I, when I went there, I, there were pilgrims who were following the old tradition of you get into the pool fully clothed. You walk around it three times, and then you crises and across customer side of it, and there was Irish family there when I was there and it was very interesting to see the grandparents when in, the parents, the children, even the baby have their head stitch. That's was a remarkable tradition that is still going.

But the reason for mentioning, that particularly, and St. Winifred is that in her later life St. Winfred retired and had a monastery at this place Withirin, which is a further to the west and she built it. Yeah. So, you mentioned the Welsh Laws. So, the Holywell is a, like the Welsh Laws and the other place we mentioned is like the Welsh burial place of saints. So, with Winifred, this is an ancient bur site. There's a mound that's never been excavated, but the tradition is that all kinds of Saints Kings and Welsh, Kings, and Queens are buried there including a cousin of St. David, the patron Wales. So, Winifred went there with her nuns and had a monastery. But and it attracted so many pilgrims that I don't know if you aware of this, but every monastery, every wanted the remains of a Saint, because it would attract pilgrims.

So, some saints at Rosebery got very jealous. So, they came and they took Winfred’s remains, and they took them. And they're still at TROs cathedral, which meant that if you wanted to venerate sent Winfred, there was no point going to Withirin because she's not there anymore. You had to go to Shrewsbury. So, when you get there, it's a tiny place. It's like a hamlet of about half a dozen houses, but there's also a former chapel it's only Victorian and it's deconsecrated, but a wonderful lady called Alison Gold came to it, saw it derelict and decided to restore it, and she's done it. And you go in, and there's this beautiful chapel beside this mound, this ancient burial place and then she runs it as a sort of a civil wedding center, but she's also hoping when I was I saw her before lockdown and things have got very tight Wells was particularly tightly lockdown, but I know she has an ambition to invite pilgrims for champing, which I don't know if you know that word… champing?

Kevin Donahue: No. Tell us a little bit about that because that's something we don't hear about in the US?

Andy Bull: Okay. Well, so we all started off with camping. We knew that that was then there was something called glamping, which was like posh camping. So, you might be in a Europe with a stove. Champing is the idea that you will camp in a church, and it's being introduced particularly in disused churches where they've no longer got a congregation. Some of them are deconsecrated, others just don't have services and there's an idea that one of the things that can be done with them is to invite walkers and pilgrims, to stay there and Allison is very generously trying to do that at referring this amazing historic site. So, I think that's a fantastic thing. I also automated Kevin, just one other little highlight along the way. There's a place called, Sainath’s, which is only a village, but it's a city, it's the smallest city in the U.K.. And the reason it's so important is it has like cathedral there and it's the place where the Bible was first translated into Welsh.

Kevin Donahue: Oh, wow. Yeah. So, a great historic site for Wales, and the Welsh people.

Andy Bull: Absolutely. And I would love to do the whole hundred 35 miles down to island, and maybe I'll be able to get back there, but if you're thinking, if anyone is inspired by that and want something that they can do in a weekend, I'd recommend if not from basing work, start from Holywell. Holywell to preferring is a fantastic doable walk and some amazing history.

Kevin Donahue: So, this Holywell walk is outlined in Pilgrim Pathways. If you're interested in doing the longer, saints walk, you can find it on the British Pilgrimage Trust website as well. We were speaking with Dr. Guy Hayward and he was actually speaking about this walk as well. So, I'm glad to know a way in which I could experience it in a shorter walk rather than making, a 10 plus day walk. I'm not that familiar with the countryside in Wales. What should we be expecting in this walk? Is it what is the terrain and such through whales?

Andy Bull: This part is hilly. If you went further, you get into Snowdome. So, it becomes mountainous and spectacular, but challenging. I believe I haven't walked that bit, but I believe that's much more challenging, but the bit that I'm talking about its rolling Hills. It's nothing. It's nothing too strenuous.

Kevin Donahue: Right? Well, that's right up my alley after having done some of the, what did we call it there? The South Southern Eastern?

Andy Bull: South Southeastern England. Yeah. Northbound, I guess you're on the North downs, which is like chalk downland.

Kevin Donahue: Yeah, that was great. I love that part. I also love being up in there in England, along the Scottish Border Regions. And as someone who hasn't got in out into the English countryside, I have to just tell you how breathtaking the English countryside is. I can't wait to be walking in Wales one day as well and to really get over into the countryside. But,  as an American, we tend to come to just the tourist attractions. We go to the cities that have the greatest lift , with London being one of them. But here's a great way to experience the U.K. as an add-on to a vacation. So, go to London; do the theater, do the museums, see the Royal exhibits, but then take two days and get into the English countryside. There's great transit to these areas as well. We were talking at the beginning of the podcast about the Northern Saints' Way. You can simply take the train straight up to Berwick and start that walk. You are, you have great connectivity throughout England, Scotland, Wales to make these walks.

Andy Bull: Yeah. And I also think Kevin, particularly like if you're from America or a large country, and you look at England and you think, oh, it's only 400 miles. I could drive that in, you know, eight hours or something and you could, but you won't see much because our motorways, like most motorways just you through and actually England suits, walking, and cycling as well. But at walking pace, you get to see it from, if you try and do it any faster, you'll just miss stuff.

Kevin Donahue: Yeah. Andy, in the brief time we have left, I know you've got some walks, that you want to do this year. When we were together in London, you were talking about working on some walks for Walsingham, how's that project coming?

Andy Bull: Yeah. So, this is something which came out of the last book, Kevin, because I was looking at Walsingham, and I think everyone…. The traditional belief is that Canterbury is our most, was and is our most important shrine. But when I looked into it, I discovered that it wasn't, that Walsingham, which is just a village in Norfolk, was our actually much more important, particularly in the last few decades before Henry, abolished pilgrimage, and is a very curious story there. So, this village in the 11th century, there was a local noblewoman called Richeldis de Faverches, who in a dream or a vision was taken by the Virgin Mary to Nazareth and shown The Holy House. The house of the annunciation, you know, where she was told she would give birth to Jesus, and she was told, make a replica in Walsingham. So, she did now, initially, it was a fairly simple wooden structure, but over the centuries, it got more and more ornate. A whole string of Kings went there, including Henry multiple times, Cathryn of Aragon regularly went there. Henry and Catherine, and would pray, go there to pray for a son, and it became incredibly rich, incredibly wealthy, and by far the most important try in England.

Kevin Donahue: Yeah, I was fascinated in our conversation because, I think before you and I had talked a little bit about Walsingham because I had just read about it and actually, one of the places I had read was in a book called Britain's Pilgrim Places from the British Pilgrimage Trust, which is a great book, great gift, for anyone who's considering walking in the U.K., it's got great stories in there as well, but you had said, and maybe we should sit down and talk in more detail about Walsingham at some point in the future, but you had said, this is a place that as a pilgrimage shrine was one of the most visited in all the world.

Andy Bull: It was, it was the fourth, most important after Santiago, Rome, and Jerusalem, and it was phenomenally important, but the weird thing was it wasn't as a city like Canterbury, it didn't have {}. So, it got forgotten. So, the road from London, most pilgrims went from London. The road from London, 180 miles was the most important road in medieval England. But when pilgrims couldn't go to Walsingham anymore, it died out. So, when you look on Mathew, you'll see Pilgrim roots very often on a map, on a modern map, nothing. I thought, why is there nothing on the map for Walsingham? And when I found that there wasn't that it almost completely died out other than a few church groups and people, a lot of people go, but they get in a coach or their car and they just, they walk the last mile, the last Holy Mile I thought let's try and re-establish the route. Let's try and get it, you know, get a guidebook out get it way much, get it recognized.


So, I've been working with the Confraternity of St. James to do that. I had some wonderful volunteers through lockdown who took the route. I did a lot of historic research and there was a guy who, who actually has done all the, all the historical research in 50, 60 years ago, but he never actually walked it or applied it to a modern map. So, I put it on a map. We walked it, we worked out the best route, the best paths. And again, tried to make sure people have got trains in and out for each stage and so on to make it as simple as possible. But these days in Walsingham, from the 1930s, you got an [], which is right by where the Holy House, very close to it, a Catholic shrine, a place called the Slipper Chapel, which is a mile out where traditionally pilgrims took their shoes and socks off.

And on there either walked barefoot or crawled on the hands and knees there. And then you've got, Walsingham Abbey, which is a, now a beautiful, country house. But in the grounds are of the ruins of the {} and {} and the point where the Holy House was. And you mentioned, Henry having everything smashed this place was so historic, so profoundly important, but not a trace could be left. There's nothing there, absolutely nothing. They stripped just like it did at Canturbury. A contradiction they just got a single candle burning where, the shrine was at Walsingham, where the holy house was. There's just a little aboard saying this was where it was, but it's, amazing place. An amazing, amazing, Holy village.

Kevin Donahue: That's fascinating. You're going to have to come back, on the podcast, Andy, and I want to talk about a pilgrimage route to Walsingham because to me that sounds like a very traditional, British pilgrimage that everyone needs to learn more about.

Andy Bull: I'd love to do that, Kevin, and I'm planning it again with some, friends and pilgrims during the next year. So, if you're around at all and you'd like to some of it with me, you'd be very welcome.

Kevin Donahue: That sounds like a great invitation. I can't wait and it would be good to see you again, my friend, in the meantime, I hope, that you'll continue to be well and stay safe, in the U.K..

Andy Bull: You too, Kevin. Yeah. We're keeping all our fingers crossed.

Kevin Donahue:
 Exactly. Andy, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It is great to learn more about these routes. Andy's book is Pilgrim Pathways from Trailblazer. We'll link it below in the show notes. We'll also outline because his book contains, some beautiful photos of the routes, GPS as well, that are all outlined in there, and easy transportation links. If you want to take these one and two-day walks in England, Scotland and Wales. Andy, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Buen Camino, my friend,

Andy Bull: You too, Kevin, you too.

[Outro]: This has been the Sacred Steps Podcast. Visit for episode notes, links or to contact. Kevin. Watch us online on YouTube. We read every comment. Please add your review and feedback before you go tap, subscribe to have episodes added to your playlist. Util next time, Buen Camino.


Andy BullProfile Photo

Andy Bull


Andy Bull is a keen walker, journalist, and author who has written travel pieces for The Times, the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the Mail on Sunday, and The Tablet. When he wanted to go on a pilgrimage that could be completed in a weekend and found no suitable guides were available, he realized he would have to find a route for himself. He found 20, and Pilgrim Pathways is the result.

Andy has also published two travel books on America, guides to English trails for mountain bikers, and local history books drawing on his Kentish roots. His next project is a book on Britain's Great North Road.