Pilgrimage to St David’s
We began our pilgrimage to St David’s today. At breakfast I noted that The Guardian had published the results of a poll for Britain’s favourite poet. Top of the top ten this year was Robert Frost’s poem: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The last lines were quoted, and seemed particularly apt for us today:
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I say that we began our pilgrimage today, but in another sense we began the pilgrimage from home. The guide book that we are following (The Welsh Way) says that he chose to begin at the little church of Llanfihanglel Abercowin (“the holy place of St Michael by the mouth of the River Cowin”) rather than another site nearby.
If I were asked to define the transition point from where one is going about one’s regular daily life, and making an ordinary journey, to the phase when one is on pilgrimage, then I would say it is when one is joined by or joins other pilgrims. As Chaucer taught us, pilgrimage is essentially a communal event. The hymn “O happy band of pilgrims” affirms this. So although famous people like Marjory Kempe may have appeared to travel alone, they will have encountered others en route, and may even have had a retinue of unmentioned servants who do not feature in their accounts. Furthermore, once a pilgrim embarks on the route, he or she will come across signs of others who have been before, and those who have given them hospitality.
Thus it was that I was pleased to count my pilgrimage begun once I had arrived at the bus station and shopping centre in Carmarthen. It was called Grayfriars’ Shopping Centre and had been built on the site of a medieval Franciscan Friary. There were decorative tiles on the outside walls as one approached, depicting the life of the friars. From the start I have had Franciscans with us, as well as my unmentioned husband.
Last night we slept at the Travel Lodge at St Clears, and ate at the Little Chef. Both “were, you may say, satisfactory”.
Setting out on a supposed public right of way, we encountered various obstacles, and other more helpful palanca (leavers).
First we came to a farm, the old man who came out to find why the dog was barking had his arm in a sling. He was reluctant to show us which route to take, “the path has been blocked off, it was never used… &c.” Then as we let him understand that we were pilgrims on the way to St David’s he warmed to us. “This used to be known as ’the monk’s road’” he said, “it went from St Clears to Whitland”. That was just where we hoped to be by nightfall. He ended “I don’t mind if you want to walk across my land, but you will find the path blocked in places.”
His land was not bad. I took a photo of an old holly hedge. Then we reached a gateway where we needed to climb through a Hawthorne tree. Yes, up a bank and in between the branches, holding on to them for support. The route had been used by others. We found ourselves in three linked small fields with two cautiously friendly ponies. By the time we came to the gate to leave they were following us closely and breathing into our faces. Intimate!