Monday, 1 April 2013

A pilgrim’s walks around Lichfield

Evening lights on Stowe Pool with reflections of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

There are still clumps of snow in the fields around Lichfield, and parts of the Minster Pool at the Dam Street end below the Cathedral were still covered in ice yesterday afternoon.

But despite the lingering remnants of this cold sharp reminder of winter, I still took a few opportunities for walks that were good for both the body and the soul.

It is a brisk 20 or 25 minute walk from the Hedgehog Inn along Stafford Road and Beacon Street into Lichfield Cathedral, and we walked this route two or three times each way over the past few days.

Late one evening, as the evening lights were beginning to fade, before dusk turned to darkness, I walked from the cathedral around the edges of Stowe Pool, past Johnson’s Willow, Saint Chad’s Church and Stowe Hill, once the home of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his daughter the writer Maria Edgeworth.

Traces of the setting sun in the evening lights on Stowe Pool (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

There we stopped to look back across Stowe Pool towards the cathedral and the houses of the cathedral close. Spring has still to bring full bursts of growth to the trees and their branches. There were handsome reflections of the spires and the trees in the pool water, while across the water in another direction there thin traces of pink and purple left by the reflections of a distant setting sun.

Stowe Pool was originally formed in the 11th century when a dam and mill were built across Leamonsley Brook near Saint Chad’s Church. The pool was an important fishery in the 13th century and was owned by the Bishops of Lichfield. The ownership of the pool passed to the city in the 16th century, and the original mill once owned by the Bishops of Lichfield stood until 1856.

Stowe Pool was taken over by the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company in 1856, when the reservoir was created to supply water to the Black Country. Ornamental trees were planted, a new path was opened along the top of the embankment, and the boathouse was built in the 1890s.

The reservoir has not been used for water supplies since 1968, and the pool was then handed back to the city. It is now a public amenity and is stocked with fish for local anglers. The pool is also used for water sports, including sailing and canoeing. The whole surface area of the pool is 55,000 square metres (14 acres), and the walk around the shoreline is 1.13 km (less than three quarters of a mile).

Winter still has a grip on Cross in Hand Lane on the edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Back at the Hedgehog, we ventured just a little distance along Cross in Hand Lane, which is said to take its name from the cross pilgrims carried in their hands on the way to visit Saint Chad’s Shrine in Lichfield Cathedral and Saint Chad’s Well at Saint Chad’s Church, at the edge of Stowe Pool.

At the point where the original path of Cross in Hand Lane crosses the Western Bypass and leads back onto the junction of Stafford Road and Beacon Street, there are signs marking Two Saints Way, a project to create a pilgrims way linking the shrines of Saint Chad in Lichfield and Saint Werburgh in Chester.

Cross in Hand Lane … takes its name from the pilgrim route to Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The project owes everything to David Pott, an experienced long distance walker. At an early stage, his dream was of a pilgrimage trail from Stafford over Cannock Chase along the Heart of England Way to Lichfield Cathedral and the shrine of Saint Chad.

Later, he learned about the pilgrimage route between Chester Cathedral and Lichfield Cathedral. Many pilgrims on that route would continue to Canterbury or even to Rome or Jerusalem. He then thought of linking Lichfield with the shrine of Saint Werburgh, using existing paths to create a revived pilgrimage route between the two cathedral cities.

The Two Saints Way ... makers along the road at Cross in Hand Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard four years ago brought a new interest in Mercian heritage, and soon the project attracted support from people with links with Staffordshire University, British Waterways, local tourist boards, and the cathedrals in Chester and Lichfield.

Saint Werburgh’s Statue at the south west-corner of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I noticed yesterday, as the Easter celebrations were beginning to grow a little quieter around Lichfield Cathedral that Saint Weburgh is one of the many saints carved on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral. Saint Werburgh was the daughter of King Wulphere of Mercia and she became a nun in the Abbey of Ely, where she was welcomed by her aunt the abbess, Saint Etheldreda.

She died in the seventh century and was buried at Hanbury, but her body was later reburied at the Saxon Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which was rededicated to Saint Werburgh and Saint Oswald in 907 and eventually became Chester Cathedral.

Monks from Chester later brought the cult of Saint Werburgh to Ireland, and Saint Werburgh’s Church in Dublin was first built in 1178. Of course, while Saint Chad came from an Anglo-Saxon background, he too had Irish connections: he received his early training under Saint Aidan at Lindisfarne and later spent some time in a monastery in Ireland.

I wonder whether the Two Saints Way has the potential to become England’s Camino Real?

For more about the Two Saints Way project, visit: http://twosaintsway.org.uk/

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