In troubled times, a ritual walk can clear the mind and soothe the soul

A pilgrimage is healing because it encourages you to savour the moment

Come autumn, as a way of defying the back-to-school doldrums brought on by a rapid shortening of the days, and to mark what feels like the true start of a year, I go on a pilgrimage. This year, more than ever, I crave the slow and steady rhythm of a walking pace, big skies, and cleansing wind and rain to shake off the cobwebs of a long confinement and to break the domestic routines of daily life. I want to connect to my own pumping heart and the natural world around me, re-oxygenate stale lungs and feel the muscles in my legs stretch and work.

Since I’m looking for uplift, there is nowhere for me that’s more rejuvenating and exhilarating than the uplands of Golden Cap in Dorset, the highest point on the south coast of England. In the rinsed light of early autumn, it glows, as if just-hatched, new-born. I have earmarked the little church of St Candida and the Holy Cross, behind these soaring coastal cliffs, tucked into the valleys of Marshwood Vale, a landscape that folds gently in on itself like ribbons of thickened cream. It is part of a medieval pilgrimage trail that connected Bridport to Axminster, containing one of only two shrines with relics of a saint still existing in England (the other being Edward the Confessor’s shrine at Westminster Abbey), somehow miraculously surviving the Reformation and the civil war. St Wite, martyred by marauding Viking hordes, attracts the hopeless and hopeful sick who journey to her quaint limestone shrine.

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