View from the Pew

(Continued from Home Page)

We passed the Ilam Cross and headed into the magnificent Dovedale Valley.  The stepping stones (thankfully now above the water level after the wet spring), offered the first glimpse of Rector Mike’s competitive nature.  Having all crossed safely – with varying degrees of confidence and trepidation – my grandson Jeremy wanted us to time him racing back across the stepping stones.  No sooner had he completed this (in 16 seconds), but Rector Mike found he had to have a go, and beat Jeremy’s time by one second.

Onwards, and we soon learned that many of the impressive limestone rocks and precipices have, at some time or other, been scaled by our intrepid Rector!  Jeremy was delighted as Mike led him on a quick detour into a cave and clambered out over the River Dove on a fallen tree, followed faithfully by Kinder the dog.

We emerged from the valley into the idyllic hamlet of Milldale, where we sat by the river among the ducks and ate our picnics.  Just four miles into our journey and already, everyone was chatting with friends old and new. Being the only walkers from Baslow on this day, Claire, Jeremy and myself didn’t know any of our fellow pilgrims at the start, but conversations struck up quickly and it was refreshing to walk and admire the scenery with new companions.

Leaving Milldale, we headed up the steep hill to a Primitive Methodist Chapel - a real highlight of the day for me.  This tiny chapel is a time capsule, built in 1835 by two Methodist missionaries, where the rock hard pews offer absolutely no comfort and the only lighting is candles mounted on the walls.  If silence can be deafening, so the asceticism of this place was somehow comforting and restful.  I hope it never changes. I couldn’t help but ponder whether John Wesley every visited and preached there.

As in all the churches we visited, Bob read the blessing from the guide for the Chapel for us:

So may you be sheltered in God’s love for you.
As the river moves ever onwards,
So may you go forward in your journey of faith.
As the moorland flowers flourish brightly,
So may you show God’s joy to those around you.
May the God of all grace, light and life,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with you always.  Amen

We certainly needed faith to go forward, as the next section of the walk continued from the Chapel with the long steady climb up the narrow lane and between fields ablaze with dandelions to St. Peter’s Church in the small village of Alstonefield.  The village retains a timeless charm, hidden away from traffic and situated on a stone plateau or field (hence its name), over 700ft above sea level.  Here, we were very grateful for the tea and cakes that awaited us, offered by members of the Alstonefield congregation, who were also on hand to share their passion for the treasures of this beautiful church.  We were all impressed by scale of the church with its beautiful 17th century box pews and “double decker” pulpit.  Another discovery, was that Alstonefield church yard contains the oldest grave in the country that still bears a legible name and date, from the reign of Henry VIII, in 1518.

The more robust walkers among us then braved the scramble down the steep steps of Gypsy Bank into the Manifold Valley.  My daughter and I took the easier, but longer route, kindly guided by Christine around the valley floor to re-join the main group.

At Beresford Dale, I was thankful for the lifts offered to flagging pilgrims to the finish, remembering the aim is to complete the route on foot, by bike or via any mode of transport needed.  Most, of our group continued through Wolfscote Dale and on to Hartington, which was bathed in early evening sunshine as we arrived – the precursor to the brilliant weather which would last for the remaining three days of the pilgrimage.  

The pink tinged sandstone edifice of St. Giles Church came into view as we climbed the churchyard steps, and marked the end of Day 1.  Another beautiful church to explore, renowned for its attentively embroidered pew runners, each depicting scenes from the Bible. I particularly admired the beautiful carved wooden lectern.

I am sure each person had their own reasons for embarking on the Peak Pilgrimage, be they the challenge of the walk, the spiritual experience or rediscovery of the beauty of the Peaks.  For me, the experience encompassed all these things and more; family time, meeting wonderful people, interesting discussions and nourishment for the soul.

May the road rise up to meet us.
May the wind be always at our back.
May the sunshine warm upon our faces;
The rains fall soft about us,
And, until our journey’s end,
May God hold us in the palm of His hand.

Barry Anderton


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