Cornwall Cogitation #13, Sunday 1 May 2016–You’re never more than 16 miles from the sea in Cornwall. The Southwest Coast Path, running the entire coastline of the Duchy, and Devon, lies one minute from our door in Carbis Bay.
Over the years we’ve covered 150 miles of the coastal path, some of it repeatedly. Inland paths and lanes retain their pre-motoring era pride of place. In recent years we’ve walked more than 600 miles in the three months here; this year to the end of April we’ve covered 400 miles on foot, a bit more than 5 miles a day, and that’s plenty good enough. One of the benefits of going on foot is seeing and thinking about the past and future in a slower motion present. On longer distance walks you arrive at a destination tired in body, refreshed in mind, and invariably stirred in spirit.
Walking St Michael’s Way
On Tuesday, for the first time this year, we walked St Michael’s Way, a 12.5 mile/19.5 km footpath from St Uny Church in Lelant on the Atlantic to Marazion and St Michael’s Mount on the English Channel. The Mount is an island accessible by causeway from Marazion at low tide.
St Michael’s Way is part of the Pilgrim Route to the Cathedral of St James in Santiago Compostela in North West Spain. It is one of a network of pilgrim routes throughout Europe that lead to important places of Christian pilgrimage. Pilgrims, missionaries, and travelers, especially from Ireland and Wales, are believed to have walked this way. While the trail dates back to 10,000 BC, it was signposted St Michael’s Way in 2004.
Pilgrim vs tourist
“There’s too much touristy sightseeing in the world these days, and not enough pilgrimage–intentionally joining and being joined by Jesus and his companions in daily discipleship,” wrote Eugene H. Peterson in a blurb in J. Nelson Kraybill’s book, On the Pilgrims’ Way (Herald Press, 1999).
Re-reading the book during our Cornwall stay reminded me of the life-giving quality of guided conversation, Bible study, and prayer with friends. Nelson could have profitably spent 12 days talking to himself on the 150 miles he walked on the Pilgrims Way to Canterbury, but he chose to have others join him for part of each day. Rich!
In the introduction, Nelson wrote, “Our walk with Jesus is a pilgrimage, a step-by-step journey in which we get a foretaste of the joy and restored relationships that someday will cover the earth in the kingdom of God. This kingdom is not so much a place as it is a people who accept the reign of God (emphasis mine). . . This people is ‘called to belong to Jesus Christ'” (Romans 1:6).
Finally, the causeway to St Michael’s Mount
A memorial walk to Zennor
On Friday we walked the field path across farms to the village of Zennor, six miles from St Ives–the coast path could take us all day these days, I fear, the most rugged part of its 600 miles through Devon and Cornwall lies between St Ives and Zennor. The path is variously called the church path, coffin path, or field path. Coffins would have been carried to the consecrated burial grounds at St Ives or Zennor, with coffin rests on some stiles giving the pallbearers a rest, keeping the coffin out of the mud.
I walked the six-mile-long path to Zennor in memory of my parents Lloyd and Leona, Jan’s husband Jim Lauver, and my cousin Robert Bender. Dad would have delighted in the horses, cattle, calves, and sheep we encountered. Mom would have been busy herding we six siblings over the 57 stiles and telling us to watch out for the cow plops. She’d have had the presence of mind to pack water. Robert would have noticed the small fields, the big tractors, the derelict buildings, the footpath going through the middle of some fields, and right between barns and houses, some now converted to holiday rentals. Jim would have noticed the rocks, the hills, the sea, the fitting proportion of it all.
All would have marveled at the outstanding beauty, down-to-earth character, and the history and prehistory of the area. All, too, would have enjoyed noon refreshment at The Tinners Arms in Zennor, a visit to St Senara church, followed by cups of locally-made Moo Maid ice cream at the nearby old chapel hostel café.
We took the bus back to St Ives, a memorable walk indeed, still sinking in.
Church buildings, burden or blessing?
On the field path to Zennor we came across an abandoned, roofless building that had been a meetinghouse for the Byronites, once a Methodist-related religious group. It reminded me of a notice in last Sunday’s bulletin about Church of England churches in Penwith (Penwith is the extreme south west region within Cornwall): “Church Buildings Burden or Blessing?–Do we see our churches as a burden (huge maintenance/running costs) or blessing (where people encounter God and as a vehicle to serve the local community?)”
Penwith deanery churches are open differing afternoons between April and September for people to drop in for local members to share their experiences of burden and blessing. “The aim is to gain good ideas from the creativity of other churches and develop a deeper sense of our shared ministry to the wider community in Penwith.” Many of these churches are regularly unlocked during the week, without staff.
A bit more than a week to go
We’ve a little more than a week to wrap up our stay here. From Carbis Bay/St Ives in Penwith to where you’re at home–I look forward to the time when our paths cross. Best! -John