Being a pilgrim on the Cornish Celtic Way, if you’re a bishop, is, as Bishop Chris would testify, wonderful. Lots of people to walk alongside, the kindness of churches opening their hearts and homes and an abundance of welcoming teas, lunches and fellowship. Even the sun shone for Bishop Chris on his epic 125 mile pilgrimage just before Easter this year.

But what if you’re a woman alone, no companions, no chivvying along parties, not-so-sunny weather and just a map, a backpack and self-reliance to keep you going?

A lone pilgrim Cornish Celtic Way

Susan, our lone pilgrim on the Cornish Celtic Way

“It was amazing!” smiles Susan Dodds. “I surprised myself! I’m not someone who is usually good on their own, I quickly feel lonely and don’t particularly like my own thoughts when left to them. But very soon I knew I wasn’t on my own, I felt the presence of God in the quietness, the countryside, the wildlife and even the coffee shops that became my daily destinations!”

Being a street pastor good training for pilgrimage

Susan firmly believes that ministry, for her, is being out in the community. She lives this out in her role as a street pastor in Penzance. Volunteering with a rotating team, Susan ventures onto the late-night streets of Penzance on one or two Saturdays a month. “We’re not there to evangelise, just to be good Samaritans in a very practical way. Sure, we come alongside people and are there if they want to talk, but we also hand-out flip-flops, bottles of water or sick-bags!” Susan explains that sometimes people get upset, some get angry and don’t want to be approached, but most are grateful to have non-judgmental helping hands or listening ears.

On being a street pastor, Susan says, “Sometimes we just have fun with the youngsters, although we’re not high on alcohol like they are, just the Holy Spirit!”

Ministry in the community

That belief in ministry in the community was Susan’s main motivation for tackling the entire Cornish Celtic Way in one long pilgrimage. She did so during their Walking Festival in September. “The team behind Cornish Celtic Way, particularly Caroline Marwood, were very helpful in trying to arrange accommodation for me, which I really appreciated. It was hoped, when we first began discussing this way back when, that pilgrims on the walk would be able to camp in churches, ‘champing’ if you like, but currently there are a number insurance and logistical hurdles.”

Various churchwardens, vicars and even an archdeacon very generously stepped into the gap and gave Susan a bed for the night, but accommodation for all future pilgrims is something that is a top priority for the Cornish Celtic Way team.

“We would love to be able to get commercial accommodation providers all along the route enthused about the Cornish Celtic Way,” says Caroline Marwood, Cornish Celtic Way administrator. “It’s a great opportunity to establish a new income stream for them and would help enormously in the planning and budgeting for any pilgrim keen on exploring this fascinating ancient walk through our county, culture and heritage.”

But walking alone on the Cornish Celtic Way?

So, did Susan find the walk lonely? “Not a bit of it. It made me braver and so much more resourceful. I spoke to people I encountered along the way, something I probably wouldn’t normally do. I took time to bless myself with lovely coffee shops and even a rather fine lunch at a well-known establishment in Padstow! It was my annual holiday after all.” Susan, who is a little fearful of coastal walks that really are on the edge of the coastline, had to dig deep at times and find alternative ways to navigate the terrain, sometimes talking diversions and sometimes crawling through the bush!

“It was the stretch from Porthtowan to Portreath, the steps were steep, the path was close to the edge and I wasn’t going to do that! It was just by the military base and there was no way round, so I crouched down, hugged the wire fence and made my way along like that. Thankfully it wasn’t sunny, so I doubt there were any adders around!”

Susan recommends the Cornish Celtic Way to anyone. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to see our beautiful county, get in touch with God, yourself, your limits and to do something different!”

If you are interested in joining in the Walking Festival next year, or just want to explore the pilgrimage at anytime, check out the Cornish Celtic Way website. If you have accommodation along the route and think you would like to be part of the adventure please email Caroline.