Echoes back and fore through time – along St. David’s Way
Brighid of the sunrise
Rising in the morning
Rising with the springtime
Greening all the land
See you in the soft cloud
See you in the raindrop
See you in the winds of change
Blowing through the land
These words are spoken of Saint Brigid (in a song by Iontach) and it seems appropriate to bring her with us along St. David’s Way. After all, Brigid as the ‘mother saint of Ireland’ and David, the patron saint of Wales, lived at the same time in the 5th and 6th Centuries. Keeping both in our presence is a perfect symbol for the meeting of the Irish and the Welsh on pilgrimage.
Travelling St. David’s Way with Irish visitors is a rich possibility for the weaving, meeting and re-membering of the relationship of Irish and Welsh culture across time from the Bronze Age to the present day. There is so much to explore through deeply personal, historical and cultural conversations and stories. My take on things is as a Welsh multi-disciplinary artist, dancer/mindful coach and outdoor workshop leader who grew up in North Pembrokeshire. I have been assisting Phil and Elaine as a local guide this Autumn and they have asked me to share some reflections of my experiences on this path.
As within, so without
This saying dates from the 2nd Century and I feel these words echoing through time as if they have been with me for much of my life. Walking through landscape, in this case my home patch, I often consciously carry with me a question that is relevant for me at the time. In the process of giving it back to the land, sea and surroundings, I pay attention to how the environment speaks back to me, not necessarily in a voice, but through my perception and sensation of the qualities in the natural world as it opens up before me.
One afternoon between lockdowns in 2020 I was walking the section of the St. David’s Way between Strumble Head and St. David’s. I was ‘walking with a question’ – I was asking about how I should approach the guardianship of my parents’ house and large garden which I had recently inherited. Whilst grateful for the security this had given me on the one hand, on the other I was a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility for the upkeep and care of the property and how to share the space with others. This was what I observed and recorded at the time:
Lightness softness on the wind, seeds floating lightly out seaward from thistle stems.
Grasping the prickly nature in order to giveaway lightly the seeds that lead to new growth
Independently from this experience, a few weeks ago, I received a piece of artwork through the post from a very close friend – an image of waves on water and a pocketful of soft white feathers and sycamore seeds… sea softness seeds
So, I am reminded that I am still walking in life with this question – some questions take time and it is necessary to live and walk with them for a long time. And these messages are now part of the process of resolution. I practice staying light and soft with the dilemma, grasping that the prickly nature of the process is necessary.
To continue with the theme of ‘As within, so without’, the names and places in the landscape can also be particularly resonant for us at any particular time. When we repeat a walking route, these resonances and qualities can get overlaid with further significance and story. Strumble Head (Pencaer) Lighthouse is one such place. I grew up as a child seeing the 3-4 sequence of flashes and spaces from the lighthouse on the bedroom ceiling at night. It is still a constant 24/7 presence in the landscape and along this section of path it comes in and out of sight at intervals. I recently learnt that the top of Mount Leinster mast is visible from high ground on this part of the coast but looking back from Ireland it would be necessary to move some way out into the Irish sea before Strumble Head appeared on the horizon as it sits relatively low on the rocky peninsular.
Adding another layer of poignancy to its constant presence, came a story from Iain Tweedale (Journeying UK) about how the Cistercian monks on Caldey Island in South Wales liken their seven times a day sequence of prayer to a lighthouse. They are sending out prayer as a beacon and a lighting of the way to those who are lonely, lost and in distress. Their prayers at 3.30am are particularly important in reaching out to people in the loneliest and darkest hours of the night. Not only is my awareness now of the lighthouse as a physical and constant presence, but also as a symbol of a belief in the power of prayer shining out into the darkest places, and of not being alone.
On another recent walking tour a participant asked me what the words were in Cymraeg (the Welsh language) for ‘lighthouse’ and for ‘moon’ (we had been sharing the Welsh and Irish words for a variety of things we saw and discussed along the way). I later joined these words in a fragment of poetry : Goleudy fel llety lloer (a lighthouse like the moon’s lodgings). I love the ways in which this joining of words gives a relationship between the moon, the lighthouse, the contrast between them and maybe some qualities they share. There is also the suggestion of a story… of the moon taking up residence in the lighthouse, resting awhile and breaking with the usual rhythm of its phases and pathways across the sky.
Pwll Strodur is another one of my favorite coves along the stretch between Abermawr and Abereiddi. The name means Packsaddle Pool and there is a field above called Pant y pwll strodyr – ‘the valley of packsaddle pool’, recorded on maps of 1840. I guess that it was a watering place for horses, possibly carrying goods from the cove inland or up and down the coast. It is a place where we often stop and sit on the bridge to have a snack. In late summer and autumn, seals often come in close, dragonflies fly up and down the stream below and Choughs dive and glide past with their telltale call, shorter higher and with more resonance than the Jackdaw.
Imagining travellers walking paths along the coast and down to the cove makes this a place to remind ourselves that we walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us and that we are treading the way for those who come after us:
All who have gone before
I feel them behind me
On my heels
A great crowd gathering
Simply walking in my wake
the best ancestor I can become
The essence of these pilgrimage tours is that we walk together, as a collective, listening to each other and to the landscape around us. If we ask and listen, we find a resonance between the vastness of our hearts and the vastness of the surrounding landscape, so full of echoes back and fore through time. See you in the winds of change blowing through the land. Ailsa
Ailsa Richardson is a valued member of our team of guides in Wales leading our tours along St. David’s Way. Ailsa runs an outdoor programme called ‘Wildfeet’ and will be offering some Creative Pilgrimage Days with other artists/musicians along The Wexford and Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way in Spring next year. If you are interested to hear about these please contact Ailsa by email email@example.com
We look forward to rolling out our Celtic Way Series in 2023 aimed at connecting iconic pilgrim walks in South East Ireland with the ancient way of St. David along the Welsh coastline. For further information, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.waterfordcamino.com