Sailing to pastures new – St. David’s Way
You are always calling us to follow you into the future, inviting us to new ventures,
new challenges, new ways to care, new ways to touch the hearts of all…
We’ve had a busy few months walking ancient paths, welcoming visitors from near and far and putting a shape on the vision we have for our business as we navigate our way into the future. Visualising where you want to be in business and daring to take the steps needed to help you get there is everything. No matter which way the wind blows in life, it helps to be sure of your own co-ordinates. The pandemic gave us the time to re-assess, the space to plot our course with clarity. A new way is opening up before us.
St. Declan’s Way has become our signature Camino experience. We’ve had people from around the world share this age-old pilgrim path with us all 115km from Cashel to Ardmore and they’ve loved it. It will always be the bedrock to what we do in Waterford Camino Tours. We’ve made great connections along the way over the last few years; our coach driver John McCarra, Maria from ‘The Vault Café’ Lismore and Siobhan from ‘Burke’s Foodstore’ Ardfinnan who supply our lunches and John at ‘The Baker’s Table’ Lismore who spoils us with an amazing culinary experience the evening before our last stage, guest guides like Alice, Conor and Mark, accommodation providers like Brother Seamus and the team at the Guest House in Mount Melleray Abbey and David and Robert in Cahir House Hotel – all helping us to ensure that our visitors are looked after from start to finish. In this business, if you take good care of those who join you, they’ll be back. When they return, they want something new!
Hence, we’re daring to venture out into pastures new to include Camino experiences in Glendalough, St. Mullins, Gougane Barra, Dingle and Wales. Yes, across the Irish Sea to Wales! We’re just back from doing a little ‘reci’ on St. David’s Way in Pembrokeshire as we prepare to lead our first groups along this stunning coastal path later this year. This Pilgrim Way from Fishguard to St. David’s is centuries old and we’ve been recently commissioned by Ancient Connections to create a tourism experience along this route that would appeal to the Irish and International visitor.
One of our guest guides is a young Welsh writer by the name of Claire Boot. We met Claire for the first time at the end of May this year when she was part of a Journeying UK group that joined us for St. Declan’s Way. We were struck by her capacity to observe what might otherwise pass us by and the ease with which she could capture it in word. Claire distills the path of life down to the essential. We who walk in her steps are the better for it. I asked her to jot down a few lines on the appeal of St. David’s Way. This is what just arrived on my laptop…
When you’re walking St David’s Way, the path doesn’t request your presence. It requires it. You must think with your feet as you navigate the ever-changing texture of the terrain. Sometimes gentle on grass or gravel, sometimes rough across rocks or ruts, sometimes shifting over sand or shingle; always back and forth between inlets and outcrops, always up and down from coves to cliffs. It won’t let your mind drift off to those unanswered emails, that unresolved argument, the unpaid bill. The path needs you to be where you are, and it rewards you richly for your attention.
The first reward is the interplay of land, sea and sky. When we set off from the port at Fishguard, the sea lay snuggled under a thick white duvet of mist. Sunshine and fog jostled at the coastline and treated us to an impressive array of special effects as we walked. We saw pale delicate rainbows shimmering over the hazy shore, and a pair of triangular peaks poking through clouds like fins through surf. Out at sea, the ferry from Fishguard appeared to float towards Ireland in mid-air, hovering in the lack of definition between water and sky. At times that day, we seemed to step into the lush green humidity of a rainforest, yet, once the sun won out, we wondered if we’d wandered into the blue skies and turquoise waters of a Greek island.
The second reward is the history you touch as you pass through. Carreg Samson is a cromlech, a Neolithic landmark of one huge stone impossibly balanced on three others and raised up high enough for a person to walk beneath. You can’t imagine how, five thousand years ago, our forebears managed to move such massive rocks, but its name attempts to give an explanation. St Samson, it is said, put the capstone (‘carreg’) in place with his little finger. We met more Celtic Christianity when we crawled into the hermit cell at Pwll Deri, a cool stone-lined hollow in the hillside, and dipped a hand into the holy well of Llanwnda. A short walk from the well to the church of St Gwyndaf lands you in 1797, the year of the last invasion of mainland Britain by a hostile force. French troops sheltered in the church and there we found an old burnt Bible, its charred pages used by the soldiers for kindling.
The third reward is the wildlife that surrounds you. We kept company with unfurling ferns and fluffy thrift, with creamy white cow parsley and deep pink ‘witch’s moneybags’, with electric blue dragonflies and elegant black-and-red moths. At sea, among the high-flying gulls and deep-diving cormorants, we were primed for the possibility of spotting seals and porpoises. On land, cows and sheep marshalled our way and three wild white ponies surprised us in a grassy nook. The horses perform a public service on the coastal path by keeping the vegetation down and took no notice of us as they continued with their nonchalant nibbling. As we neared Abereiddy, we heard the calls of peregrine falcon chicks and glimpsed their parent gliding between the grey-brown cliffs. An auspicious bird for pilgrims as our names share a common root – peregrinus, ‘coming from afar’.
The fourth reward is the people you meet, those who walk with you and those you encounter on the way. Like a potluck dinner, everyone brings their contribution and we’re all nourished by it. Literally, on occasion, as with the generous sharing of Elaine’s homemade flapjack or Iain’s Welsh cakes. Ailsa brought a different kind of refreshment through her mindful moment on the path when she prompted us to pause and sense our surroundings more deeply. David enriched us through introductions to local people committed to their communities, like Sandra and Paul. Sandra works at Melin Tregwynt, a woollen mill that traces its history back over two hundred years. She described the remarkable choice made by the previous owners not to sell the business to the highest bidder, but to transfer it to the ownership of the staff. Paul is the landlord of the Ship Inn in Trefin, and host of the colourful and comfortable hostel housed in the village’s old school. He told us about the pressures of providing hospitality through lockdown and his hopes for the future. Whether visitors or locals, all were drawn together by Phil, with his knack for a proper chat and a good laugh, always with an eye for the potential in people and places.
And the final reward? St David’s itself, named for Wales’ patron saint and built on the site of the monastery he founded. The stocky purple-grey cathedral huddles beside a shallow stream in a narrow valley, shielded from Vikings and prevailing winds, and a far cry from the soaring sepia spires of its English cousins. The tiny city perches above, ready to warmly welcome walkers with its cosy pubs and cafes. For over a thousand years, people have journeyed to St David’s. Some travelled in hope of healing, others for a blessing, still more for freedom from worry and guilt. We may not know why people came here, or if everyone found what they were looking for, but we know something of the rewards they received on the way; the interplay of land, sea and sky, the history they touched, the wildlife that surrounded them, the people they walked with and encountered, and the still solid peace of the place dedicated to St David at their journey’s end.
Walking St David’s Way gives a gift in which all its rewards are wrapped. The gift of yourself, given back to you, through the practice of being where you are, by finding your feet on a path that needs you to be present to it. Not distracted by deadlines to meet or tasks to complete, not scattered about but gathered together, not barely there but wholly here. In one place, in one piece, in one peace.
…When we are fearful of the unknown, give us courage.
When we worry that we are not up to the task, remind us that you would not call us if you did not believe in us.
When we get tired, or feel disappointed with the way things are going, remind us that you can bring change and hope out of the most difficult situations.
(The lona Community)
Special thanks to the Claire Boot for joining us on the path and for sending us this stunning review of St. David’s Way (claireboot.com), Iain Tweedale (Journeying UK) for leading us, David Pepper (British Pilgrimage Trust) and Ailsa Richardson (Mindful Coach) for adding story, song and photos to this memorable few days. We look forward to leading the first of our St. David’s Way Camino groups to Wales this autumn.
Dr. Phil Brennan and Elaine are looking forward to leading groups from around Ireland and beyond on our signature ‘Celtic Camino in the steps of St Declan’ over the coming months in association with Mount Melleray Abbey and Cahir House Hotel along with our ‘3 Day Camino Escape’ with The Tower Hotel Waterford as our base. We will also be teaming up with Original Irish Hotels to roll out unique Camino experiences to include Glendalough, St. Mullins, Ardmore, Gougane Barra, Dingle and St. Davids. You can check our tour availability on www.waterfordcamino.com or contact us directly on email@example.com