Two pathways to one sea, the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way
We shall not cease from exploration
and at the end of our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know that place for the first time.
In a beautiful twist of fate, our latest Camino offering leads me right back to where I started. Wexford has always felt like home for me having grown up over the family business, the ‘64’, on the Main Street in Gorey. The Camino of life so often brings us the circuitous route home. So much has happened since I last walked this way… so much is yet to come!
This year marks the launch of The Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way as the heave towards mindful walks in the great outdoors gathers momentum. This trail offers two distinct yet equally magical pathways either side of the Irish Sea that connects Ferns in Wexford with St. David’s on the western coastline of Pembrokeshire in Wales. It’s amazing to think that places like Oulart, Boolavogue, Ferrycarrig, Forth Mountain – iconic places seeped in history in this oft’ hidden corner of Ireland – will soon find their rightful place in the Irish tourism landscape. Something tells me Wexford will not disappoint!
Forth Mountain, Co. Wexford
There’s a curious shift happening in the tourism arena. More and more visitors are looking for something a little more ‘immersive’ from their holiday on these shores, an adventure of sorts that draws them deeper into the stories and the culture of the places they pass along the way and connects them to wild therapeutic qualities of the natural world – something this unheralded stretch of Ireland and Wales offers in abundance. The Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way has always been here… only now the way is being cleared for a whole new generation to leave their footprint in the land.
Walking ancient pilgrim paths is fast becoming one of the tourism phenomena of the modern age. Each new trail becomes a voyage of discovery, each seeped in story and beauty, each leading us beyond the distant din of the world we have left behind. The number of people completing the Camino of St. James has risen from fewer than 500 back in 1984 to 350,000 in 2019, with the headcount this year expected to reach almost half a million. Until recently, however, almost none of these 21st-century pilgrims would have imagined Wales or Ireland as an alternative to Spain for contemplative walking.
Our Lady’s Island Peninsula, Co. Wexford
The Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way is a transnational pilgrim path connected with a ferry crossing between the two countries and a 140km walking route. Wales and Ireland have been traditionally linked by Celtic culture and history as Irish monk St. Aidan spent much of his youth in Wales as a pupil of St. David. The walking route will draw on the meaningful history between the two saints by mirroring the journey taken by St. Aidan when he travelled to meet his mentor. Unearthing this pilgrim path will be the principal legacy of the EU-Funded Ancient Connections Project which has been developed under a partnership between Wexford and Pembrokeshire County Councils and the British Pilgrimage Trust.
From cove to cove along St. David’s Way
Renowned Pilgrim Travel Writer John G. O’Dwyer reminds us that “the Celtic islands of Northern Europe have a dense network of mystical paths and a vibrant pilgrim tradition, with most of these routes long predating the Camino. Dormant for centuries, these paths are now experiencing a dramatic revival…
Celebrating the ancient Celtic links between Ireland and Wales, the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way connects the early Christian monastic site at Ferns, County Wexford, with St. David’s City in Wales. Taking an average of nine days to walk, the path consists of five stages in Wexford and four stages in Pembrokeshire, with an Irish Sea crossing between. Expected to draw tourism outside the main hospitality centres of Ireland and Wales, the new route is projected to attract at least 4,000 pilgrim walkers within five years…
The revived path is based on a robust tradition which tells of the Irish-born St. Aidan journeying across the Irish Sea to study under St. David, patron saint of Wales. Aidan was gifted honeybees by David on his return to Ireland. These then thrived within the famous monastery he founded at Ferns, which became renowned for the quality of its honey. A special bond was thus created between two holy men and two Celtic lands, with David later journeying to Wexford and leaving his mark on the landscape in the form of a much-venerated holy well at Oylgate.”
St. David’s Well, Oylgate, Co. Wexford
At the recent launch in Ferns, County Wexford, the route of the new path was introduced before a large attendance by Iain Tweedale, the former head of online broadcasting at BBC Wales and by Rom Bates, pilgrim officer for Wexford. Mr Tweedale has in recent years dedicated himself to working with Journeying – an organisation that promotes the benefits of pilgrim walking on the ancient paths of Britain and Ireland. “We’re reviving a pilgrimage route that goes from Ferns in County Wexford, which is the ancient capital of Ireland’s Southeast, to Rosslare. The route will pass deeply historic and storied places such as Oulart, Oylgate, Ferrycarrig, and Our Lady’s Island”, said Mr Tweedale.
“People can then jump on the ferry at Rosslare and cross over to Fishguard, where they will walk down to St. Davids on a wonderful coastal path. We are confident the transnational aspect of the walk will prove attractive and that the extra visitors will boost local businesses during quieter times of the year. There is a five-year plan drawn up with Wexford County Council to make this a significant tourism project for Southeast. In five years we expect to have an annual 4,000-5,000 on the path”, he added.
St. David’s Way, Pembrokeshire
Commenting on the new path, Guy Hayward, Chairman of the British Pilgrimage Trust and team leader of the implementation group said: “The entire team is so excited about this project, creating an old route as new with all the infrastructure that a modern pilgrim needs. Although we are only in the early stage of the path development, I can already tell that we are going to create something very beautiful together that bridges both sides of the Celtic Sea, and something which so many will enjoy and find meaning through for generations to come.”
Wexford and Pembrokeshire have a world of wonder hidden in the land. The outdoors have their own peculiar magic… but it’s our shared Celtic story that adds a new layer of intrigue to this pilgrim path. This April we’ll be leading a group from Killarney along St. David’s Way. They walked St. Declan’s Way with us last year so it’ll be great to have them back again. A few weeks later we’ve a Canadian group joining us to walk St. Aidan’s Way on the Wexford side before continuing their holiday in Ireland. Some who walk St. Aidan’s Way one year may then come back to do St. David’s the next. It pays to listen… then craft that special Camino to match what the traveller is looking for. We have built our business on this principle. Every person matters – every tour unique!
Strumble Head Lighthouse, Pembrokeshire
(Photo courtesy of Celtic Routes)
Different pathways lead to the same ocean. As the sun sets along the Welsh coastline, sporadic beacons rise from the lighthouse at Strumble Head. Each ray shoots in mesmeric waves across darkening skies as if to light the way for the solitary traveller below. In the stillness we feel a deep connection to something deeper in ourselves and in our universe. Rivers on either side flow into the one vast expanse of ocean in telepathic symmetry with the life force that makes all this possible. The hum of ancient waters is never too far away offering the promise of what is yet to come. It is then the path we’re destined for becomes that one step closer.
To travel a circle is to journey over the same ground time and time again.
To travel a circle wisely is to journey over the same ground for the first time.
In this way, the ordinary becomes extraordinary
and the circle, the path to where you wish to be.
And when you notice at last that the path has circled back into itself,
you realise that where you wish to be is where you have already been…
and always were.
Our team of guides
Dr Phil and Elaine are looking forward to rolling out our Celtic Ways Series in 2023 aimed at connecting iconic pilgrim walks in South East Ireland with the Way of St. David along the Welsh coastline. Our Camino tour offerings are inclusive of coach transfers, ferry crossing, accommodation, guest guides, packed lunches, evening meals, pilgrim passports, memorable cultural experiences… For further information, check out waterfordcamino.com/celtic-roots-series/ or email Phil and Elaine directly on email@example.com