A new rambling route between Wareham and Shaftesbury will be launched with a series of special events in March. Shaftesbury Town Council has supported the initiative after some councillors recognised the walk’s tourism potential.
In April, Sara Jacson announced a plan to recreate the 10th-century walk from Wareham to Shaftesbury Abbey that accompanied King Edward the Martyr’s body. “Wareham was where Edward, King and Martyr, was buried. He was moved for political reasons, we think. We talked to Professor Barbara York, who specialises in this period, and she said that Wareham is quite close to the sea and there were invasions and raidings. You don’t want to lose the person who has become a saint,” explained Sara.
Sara shared her vision for the walk at Shaftesbury Abbey’s annual opening event, as she spoke next to the murdered monarch’s tomb. She recalled how the late Dr Geoffrey Tapper and the Bishop of Sherborne, the Right Reverend John Kirkham, had made the journey in 1979.
Sara enjoyed a positive response to plans for a procession to celebrate the completion of the first stage of the Abbey’s SAVED archaeology project. “It was an absolutely amazing reaction from ThisIsAlfred,” said Sara, as she recalled her interview here last year. “I called a meeting. Six people have stuck with it. People have walked (the route) and discovered where the problems are.”
It’s thirty miles between Wareham and Shaftesbury. The Dorset landscape has changed over the last forty years and that has required the team to recalculate part of the route. “There is a Wareham bypass now and there are underpasses. There was a large quarry which is no longer used. Various tweaks have happened. The walkers, not just ramblers but local people as well, have found ways through. They’ve been able to say, ‘This isn’t safe. What can you do about it?’. That has gone to the North Dorset Rangers and it’s been organised. It’s amazing the support and excitement it is generating,” Sara said.
There will be a walk launch event in Wareham on Thursday 26th March. Sara says the walkers will then follow a rigid schedule when they set off on the three-day pilgrimage on Friday 27th March. “Ten miles a day, starting at nine in the morning and ending by four,” said Sara. “By the end of March, it won’t be light. The clocks go forward on the last Sunday. We’ve got ramblers who are used to leading walks and we have got somebody who will come up behind, being the ‘sheepdog’.”
The distance to be covered each day has been decided. “We move to Winterbourne Kingston on the first day, then they go to Shillingstone, where the vicar Lydia Cook is very keen, and then from Shillingstone to Shaftesbury,” said Sara. “Our one concern is crossing one or two major roads. The police won’t patrol these days. They are not paid to do that. We will make it as safe as we possibly can, and we will be looking increasingly for stewards to make sure it will be as safe as possible.”
Sara considers the route relatively easy to walk. “I would say it is Dorset undulations. It’s not ‘uphill and down dale’, but if it has been raining, then we are going to meet a lot of mud.”
She’s particularly pleased that Rt Revd Karen Gorham will mark the occasion. “The Bishop of Sherborne has got involved. She will be walking with us for the three days, which is pretty amazing,” said Sara.
The walkers will need to complete the route to a tight schedule. “We are aiming to be at the bottom of Gold Hill by 3pm on Sunday afternoon,” said Sara. “We have booked the Town Hall to offer tea and pilgrim cake for the walkers. It’s a very solid, boiled fruitcake with additions. It’s a recipe I was given by an old lady who was part of the family that lived at Stourhead. It feeds one hundred. We are inviting the ‘great and the good’ – MPs and the Lord Lieutenant and so on. At 4pm we will process from the Town Hall to the Abbey for the official opening which Bishop Karen will preside at,” she added.
Sara knows how many walkers her cake will feed but she’s uncertain how many people will join in. “The Bishop has been in contact with all the clergy of the parishes on the route and they’re saying that they want to do it and recommend people. There are a lot of very keen walkers in Dorset. We don’t anticipate that everyone will do the whole of the walk. If you’re in Wareham, you might want to go as far as Winterbourne Kingston,” she said.
The organisers have put in a considerable amount of work and they are determined that their efforts are not for a one-off event. They have sourced £1,000 in funding for signs to mark the route, so it can be promoted to walkers and ramblers. The Ramblers Association has offered £600 and earlier this month, Shaftesbury Town Council voted to give the remaining £400.
Shaftesbury Abbey Chairman Pete Ryley was grateful for the cash. “We need these plastic markers that go on fence posts and trees to identify the route,” Pete said. The signs are similar to the discs you see on stiles and fenceposts around Shaftesbury which mark the White Hart Link or the Hardy Way. “These have a stylised portrait of Edward King and Martyr. They are going to be coloured so they are readily visible in poor weather and hopefully nobody will get lost on the way,” Pete said, adding that Rachel Diment uncovered the image. “She tweaked it so it would fit into the roundel that we have for the way marker. She put a script around it so people would know what it is about.”
400 markers have been ordered. “We can make sure that we cover the route and especially any bends or corners, or if tracks go off at the sides, so we can direct everybody. We are aware that some will get damaged, some will get lost. We have tried to get an extra fifty to one hundred, so we have something for the legacy route in the future,” Pete said.
And Sara says that part of the legacy will be offering details of the route as a digital resource for ramblers. “We will be creating a downloadable app so that people can have the walk on their phones and we are not going to waste paper,” she said. Some printed material will also be produced. “We will create a booklet. One of the group has done a brilliant job on a shortened version with lovely photos. It will make a very good souvenir booklet and we will have a stamp made to say, ‘You have done this walk’,” said Sara.
Pete says the route will be officially designated. “The fact that we worked with the Ramblers Association in getting this route together means that, hopefully, they will be able to publicise it for us,” said Pete.
At this stage, Sara says she wants locals just to make a note of the dates, 27th to 29th March. Peter Wells of the Shaftesbury Walking for Health Group has created a Facebook page which will feature event updates. You can find it if you search for Saint Edward’s Way.