Alan represented Friends of Nevern Castle at the Pilgrimage Today conference in Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford in March 2023. The gathering celebrated the opening of the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way from Ferns in SE Ireland across the sea to St Davids. The meeting, sponsored by the Ancient Connections project and British Pilgrimage Trust, was attended by about 80 people including artists, businesses and places of interest along the route, officers of Visit Pembrokeshire and Fáilte Ireland, together with academics studying tourism and pilgrimage.
Alan was also there for his part as a software developer in Pererin Wyf, a project sponsored by Ancient Connections which links people of the Irish and Welsh diasporas worldwide.
Some notes from the conference
“Pilgrimage” for me recalls Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But these days it’s the big trend in travel. A quick Google reveals heaps of articles, TV series, and personal accounts. Travel companies, tourist destinations and everyone that provides services along the way are talking about it.
The conference in Enniscorthy was for those providing for travellers. We talked about what makes a good pilgrimage that people will enjoy, and perhaps encourage them to return.
“Pilgrimage” is more than a hiking holiday, although it’s that too. There’s additionally a sense of a spritual journey, or at least an emphasis on contemplation and slowing down from the business of modern life. There’s a grand destination such as a cathedral, and points along the way that encourage reflection. And not least, fellow-travellers.
Travellers typically like a recommended route and look for guide books and maps; some like organized groups and human guides. They want decent accommodation and food along the way, somewhere to wash their socks, and sometimes someone to send their bags on from one night’s resting point to the next.
Pilgrims, according to surveys, contribute more to local economies than typical tourists.
A good pilgrim route and its points of interest along the way have:
- Something to see – A typical destination such as St Davids has this in bagfuls.
(In Nevern Castle there’s not much to see; but we hope our revised interpretation panels will bring the past to life.)
- Something to do – Light a candle, poke your head in a niche, touch a stone, say a prayer, stick a penny in a rock. People particularly like to feel they’re treading where the ancients trod and relating to some aspect of the lives of the past.
(Perhaps in Nevern we could cook up a tradition such as “Many visitors bring a stone to add to the pile of ammunition for those defending the Square Tower.” or “It’s customary to imprison your Dad or other elder relative in the base of the Round Tower. Don’t forget to feed him occasionally. Add photos to our gallery #incarcerateyourdadinneverncastle”)
- Story – Help visitors understand the significance of what they’re seeing.
(It’s important that our website and interpretation materials convey Nevern’s significance as a microcosm of the Norman invasion of Wales.)
- Brilliant basics – as the Pembrokeshire Destination Management Plan calls it. Toilets (or at least signs to them), reliable maps of paths, clear signage, public transport.
- Community ownership – Engagement with the local residents and businesses.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Satish Kumar, at one time editor of Resurgence, who lived near Pentre Ifan for a few years. He came to fame for his walk in the 1962 from Delhi to Moscow, Paris, London, and Washington, campaigning for nuclear disarmament. He is a very inspiring speaker!
When we visit a place, he said, we should tread lightly, taking only a little, and leaving something behind for those who may follow.