During 2016 I decided to walk the newly created Two Saints Way, a 92 mile long pilgrimage trail running from Chester to Lichfield. My research showed that I could walk this as a series of linear walks using trains and buses, and being relatively local it would mean no overnight stays. The Two Saints Way has been created after the Saxon saints who brought Christianity from Northumbria to the ancient kingdom of Mercia in the seventh century. St Chad’s shrine at Lichfield and St Werburgh’s shrine at Chester were popular destinations for pilgrims in medieval times and are now linked by this route.
These two saints were key figures who lived at about the same time in the seventh century and by their labours they brought about a complete change in the religious and cultural landscape of Mercia. Mercia was a powerful kingdom between the seventh and tenth centuries, occupying a somewhat larger area than the Midlands today and including at its greatest extent all of England south of the Dee and the Humber and north of the Avon and the Thames.
Up to the last quarter of the seventh century, Mercia was still largely pagan but Christianity was reaching into Mercia from two different directions and had somewhat differing emphases. What some have termed Celtic Christianity had spread from Ireland via Iona to Lindisfarne in Northumbria through such personalities as St Columba and St Aidan. The kind of Christianity that was based in Canterbury in Kent was more deeply influenced by Rome.
For this section of the trail I had a plan to catch a bus from Barbridge to Chester then to walk back but alas, severe traffic congestion at Middlewich meant this would be unlikely. I had thought that I had given myself ample time to get to the start and now it was a mad rush to don boots and to cross the busy A51 to catch the bus. It was so frustrating to be just waiting there at the busy roadside to see my intended bus racing towards me at a fair pace of knots. The traffic was just too busy to cross and hence it was back to the drawing board and I returned to the car to re-plan my walk.
After one false start I decided to walk to Chester then to catch the bus back. Much of the trail would be along the canal towpath and indeed my progress would be smart. I soon found my way crunching through hail which had not melted from the previous days’ storms. Now canal towpath walking is not my most favourite type of walking and to start with, I had to follow the Shropshire Union Canal to Bunbury Locks some three and a half miles and for much of the way it ran parallel with the busy and noisy A51. The bright start to the day was already giving way to the threat of showers as I left Bunbury Locks. The road into Bunbury wasn’t in my opinion exactly the best route as it was busy with traffic with no pavements and blind corners which meant repeatedly crossing the road. I wanted to visit the fine church at Bunbury but by the time I’d got there the sun had gone and the threat of some heavy weather to the west seemed imminent. Constructed mostly of sandstone, St Boniface’s Church is Grade I listed and dates mainly from the 14th century. It has been said to be one of the finest churches in England of this period. There has been a church here since the 8th century and the first church was a wooden construction. It was rebuilt during the Norman period with many later improvements with extensive work being carried out during Victorian times. In 1940, the church was seriously damaged by a land mine.
Venturing inside there was a social gathering for the elderly hosted by the vicar and I was made more than welcome to join them for morning coffee. Having told the vicar that I was walking the Two Saints Way we had a common interest. He was a few days later going to run the Sandstone Trail in twenty four hours for a charity event. Fifteen minutes passed quickly and leaving the church the weather didn’t look too good but at least the heavy weather which was to the west of me seemed now to be passing to the south of me. For awhile it was good to be on footpaths and I soon crossed the A49. I had timed it well for my approach towards Beeston Castle with threatening clouds and a spell of bright sunshine made it good for photography. I rounded the castle on the eastern side before taking a path down to the Shropshire Union Canal once more at Wharton’s Lock. Again there seemed a real threat of some stormy weather as I trekked west along the towpath and I set targets to get to bridges where I might have to take shelter. As it turned out, I escaped very lightly with just a few spots of rain but the day had turned dull and quite cold. The sunshine did eventually return and at Crow’s Nest Bridge, a sheltered seat was an idea spot to have my picnic lunch.
I now had several miles of walking along the towpath and not vastly interesting. In places the opposite bank was lined with moored crafts but the day was made more interesting with bright sunshine interspersed with heavy clouds and the odd wintery shower and this did make for some good photography. I left the towpath briefly at Christleton for a short diversion to the church where I sat in the churchyard for a break. St James’ Church is Grade II listed and the present building dates from late Victorian times. It was partially rebuilt between 1874 -1878 after part of the nave collapsed during a service in 1873. During the English Civil War, the church suffered much damage. The tower however dates from the 15th century.
I soon returned to the towpath again for the trek mostly on tarmac into Chester and by this stage it was proving a bit tiresome on the feet. Nearing the City Centre the Two Saints Way diverted down through Grosvenor Park before entering via Bridge Street to reach the Cathedral. I now had some research on getting the bus back as it didn’t run from the bus station but from Foregate Street and I timed it fairly well for the return journey to Barbridge.
(note this walk was undertaken prior to the new bus station in Chester being opened).