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Routemaster in Depth: Two Saints Way

Feb 28

I’ve always thought of walking as more than a physical activity. For me, a good walk is as much a way to clear my head of the detritus of daily life as it is about exercise, fresh air and appreciating nature. Indeed, ramblers often talk about the meditative quality of walking; the time to reflect and be at peace. As Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” 

It’s an idea that the Two Saints Way, a brand-new, long-distance walking trail through the rural heart of England, strives to encapsulate (although the irreligious Nietzsche might not approve!). It’s divided into four sections, taking a week to walk in total, and recreates the ancient pilgrimage route between Chester and Lichfield cathedrals via Nantwich, Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford. The trail’s name refers to St Werburgh and St Chad, two Saxon saints who brought Christianity to the ancient kingdom of Mercia in the 7th century. The saints were laid to rest at Chester and Lichfield respectively, fostering interest in these cathedral cities as alternative religious destinations to Bardsey Island, Canterbury or even the Holy Land further afield. 

The golden age of pilgrimage in Britain lasted from 11th-century Norman times to the 17th-century Reformation. Pilgrims began arriving at Chad’s shrine in Lichfield soon after his death in 672AD and, by the 13th century, it was so besieged by pilgrims that normal church services were disrupted. That may not quite be the case now, but pilgrimage trails have become popular once again, with latter-day pilgrims following the journeys of St Cuthbert and St Oswald, amongst others . 

“I see a pilgrimage as a journey forward to the ancient future,” says David Pott, a former teacher who devised the Two Saints Way and agreed to guide me along a section of it. “Pilgrims in the Middle Ages were seeking spiritual healing. In the contemporary context, a pilgrimage is a time to get fit in mind, body and spirit.” 

Woods and Stately Piles 

Our plan was to walk a few sections of the linear trail following our GPS navigator, using public transport to transfer between trailheads. We began with a morning hike through the 300-year-old woodland of the Trentham Estate. At the start of the trail in Trentham, St Mary and All Saints Church offered a moment of contemplation. The praying stone, lying before a Saxon cross in the churchyard,has been smoothed over by centuries of  genuflecting pilgrims’ knees. For us, it was a peaceful spot to consult our OS map for the day’s walk ahead. 

The path led through Kings Wood on the route of the old carriage drive to Trentham Hall, following an avenue of early 18th-century beech trees. The stately pile is now awaiting restoration and the surrounding estate is currently subject to a tree-management project to uncover the historic forest of its royal-deer-park heyday. Along the way, the last remnantsof Himalayan balsam were showering their seed pods over the damp ground and wildlife stirred in the undergrowth. 

“In winter, with low sun and leaves on the ground, you feel more of the topography of the estate,” says Trentham’s estate manager, Michael Walker. “If you’re lucky you might catch sight of the rare black deer that roam freely here.” 

It was a steep climb at times on a muddy, sometimes boggy path as we crossed the estate. Finally, we reached the high ground, a point marked by the monument to George Granville, the first Duke of Sutherland, whose family owned the estate until the 1960s. It offered a sweeping panorama across the whole 725-acre expanse, with Barlaston Hall (once home of pottery dynasty Wedgwood) to the east. Trentham’s church was shrouded in winter sunshine beyond the formal gardens behind me; the village of Tittensor and the path forward lay just beyond the next gate.