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The Church of England in Lancashire is trailblazing a new national pilgrimage initiative with its walking route from Whalley Abbey to Blackburn Cathedral.

The Whalley to Blackburn pilgrimage route, 8.5 miles long, links the Cathedral with one of the most important ancient Christian settlements in Lancashire – made more significant by the current plans to relaunch Whalley Abbey as a Centre of Christian Prayer and Discipleship.

Rev Canon Dr Rowena Pailing, Canon Missioner at Blackburn Cathedral, said: “We are delighted to celebrate the long tradition of pilgrimage in a new way with 2020 as the Year of Cathedrals and Year of Pilgrimage, especially connecting the two Christian sites of Whalley Abbey and the Cathedral, and also through our education programme which enables school children to be pilgrims for the day.

“Visitors come to Blackburn Cathedral for many different reasons and are welcomed here. Anyone who is open to a sense of wonder and encounter with God comes as a pilgrim, even if they wouldn’t call themselves such,” she added.

The national project, by the Association of English Cathedrals and the British Pilgrimage Trust to mark ‘2020 Year of Cathedrals, Year of Pilgrimage,’ provides for a pilgrimage route to every Church of England Cathedral, taking in established wayfarer paths, other places of faith, spiritual pathways and lesser known pilgrim ways.

Blackburn now has not one, but two routes, one starting at Hollinshead Well, and the other beginning at Whalley Abbey.

Recently the Rev Jonathan Carmyllie, Vicar of St Mary’s, Whalley, became the first person to complete one of the new nationwide pilgrimage routes.

As Jonathan explains: “The route from the Abbey crosses the River Calder and leaves Whalley via the wooded path over Whalley Nab heading towards Great Harwood.

“Although a little steep to begin with, the path affords some wonderful glimpses of the Calder Valley and soon begins to descend, passing Bowley Scout Camp and eventually arriving at St Bartholomew and St John’s Church in Great Harwood.

“Following the road through Great Harwood to the cemetery, the route joins the Liverpool-Leeds Canal and continues along the towpath all the way into the city, passing fields, allotments, modern retails parks, and reminders of Blackburn’s industrial landscape.

“As a straightforward walk it provides plenty of variety, and as a pilgrimage gives ample opportunity to reflect upon both our Christian and industrial heritage, but also upon some of the issues confronting contemporary society as indicated by closed retail units, crumbling mills and canal side graffiti.

“Arrival at the Cathedral does bring with it a sense, not just of the end of a walk, but of the completion of a stage in a longer journey.

“I lit a candle in the chapel at Whalley Abbey at the beginning, and another in the cathedral at the end – a suitably symbolic way of marking my one-day pilgrimage,” he added.

2020 brings together a remarkable number of individual cathedral anniversaries, from the 850th anniversary of Becket at Canterbury to the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry. All the routes are available to download onto a digital map app at the  British Pilgrimage Trust (BPT) website, and it is hoped more will be added throughout 2020.

The routes include long established ways such as Salisbury, Winchester, Canterbury, Lichfield, Chester, and Hereford Cathedrals, and a pilgrimage to Durham following the final leg of the St Cuthbert’s Community’s 10th Century journey carrying the saint’s body to its final resting place,  and Liverpool’s route that encounters both the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals.

Adrian Dorber, chair of the Association of English Cathedrals and the Dean of Lichfield, said: “We want to be able to offer our visitors a new way of arriving, a new way of experiencing and engaging with our cathedrals, highlighting the importance of spiritual, mental and physical well-being,’ he said.

For more information about the local route contact