First pilgrim conquers the Whithorn Way

Derek Stewart arrives in Whithorn
Derek Stewart arrives in Whithorn

The first person to walk the 127-mile Whithorn Way in its entirety since mediaeval times, Derek Stewart, was welcomed at Whithorn on Tuesday.

Derek walked for eight days, from Glasgow to Whithorn, following ancient pilgrim routes mapped out by the Whithorn Way steering group, which has members from churches and walking groups from Glasgow, Paisley and includes the Whithorn Trust.

The group is interested in promoting faith tourism and long distance footpaths which follow the ancient religious routes of mediaeval Scotland, particularly the western route which led to Scotland’s most important shrine at Whithorn.

Derek walked in authentic pilgrim garb of heavy wool, carrying a letter from Pope Francis, gaming dice, a small bag of food, and found hospitality en route at local churches and community halls, much as a mediaeval pilgrim would have done; he ended his journey at Whithorn Manse for a well-earned rest after walking 16 miles per day for eight days.

His first visit was to the children at Whithorn Primary, where he gave an explanation of what pilgrimage was and what mediaeval costume he was wearing - from his staff, his scallop shell from Santiago de Compostela, his hand-made shoes and sundial to tell the time. The children, many of whom have acted as Junior Guides, are very familiar with the stories associated with St Ninian and gave a warm welcome to the pilgrim.

Fifty-one year old Derek, had no 21st Century comforts during his pilgrimage walk, he wore traditional medieval clothes he had designed himself sleeping in the open air and eating only what he could carry.

He told a daily newspaper that he wanted to get a feel for what pilgrims endured to compete their journey.

He said: “I have always had an interest in history, and I hike often, so it seemed natural to combine the two and complete the Whithorn way.

“I wanted to get a sense of what it was like for those who followed the pilgrim route back in medieval ages, and the only was to do that properly is to wear what they wore and travel as they travelled.

“People still do pilgrimages, but nowadays they take a bus, or fly. Very few people walk them any more, but the journey is the whole point.

Hie epic journey took him past Paisley Abbey, Kilwinnning Abbey, Old Alloway Kirk and the Martyr’s Tomb at New Luce.

The Whithorn Way Steering Group is working with the Whithorn Trust on proposals to open up the route for the general public and a new interpretation panel has been created by the Paisley based group to show the route.