St Bega’s Way: the story so far – a personal message from the author

A Fund-raising Idea

The Credo Appeal was launched by Melvyn Bragg in 2006 to raise money for some new facilities for St. Bega’s Church, Bassenthwaite, near Keswick in the English Lake District. Among the many fund-raising ideas put forward in support of this Appeal, my husband Richard’s suggestion was to write and sell a guide book to a walking route from the Priory Church of St. Mary and St. Bega at St. Bees, on the coast of Cumbria, to St. Bega’s Church by Bassenthwaite Lake. Of course, with all his years of managerial experience, he immediately delegated the actual implementation of the idea, and so I found myself with a new scheme to get my teeth into!

Luckily it appealed to me because it combined two of my favourite pastimes – walking and history. The trouble is I walk pretty slowly, and I think and write even slower. Sometimes progress stopped altogether when, for one reason or another, the project was laid aside. The result is that now, in 2008, the Credo Appeal has achieved its aims, the new facilities are in use, and my contribution has missed the boat. However, the need for church funds is ongoing and especially pressing in Bassenthwaite where we have a small population, a smaller congregation, and two churches to support. So what was intended as a fund-raiser for Credo and St. Bega’s is now going to be a fund-raiser for both churches in the Bassenthwaite parish. Actually, I’m rather glad it’s turned out this way because, although, like many people, I find the Church of St. Bega and its unique setting more inspirational, it’s St. John’s Church that I see from our sitting room at home. And of course more important than either church building, it is the people who make up the church and through their outreach the whole community of Bassenthwaite that I hope will benefit from the sale of this booklet.

History

So where did I start on this project? I must confess that I did not do any original archival or archaeological research in connection with this project. Instead, I set about reading what others had written on the life of St. Bega, and the history of St. Bees Priory, and the history of the wonderful and ancient St. Bega’s Church at Bassenthwaite. Some of what I learnt is in a section at the beginning of the booklet, and so I extend my sincere thanks to the historians on whose work mine is based, particularly Dr. John Todd and John Spedding. Thanks also go to Clare Spedding who kindly did some research for me into the place of saints in modern Anglican theology. In the end, the results of that research were not actually included in the booklet because there did not seem to be one clear Anglican attitude to saints but rather a variety of widely differing opinions. Or as Clare concluded in her usual positive and uplifting style, ‘Isn’t the C of E wonderful!’

Walking

The walking part of the project was more nearly all my own work. The booklet is called St. Bega’s Way because it links two places which I believe were significantly connected with the saint’s life. But the route between those two places which I describe in the book, is my choice and mine alone. I would not want to give the impression that I think St. Bega herself actually walked this route, although equally we cannot rule out the possibility that she could have done so.

I wanted a route that would be achievable by the maximum number of people, not just the super-fit. The day stages needed to be not too lengthy, and the terrain not too taxing, so that walkers would have time and energy to enjoy the scenery, wildlife and history along the way. This is walking as I enjoy it, not as a race, not as an endurance trial, but as a pleasurable experience of the countryside in all its variety, interest, beauty and peace. At the end of the day stages there needed to be accommodation or access to transport and preferably both. So with these criteria in mind, I plotted my course and the resulting route is 36 miles long to be done, I suggest, in three days. The gradients are mostly flat or very gentle with one stiffish but not too prolonged climb per day, partly to make you feel you have achieved something but mainly to give you the benefit of fabulous, far-reaching views. I am not going to say anything more about the route because I want you to buy a copy of the St Bega’s Way booklet and go to see for yourself.

In writing the guide, I walked every step of the way, more than once. I carried a map, notebook and pencil, and would often stand perplexed at a junction of paths pondering how best to word the route instructions unambiguously. If you stand at a junction of paths, holding a map, and looking perplexed, its ten to one a kindly and helpful soul will approach with a hearty but perhaps rather condescending ‘Can I help? Are you lost?’ I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t resist replying in a superior tone, ‘Actually, I’m writing a guide book.’ Well, apologies if any of you were a well-meaning walker whom I snubbed.

My come-uppance was that I found writing a guide book far more difficult than I had imagined, and I needed the help of a lot of people to get it right. First, my thanks are due to those stalwart hikers who walked the three sections of St. Bega’s Way and checked that my instructions would not lead anyone astray:

photo 1 Jenny Castell and Audrey Askew who got too wet!

photo 2 Richard Downing and Chris Castell who got too hot!

photo 3 Dee and Martin Bellarby who cleverly managed to stay both dry and cool.

Production

The next stage in producing the booklet was proof reading and I promised to give honourable mention to a lady I have never actually met who was the first person to read the first draft and whose trained eye spotted a mistake straight away. Thank you Mrs. Cox.

photo 4 Mrs Cox, the first proof-reader.

The members of the Credo Appeal Committee were the next proof-readers, but that was only the start of their involvement in the project. Although the booklet is not now going to raise funds for the Appeal, the Committee has continued to give me huge support and encouragement, practical assistance and wise advice. The latest role taken on by Committee members is to act as distributors and sales personnel for the booklet, activities which they are undertaking with their usual enthusiasm, efficiency and determination. So, many thanks for the time and energy spent on my behalf go to Peter Lingard (Chairman), Isobel Bowe, Barry Cox, Margaret Green, John Spedding, and Mary Webster.

The Illustrator and Designer

Perhaps the most important and far-reaching piece of advice which the Committee gave me was to tell me that the booklet needed illustrations, and, on my behalf, to ask Dr. Alistair Brewis if he would provide these. Alistair’s contribution to this project cannot be overemphasised.

He has created a series of delightful pen and ink sketches which have transformed the guide into a ‘must-have’ publication. To produce his drawings, he has walked the whole route, and so has re-checked my directions and made a number of clarifications. He has designed and produced the cover including the photography for the front and the original map on the back.

Many folk in the Bassenthwaite area have a framed copy of an Alistair Brewis map in their homes so they already know what an inventive and expert cartographer he is. What they and others may not appreciate is the hours it takes at the computer screen struggling to make recalcitrant software do what you want in terms of the layout of text and pictures, spacing of paragraphs and margins, dealing with the hundred and one last minute amendments that I came up with, producing umpteen draft versions for interested parties, and producing PDF files to the exact and exacting requirements of the printers. All this and much, much more Alistair has done meticulously and cheerfully. In the end I am sure he put in more time and effort than me. But being such a modest fellow, he would not accept equal billing and insisted on his name being in smaller font than mine on the title page.

St. Bees

Another very good piece of advice given to me by the Credo Appeal Committee was that we should get in touch with the folk at St. Bees. After all, the walk starts at their Priory, so it would be only good manners and friendliness to tell them about the project and invite them to become involved. I am delighted to say that we had a very positive and enthusiastic response especially from Chris Robson. As well as agreeing to sell the booklet at St. Bees, and help with publicity, he has very kindly offered to produce an accompanying pilgrimage leaflet. Although I envisage St. Bega’s Way usually being walked simply as a walk, it is also eminently suitable to be undertaken as a pilgrimage, and the leaflet, available from St. Bees from the beginning of May 2008, will suggest prayers and meditations to be used along the way.

Sponsorship

With the help of all the people I’ve mentioned, and no doubt some I should have mentioned and have not, we came to the point of actually getting the booklet printed. And, perhaps just to prove that miracles do happen in this day and age, in stepped an anonymous sponsor to pay the substantial printing costs. I am, of course, very grateful personally for the confidence in the project which is being expressed by this generosity, but also everyone involved wishes to express their appreciation that, with the cost of printing taken care of, all the money raised by the sale of the booklet can now benefit the churches of this parish.

Over to you

In view of the generous sponsorship and the kind assistance I have received with this project from so many people, I have a great responsibility and duty to sell as many copies of St. Bega’s Way as I possibly can. And so I’m appealing to you for help. Please buy a copy, or better still sell some copies to people you know who like walking or history or both.

Another way in which you can help to promote the booklet is by walking the walk, and telling others about it. You may care to join the special walking of St. Bega’s Way which is being planned for the Bank Holiday weekend of 3rd to 5th of May 2008. You can do the whole three days or just join in for a short section, it’s up to you. You will, however, be responsible for making your own arrangements for travel, meals, and accommodation so you may want to start planning those right away.

Whether you join the May Bank Holiday walk or go by yourself or with a friend at some other time of year, I really hope you enjoy it. Travel safely. The one sort of publicity I don’t want is a mention in the Mountain Rescue call-outs column of the Keswick Reminder!

Rosalinde Downing - March 2008.