Sunday, July 31, 2022

Offa’s Dyke

 I’ve left the coast and headed up into the hills. I’m following Offa’s Dyke Path, a trail that winds along the border between Wales and England. Offa was the 8th century king of Mercia, and he built a giant earthenwork dyke as a border for his kingdom.

Already, I’m doing more climbing than any day these past two weeks. Some of the views have been tremendous, with the sea to the north and beautiful rolling farmland to east, west, and south.

Right now I’m in the town of Bodfari.

This morning I went to church at St Ilytud’s parish in Rhuddlan. Afterwords, they served tea and biscuits and I got to chat with the parishioners. Kind of like “donut Sunday” back home in St Louis!

After mass I visited Dyserth, where Saint Kevin built a church. The church there today is much more recent. What I wanted to see was why Kevin would build a church there. You see, Glendalough, where I started my pilgrimage and where Kevin built his monastery, is one of the most ethereally beautiful and majestic places on the planet, in my humble opinion. Then there was that little church on the tidal island off the coast of Anglesey Island that was so pretty that Kevin founded. 

And there in Dyserth, I found the same fingerprint that the other two places had: tremendous beauty. Just to the right of the church was a narrow, hundred-foot waterfall that plunged into a deep pool. Green green moss grew all down its length. It roared and filled the air with cool mist. It was just the kind of place Kevin would have loved.

I’m enjoying getting to know Kevin by visiting the places he loved, as well as by feeling what it was like to do a pilgrimage like he did to Rome. 

How does that feel? Sore feet! Achy joints! Thorns and lots of them!

But also delicious blackberries. Beautiful, heart-filling vistas. Cool clear springs. Sunshine and shining sunsets. Kind people of all types and ages.

Doug, the man who sat in front of me in church this morning, promised that he would pray for me every day of my pilgrimage. 

A little girl who I met while climbing up behind Saint Kevin’s waterfall really liked my sandals, and’s said she thought I looked like prince Harry.  Her  little brother said he wanted to do a pilgrimage like me one day.

I reached out to someone else looking for a place to stay, and they offered to give me their own bed in two night’s time.

Kevin most certainly experienced the same. There were probably less roads and less fences in his day, but the world was much the same, and so were people.

And that’s a good thing!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Learning my limits

 I am lying in my hammock sipping on a small bottle of Rosé. I just finished a dinner of teriyaki chicken over noodles, cooked by yours truly in my little pot over an open fire.

I walked over twenty miles today, mostly along the beach that makes up the northern coast of Wales. Though not nearly as wild as Anglesey Island, it still is a place of great beauty. 

I’m tired. 

Four days ago I connected with some folks, Lisa and Stefan, in Bangor,  a beautiful little university town overlooking the sea. They put me up for a night in their sea shanty, a charming house with a view of the harbor. That first night they asked if I would like to stay two nights, and my feet did the talking. I stayed two nights. 

They treated me like family, cooking delicious meals for me and sharing their wisdom about life and travel. One night we went out to eat with some friends of theirs. We were seven people, from five countries, and it was a delightful evening.

It was hard to leave them, but I headed north after two nights. Lisa had suggested I go south down the Llyn peninsula, a wild and beautiful walk down a ragged coast.

I was very tempted to follow her suggestion, and I will some day. But there are no trees along that coast, and my hammock wouldn’t have worked. I headed north. Part of me still wishes I would have followed her advice. 

I’ve mostly walked along the coast, on sandy beaches and seaside walking paths. I also crossed some mountains heading into the town of Conwy. Conwy is home to Britain’s smallest house. North of Conwy is Britain’s smallest church, the chapel of St Trillo. I spent some time in prayer there.

These last few nights have been hard, it’s been hard to find a place to camp.

Honestly, there’ve been moments when I’ve thought of giving up and heading home. But I’m still going to keep walking. I’m learning a lot about my limits, about what matters, and about Saint Kevin’s journey.

I have a few rules I’ve been following: 

1) Unlimited calories- this body needs all the nourishment it can get

2) Unlimited sleep- this body needs all the rest it can get

3) My feet are in charge. If they say it’s quitting time, it’s quitting time!

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to post more regular updates. 

In the meantime, blessings on you my friends!

Monday, July 25, 2022

St Dwynwyn’s Enchanted Island

 I didn’t get too far today—8 miles—because I was enchanted by an enchanted island. I spent four hours there. Yes, Ynys Landdywn—the island of the church of Saint Dwynwyn.

Legend has it that she was the most beautiful of the twenty-five daughters of the king of Wales. When the king promised her in marriage to a young man whom she did not love, she ran away to a forest, where she met an angel who granted her three wishes:

1) That her sweetheart, who was frozen in a block of ice, be freed.

2) That she be able to help all true lovers

3) That she be allowed to never marry

The angel granted her all three wishes, and Dwynwyn went to her island to be a nun. 

The island is pretty neat. Like Saint Cwyfan’s island yesterday, it is a tidal island that is only accessible at low tide. 

There are wild horses and ponies on the island. There is also a lighthouse.

What is most enchanting about the island is the church of Saint Dwynwyn. It’s just ruins, and reminded me of the ruins of churches in Ireland. 

But it’s a big church—as big as the biggest in Ireland, and history says that it was one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Wales. 

It’s in a beautiful spot in the middle of the island. There are four steps of what must have been a cute little round tower attached to the church.

People have made a little shrine in one of the nooks of the church, and even Kevin made his way there!

Saint Dwynwyn is the Welsh equivalent of Saint Valentine, and her feast day is January 25. There has been a movement in recent years to celebrate Saint Dwynwyn’s day instead of Saint Valentine’s Day.

The island has a special feel to it, like Saint Dwynwyn’s influence is still at work. I love that about a place—I’ve felt it in several, like Glendalough where Saint Kevin is from, or Knock where the Blessed Mother appeared, or Guadalupe, where she also appeared. Holy people make the places they touched holy. You can feel it in a the home of a happy family.

May Saint Dwynwyn bless all of us, for we are all lovers!

Saint Cwyfan- the Welsh Kevin

 Saint Kevin is guiding me, I really feel it.

Today I was walking a long the southern coast of Anglesey Island, 100-foot sea cliffs beneath me, a wild sea swirling and smashing itself below. I hadn’t checked my map for a while, when two women appeared from around the corner and asked me for help. 

They had gotten lost a bit and couldn’t seem to find their way to a little church they wanted to see.

Together we realized that we had all gotten off the path, so we headed back towards it. One of the ladies was 75, and she was afraid of cows. But we had to pass through a field with cows to get back on the path. So I bravely led the way.

When we finally got to the church, the church of Saint Cwyfan, I was in awe. It was set on a tiny tidal island in the middle of a bay. All white, with a slate roof, it shone in the midday sun. And there was a wedding going on inside. My two friends wanted to visit it because they had been to a wedding there before.

So we all ate lunch outside while the wedding went on inside. 

Eventually I said goodbye and continued on down the coast. 

Then later in the day I saw a sign for another church, Saint Cadwaladr’s. There was a lady inside cleaning the church. She gave me the grand tour, showing me ancient stained glass windows and even more ancient inscriptions and gargoyles. I told her about my quest, and she asked if I had been to Saint Kevin’s church. I told her of course, I had been to saint Kevin’s Church in Ireland. She said, no, the one down the coast. In Welsh, Kevin is Cwyfan.

My jaw almost hit me in the knee. 

When I planned this pilgrimage, I used guesswork to make a route I thought Kevin might have possibly taken. Even the experts on Saint Kevin that I talked to had no idea which route he would have chosen.

And yet there I had been, almost certainly on the exact route Kevin took. The bay where his church is located is called “Porth Cwyfan” or “Kevin’s Gate”. I take that as meaning the place Kevin landed on his way from Ireland to Rome. 

And it’s certainly like Kevin to choose the most fantastic of places to build his churches. 

I did 17 miles today, and my feet are sore.

Yesterday I did 12 miles. Yesterday was a bit harder because it started to rain. I’d been blessed with no rain, so it was quite a shocker.

But I got some fish and chips and holed up to let the storm pass away.

Highlights these days are too many to write about, so here’s a list:

- cute little pet cemetery complete with headstones

- giant snails crawling along the path in the same direction as me

- cushiony sod just like Ireland

- lots of blackberries

- a super long and wide beach just like in Chariots of Fire

- amazing British people out at the beach when it’s raining sideways and the wind is blowing a million miles an hour

- forty or fifty kite surfers in the middle of that same storm

- walking close by a house where Prince William and Princess Kate lived at the beginning of their marriage

- finding giant crabs in an estuary

Yep, lots to see and remember. And I’m grateful for Saint Kevin’s guidance.

Tomorrow I have to decide whether I head North or South. The Northern way would be longer but have less elevation change. The southern route is shorter but has lots of mountains. Which way would Kevin have gone?

Say a prayer I can figure it out!

Friday, July 22, 2022

Day 4&5 Dublin Sleeping

I was so tired last night, once I laid down in my hammock, the lights truly went out. I slept for nine hours, until the sun and wind woke me up.

Yesterday was my last last day in Ireland. My bug bites woke me up around 4am and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I decided to try to make the 8am ferry from Dublin to Wales. Only one thing stood between me and my goal: the city of Dublin. Oh, and the fact that my phone wasn’t working so I was relying on a very sketchy memory of the route I should take across town.

I walked the last bit of the Wicklow Way, until I reached Marlay Park, where it ends, and through which my route took me. But the park was closed, gates locked. Surely they had forgotten about early hikers like me!

I climbed over the gates, finished the Wicklow Way, then continued on to the other side of the park and climbed out the other gate.

Then I started my trek through still-very-asleep-Dublin.

All was quiet at first. No lights shone in the houses in the quiet neighborhoods I walked through. A fox was the first Dubliner I came across. He stopped and stared at me for a minute, and I stopped and stared at him. Later on a lone cyclist passed by me, perhaps on his way to work.

Then, little by little, the sun rose and the city began to shake off its sleepiness. And just as it started to bustle, I stumbled upon what I had been looking for: a path that followed the river Dodder through almost the length of the city.

The Dodder is small, almost really a stream where I met it, but there is a path along the whole thing. There were herons, and trout, and water lilies galore. There were pretty foot bridges across the river, and waterfalls, and forests. I stopped at one bridge and talked to a lady who was taking photos of the herons, Mary.

As luck would have it, I arrived, a very weary walked, at the ferry terminal just as the ferry pulled away. And so I had four hours to wait.

I took a bus into town and bought a power cable for my phone, from which I gleaned that I could make mass at the pro-cathedral. I like to go daily, but my pilgrimage doesn’t make that possible. So it was nice to be able to go!

Afterwards I went to confession, and had a fascinating conversation with the priest. It turns out he knew quite a lot about Saint Kevin and his times. I had always thought that Saint Kevin chose Glendalough for his monastery because it was a remote place where he could be alone and pray. And today it is very much an end-of-the-road kind of place, remote and quiet.

But in Kevin’s day, the priest explained, Glendalough was at the crossing of three very important roads: two that passed through the mountains and one that went from north to south. Kevin chose to put his monastery at the crossroads.

This rang true because in the Life of Kevin he is meeting all kinds of people on the roads around Glendalough, and all kinds of people are stopping by.

I’m so glad I met this priest! I’ll need to rewrite things a bit, but I love when I uncover a bit more of the truth about a saint.

Anyway, the ferry ride was really fun, and I arrived in Wales yesterday evening. I started my walk along the coast, the sun slowly setting behind me. Along the way, I came across a boy, Moe, kicking a soccer ball into a goal. So I challenged him to a penalty shootout. He’d have ten shots and I’d be goalie, then I’d have ten and he’d be goalie.

We’ll, let’s say that,… I thought I was better at soccer! He scored seven goals and I scored three. But it was hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever kicked a soccer ball—on a field looking out across the Irish Sea, with the sun setting in all its glory.

I took today off and just rested and slept. Tomorrow I’ll continue my trek across Anglesey Island.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Day three- Dublin in sight


My phone died last night before I could post to my blog. Which was ok.

I enjoyed a quiet, distraction-free day.

It would have been nice to have the mapping feature from the phone at least. There were several junctions that had no trail markings at all. One time I had to whack down several giant Irish ferns to find the signpost. But somehow I managed to stay on the trail as it made its way through river valleys and over high ridges. 

I ran out of water as I came into the picturesque valley of Glencullen. There a grandmother filled my water bottles for me while I showed her two-year-old grandson, Daniel, the deer skull I was carrying. He was fascinated, and didn’t want me to go.

While walking by “Fairy Castle”, the peak overlooking Dublin, I saw some other hikers grab something from the bushes on the side of the trail ahead of me. When I got to where they had stopped, there were a few bushes chock full of bilberries. I had them for supper and there are plenty more for breakfast.

My muscles really ached when I woke this morning, I guess the result of hiking twelve miles yesterday. We’ll see how they feel tomorrow, I’ve already done 30 miles, most of it either walking down hill or up. 

My plan tomorrow is to walk across Dublin and catch a ferry to Wales. I hope to be able to find an outdoors store along the way to buy some essentials. One of them is a water purifier. I have a water filter, which I thought would be enough to clean the water I drink from streams here. But after getting sick that first day, I think what I really need is a water purifier. There are sheep everywhere here, so what seems like a nice clean stream might have some contamination, and I don’t want to take any more chances.

I also need a knife, something I couldn’t bring on the plane. 

And my charging cables! Thank God my IPad has a long-lasting battery. It’s what I’ve been writing with. But it doesn’t have cellular, and it’s hard to take it out to take pictures with. I’m sure there’ll be a store somewhere.

Let me leave you with a little poem I wrote after a little nap I took today. It’s the story of my nap :)

Day two- reddest raspberries

If you haven’t ever tasted a wild Irish raspberry… you need to asap!

Today started with a dip in the Annamoe river, and a bowl of bilberry oatmeal. Then I was on my way, heading up into some of the wildest parts of the Wicklow mountains.

Like yesterday, the sheep seemed to be my most faithful companions. Then there were the Irish rabbits. They’re gigantic, like the size of a border collie. Makes our rabbits seem like squirrels!

My route, the Wicklow Way, took me past Lough Dan and Lough Tay, two stunning mountain lakes. I think my favorite part was a long ridge running south from Djouce mountain. There were no trees, only endless mountains to the west and fields and then the sun shining on the Irish Sea to the east. 

Don’t get me wrong, Ireland has its troubles too. There was a wildfire raging to the northwest, sending smoke out across my trail at one point. That said, in my opinion… it’s paradise here.

I took three more dips in some delightfully cold streams. And I tried my hand at the fishing again, to no avail.

But  the raspberries! After my last attempt at fishing ended in failure, I took a spin on a tree swing on a hill beside the creek. In the middle of my spins, there they were—a patch of unpicked red red raspberries.

Though my legs gathered their fair share of scratches, it was all worth it for those juicy red berries. They are different from store-bought berries—more intense, super sweet but also tangy… Eating them there, warmed by the sun, fresh from the vine… please, get yourself to Ireland, go on a hike in June or July, and try some!!!

I’m convinced that Saint Kevin jumped in the streams and found the raspberries too. Perhaps there weren’t any rope swings for him to ride, but for sure he found adventure in other ways.

I feel that he is my walking companion, him and the many other souls I meet along the way. Yesterday was 6 miles, today was 12, and tomorrow should be another 12. Wish me luck, blessings on you!

Monday, July 18, 2022

Day one- blessings and bilberries

Wow! I did not expect to spend yesterday sick in bed. Nor did I expect to end today gorging on wild bilberries and raspberries.

Let’s rewind. I landed in Ireland last Wednesday, and my friend Father Robert picked me up and took me up to Northern Ireland. I hadn’t seen him in… maybe 18 years, so it was really nice to catch up. He cooked some amazing meals for me, and gave me the grand tour of Belfast and its surroundings. Staying with him gave me a chance to get over my jet lag too.

Then I took a train down to Dublin on Saturday, where a friend picked me up and drove me to Glendalough, the place where Saint Kevin lived and where I wanted to start my pilgrimage from.

It was so good to be back. If you’ve never been to Glendalough it’s one of those places that you at least have to spend a day in before you die. “Beautiful” is a terrible understatement. Saint Kevin was drawn there around the age of twelve. There are two icy lakes and mountains all around, and a cave in a cliff that Kevin used to live in. Nowadays the valley is filled with the ruins of the stone churches from Kevin’s monastery.

I spent the afternoon wandering around like a boy in a toy store. When I woke up the next morning, something was wrong. I wasn’t hungry! I soon realized that somehow I must have contracted e. Coli, otherwise known as travelers’ diarrhea—no fun!

So I checked into a bed & breakfast, tried to stay hydrated, and slept my heart out. 

When I woke up this morning, I was feeling much better, so I headed to the site of Saint Kevin’s Cell, from where I wanted to start my journey.

Along the way, I took a dip in the upper lake. Usually it’s so cold i don’t manage more than sticking a toe in… today it was just perfect. Supposedly Ireland is having a heat wave. Today it got up to 80! I try to remind the Irish that it was 105 in St Louis before I came.

After my swim I headed up to Saint Kevin’s Cell, where he had a little stone beehive hut overlooking the lake. While I was praying there, three people came up. I crashed their conversation, and they were some wonderful people: Sammy Horner, a musician, and some friends of his from Nevada. They prayed for me and even insisted on giving me money for my dinner! What a blessing!

Then I was off. I passed through many of the churches connected with Kevin, and then headed out north on the Wicklow Way towards Dublin. 

Some of the path was forest, some fields. Sheep wandered about—and sat blocking my way—almost everywhere. It was a sunny, glorious day with beautiful views in abundance. 

Along the way, I went swimming in two streams. I’ve decided that if I can’t shower, I might as well use the showers God provides. That way maybe I won’t end up smelling like one of these sheep!

As I drew closer to where I was going to spend the night, I found wild raspberries growing along the trail. Then later I went fishing but caught nothing. The real catch was what I stumbled upon after along the banks of the river: bilberries. They’re related to blueberries but aren’t as sweet. And there are gobs of them. 

So even though I couldn’t buy dinner on Sammy and his friends, I had a pretty good dinner. And I will have that dinner on Sammy, as soon as I come across a good restaurant!

All in all, I feel very blessed. Stomach bugs make you feel pretty horrible, so yesterday everything seemed pretty hopeless. But sleeping for 12 hours straight sure helped, and I know that this first wonderful day on the trail is only the first of many kinds of wonderful days. 

Kevin set out on this same journey, five times perhaps, and he too had harder days, days when maybe even he caught stomach bugs. But he kept going, one foot in front of the other, and when he couldn’t even manage that, I’m sure he crossed those feet and went to sleep too.

Today I walked from Glendalough to Oldbridge. Tomorrow I’ll continue my way North, hopefully making it to the Glencree River.

Many blessings on you, say a prayer for me if you’d like!

Ps just discovered my charging cables fell out somewhere. So who knows when I’ll be able to post again!

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Saint Kevin’s Pilgrimage

It's been a while.

A lot has changed in the world, and in my own life.

But that's another story for another day.

Right now I'm on a pilgrimage. 

My plan is to walk—no cars, no trains, no buses, no planes—from Ireland to Rome.

It's something like 2,000 miles. Crazy, huh?


You see, I'm still working on a book on Saint Kevin of Glendalough. My publisher asked for a deadline a while back when I signed the contract for it. I told them the end of August.

And I have been working on it. But I'm also working a few jobs, and the truth is I'd like to be making more headway on the book.

Now Saint Kevin is said to have walked from Ireland to Rome and back five times. Five times! And that was before Visa and Mastercard and even umbrellas. He was one tough cookie. 

It is said that Kevin brought back so much soil from Rome that to visit the place where he lived, Glendalough, was equivalent to a pilgrimage to Rome.

As far as I know, no one has ever tried to retrace his steps. There is a pilgrimage route from Canterbury, England, all the way to Rome called the Via Francigena. But that is reconstructed from the diary of a 9th century bishop. Kevin lived from 498 to 612. 

My plan is to start in Glendalough, where Kevin founded a great monastery. From there I'll follow the Wicklow Way north to Dublin. I'll take a ferry from there across the Irish Sea to Anglesey Island in Wales, and then walk to the south of England, following the Wales Coast Path for a while, then Offa's Dyke Path, then several other waymarked ways.

At Poole Harbor I'll take another ferry, this time across the English Channel to Normandy in France. That will be the beginning of my long trek across mainland Europe. I'll spend a long time in France, hopefully visiting Lisieux and Domremy (homes of Saint Therese and Saint Joan of Arc), pass through Switzerland, join up with the Via Francigena as it goes over the Saint Bernard's Pass in the Alps, and into Italy. 

In Italy I'll follow the Via Francigena until it passes close to the way of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis and Saint Kevin are kindred spirits, in my opinion. Francis communed with nature and animals of all sorts. So did Kevin. 

When a blackbird landed on Kevin's hand while he was praying, he kept it still until the bird had made a nest, laid its eggs, hatched the eggs, and the fledglings had flown away. 

Francis tamed the wolf of Gubbio, and Kevin tamed a wolf in Glendalough. Francis struggled between devoting himself to a hidden life of prayer, and the call to preach the Gospel far and wide. Kevin did too. They each came up with different, but fitting solutions to their dilemma. 

They also both went on a lot of pilgrimages.

I've visited many of the places associated with Saint Francis, and long wanted to walk the way of Saint Francis. I will follow it the rest of the way to Rome. 

Perhaps I'll be able to post updates here along the way. Perhaps I won't. But I ask your prayers as I set out on this pilgrimage. I fly to Dublin Tuesday, July 12. 

Saint Kevin, pray for us!