Friday 3rd. October, 2014 – Scottish Pilgrimage Gathering 

The opening address at this year’s Scottish Pilgrimage Gathering was given by Paul Wheelhouse, MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Environment and Climate Change

Today was another early start. I was away from Mount Pleasant, having showered and got ready, by half past six, on a train for Edinburgh by seven fifteen and in Dunfermline (having changed at Edinburgh) by twenty-five past nine. As I came out of the station (not quite sure where I had to go) I met Joanne whom I had married to her husband Colm and baptised their children while minister at Luss. It is one of the great joys of having been minister at Luss that no matter where one goes one meets people who are special who became friends because of where I ministered. Joanne pointed me in the right direction and took me along the road to where I had to go!

I arrived at the Vine Conference Centre a little after nine-thirty, it was a very short walk, and at once I started to meet people I knew. It was a great day. I’ll record just a little about the programme.

The event was opened by Margaret Dean, the Lord Lieutenant of Fife, who told us of seeing an old map of Britain with no mention of Edinburgh or even of London but there in big writing were both Dunfermline and St. Andrews, reminding us of how important a place Fife has always been. Well, having lived there for almost a third of my life, I didn’t need to be told that – although it was good to be reminded of it!

The first speaker was a Scottish Government Minister, Paul Wheelhouse who spoke of the Scottish Government’s commitment to walking routes and telling us of new funding which is being made available to fund part of the Pilgrimage route between St. Andrews and Iona (the area around Crieff, some forty miles in all, I think). He spoke of the importance of walking both to the economy and to health (and explained how sometimes these overlapped). I learned that the best way to extend one’s life is to walk for thirty minutes a day (well, Mix ensures that I do that anyway).

The morning session was then given over to three important speeches – by Sam Berry on ‘In the Beginning God – So What?’; by Chris Baines on ‘Pilgrimage and Environmental Sustainability – A Natural Partnership’ and by Richard Oran on ‘”Scottish Pilgrimage in the Land of Lost Content” Revisited’.

Last year’s gathering had concentrated on heritage so it was good that this year the theme majored on the environment. Sam Berry took us through a journey starting from the ancient views of the world and how they changed, and the mistaken understanding of creation taken from the passage in Genesis where man is given dominion over all of creation, leading us on to the more recent realisation by both society and theology that in fact the call of Scripture is to stewardship and care, as we share with God in loving his world.

Chris Baines, an old friend of mine from Green Pilgrimage, described the ethos and the history of the Green Pilgrimage movement and also described how many of the problems created by pilgrimage had been creatively overcome, often turning a problem into a positive opportunity. He too described partnership and stewardship and used illustrations drawn from birdlife, particularly Swifts, to bring home to us the changing world in which we live and the need for caring for our world.

Richard Oram took us on a journey through the works of T. Radcliffe Barnett who wrote six books about Scotland. He was a Free Kirk minister born in 1867 who served as a chaplain during the first world war. First in a field hospital in France and then in a hospital for returning seriously injured soldiers in Edinburgh. He found it hard to cope with all that he saw and his solace was to walk throughout the lonely places of Scotland. Wanting to share the peace he discovered through his pilgrimages, he took to writing of them so that others could share through reading of his journeys and of his thoughts. It was fascinating.

Lunch followed and flew by because there were so many people to chat to, and stalls to visit (set up by people with something to say or to sell to those involved in pilgrimage). The afternoon was taken up with four workshop sessions, each of us (and there must have been about eighty of us in total) could attend two. The workshops were on the theme of Pilgrimage and 1. Local Churches, 2. Local Landowners, 3. Local Businesses, and 4. Local Communities. I attended the first and third of these workshops and enjoyed them both.

After a brief feedback session the gathering came to a close and those of us who were members of the Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum went off for the Annual General Meeting to approve the accounts and to appoint seven Trustees to take the work of the forum forward. That done, I wandered up to the station where I coincided with David, a friend from England who had visited Luss with a party of pilgrims, and who was also at the gathering. We shared the journey to Edinburgh where I changed trains and returned to Berwick. By this time it was raining extremely hard and I drove slowly home among the puddles.

Olive had kept some tea for me and afterwards Rachel and I watched an episode of Scott and Bailey on television before walking the dogs and going to bed. Another great day.


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