Stage 5 Little Wittenham to Moulsford

Pilgrim Path Map Stage 5
Getting there

OS Explorer 170. Grid reference: 567935.

Radley lies north east of Didcot and can be approached by car from roads of the A4130 from Didcot or south from Clifton Hampden off the A415. Public car parks can be found at Day’s Lock, Little Wittenham.

Route Finding

There are three major diversions away from the river on this day’s journey. Just before Shillingford the path diverts onto the A4074 for a short but noisy and rather unpleasant time. In Wallingford, walkers are taken along a road parallel to the river, dropping back down onto the riverside just by St Leonard’s Church. One last diversion takes the pilgrim through the village of Moulsford along another busy road, the A329.  In all cases the diversions, though not terribly attractive, are clearly marked.

Facilities

Overnight: There are numerous hotels and pubs in Dorchester, about 1 mile from the path. Shillingford Bridge Hotel (01865 858567/08448559126) about one hour’s walk along the path, offers morning coffee or lunch, or more lunch opportunities can be found in Wallingford. Mouslford, at the end of the journey, is home to the Beetle and Wedge (01491 651381) where dinner is served.

There are toilets in Wallingford

The Route

At the beginning of the walk, it is worth the mile-long detour to visit Dorchester and its famous Abbey. The present building was begun in the 12th century, replacing two earlier Saxon cathedrals. Norman builders extended the church in the 13th century and it was developed further in the early 14th century when the chancel was added with its beautiful window sculpted with the Tree of Jesse. The great tower was rebuilt in 1602, but incorporates a 14th century spiral staircase.

A brief tribute to the World Poohsticks Championship venue – the bridge at Day’s Lock – is recommended before setting off along the path. Shillingford Bridge is exactly half way between Lechlade and Windsor, and also Reading and Oxford, and is an attractive place to rest. Through Wallingford, with the unusual hollow stone spire of St Peter’s providing an interesting landmark, past the Saxon brickwork of St Leonard’s, the path continues past Mongewell Park on the opposite bank with the partly ruined church now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The path borders the edges of Cholsey, in whose churchyard Agatha Christie is buried, before ending for the day at Moulsford.

Reflection

DAY 5 MISSION
‘Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.’ (Joel 1:3)
‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.’ (Matthew 28:19)

As you walk along the path, following its curves, observing the changes in current as the river gradually widens, it does not require a huge leap of the imagination to step back in time to the end of the first century AD and picture yourself as a witness to one of the great moments of Christian life in Britain.

Standing in the River Thames, the water swirling around his feet is Birinus, sent by the Pope to take the gospel to the Saxon peoples living in the settlements along the river, itself both a boundary and a vital means of communication. Also with him in the Thames, is the King of Wessex, Cynegil, a warlike man who has led the tribes under his command into countless battles, many of them against the men who line the banks of the river surrounding their own king, Oswald of Northumbria. Oswald is not here to fight, however, but to witness the baptism of Cynegil, and the unification of the two great kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia into what will become a Christian country.

The great missionary work of Birinus has reached a powerful climax, bringing not only Christianity, but peace to this part of the country. Later years will see Birinus installed in Dorchester Cathedral as its first Bishop, although Alfred was to divide the see between Winchester and Lincoln, replacing the cathedral with a monastery church.

It must have taken tremendous courage to set out across the unpredictable English Channel to a country noted for the savagery of its inhabitants in order to bring a message of tolerance and love to two warring tribes. Birinus might well have longed for the Pope to ask someone else to go. Very often when we feel called by Jesus to follow him, to share his gospel with those we meet, we will be frightened. Who knows what words Birinus used to convince King Cynegil to acknowledge Christ as the Son of God and to begin a new life through baptism, or how great his joy must have been at the knowledge that he had brought peace to such a large number of people?

We might feel we need to be experts in our faith, have academic qualifications and years of training before we can be his ambassadors, but all we need to do is look at the first motley group of disciples to realise that he can, and does, use anyone!

The work of sharing the good news of Jesus’s love for all people is vital, and work that we are all called to do. We need no special training, because it is Christ working through us who will change the world. He is not calling us all to be leaders or preachers, simply to be the best people we can be, people who reflect Jesus’s love, and live out his word in whatever situation he has placed us, loving those around us and continuing God’s healing, saving work very often by doing no more than caring, listening and loving. We are inadequate to this task, but that doesn’t matter; our God is more than adequate.

Activity

As you walk, try to describe to yourself what it means to you to be a Christian. What impact on your life does your faith have? Now try to think of one thing that you could change in your life that would make a difference to you or to someone you know.  It may be as small as resolving to be more patient when dealing with family members or as great as deciding to join in with a church or mission activity. Pray for the grace and courage to carry out this decision.

Prayer

Missionary God,
Give me the grace to go wherever you send me,
to do whatever you ask, to love as much as you wish.
Work with me and through me,
so that I may truly reflect your love in the world.

Have you any comments about this stage?

Any hints or suggestions for other pilgrims welcome.

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