People have always gone on journeys to enrich their spiritual lives. The desire seems deeply ingrained in human nature.
The Thames Pilgrim Way stands in a rich tradition of sacred paths. As Christianity spread throughout the world, people wanted to visit the places they had heard about and to walk where the Son of God had himself been present. As they returned with souvenirs from their travels in the shape of relics, shrines were established and those places in turn gained a sense of sacredness. Sites of specific events – healings or the dwelling places of saints and missionaries – became holy by association and were consequently visited by people either seeking similar healings, or simply wanting to experience a place where holy events had occurred.
So the concept of pilgrimage – a spiritual journey to a sacred place – developed, reaching its height in medieval times. Although the Reformation, with its assertion that God could be experienced everywhere and not just in a few favoured locations, heralded the decline of pilgrimage, it has never died out, although the emphasis has sometimes changed.
For today’s pilgrims, the destination is not as important as the journey. People still often seek healing through prayers at the shrine of a saint, but they may encounter this healing, in all its physical, spiritual and mental forms, during the journey itself.
The Thames Pilgrim Way offers no grand or special beginning or ending points, but gains its significance in the encounter with many small pilgrim places along the way, made holy by the prayers of those who have worshipped there, and in the nature of the route itself.
You are our origin and our destination.
Travel with us, we pray, in every pilgrimage of faith,
and every journey of the heart.
Give us the courage to set off,
the nourishment we need to travel well,
and the welcome we long for at journey’s end.
So may we grow in grace and love of you
and in the service of others.
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
+John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford
Suggestions for further reading
Pocket Prayers for Pilgrims edited by John Pritchard (CHP,2011)
Making a Pilgrimage by Sally Welch (Lion 2009)
Every Place is Holy Ground by Sally Welch (SCM, 2011)
An Altar in the World: Finding the Sacred Beneath Our Feet by Barbara Brown Taylor
(Canterbury Press, 2009)
Pilgrimage by Jonathan Sumption (Faber, 1975)
The Pilgrimage to Santiago by Edwin Mullins (Signal, 2001)
Pilgrimage: A Spiritual and Cultural Journey by Ian Bradley (Lion, 2009)
Walking a Sacred Path by Lauren Artress (Riverhead, 1995)
The Thames Pilgrim Way is for the most part extremely suitable for walking as a family or in groups. Route finding is simple, there is only one steep hill (Moulsford to
Tilehurst) and most of the route is suitable if not for large pushchairs and prams, then at least for the umbrella-type of buggy.
However, it must always be remembered that the path is by the side of a deep rapidly flowing river – children should never be allowed to run on out of sight or to try to climb down the banks to the river itself. Locks are particularly treacherous, their depth and the strength of the current add to the dangers. The poignant memorial stone to Michael Llewellyn-Davies (the adopted son of J. M. Barrie) which lies next to Sandford Lock is a stark reminder of the consequences of not taking the river
Please note that the Thames Path is not easily accessible to wheelchair users or those with limited mobility.
A note on copyright
Material on this website (including images, maps and text) are the copyright of the Diocese of Oxford and Brian Hall (paintings). Reproduction of these images without permission is a breach of copyright and not permitted. For more information, please contact the Diocese of Oxford.
Below are some links you may find helpful.