Four years ago, Barbara Foster set out to visit every Anglican cathedral in England. What’s more she determined to do it the old fashioned way, on foot, while fundraising for human rights charity Freedom from Torture.
She says: “I enjoy the challenge of long distance walking but I wanted to see the overall picture – something that would link together the different towns and landscapes. The cathedrals are a wonderful part of our heritage. I decided that I would visit each one like a medieval pilgrim by foot, crossing and criss-crossing the land, linking the routes between cathedrals like a giant spider web.”
Barbara, a former teacher and headmistress, started her cathedral walks in 2014 and aims to finish in the summer of 2019. By April 2018 she had visited 33 of the 42 cathedrals, some more than once.
Some walks are just a few days, others are a week or more. The longest single stretch was the 135 miles linking Truro and Exeter Cathedrals, via the South West Coast Path and across Dartmoor. One of the most challenging routes was following the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, from Carlisle Cathedral in the west to Newcastle Cathedral in the east.
Barbara says it is hard to pick a favourite cathedral and she tries to remember something special but unusual about each one. However, when pressed she chose some personal highlights:
- Canterbury Cathedral for the wonderful welcome given to Pilgrims.
- Ely Cathedral for its marvellous site in the low-lying Fens and the beauty of the lantern and the Lady Chapel.
- Sheffield and Bradford Cathedrals for their tremendous involvement and support for their local communities embracing all areas of society, different faiths and a wonderful range of activities.
- Ripon Cathedral for the tiny, ancient crypt of St Wilfrid.
- Winchester Cathedral for Antony Gormley’s figure in the crypt, so calm, serene and contemplative…. and also for the story of the William Walker the diver.
- Worcester Cathedral for the pilgrim’s grave which resonated with her and made her wonder how far he walked, where he was from, why he did it, and, most importantly, how he managed it in a pair of medieval leather boots.
- Leicester Cathedral for the marvellous story of the discovery of the grave of Richard III.
- Hereford Cathedral because of the Mappa Mundi which, as a map junkie, she could have studied for hours. She was particularly pleased that the only places highlighted in England were, of course, cathedrals!
Every cathedral creates its own ambience and atmosphere. It’s not just about art and architecture but how the cathedral is involved with the local community. Cathedrals and churches have traditionally acted as sanctuaries for the sick and outcast so it is fitting that Barbara is using her walks to raise funds for torture survivors seeking sanctuary in the UK.
As she says: “People who have been tortured need love, support and care. The funds I raise will help Freedom from Torture to provide that badly needed support.”