Last leg of Orkney pilgrimage walk to open

The final leg of a pilgrimage route established in honour of the Patron Saint of Orkney is officially opening tomorrow.

The last stage of the St Magnus Way stretches 11.4miles from Orphir along the shores of Scapa Flow, the largest natural harbour in the northern hemisphere, to Kirkwall.

It finishes at St Magnus Cathedral, which was founded in 1137 to house artefacts associated with the 12th century Earl and is known as the Light of the North.

Walkers on St Magnus Way. Orkney Pilgrimage.

The St Magnus Way is 55-miles long and enables pilgrims to explore the physical and spiritual heritage of Orkney.

It was developed to mark the 900th anniversary of the death of Magnus Erlendsson, who was also known as Magnus the Martyr.

Before sainthood, he shared the earldom of Orkney with his cousin, Hakon.

Disagreements over the Earldom led to the murder of Magnus at the reluctant hands of Hakon’s cook.

St Magnus Way has been described by organisers, Orkney Pilgrimage, as a challenging and arduous walk.

Rev David McNeish, chairman of the charity, said: “For the final stage of the pilgrimage, the route again follows the coast as much as possible.

“Our theme for this final stage is hospitality, reflecting on the place of feasting in the medieval world and our own mealtime traditions as well as the place of welcome afforded Magnus in Kirkwall.”

Rev David McNeish
Rev David McNeish

The final stage of the route goes through the RSPB bird reserve at Waulkmill and then along the coast past Griffyelt to Greenigoe.

A short road section to Foveran then leads back to the coast and Scapa Beach, then on the Crantit Trail to Kirkwall.

At Kirkwall, the walkers will head first for the harbour, since the Cathedral once marked the waterfront, and then pass the site of St Olaf’s Kirk where the body of St Magnus was first taken.

They will approach the Cathedral from the north and receive a pilgrim shell from the Cathedral custodian, Fran Flett Hollinrake.

Heart touching

Mr McNeish, minister at minister for Birsay, Harray and Sandwick churches, said: “This is not quite the end as there will be a final procession from the site of St Olaf’s Kirk to St Magnus Cathedral in December, to mark the end of the Magnus 900 year.

“It has taken a huge amount of hard work to make it all the way to Kirkwall from Evie.

“We’d like to thank all the volunteers, and all the landowners, who have made Orkney’s first long-distance pilgrimage route possible.”

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed a motion in May that reversed centuries of hostility to the ancient practice of pilgrimage and to affirm its place within the life of the church.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council believes pilgrimages offer a genuine and meaningful spiritual pathway for modern-day Christians.

“Worship comes in many forms and pilgrimage is one of them,” he said.

“In a time when the Church is looking for new ways to touch the hearts of all people, pilgrimage is a very powerful tool.”

A seaview from St Magnus Way. Orkney Pilgrimage.

Author and journalist, Christopher Somerville, is appearing at an event to make the opening of the final leg of the St Magnus Way at Orphir Church tomorrow at 10am.

He will share stories of walks he has done around the British Isles, from the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest to the seabird cliffs of Foula.

The event is being jointly held with Orkney International Science Festival, which The Times newspaper correspondent will open at the same time.

Tickets cost £6 and can be purchased online from the Science Festival or from the Tourist Office in Kirkwall.