The Saints Way is a 41 km trail that stretches across Cornwall’s peninsula in southwest England. It stretches from Padstow’s St. Petroc’s church in the north to St. Finbarr’s church in the village of Fowey (almost, but not quite, pronounced ‘Foy’). If your UK geography is as spotty as mine, then this may help:
The overland route dates as far back as the Romans, and was used by early Christians traveling from Ireland to mainland Europe. It was also used by drovers, who were avoiding the treacherous voyage by water around Lands End. The Saints Way is full of reminders that Cornwall is one of the Celtic nations, and so has culture and traditions quite distinct from other parts of England. I saw two separate holy wells, sundry Celtic crosses and other markers that looked like they’d be more at home in rural Ireland.
The route criss-crosses cattle pastures, country lanes and forested footpaths. It’s exactly the kind of countryside I imagine when I think of pastoral scenes of England. It’s full of ancient walls and verdant, rolling hills. It rivals Ireland and rural Kentucky for the greenest place I’ve ever seen.
I booked a trip through Encounter Walking Holidays. They planned my route, booked my accommodation and provided me with the maps and guidebooks I’d need to navigate along the route. The route isn’t as well-marked as it could be–it pales in comparison, for example, to the Rheinsteig near where I live in Bonn. So the Ordnance Survey maps they provided were essential. Cellular access was also very spotty and I had to rely strictly on my compass and some orienteering skills. I meandered off-piste a couple of times, but only for a few hundred meters before I sorted myself out.
I did the walk last week, in early September. To my delight, in my three days of walking, I only saw one other person hiking the trail. I also encountered a few locals, but for 98% of the walk, I was blissfully alone. Aside from the cows, of course. There were plenty of those. For a city boy like myself, it was fun to cross fields full of sheep, goats and cows. I also saw a wide variety of birds–tons of quail and pheasant, as well as sundry kestrels, hawks and other raptors I couldn’t name.
I took three days to do the walk, and with various diversions and meanderings, clocked in at 55 km. That’s about 18 km a day, which is plenty for me. I combined the Saints’ Way with three days of cliff walking from Padstow to Newquay, which was busier but gorgeous.
I highly recommend The Saints Way. Despite its name and, this walk isn’t a pilgrimage. It’s just a tranquil walk from one church to another, and one coast to another.
I posted a bunch of photos of my walk on Flickr.