Stringing Bedes: A Poetry and Print Pilgrimage was a project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, run by the University of Sunderland’s WALK Research Group.  It was supported by Bede’s World museum, South Tyneside Council and the Sunderland Cultural Partnership. The project created a year-round programme of ‘Bede related’ walking and heritage activities, between summer 2015 and the early autumn of 2016.

Click here for a specially made on-line resource written by natural historian Keith Bowey and created by Shoofly. This details the walks, the wildlife observed, the artwork created and poetry written as a result.   A simple outline of the project is provided below.

The Project focused upon the cultural and natural heritage of the landscapes between the two homes of Bede’s mediaeval monastery, St. Peter’s at Monkwearmouth and St. Paul’s, Jarrow.  The Project set out to create an ‘interface’ between the natural heritage of this ‘cultural highway’ between monastic sites and aspects of art and history, as experienced and developed by the process of walking through an ‘interpreted’ landscape.

The aim of Stringing Bedes was to use Bede’s heritage to inspire the public with a programme of novel ‘wildlife and heritage’ guided walks or Pilgrimages. This was underpinned by a belief that the landscape which Bede inhabited, and which we inhabit today, is a rich one and, despite urbanisation over the last 1300 years, one that remains full of history and wildlife, awaiting discovery.

The project used public exhibitions, lectures and guided walks to celebrate Bede’s heritage. The wildlife seen and the landscapes experienced on the Pilgrimages, and the testimony of the ‘pilgrims’ involved in these was used to inspire the production of poetry and art.

The monks working out of the two annexes of the monastery at Bede’s time (for ecumenical purposes St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s were considered as one) would have travelled on foot or by coracle between the two sites; no doubt such travellers would have, on occasion, included Bede himself.  The latter journey would have progressed down the River Don, on to and down the Tyne and then south through the coastal waters of Marsden and Whitburn, before entering the mouth of the River Wear.

Stringing Bedes attempted to examine the significance of the pedestrian route and to gauge how walking between the two sites might have informed the development of Bede’s scholarly activities, by examining how walking today’s route between the two sites affected today’s ‘pilgrims’.

Stringing Bedes had at its heart a series of four, public walks along the route of Bede’s Way, i.e. between St. Peter’s in Sunderland and St. Paul’s, Jarrow. These walks followed a 40km route from Monkwearmouth to Jarrow, and back again.  Along this route the walkers contemplated how the natural history of the past and the landscape of Bede’s Way might have been different, and yet similar, to that of our modern experience.

J Clement Bede re-sized

For the participants, Stringing Bedes attempted to rejuvenate the concept of a pilgrimage for the ‘everyday person’, as a journey upon which discoveries are made; sometimes simple ones, sometimes profound ones. It was the project’s contention that a pilgrimage is not just a journey to a place but ultimately it is a journey into one-self.  Meaningful creative processes can only be achieved by undertaking such a journey.  The project therefore tried to get the pilgrims to journey into themselves, courtesy of their pilgrimage along Bede’s Way, allowing them, from this experience, to better interpret this landscape and to better understand Bede’s heritage in relation to this, for both themselves and our time.

The walks were led by artistic interpreters Marcia Ley (of the University of Sunderland’s WALK Research Group) and Mark Todman (artist), poet Jake Campbell and natural historian Keith Bowey (of Glead Ecological & Environmental Services).  These acted as complementary route interpreters and guides. Through this process of supported walking, the walkers were encouraged to appreciate the link between landscape, wildlife, the written word and art.  The resultant inspiration was fed into poetry and art linking the process of heritage discovery and with contemplation of self and a greater cognisance of place.

meditative walking image

The walks took place in July and August 2015 and related heritage events along the route were held from autumn 2015 – summer 2016.