My earliest memories are not of Bury St Edmunds, but of Sudbury. I remember walking into town with my mum and my brother every market day for the weekly shop, and every week I’d look up at that wonderful statue of Thomas Gainsborough outside St Peter’s Church. In the summer we’d sit on a bench and have an ice cream.
“It’s Bury St Edmunds”
Not much later we moved to a village outside Bury (though I’ll always remember a school teacher telling me not to call it Bury. “It’s Bury St Edmunds” she said. “We don’t live in Lancashire you know”) and then we got the bus into town on market days. I was older now and while my mum did the shopping, me and my brothers would play in the Abbey Gardens.
We’d look at the animals in the little zoo, never thinking then that these might not be the best conditions in which to keep them, and run across the grass. We’d clamber over the ruins and had no idea just how old they were or what they were ruins of.
Dedicated to an East Anglian King
Later, I used to take long walks on my own along the footpaths between home, school, and Bury St Edmunds, and though I had no idea then that the paths I wandered along were an ancient pilgrimage dedicated to an East Anglian king and saint, I certainly had a sense that there was something deeply sacred about this land.
And yet I left, to explore what I thought was a more exciting world. After years of living in Europe, Thailand, and Korea, I met a lovely Japanese woman, now my wife, and we settled down here in Tokyo. Which is when the homesickness kicked in.
St Edmund Way
Despite having been away for decades, I’d never experienced anything like this before. It came out of the blue and hit me hard. So I decided I had to go back to Suffolk on my very next holiday, and re-visit those paths I knew as a child. So I walked the St Edmund Way. A wonderful and ancient pilgrimage that starts in Manningtree, finishes in Brandon, and crosses the entire county of Suffolk.
With a couple of detours, the pilgrimage covers some 85 miles and took me through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. And along the route I visited 34 sacred sites; 28 Anglican churches, 3 Catholic churches, the Priory ruins at Thetford, and – at the heart of the pilgrimage – the Abbey ruins and St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.
Lived in Suffolk all their lives!
Walking it turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life. Of course it is always lovely to be home to see your family, but best of all is that they shared in my pilgrimage too! Together we saw places we had never seen before, and learnt history we could never have imagined. So to my surprise, I found that The St Edmund Way is a delight even for people who have lived in Suffolk all their lives!
And when I got back to Tokyo I decided to mark the journey by putting together a little book, combining the diary I’d kept along the way, a description of my walk, and some of the history and architecture of the churches I visited. It’s not a guidebook. There aren’t any maps or photos in it, it is just a personal record of an amazing walk in the most beautiful place on earth.
We Love Bury St Edmunds
Looking back on it now, and holding the book in my hands, I can hardly believe I was really there last summer, let alone all throughout my childhood. That sunshine, that greenery, and such joy and happiness. Next time, my wife wants to come with me (she couldn’t come last year, you know what Japanese work schedules are like) and I hope that will be soon. In the meantime, we enjoy reading all the wonderful posts on We Love Bury St Edmunds, and we always look out for any pilgrims there doing the St Edmund Way.
Author of The St Edmund Way: A Pilgrim’s Notebook