My name is Peter Gayler and I am enjoying visiting each Anglican cathedral in England and at the same time raising money for Chichester Diocesan Association for Family Support Work (FSW) – the Sussex Charity for children since 1890. FSW supports those members of society who are most disadvantaged through illness, poverty, isolation or abuse, and provides emotional and practical support to help families grow stronger and more resilient.
When I arrive at a cathedral I like to have a photo of myself either outside or inside the cathedral. I have a Cathedral Passport and look forward to getting it stamped or applying a sticker. I now have a wide range of rubber stamps and stickers to look back on. I enjoy looking around the cathedral(s), learning about the history and finding out something of what is happening now, whether it is links with the local community, supporting people and mission overseas, or the events and exhibitions being held. The volunteers, guides and the cathedral’s shops are so helpful to the visitor.
I have been able to attend a service at each cathedral except Truro where the timing didn’t work out. I have met many Deans, Canons and Clergy and had many encouraging and memorable conversations after the services. There are a good range of services in the cathedrals, and with a little bit of effort and planning, one can attend an 8am Holy Communion in the crypt at Worcester, a 12noon Holy Eucharist in the Chapel of St Alban, or a Choral Evensong at Exeter or Guildford. At a Sunday Service there can be the warmest of welcomes at Birmingham, or a special service like Trinity Sunday at Liverpool. There are times of surprise and anticipation. A said Evensong in the Library at Blackburn. An early morning trip on the Trans-Pennine Express from Sheffield to Manchester, catching the yellow bus and walking to the Medieval Quarter to find Manchester Cathedral and arriving in time for the 9 a.m. Communion Service. After leaving Liverpool, arriving in Chester for Sunday Evening Compline. At Ely it was time for end of term school services, followed by a Valedictory Choral Evensong. The Head Vergers and their staff do an amazing job getting everything ready and all the work that goes on behind the scenes. There are many opportunities to attend cathedral services throughout England. Also, lovely quiet spaces for personal prayer and reflection. I hope that by using a few examples of the quality and variety of services in the cathedrals, this may encourage a few more people to attend them.
As I have been travelling around using the railway, my car, bus or walking, at times I have felt quite hungry and have welcomed the opportunity to have some excellent meals or refreshments. Just a few come to mind. Chunky vegetable soup at Newcastle, Jacket potato with stilton, cranberry, walnuts and salad at Gloucester, roast beef at Liverpool and bolognese over skins with a glass of cold milk at Truro. I have enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey tea in Sheffield, leek soup at St Albans. I appreciated cooked breakfasts at the Station Hotel in Carlisle. An unbelievable continental breakfast at The White Hart in Wells, after attending the 8am Holy Communion and being told the name of the new Bishop would be announced from Downing Street that day. Wells Cathedral has an amazing clock. Salisbury has the largest cathedral close in England and the spire can be seen for miles around. Lunch at the museum in Birmingham, and photos taken showing the countdown to the Commonwealth Games.
I very much appreciate the generous support received in raising money for Family Support Work and hope that my cathedral pilgrimage would help to get FSW better known. Nikki Kerr at FSW has used photos I have taken and edited the reports that I have sent her, to put together the story of my cathedral pilgrimage.
Each cathedral is special to each community. It is part of our heritage and I would be thrilled if my pilgrimage encourages a few more people to visit cathedrals. Hopefully through the experience of enjoying a service, speaking and praying with a day chaplain, being part of the quiet spaces and encountering the Gospel, people would want to learn more. There are cathedrals from Carlisle to Canterbury, Truro to Norwich and back up to Durham. Portsmouth and Bristol are near the sea. Over 100 years ago William Walker worked alone in the dark to strengthen the foundations at Winchester. Hereford is part of the Three Choirs and is in Elgar country. Chelmsford was hosting a meal for trainee Ordinands after the choral evensong. St Edmundsbury was such a surprise with the lovely quiet space, cafe and ruins of the Saxon Abbey. Southwark hosts Hodge the Cathedral Cat, so close to Borough Market, interesting books in the shop and walking distance to St Paul’s which is iconic and attracts thousands of visitors. Wakefield reaches out to the lonely and Sheffield had many surprises and is an example like many cathedrals of offering a really good tour.
On Bank Holiday Monday we set out on our East Midlands and Yorkshire trip which would include several nights in a tent. A good trip to Lichfield and encountered the three spires, and found a man made beach for the children. Lots going on at Lichfield. Onwards to Derby in the heart of the city. An upgraded parish church with plenty of history: The tomb of Bess of Harborough and a monument for Florence Nightingale. Loved the 8 a.m. Morning prayer and chat to the Dean. A visit to my cousin, and a long trip on busy roads through Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to the campsite at New Hall Farm. The next day Lincoln. A full day visit, Holy Communion and later tea at Deans Greene Cafe. Next day Southwell was just a few miles away. So much history, breakfast at The Refectory, Holy Communion at noon, the cathedral preparing for a wedding, a walk around the ruined bishops palace. A visit to the classic Victorian Workhouse will be for another time. The next day packing up and travelling to Killinghall in North Yorkshire. Lovely trip to York Minster including Holy Communion and Choral Evensong. Ripon Cathedral for the Sunday Service, such a warm welcome, interest in our pilgrimage, such an interesting building. Monday afternoon and evening at Bradford Cathedral. We had been in touch with the Dean’s Secretary regarding parking and checking when the service was. A lovely afternoon, welcome, exhibition of Cathedral Photos and a choral evensong I still remember. A trip to Peterborough Cathedral, held up in traffic in Leicester, we would have liked longer. The cathedral service was held at St John’s. A delightful Evening Prayer Service. The rain poured down but stopped so we could walk back to our base in the dry.
An interview with Philip Lickley at Bradford Cathedral helped bring out my story. I was 70 in January, wanted to do something memorable this year and thought would it be possible to visit each English Anglican Cathedral whilst at the same time raising some money for a charity. One of the missions we support at St Margaret’s Angmering, and have done over many years, is Family Support Work. At this point I want to say a big thank you to all cathedral volunteers, guides, cafe staff, book shop and shop staff, vergers and all cathedral staff who have made us so welcome. I really do want to emphasise that staying for a cathedral service enhances the visit by 50%. I have enjoyed all of the visits, many with my wife Helen. I am not picking any favourites because each cathedral is special to the folk that worship there and Christians have worshiped there for several hundred and more years. I have enjoyed the history and also very often the cathedral cafes which are so important.
Cathedrals are also part of our everyday life. I entered Wakefield Cathedral and a memorial service was about to start and I was handed a service sheet, Southwell were preparing for a wedding in the Quire and we stayed in the Nave to listen to part of the service and there were Baptisms at Liverpool, Norwich and Ripon.
We have had day trips, stayed in pubs, a hotel, in an apartment, stayed with friends and camped to keep the costs down. The railway has been very efficient in getting me around and the car at other times. It has taken planning, thought and energy to travel to places I have never been to. I could not have got this far without the support and encouragement of our church, Helen my wife, family, friends, the team at FSW and I look forward to visiting the remaining cathedrals I have not mentioned in this note. I have more adventures and visits to look forward to. I am planning to finish my cathedral pilgrimage in November 24th at Chichester Cathedral.
This has been one of the best things I have set out to do. Besides the lovely visits so many people have been generous with their giving to FSW. The interest shown, and some people who have just said “what a lovely thing to do”. Many people ask how I have got around: car, rail, bus, taxi, stayed with friends, relatives, B&B, apartments, and camping.
My last five visits are Leicester, Coventry, Oxford, Westminster Abbey and Chichester Cathedral I will use these as an example of how I planned my cathedral visits. I look first at the cathedral service times, train timetable, rail fare prices, and where to stay overnight. For this visit it emerged that Coventry was the hub. I also note the potential for a rail strike and/or engineering works. My schedule was train from Sussex to East Croydon, change for Blackfriars. Train delayed, missed connection and then terminated at London Bridge. Taxi back to Westminster Abbey was the option taken as I couldn’t find a bus and time was important to arrive for the 11:15 a.m. service. The shop opened and I got my passport stamped, photos taken outside of the Abbey. Long queue at the Abbey. The service was excellent. After the service, a brisk walk along Victoria Street to find the Victoria Coach Station and the Oxford Tube bus. The bus does not leave from the coach station and I had to find out where. The two hour bus trip was delayed with heavy traffic but arrived in good time for the 6 p.m. Evensong. Photos not so easy, with the fading light. The volunteers, staff and clergy were so helpful in enabling me to locate the verger who had the cathedral rubber stamp. Marvellous service, with the new director of music and organ scholar being commissioned. I really appreciated speaking to the clergy. My daughter attended the service travelling independently. Had some much needed refreshment after the service before heading by rail to Coventry. Taxi to the Old County Court apartment where I stayed for two nights.
A very memorable day in Coventry. 8:30 a.m. service, spoke with clergy, guides and staff. Service of reconciliation at noon. A very good tour around and also a glimpse of old Coventry at lunchtime. Coventry Cathedral is quite different with its modern building next to the ruins. Many groups visit from Germany, Japan and around the world. In the morning a brisk walk to Coventry station. Train to Nuneaton. Change for Leicester, but found the train I wanted went to Stansted, with the first stop Leicester. The Richard III Visitor Centre was well sign posted and I knew the Cathedral was nearby and closed for reordering. Arrived at the St Martin Centre and cafe. Pam helped me get organised. Mushroom soup at the cafe. Verger with the stamp. Julia the Curate took me over to St Nicholas Church where the service was taken by the Dean. Where circumstances dictate, a cathedral service in a parish church can be very special, and being my 42nd cathedral visit, it was. A short walk to the cathedral with photos taken outside. The building safety fence was firmly up. Clear directions back into central Leicester, train to St Pancras and onwards towards home. There is a lot to think about and it’s very important to keep hydrated and refreshed as you travel. I have had to be careful with choosing lower priced train fares, which means planning in advance. This also applies to accommodation. Leaving arrangements to the last minute can restrict choice. My last cathedral is Chichester, which is an afternoon and evening visit. I plan to finish on the 24th November 2022.
A few statistics as I have travelled all across the UK.
- 43 Cathedral visits including Westminster Abbey.
- 7 day trips and 29 nights away which includes 9 nights using our tent on rural campsites.
- 35 days visiting cathedrals and includes 8 days when we were able to plan two visits in one day.
- 18 Cathedral cafes used. I enjoyed these so much!
- Used packed lunches, good priced rail fares and kept accommodation to reasonable costs.
- 5,034 miles travelled using AA route planner as a guide.
Visiting cathedrals can be accessed on different levels. There are tours and exhibitions. Photography and painting. History and architecture. Roman bricks, the Saxon church, Norman cathedrals, Middle Ages building, the Reformation, Dissolution, English Civil War, The Victorians, reordering and new building in the twentieth century. It has also been a privilege working with Nikki Kerr and other Family Support Work staff, and through the generosity of my supporters, raising a sum of money to help families in these difficult times.
For my photos and reports on each of the cathedrals visited, please go to my JustGiving page.
Thank you for your interest.
Angmering, West Sussex.