Deerfield Valley Pilgrimage Walk
The First Annual
DEERFIELD VALLEY PILGRIMAGE WALK
Sept. 17-18, 2022
Wilmington, VT to Jamaica, VT
A leisurely 2-day hike along woodland trails and country lanes
We are bringing the booming European pilgrimage movement to the Deerfield Valley! The first annual Deerfield Valley Pilgrimage Walk is scheduled for the weekend of September 17-18, 2022, covering about 25 miles over two days, with an overnight stop in between, starting in downtown Wilmington and ending in Jamaica, Vermont. (Walkers will also be offered the option of two 4-mile walks, and non-walkers will be invited to participate in other ways.)
The establishment of an annual multi-day Pilgrimage Walk in September involving several thousand people is our long-term vision. This year we plan to start small, with 30-100 walkers, in order to learn how to organize and manage this venture to accommodate larger groups in future years. Perhaps someday we will equal the participation at the Prouty event in the Upper Valley around Hanover, Norwich, and Lebanon. (The Prouty began small in 1982, when four cancer nurses, inspired by their patient Audrey Prouty, bicycled 100 miles through the White Mountains. It now attracts more than 4,000 participants annually.)
Why are we establishing a pilgrimage route here? Looking back, it is hard to rank in order of importance the ideas and events that led to the decision to establish a pilgrimage walk in the Deerfield Valley. It seems to have started with pre-covid hopes of participating in the Camino de Santiago (“Road to St. James”) pilgrimage in the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, the possibility of which was pushed back by the pandemic. Studying the Camino, however, we discovered that walking pilgrimages have become one of the biggest and fastest- growing recreational activities in the world. The Camino, for example, attracts 350,000 walkers per year today compared to under 1,000 in 1985. The Walsingham Pilgrimage in England now attracts more than 100,000 annually, and there are dozens of similar but lesser walking pilgrimages where participation is surging in the British Isles.
The attraction of the Camino in Spain is widespread in America: in normal times over 10,000 Americans fly to Spain each year to walk one of the twelve routes ranging in length from the shortest, the 68-mile Camino inglés to the longest, the 515-mile Camino francés. Motivations for the walk vary. According to surveys, of the 350,000 people who walk the Camino each year, many acknowledge a religious motivation, but the majority say they are not religious but are walking for other spiritual and personal reasons; some are in search of life change, adventure, or responding to a personal or family crisis, while others simply seek a period of quiet enjoyment in the beauty of the countryside. It is also a very inexpensive adventure for those staying in hostels along the route, so it appeals to a great many young people.
Another clear inspiration for bringing the pilgrimage to the Deerfield Valley is The Prouty in Hanover, NH, a July weekend event which is in its 41st year and which attracts over 4,000 participants to bike, walk and row in a fundraiser for cancer research. Some of us have participated in the Prouty event for many years, and it is always a highlight of the summer. The Prouty engages the residents of Hanover, Norwich, Thetford, Lyme, Lebanon, and other Upper Valley towns in large numbers and is the peak event of the year for those communities. The Prouty is a joyous weekend rain or shine that inspires and unites communities in the Upper Valley. Could an annual Pilgrimage Walk in the Deerfield Valley eventually, over the years, bring the same excitement to the towns of the Deerfield Valley? Would it at the same time bring joy, solace and a sense of achievement to people here? If so, we would like to build it in the Deerfield Valley for our children and grandchildren as well as ourselves.
A few of us at St. Mary’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Wilmington started discussing the possibility of establishing a pilgrimage walk in the Deerfield Valley in mid-2021. The West Dover Congregational Church has held a short Easter walk on the Valley Trail in recent years, and this may have been another seed of the idea. The valley is one of the most beautiful landscapes in America and there are an abundance of trails suitable for long, reflective walks.
Our pilgrimage will be both ecumenical and secular. Every participant who wants to make the journey in his or her own way will be welcome whether or not he or she has a religious motivation. We are also seeking the participation of civic organizations and public bodies. Early support of the effort has been expressed by St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, West Dover Congregational Church, and the Ephesus House.
There are many trails in the Deerfield Valley but finding a single route has been difficult. A group of hikers we call the “trail explorers” have been walking the various possible routes that lead to the Ephesus House in Jamaica from the Old School in Wilmington. The explorers generally gather on Thursdays to walk a certain segment of the trail with the goal of determining the most interesting and safest route. Because the Valley is crisscrossed with walking trails, snowmobile trails, country lanes, and highways, choices abound. (Anyone wishing to participate in the trail exploration please contact us at VTPilgrim@gmail.com)
On September 17, the Pilgrimage Walk will start out at the Old School Community Center in Wilmington. It will proceed on foot along the Valley Trail, which passes to the west of town along the east side of Chimney Hill and the Hermitage, continuing through Sherwood Forest trails towards Kingswood, and on to Mount Snow. The first day will conclude with a ceremony on top of Mount Snow accessed by the Blue Bird lift. The pilgrims will spend the night at local inns and hotels or in their own homes, and hostel-type accommodations will also be available at West Dover Congregational Church. On September 18, the walk will continue by trails and along country lanes through Dover to South Wardsboro, then Wardsboro, continuing on Main Street to Mowry Road and the Ephesus House, a shrine dedicated to St. Mary, just across the town line in Jamaica. It is an amazing and faithful replica of the house in Ephesus, Turkey where St. Mary spent her final days. There speakers will lead closing ceremonies, and pilgrimage certificates will be presented.
The Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer has become an important regional shrine and religious destination and its presence at the terminus of our route is highly serendipitous. We planned the basic route before we realized that the Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer was there. There is an amazing story behind a Vermont family’s building of the Ephesus House replica in Vermont in response to visions at the original shrine in Turkey. (https://www.ourladyofephesushouseofprayer.org/) The House warmly welcomes pilgrims of all religions as well as just plain seekers. The Ephesus House has overnight accommodations and camping options, and, of course, local inns are available.
Guides will accompany the walkers, and rest stops and facilities will be available. Nature talks are planned en route. Not everyone will want to walk the entire 25 miles, so shorter legs will be mapped, and ways to participate with little or no walking are planned so that everyone can be part of the pilgrimage either as a walker, a helper, or both.
We are actively seeking pilgrims and helpers. Anyone interested or curious to learn more is invited to contact us at VTPilgrim@gmail.com. Join us to create a transformational annual event for the Deerfield Valley!
BOARD OF ADVISORS
Rev. Fr. Ilayaraja Amaladass HGN
Ginny Cunningham, Wilmington
Rev. Jeremy Kirk, Dover
Peter McElroy, Estes Park, Colorado
Prof. James Mills, SUNY Oneanta, NY
Lincoln Rathnam, Wilmington
Debbie Rathnam, Wilmington
Mary Tarinelli, Jamaica
John Terauds, Tacoma, WA
Dick Ward, Marlboro