St Birinus’ mission to convert the West Saxons was a mixture of political guile and luck. With his conversion of King Cynegilis to Christianity in 634 he was granted Dorchester in Oxfordshire as an Episcopal See. A modest pilgrimage grew up to visit his relics housed in the Abbey, starting from Churn Knob where Birinus first preached, and a cross still stands, northwards to Dorchester. This can easily be done in day. It passes ancient hill forts and barrows, monuments to an older creed, perhaps thereby reclaiming this landscape for the new religion.
The last stretch takes the pilgrim past the twin hills known as the Whitttenham Clumps, or Sinodun hills referring to a Celtic fort on one of them. Paul Nash calls this “a beautiful legendary country haunted by old gods long forgotten”
In the first light of day it seems to hover between that legendary landscape of those old gods and the awakening reality of the present. The pilgrims’ path for the first time catches the sun and leads one on past the ghostly and mysterious hills towards the river Thames and the last part of the pilgrimage.