There are two pilgrimages – one external and one internal.  The external reaches its destination: the internal never does.  Pilgrims coming to Whithorn and nearby sites associated with St Ninian are walking along routes which were established at the very least 1200 years ago.  The Venerable Bede’s History of 731 A.D. tells us: “Before Columba’s time, the southern Picts were converted by “Ninia” who was the most revered bishop and holy man of the British nation, who had been instructed at Rome.”

The first church that we visited during our day on the Machars peninsular was Cruggleton Old Church (above), which sits spectacularly behind trees in the middle of a farmer’s field.  The church was once used as a potato store!  Here we experienced what a complete Romanesque church was like.  The church was probably built in the 1100’s by Fergus of Galloway, Lord of Cruggleton Castle.  There is just one service held in the church each year at 3pm on the first Sunday of September.  Onward to the Isle of Whithorn, a beautiful and tranquil harbour side fishing village four miles away, and lunch which awaited us at the St. Ninian’s Hall and Tearoom, along with our host Rev. Alex Currie, (photo R) minister of the Isle Church and St Ninian’s Church, Whithorn.  The Tearoom has one of the best views in Scotland, out over the natural harbour towards the Kingdom of the Isle of Man. The soup isn’t bad either!

The Isle Church is in a remarkable location on the foreshore.  This is not the church by the sea, but the church in the sea!  Inside, many alterations have been carried out over the years and now the church also houses the fascinating and informative Maritime Heritage Exhibition which tells the story of the church today and Isle of Whithorn village life and its characters, as well as its inextricable and sometimes tragic links with the surrounding seas.

Located on the harbour side is “The Steam Packet Inn”, home to its own “Five Kingdoms” microbrewery.  Why “Five Kingdoms”?  From the Isle on a clear day you may see the Kingdoms of Scotland, the Isle of Man, Ireland and England.  But that’s only four Kingdoms.  The fifth Kingdom?  Look up to the Kingdom of Heaven!  Beside the path to St. Ninian’s Chapel stands the Witness Cairn, erected in 1997 to commemorate the arrival on these shores of Ninian.  He actually got here 166 years earlier than Columba bringing Christianity to Iona!  Pilgrims are encouraged to place stones with personal messages onto the rock cairn.  Here Johannes led us in worship with a prayer and some verses from “For all the Saints who from their labours rest”.

Not far from the Witness Cairn are memorials to the seven young fishermen from the district who died when their scallop dredger the Solway Harvester sank off the Isle of Man on 11th January 2000.  John Masefield’s epitaph – And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over – provides a poignant view across to the Isle of Man.  St. Ninian’s Chapel was first built in the twelfth century for the benefit of both local worshippers and pilgrims to St. Ninian’s shrine at nearby Whithorn.  The chapel we see today was repaired and partially rebuilt in 1898 by the Marquis of Bute, with its essential features being preserved.  It stands amid a wild and windswept setting evoking the many souls who have trudged up from the shore and asked God for their safe passage.  At Whithorn we walked in the footsteps of countless pilgrims to reach the shrine of St. Ninian.  As one of Scotland’s earliest Christian sites it has brought travellers, traders, pilgrims and royalty to Whithorn for more than 1000 years.  Little of the Priory survives today, but at the east end of the church is St. Ninian’s shrine.  Whithorn Parish church is situated just to the north of the ruined Whithorn Cathedral Priory and is a simple rectangular structure with a squat low tower.  One of the eye-catching stained glass windows in the interior depicts St Ninian praying, with the “Candida Casa”, the White House, in the background.  Our day of pilgrimage was drawing to a close, and we will have to return next spring for the final part of the Whithorn Way from Whithorn to St. Ninian’s Cave.  “The external reaches its destination: the internal never does.”  My thanks to all those involved in a most enjoyable and informative day following in some of Ninian’s footsteps.  To Mike and Jean Marshall for all the behind the scenes organising, to Linda and staff at the Isle Tearoom, to Rev Alex Currie for his time and kind hospitality, to Johannes who led our service and to all footstep followers