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Welsh local authorities pledge to create Cistercian Way

January 15, 2004:

see full map of the Cistercian Way


After nearly five years of discussions, the longest footpath in Wales is about to become a reality - opening up ancient spiritual sites and monastic pathways to modern pilgrims and walkers.

Three local authorities in Southeast Wales have agreed to start the process of marking up the Cistercian Way, opening the door to a further 11 authorities throughout Wales possibly joining the process.

The Cistercian Way - being brokered by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) in association with the University of Wales and the Churches Tourism Network - will stretch for 650 miles all around Wales. It will link up all of the ancient monasteries started by the Cistercians - an order started in Burgundy in the 11th century and named after the mother monastery of Cisteux - at the end of the 12th century.

Tintern Abbey
It will pass through some of Britain's wildest countryside, as well as through rolling hills and some of the country's poorest, most abandoned industrial areas.

According to ARC project manager John Smith, people's experience of the Cistercian Way will take three forms, depending on what kind of visitor they are.

The first will be a traditional long-distance walking route, with bed and breakfast accommodation and catering facilities mapped along the path, and with emphasis on the spiritual and cultural dimensions of the countryside.

detail from a painting of Margam Abbey by Rebecca Hind
The second will be designed for older and disabled people or families with young children who cannot stride out across boggy moor-land, but who would still like to follow the Cistercian monks as they walked and prayed in Wales 800 years ago. It will be a road route - not only for people with private transport but also for people who want to take public services along the way.

The third form will be designed around hubs - like Tintern Abbey on the Borders, or the beautiful ruins of Strata Florida in Central Wales, or Conwy in the north. They will be places which will be easy to get to with plenty of facilities for visitors and the option for half day or day-long circular walks and exhibition areas, in which people can explore the ways of Cistercian spirituality and history.

"Having these three different ways of experiencing the Cistercian Way means that it is accessible to everyone. It also means that it will have a positive economic effect throughout the country - expanding demand for arts and crafts, accommodation, transport, food and public services: we are very optimistic," Mr Smith said.

With the pledge this month from Caerphilly, Monmouthshire and Torfaen, the first Cistercian pathways could be opened as early as autumn 2004. ARC hopes the entire route - including improved transport links and infrastructure - will be finished by 2008.

Find out more about the Cistercian Way project at the University of Wales website

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