I walked this route in 2022 and it is a varied one – urban and rural, located both inland and along the coast. I did so as part of a bigger project, Separation and Unity, in which I walked the landscapes of Scotland and Catalonia finding similarity and difference in their volcanic history and oak woods. I am interested in the human need for both togetherness and sharing, and, at the same time, recognition of individuality.
** Please do walk the first day of the St Margaret’s Way with us on 20th August 2022, from Palmerston Place to South Queensferry (or some of the way as you like). We will be starting at 10am – please tell us you are coming Facebook event.
The only Scottish pilgrimage named after a woman, the St Margaret’s Way, is representative of so many women’s stories – there are no waymarkers on the ground and apparently no detailed information online about it.
[These women were] “strong, creative, independent-minded
women who achieved a visibility in their society that led to recognition of sanctity.Forgetful of their sex: female sanctity and society, ca. 500-1100
JT Schulenburg – 1998
And yet Margaret (c1045-1093) was a Queen. More, she was a highly influential, practical, intelligent and determined woman, who was later sainted, and is almost always described as pious. Someone who was dedicated to serving others, and mother to a queen and three kings (she birthed eight children in total), she was also a Hungarian refugee who must have understood what it was like to arrive on foreign shores after a long boat journey. Devoutly religious (Catholic), she was a pilgrim who launched a ferry service to take walkers across the Firth of Forth, before there were bridges, so they could continue to St Andrews.
She was not in charge of her life, you might say [because she was a queen and because of the age in which she lived]…. but she rose above that to become her own woman who would establish monasteries, infrastructure and so on. She would journey from being a potential pawn in power games to becoming a power in her own right, a power for good, a power for the poor…..Tom Shields, St Fillan’s RC Parish Church Crail
Reading the backstories of female saints, you will find a common theme; how they were wanted by men and often had to go to great lengths to make it clear that they had other feelings and plans for themselves. Margaret was no exception (we are told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles): “Then King Malcolm began to desire Edgar’s sister Margaret for his wife, but he and his men all argued against it for a long time, and she herself also refused, and said that she would not have him or anyone, if the divine mercy would grant that she should please the mighty Lord in virginity, with a bodily heart in pure continence in this brief life. The king urged her brother pressingly until he said yes – and indeed he dared not do otherwise, because they had come into the king’s power….though it was against her will” (translation A Clerk of Oxford blogspot ) [It goes on to say that God wanted it this way as she was to go on to “lay aside the sinful customs which that nation previously followed” including influencing the king himself, so it is clear that this was not an altogether unbiased account.]
I am not a religious person, so my interest in Margaret is in her standing as a woman in Medieval society; the kindness she is said to have shown to everyone, including prisoners of war; what is recorded about her relationship with her husband (we are told that he was illiterate and that she read to him); and the role she plays in the history of walking pilgrimage.
a pathway of meditation and devotion
Margaret was exceptionally well read and raised in an environment of enlightened devotion and charity…throughout her life she balanced her charitable and family work with a desire for seclusion and contemplation. Margaret strongly supported devotion to the Celtic saints while also connecting Scotland with the Europe wide development of monasticism.The St Margaret Pilgrim Journey
Maps and routes
The version of the St Margaret’s Way which I walked is 100kms / 62 miles in length. Here are the stages:
- Centre of Edinburgh to South Queensferry between 17km/10.5m-22/13.5 6 hrs
- South Queensferry across the old road bridge to Burntisland 20km/12.5-22/13.5 7hrs
- Burntisland to East Wemyss
- East Wemyss to Earlsferry
- Earlsferry to Cameron Reservoir
- Cameron Reservoir to St Andrews
There are a number of maps available and I had difficulty downloading The Way of St Andrews one, so I used the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) which is out of date just now, though soon to be updated.
Before you leave Edinburgh, you may like to visit St Margaret’s Chapel at the Castle, the city’s oldest building (early 12th c), built by her youngest son, David. It is looked after by a Guild, all run by women called Margaret.
The Way of St Andrews website calls this path “a modern restoration of a medieval pilgrimage walk”. The British Pilgrimage Trust offers to email you a version if you fill in their online form, which I recommend. The path is also listed in their hefty and valuable tome Britain’s Pilgrim Places (Nick Mayhew-Smith and Guy Hayward) with a little, basic information.
Strangely, Follow the Camino describes walking the St Margaret’s Way as being in “the footsteps of Scotland’s patron saint, St. Andrew”, and Fiona Diack, too, in Spotted by Locals, notes that it “dates back to the 10th century as a way to honour St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland”.
Ian Bradley, in Fife’s Pilgrim Way, cites High Lockhart as devising the route in 2011 (p26), and Donald Smith (author, scholar and instigator of the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh) as having devised the St Margaret’s Journey, offering “two routes from North Queensferry to St Andrew’s one using the Fife Coastal Path [the one I took] and the other broadly taking the same course as Cameron Black’s St Andrew’s Way.” (p27/28) which I am unfamiliar with.
Note: The link on this page (Ways and Trails.co.uk) is out of date.
Cameron Black’s St Andrew’s Way moves through Dunfermline where you can visit St Margaret’s cave; the Roman Catholic Memorial church which bears her name and to where a relic of the saint was returned in 1998, 900 years after her death; and the Benedictine Abbey founded by Margaret. Dunfermline Abbey and the ruins around it are all that remain of that Benedictine Abbey founded by her in the eleventh century. The foundations are under the present nave (or `Old Church`). Outside the east gable is where you can see her shrine, itself a place of pilgrimage since medieval times.
‘that âme d’élite’, the ‘exquisite St Margaret’,Baker, Derek. “‘A Nursery of Saints’: St Margaret of Scotland Reconsidered.” Studies in Church History Subsidia 1 (1978): 119-141. citing Knowles, MO p 242.
St Andrews was a very popular place to visit. From the south the pilgrims would have came via South Queensferry (where I walked), and then got the boat to Fife. From the south east, pilgrims arrived mainly from the continent at North Berwick, where they took the ferry to the opposite coast arriving at Earlsferry (the end of my fourth day). From there they continued northwards, cutting off the East Neuk (the site of the continuation of the Fife Coastal Path) and heading directly to the final city.
They travelled the last 15 miles on foot to St Andrews along a track the width of “a donkey with two panniersScotland’s Finest
This web page has some fun information about St Margaret. Uncover Travel
More information about St Margaret
Early primary texts about St Margaret: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle‘s account of her marriage. Extracts from the Life of Margaret written for her daughter, by a monk, Turgot, Prior of Durham, between 1100-1107 who knew Margaret and her family well. He wrote that she, “showed herself to be a pearl”, and indeed she is known as The Pearl of Scotland.
Gerda Stevenson reminds us, however, that it was she who was credited with persuading the king, her husband, to ban the use of Scots in favour of English.
I yearned / for the old tongue my mother learned me on her lap, / words that once rose up from deep inside me; / but they’re lost, the well is dry – it’s like a fatal thirst / that can’t be quenched; and I know now why / my mother called her Margaret the Accursed.from Quines by Gerda Stevenson (2018:34)
Whether you like to walk for the pleasure of the activity the beauty of the landscape or for religious reasons, please do walk the first day of the St Margaret’s Way with us on 20th August 2022, from Palmerston Place to South Queensferry (or some of the way as you prefer). We will be starting at 10am – please tell us you are coming Facebook event or you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you already walked the St Margaret’s Way? Please do leave a comment below if you have; I’d love to hear from you.