Launched in Spring 2020, The Way of St Hild route celebrates the importance of Hild to both Hartlepool and Whitby and recognise the contribution she made to the Christian heritage of the North East and beyond.
However, unlike many pilgrimage trails, The Way of St Hild will not rely solely on maps and booklets as the primary source of assistance for walkers, instead it will feature 12 augmented reality waypoints.
At each waypoint, walkers will be able to access a series of subcategories to find out information about:
• St Hild
• Landscape & Nature
• History & Human Life
• Faith & Spirituality
Each waypoint also offers an opportunity for reflection.
Waypoint 1 – St Hilda’s Church, The Headland The Headland is one of the most ancient centres of Christianity in England. Its fame rests on the location here of the Anglo-Saxon monastery in the 640s AD. The second abbess was Hild (also known by her Latin name Hilda) from AD 649 to at least 657. She may have continued to oversee it, perhaps even up to her death in 680, along with her more famous foundation at Whitby. Was Hartlepool-Whitby an example of a double monastery like the foundation at Wearmouth-Jarrow not far away, where the Venerable Bede lived and worked all his life?
Waypoint 2 – Seaton Carew
The small; community of Seaton may have been established by the time of St Hild and was probably a fishing village with good provision of food from the sea, as well as simple produce from cultivated fields inland. Looking back at the Headland you may have seen the prominent Hartlepool Abbey, founded in 640 AD by St Aidan, surrounded by low wooden buildings in a green landscape.
Waypoint 3 – Greatham Creek Today as you look at the creek and surrounding tidal wetlands, up stream of the bridge, you get a glimpse of what it was like 1400 years ago. Greatham Creek, or Greatham Fleet as it was once named, was part of a great system of ditches, channels, streams and creeks, draining the vast mudflats exposed at low tide. These or the remnants of these mudflats supported and still support a wide variety of wildlife of international importance. But 1400 years ago, this wildlife would also have been a food source to the local people living here.
Waypoint 4 – Transporter Bridge The Transporter straddles the River Tees at a point that 1400 years ago may have been where the old river, proper, entered into the vast estuary of mudflats and water channels before discharging into the North Sea. Today it shows how man has continued to looked to ‘cross waters’ safely to allow human traffic to move more freely – keeping their feet dry!
Waypoint 5 – Saltburn
So much has changed since St Hild’s time, 1400 years ago! Today, much of Saltburn’s activities centres on recreation and eating, close to where Skelton Beck flows into the sea. 1400 years ago, it would have been an isolated place where people eked out a living by fishing and harvesting anything washed up or gathered in rock pools. It was a hard life trying to feed families back then.
Waypoint 6 – Huntcliff Roman Signal Station Hild’s name, “Battle”, recalls the turbulent times in which she lived. The North was a violent place, always subject to attack from land or sea, often fought over right up to early modern times. Huntcliff was a Roman fort, a reminder that during the Roman occupation the North was one vast militarised zone, an army garrison on a grand scale. Hild may have known Hadrian’s Wall, or the fort at Arbeia on its headland overlooking the Tyne, not far perhaps from her first monastery.
Waypoint 7 – Skinningrove
There may not have been many people eking out a living down at the sea front, back in the 7th century, but we do know that the name ’Skinningrove’ has a Viking/Danish influence and they appeared later on in the 9th and 10th centuries. The village you see today and its surrounds hark back to its Ironstone beginnings. Over 6 million tons of ironstone was extracted from the local mines, to supply the forges and blast furnaces of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Waypoint 8 – Staithes
The magnificent seascapes and cliff scenery at Staithes are admired by all who love the North. To Saxon Christians, living close to the natural world was an aspect of devotion to the Creator. We shouldn’t project on to medieval people romantic ideas of beauty, but we can safely say that Hild and her companions were in awe of the moody splendour of the North Sea and its rough, untamed coasts, not least out of respect for the threats they posed.
Waypoint 9 – Runswick Bay
One of the legends about St Hild has given rise to her most familiar symbol, the ammonite. This stretch of the North Yorkshire coast is famous as a hunting-ground for fossils. The cliffs at Staithes, Robin Hoods Bay, Whitby and here at Runswick are rich in these deposits, these fingerprints of prehistoric life that once flourished on the planet.
Waypoint 10 – Sandsend
The original settlement at Sandsend ran inland along the side of Sandsend Beck, with a smaller settlement at East Row Beck. These locations provided some shelter from the sea, and are still marked by the presence of a number of pleasant 18th and 19th century fishermen’s cottages. Sandsend originally had three castles: the long vanished “old castle” which in legend was built by the giant Wada in the 6th century, the second medieval castle known as Mulgrave Castle, ruined 3 during the English Civil War, which is accessible through the woods at East Row, and the third “castle”, a stately home built by Countess Catherine Sedley just before the year 1700 AD.
Waypoint 11 – St Hilda’s Church, Whitby Appropriately, the principal church on Whitby’s West Cliff is dedicated to St Hild. Built in the 1880s, it’s a noble church of dignity and presence, qualities we can no doubt associate with the saint herself.
Waypoint 12 – Whitby Abbey Whitby Abbey: the goal of our pilgrimage and the end of our journey. In this place Hild’s remarkable life came to a climax in the Abbey she founded and led with such distinction. The Anglo-Saxon Abbey at Whitby would have looked nothing like the present, medieval ruins, as with its twin monastery at Hartlepool it was spread across the cliff top with areas devoted to craft working and at least one cemetery. A range of stone-based timber buildings have been excavated at Whitby and very similar ones were found at Hartlepool, Whitby has however provided far more Anglo-Saxon material in the shape of stone crosses and a variety of artefacts.
For more information on each Waypoint visit www.hartlepool.gov.uk/way-of-st-hild.
Hartlepool to Whitby