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Final walk

10 January 2014

FOR the last time before he retires, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, led the St Stephen's Day pilgrimage from Ripon Cathedral to the ruins of Fountains Abbey. A record 2000 people eventually joined him for the four-mile pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of a group of Cistercian monks from York who walked from Ripon to Fountains on 26 December 1132, and founded the Abbey.

After a short service of holy communion in the cathedral, several hundred pilgrims, led by the Bishop, set off from the west front. Numbers swelled as they left the city on the way through parkland and countryside, along the banks of the River Skell, to enter the Studley Royal deer park. Then they went on to the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey, where the final crowd numbered 2000. It was standing-room only for a service of carols in the cellarium of the Abbey, and many more were standing outside.

It was the 14th year that the Bishop has led the pilgrimage -every year of his episcopate. "For me, the Boxing Day pilgrimage has always been one of the highlights of the year," he said at the start, "though more so on a crisp winter's morning than if it is pouring with rain.

"The walk gives us a chance to talk with one another, and gives us a sense of looking forward and on to the New Year. This year, in particular, I will be looking forward to a new chapter in my own life, and to a new chapter in the life of the diocese."

During the concluding carol service, he announced that next year's pilgrimage would be led by the Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James Bell, who will become the Area Bishop for Ripon in the new diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales.

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